Sunday, 27 March 2016

Dead End Ten

A song I wrote for my February 2013 One Month Album - I never completed it at the time.

I decided to do all the programming on a vertical scrolling tracker called Sunvox; it's such a meticulous, intense process that there was no way I could have got a whole album finished like that in just a month. It turned into a project that needs a considerable amount of time spent on it to do it justice.

A photo posted by Al Southgate (@al_southgate) on
After fiddling around with the tracks on and off for the past couple of years, I finally decided to get the best of them done and make them available over the course of this year.

Dead End Ten was written while I was living in a small town that really didn't suit my family and I. Aside from lovely neighbours, we never felt particularly welcome, we felt stuck and isolated. My partner and I had just started home educating our children, I got the sense that we were seen as unusual and that we were regarded with suspicion.

Because the song was created for a One Month Album challenge, it was made in haste; not that much thought was put into it, it could have done with an extra verse perhaps. On the whole I'm pleased with it though.

I'm keen to put out as much music as I can this year, I chose to work on this track because it was mostly complete, it's given me the opportunity to dust off my music production skills, such as they are. I'm considering - once I've got more of the tracks finished - getting them mixed professionally and released properly.


A video posted by Al Southgate (@al_southgate) on

Friday, 5 February 2016

Songhacks is Dead, Long Live... A Different Podcast (Maybe)

In June of last year (2015) I launched the Songhacks podcast. It was a real labour of love, I put a tonne of work into it and learned a great deal. I came up with the idea around three years prior to releasing it; I would explore every aspect of my passion for song writing; look in depth at my techniques for writing songs, as well as those of others; interview other artists and collaborate with them to produce an album of co-written material. It still seems like a great idea now, in spite of the fact that I very deliberately put a stop to the project after only three episodes.

After last summer, I quickly realised that although I'd invested great effort in conceiving and executing this project, it wasn't really what I wanted to do. Compiling and editing the shows took up all of my spare time, leaving no space to actually write songs myself, and that's what the podcast was supposed to help me to do. 

Though I claimed songwriting to be my passion, I had done very little of it for a couple of years (aside from my one month album), it just kept getting put off in the light of more immediate concerns, Songhacks was principally conceived as a means of encouraging me to write more often and I had a big plan to create an online songwriting course under the same brand so I could justify the amount of time I was investing in it. I hoped to build a loyal fan base that would expect me to keep pushing forward, I hoped to leverage any attention I received so that I would keep a promise to myself to continue feeding my passion. Now I look back on it and it seems really odd; I needed to create a vehicle - a foil to encourage me to follow my dreams - and yet maintaining the "vehicle" robbed me of any time I might have to sit down and actually write and record a new song? In the end the idea of the Songhacks brand succeeding to the extent that I first hoped seemed like it would be a bit of a nightmare, it was another self-defeating feedback loop (among several others that - thankfully - I've managed to rid myself of) and it had to go.

I'm not done with podcasting though and I'll leave Songhacks episodes one, two and three online for posterity. I really enjoyed the process and I want to do more, only this time I am going to make sure that it is in service to my more fundamental goal of feeding my songwriting habit. I'm working on an episode now - or rather, I'm writing a song and I happen to be keeping an audio journal of the process that may well end up being the Al Southgate Podcast Episode 1. There will be no schedule, I'll make episodes if and when I feel like it - or not at all, we'll see.

If you are a Songhacks fan and you've clicked your way here, thanks for listening! Follow me on Soundcloud if you want to hear of any new podcast episodes.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Self Esteem - The Essential Ingredient for the Artist, the Teacher & the Learner

I have struggled with low self esteem for most of my life, I'm convinced that most other people in the culture suffer the same and - like me - are so accustomed to negative self concept and feelings of worthlessness, both in themselves and reflected in the attitude of others, that it seems perfectly normal.

In spite of a strong desire to create, to playfully engage with life in a way that uplifts and enhances my own experience - and that of others - I have all too often hesitated, fudged and 'failed' at what I set out to do. I'm a musician - specifically a songwriter - and a teacher. I have a degree of talent that I'm satisfied with in both areas and that has a certain amount of mileage in terms of achieving the values I want for myself, but in spite of this there's always a point at which I get in my own way, a point at which I burst my own bubble. This habit and the assumptions that lead to it's formation has proven costly, it has lead to problems in my mental and emotional health; my relationships have suffered; I've been under employed; depressed; isolated and generally miserable for a significant chunk of my adult life. 

For the last few years I have been motivated to ferret out the root-causes of this state of being and this is what I have learned: self esteem is not a vague mystical quality that you either possess, or do not, neither is it an uncritically positive self-regard that is upheld whether or not your actions are in keeping with your values. Self esteem is a set of principles, and action in accord with those principles both builds and maintains self esteem as well as demonstrating it to others. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden most clearly defines these principles in his book The Six Pillars Of Self Esteem. I have been attempting to apply these principles in my own life, sorting through my beliefs, memories of formative experience, life goals, expectations, scrutinising my habits and the more I do so, the more consistently predictable are the results; all the areas in my life that were negatively impacted by low self esteem are changing, I'm becoming happier, I'm nicer to be around, I'm more confident of my potential, I'm excited about life in a way I haven't been since early childhood.

Part of the reason I have created this blog (and eventually website) is to share the creativity that I have unlocked through this journey of self discovery, I'm organising and curating my earlier works and embarking on music projects that I'm really excited about. 

I'm also planning to share what I've learned in a teaching context and I'm designing a course for artist practitioners that wish to teach, emphasising the essential nature of self esteem as foundational to one's own career as an artist, a teacher and as the ultimate goal for teaching itself: leading the learner to discover, nurture and strengthen their own self esteem. I believe that self esteem is our natural disposition, a confidence that we are apt for the purpose of living and a delight in our extraordinary capacities to think and feel deeply, to act in ways in harmony with values that we can arrive at through observation and reflection of natural laws. 

If self esteem is our natural disposition, as I put it, how is it that low self esteem is epidemic? Where does our low self esteem come from? To put it plainly, I think we are miseducated. Conventional education practices, parenting styles and cultural assumptions thwart the development of self esteem and crush healthy expressions of it. I'm committed to doing whatever I can to change the current paradigm, by being an example of what it looks like to heal emotional/psychological wounds that cause low self esteem and assisting others by sharing ways to develop self esteem through teaching. I'm convinced that in order to have the free, fair and peaceful society that we all want, self esteem is perhaps the most important frontier upon which to focus our efforts.

Bellow is a short video introduction I made for a presentation I am doing in association with Recast Music education, it takes place on Friday 18th December at Create Norwich.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Emancipation & Music

Welcome to my new blog, I appreciate you taking the time to visit.

I've been an artist for as long as I can remember, specifically a songwriter, though I do other things too. My career so far has been a series of fits and starts, I gather myself to move forward, then I hesitate; it feels like I constantly step up on to the first rung of a ladder only to loose focus, stepping down and retreating from my dreams with an increasing sense of dismay.

Being an artist and defining what that means for oneself is a powerful calling. I have an irrepressible drive to create, to extend myself and share the vividness of my experience with the world but I also have this habit of thwarting my own progress, why do I do this?

I've spent a considerable amount of time figuring this out and I think I'm getting finally getting somewhere: The ladder has been up against the wrong wall all along...

Thankfully, in spite of not being able to achieve the values I set out for myself - or rather, the ad hoc, random, ill conceived values inherited and forced upon me from the culture - I have learned an awful lot, I've have written some half decent songs and had a few thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

In one way or another, this is a blog about increasing one's freedom to create, as seen through the lens of my own experience and with my songs providing the soundtrack.

Emancipation and music.