Monday, 31 October 2011

Baby Belle

The new kitten has arrived!!

Her name is Belle, so her nickname is now Baby Belle. She arrived late Thursday evening in a very sleepy state, and quickly settled down for the night. Friday she spent the day with her Grandma, Saturday she got to know Brian and I a little better, and Sunday she and Dusty were properly introduced. I'm startled at how well Dusty is taking it. I expected nerves, aggression, jealousy, etc. But no, every time she sees Belle she trills and runs off, inviting Belle to chase her. It's lovely.

Here's a few pics of Belle:
Baby Belle on her first evening with us, playing with toys

Love this one - she's actually yawning but looks like she's laughing

The clearest pic from Day 1

She looks a bit scared - poor Belle!

Just before we got Belle she had a last snuggle & feed with mummy cat.

Cuddles with me

Playing with Uncle Craig
Belle is VERY young - only 5 weeks - and needs a lot of attention. So over the next few weeks, I can't promise to deliver a blog post every weekday like I have been doing.

Friday, 28 October 2011

To gig or not to gig?

These days, major recording artists make the bulk of their money from gigging.
It's even more important for us wannabes, because to catch the attention of the record companies we're supposed to make a name for ourselves first - to prove we have that special "something" that draws listeners in. And to prove that we know how to work hard.
But I've always been a bit of a hermit when it comes to gigging. When I think about why that might be, it occurs to me that I've always been a bit of a hermit when it comes to going out at all. It just isn't my thing. I prefer to meet friends at my house or theirs, drink a little, watch a film, have a meal, maybe play a little Trivial Pursuit. I think people that enjoy my type of music prefer that way of doing things too.
So maybe I need to work out what the "Trivial Pursuit" version of gigging is. Perhaps it's daytime gigs - something on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it's intimate gigs in lower capacity venues. It's something to think about.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Six birthdays in one week

My husband has exactly three family members (close ones, anyway), and all of them have birthdays in early November. As does our mate Craig, as do I, and as does my Grandad.

No, I'm not that old.

That's six birthdays all within one week, and I have a feeling my bank balance will have something to say about that. Last few months, I don't know where all the money's going. I think everything's just more expensive and it's taking its toll. If it weren't for my bits of theatre work here and there, we'd have gone under. I don't even want to think about that awful thing that happens at the end of December. Let's celebrate "managing to scrape by".

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Getting a kitty

Isn't she gorgeous?

We thought it was time Dusty got herself a playmate. Hope they get along! Just have to wait till baby cat's old enough to leave mummy cat.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Moving comment on YouTube

I was really pleased to see this comment recently on my YouTube video for the song "All Here", which is about my personal experiences with bipolar disorder.
I am a Bipolar Disorder sufferer - an ex. professional keyboard player. I have listened to this very well written & produced song several times. In relation to the content, the song touched me so much to the brink of bringing me to tears.
You are one very, very. talented writer & musician and your backing band is utterly exeptional !!!
Many greetings, congratulations & prosperity from Peter in Adelaide South Australia
It's good to know that by speaking out and having the courage to say what this song is really about, I've reached out to at least one person.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Commercial cut-downs

I mentioned in a previous post that Brian has advised me to start making cut-down versions of my compositions, to make them more usable for media.

I've begun this process and it's HARD. Typically I have to cut each piece down to these specific versions:
  • 60-second version that loops
  • 60-second version
  • 30-second version ("outro", or "intro")
  • 20-second version ("intro", or "outro")
  • 10-second version, and
  • 3-5-second version ("sting")
But anything that might vaguely be suitable for adverts apparently has to be 19, 29, and 59 seconds because UK adverts have half a second of silence at the beginning and again at the end. I haven't tackled this at all yet.

I'm having the most trouble with the 20 second versions, as by that point you've cut out all your repetitions, and it's become so condensed that it sounds a bit ridiculous and some major chunk of the music has to go. Once you've made that choice, though, the 10-second version and "sting" tend to come fairly easily.

The loops are difficult too, as I'm working with both audio and MIDI so can't just change the tempo a bit (and I wouldn't want to anyway; it would feel like cheating). So to get exactly the right length, I have to play with bars of different lengths, adding or dropping a beat here and there.

The first time I tried to do these commercial cut-downs it took me all day to cut one piece down, but thankfully I'm managing to speed up the process quite a lot as I get more used to it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wind Turbines

These have suddenly appeared about 3 miles from my house. The photos can't possibly convey the sheer size and majesty of these things. I think they're stunning.
As soon as I saw them, I asked Brian if we could drive right up to them to have a better look. We took pictures amid several other people who'd had the same idea. The last turbine (picture 1) was still being contructed.
I remember local people protesting when the plans for these turbines were first being considered. People knocking on my door, pushing flyers through my letterbox. One caught me while I was hanging out my clothes on the washing line. "They're really big", she told me. "I know", I said, smiling. She obviously realised I was a lost cause, and climbed back into her 4x4 and drove off.
I'm so glad her protest didn't succeed.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Extreme beauty

Recently we had a rare bit of October sunshine, and as I passed a tree I noticed how the strong sunlight reflected off the leaves and made the whole tree look spectacularly beautiful. A natural thing, lit by natural light.

Later in the day, as dusk fell, I noticed that the world can look equally alluring on the brink of darkness - a different kind of beauty, mysterious and brooding.

It made me realise that true beauty is on the verge of the extremes in life - blinding light and pitch black; whistle-high and drone-low; faint hint and powerful proof. It is not in the middle ground; the cloudy daylight; the normality; the mediocre. So artistically we should always be pushing against the boundaries of what has been done before. We should aim not to imitate, but to boldly redefine the edges of the possible.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Lennox and the kitty

We'll start with the kitty. Now, I know this is the second cat video I've offered you in as many weeks, but trust me. This rocks even harder than the last one. Be sure to watch it with the sound turned up.

On a more serious note, let's move on to Lennox.

Meet Lennox. He's a gentle, adoring dog from Belfast with a loving family. He's never done anything wrong. And he's been sentenced to death. Why? Because he looks like a pit bull.

He was forcibly taken from his home by Belfast City Dog Wardens in May 2010 and has been held in captivity ever since. Under Northern Ireland's dog control laws, a judge has ruled that he should die simply because he resembles a breed of dog associated with aggression - despite the fact that he is neither aggressive nor a pit bull.

Please join the petition to save Lennox at

Friday, 14 October 2011

Song endings

As I write more and more instrumental music, the question of how to end a piece appropriately keeps coming up. I don’t know why I’m having such trouble with it, as I never really had this problem with songs (or never noticed it if I did!). Anyway, it got me to reminiscing about my favourite types of song endings – the ones I would use over and over.

The “Lazy Old Fade” (example: Beautiful)
Needs no explanation. It’s what we do when we can’t think of a proper ending – or we’re just plain lazy.

The “Singing in the Car” ending (example: All Here)
Just like when you’re singing along in the car and then the song abruptly ends, the vocals keep going for a bit after the song has ended. Usually the vocals will restate the main hook, as in “If You Wannabe My Lover”.

The “Fallen off the Edge of a Cliff” ending (example: Walking Round With Eyes Closed)
This ending puts emphasis on the last three chords, with the final one falling on the first beat of the bar and being held for at least a bar’s length.  Yes, it’s a bit boring, but you can dress it up with fills so that it sounds different every time.

The “Stopped at the Edge of the Cliff” ending (example: Moving On)
As above, but it slows down for the antepenultimate and penultimate chords.

The “Dribbles to a Halt” ending (example: “Journey to Nowhere”)
The lead guitar and/or vocal does a bit of what I like to call “noodling”, just messing about, improvising a little line and having the final say.

The “One More Riff” ending
The song restates an instrumental riff which has already appeared at several points throughout the song. I know I've used this ending somewhere, but can't find a recording.

The “Jazz Hands” ending (example: Eva Cassidy - Cheek to Cheek)
Can only be done with a live band. Everyone goes mad and tries to outdo each other. Sadly, I don’t have any recordings of this, but my old band “Hollie Sheard & Friends” used to do some really stonking “jazz hands” endings.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Just because I feel like it and because it rocks, here's a video of a cat running into boxes:

P.S. - A very happy birthday to Bobble

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Progress Report

Wii Fit - Have lasted just over a week so far, and have lost a little weight. Didn't do any exercises yesterday and probably won't today, since I'm busily working at the theatre. But just travelling to work involves a fair bit of walking, so I reckon that's okay.

Composing for Creative Commons - Getting close to reaching my goal of a 45-minute total, so I decided it was time for some feedback. If only I knew a senior lecturer in music production...oh wait! There's one on my sofa.

He thinks the Creative Commons thing is an admirable sentiment, but I might be depriving myself of the opportunity to make some money from the music I've written. There are some production issues, he says, which can be easily sorted out, and then I need to make shorter "cut-downs" of the music to make it usable for TV programmes. Once I've done this, I should send it out to Library Music companies and only then, if I'm rejected by these companies, should I consider "gifting" it to the creative community. So, Creative Commons is out of the window for now. I have defenestrated it.

New website design - The "beta" version is now up at and will soon be replacing the site at the main URL (

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Songwriter's block

Creative block is a thing of the past for me. This book got rid of it. I can heartily recommend it to all songwriters and composers.

In a nutshell, it advocates spending an entire day trying to write as many songs or compositions as possible (you shoot for 20, but it's understood that you won't manage that many). Because speed is of the essence, you have no choice but to write whatever comes into your head, with as little self-editing as possible.

There's more info about this method at Wikipedia but to fully understand it, you need to read Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson's The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook. I used this method to write my second album "By Hook Or By Crook" and to write about 40% of my instrumental work so far.

The book advocates getting together with other songwriters and comparing notes at the end of your mammoth songwriting session. I've never done this, but if any songwriters local to Yorkshire would like to give it a try, let me know.

Monday, 10 October 2011

ReverbNation is the new Myspace

It surprises me how few of my musician friends know about or make use of ReverbNation. It seems to be a big thing in the US, but here it's largely ignored.

I wonder how many musos here would join if they knew they could do all this stuff for free:
  • Upload images and MP3s
  • Keep a schedule of their gigs
  • Link to Twitter, Facebook,  YouTube, and Myspace, pulling in statistics from all of them
  • Update your status on social networks all from one place
  • Connect with other musicians and bands, listen to their music and leave comments
  • Get "widgets" to embed into websites and blogs - just like embedding a YouTube video - which can play music, gather email addresses, display your gig schedule, etc
  • Build up a mailing list and send out HTML emails - plus track statistics on readership
  • Open a "store" where you can sell T-shirts, music downloads, and even CDs (much like CafePress)
  • Premium services available too, like digital distribution on iTunes, virtual "press kits", etc
Hopefully England will catch on soon.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Is the Kindle worth it?

Kindle Keyboard

Since my husband surprised me with a Kindle a few months ago, people have been asking me one question - "Is it worth it"?

In my humble opinion, yes...and no. One big advantage is that I can carry around thousands of books in my handbag without, er, having to buy a bigger handbag.

Another great advantage is that you can get hundreds of free books. All of the old classics are free, and many new books are free too because publishers are trying to promote new authors this way. It's also a good thing for independent authors, as you can clearly see from the whole raft of them that have popped up on Kindle's "Top 100 Free" list. Whilst there are many gems amongst these writers that are "doing it for themselves", there are some mediocre efforts mixed in, and most of them can't spell for toffee. I never knew until I got a Kindle that an author can love language and have the ability to craft a spellbinding story, but that doesn't necessarily mean they can actually spell. Back to the point, though, I'm reading all sorts of things that I never would have considered before. My previously steady diet of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert, and Michael Crichton just got a lot more flavourful.

That takes care of the "yes". Now for the "no". Kindle is not intuitive. You get used to it, but  it just isn't user-friendly. And in this day and age, you would expect a device like this to have a touch-screen. It's like clinging to a Nokia when everyone else has iPhones and Androids. Which brings me to my main point. If you ARE still clinging to your Nokia (like me), the Kindle is worth its weight in gold. If you have one of these new-fangled smart-phone thingies, download the free Kindle App instead. End of.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Will I last longer than a week?

Yoga on Wii Fit

In my latest attempt to get fit, I've been hitting the Wii Fit, along with my Mum, who intends to come over once a week for a Wii session. But I looked over the statistics the console gives you access to, and in the couple of years  since I've owned it, it seems I've never stuck at Wii Fit for longer than a week. Each time I've gone on there every day for four or five consecutive days, then missed a day or two, then gone on again once or twice, and then given up.

One measly week! I can't believe it.

I simply must do better this time. I'll aim for two weeks, then see where I go from there. Wish me luck, or rather, willpower.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Working on a new website

I've decided my website is a bit too colourful for someone who (a) purports to write serious music for grown-ups and (b) is knocking on a bit now at the grand old age of almost 27.

The new site will specifically be about my own work as a singer, songwriter, and composer, rather than about the "Hollie Sheard & Friends" band since we haven't rehearsed for some time now.

So here comes my new "timeless" website, based on a template kindly provided by Andreas Viklund.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Composing music for creative commons

I've been working on some instrumental music lately, building up a portfolio to send around in the hope that companies might want to use my music for TV, games, or other media.

To do this, it would be good to get a name for myself and actually get my music used on some things first before trying to work as a paid composer.

So, I've been thinking along the lines of releasing some music under a creative commons license, which would freely allow people to use my music for their personal or commercial projects without having to get permission or pay royalties.

Could this approach work, or is it the daftest idea I've had yet?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Tom's induction

Went to an event at my church yesterday. The new minister, Rev Tom McCready, was being formally welcomed to the church by all the congregation plus ministers and visitors from other Unitarian churches.

It was a good service (with only two hymns, so Brian was happy) and Tom looked pleased as punch when the congregation presented him with a shiny blue stole bearing a dove on one side and the Unitarian candle-in-a-chalice on the other.

Unitarians are very proud of their ability to put on a good spread, and this time was no exception. Us veggies even got to go first.  As a visiting minister with a pony-tail remarked, "I knew there was a good reason I became veggie". Whilst "mingling" Brian and I realised that, even though we've been attending (on and off) for a year now, we hardly know anyone's names yet except for Tom. There's one chap we talk to almost every time and we don't even know his name. So, the mission for the next few months is to learn some names.

Sadly we couldn't stay to hear the folk duo that was playing after the buffet, as we had to put next door's chickens to bed before it got dark.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Speaking out about mental health

In the spirit of the Time To Change campaign, I'm openly revealing that my song "All Here" is about my own experiences of bipolar disorder. If we don't speak out about these things, then they will remain a taboo forever. Let's try to change that.