How an Album and an Offer to Help Changed My Life
I forewarn you: this is not your typical Mitchell-penned blog for Simmons Sharpe. There are no facts and figures, no infographics, and no tutorials. It’s a story. My story. I felt compelled to share it as I think it has some important lessons about the art of business, marketing, and life. So here we go…
20 years ago today an album was released that changed my life. “Adam’s Rib” was the first time I ever heard a violin used in rock music, and I quickly became intrigued by Melanie Doane’s unique style of songwriting and storytelling. The album won a Juno Award, and went on to be certified Gold. As anyone in “the biz” knows, that wasn’t an easy task in Canada even in the late 90s, and it’s virtually UNHEARD of today.
I was in high school at the time and was witnessing the beginning of the collapse of the music industry. Napster was changing the game, and some artists – in a move that was in many ways pioneered by Aimee Mann - began leaving the major label system to embrace new, online, direct-to-fan channels. This was pre social media, kids. When Melanie left Sony, I started emailing her manager on a whim with marketing ideas and suggestions for her website. Little did I know those emails would lead to us working together for the next 10 years, releasing three albums, booking countless shows, calling radio stations, emailing press, and doing whatever we could to keep it going without the financial backing of a label or grant funding. It wasn’t an easy task. We made some mistakes, but we also had some successes. It was a continuous learning experience, and rewarding in countless ways.
Through those emails, I also met Melanie’s brother Creighton, who is an accomplished musician, producer and arranger. I was writing songs and exploring being an artist at that time, and Creighton invited me to his studio in Toronto to work on some demos. This lead to Creighton co-producing MY album in 2004, and that whole experience is still such a blur to me! The album somehow got nominated for an ECMA and was played on regional radio enough that I still get micro-cheques from SOCAN today. While I usually prefer to BURY my musical journey as a teenager because I find it super embarrassing, as an adult now it’s kind of cool to know that I put myself out there, tried it, and still write songs to this day. And guess what? The songs I’m writing now are FAR better than what I was writing at 14. Cause that’s what we all strive to do, right? Get better.
What’s interesting about my connection to Melanie’s breakthrough album is it doesn’t end there. When I moved to Toronto in 2011, Melanie graciously let me live at her house while we released her last full-length album “The Emerald City”. This was just prior to Melanie joining the cast of Mirvish’s hit production of “War Horse”. During that time, I met Heather Simmons. Heather and Melanie were long-time friends, and when Heather was raising money for voice cancer research at St. Michael’s Hospital, we partnered with her on a promotional video and a benefit show that featured Melanie and Jim Cuddy (of Blue Rodeo). It was a really fun night, and to my surprise it wasn’t the only time I’d get to experience world class live music (and yummy drinks!) courtesy of Heather. She invited me to see Melissa Etheridge (twice!), and I may have also gotten to attend a private gala event for St. Michael’s that featured none other than…wait for it…Sting. Umm, yeah. Thanks again Heather for those incredible experiences.
So where is this story headed? Well, cut to two years ago, Heather sends me an email asking if I could help out with a website for a client for Simmons Sharpe – a new digital agency she co-founded with Bill Sharpe. I had left my previous job in agency land and was in a transitory period, so I was happy to get some freelance work and dip my toes back into what a career might look like for me in this new phase of my life. Something clicked, because we kept working together. I’ve been a full time employee at Simmons Sharpe for over a year now, and what a year it’s been. We may be new (ish), but we’re already working with exciting clients like Atlantic Lottery and TD Bank, and we’re building a MarTech product that has the potential to be an industry game changer. There have been challenges along the way, and there will continue to be. But our small team works hard and has big dreams, and that’s what propels us forward.
The point of writing this is to remind myself that a risk I took as a teenager is still benefiting me in my 30s, and all I had to do was reach out and offer help with something that I was passionate about. It all seems so simple now, and yet it’s a lesson I am constantly revisiting to this day.
So what are you passionate about? What are you great at that other people need help with?
Reach out and offer help. You may be surprised and delighted at the ways it comes back around to help you in the end.
Thanks Melanie for taking a chance on a chubby nerdy high school kid, and thanks for creating music that truly ended up changing my life.
Melanie Update: Melanie founded Doane Uschool in 2007, which has grown into a registered charitable organization dedicated to making music education accessible to children regardless of their financial circumstances. Doane Uschool now teaches over 750 students in 54 weekly classes in the GTA. For more information, visit www.uschool.ca