Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs
(Owlkids Books, Inc.; US: Oct 2009)
I’ve long been an admirer of John Crossingham, who is best known for being part of the Broken Social Scene collective, but has put out some of the most underrated Canadian music of this decade with his band Raising the Fawn. After a strong run of albums including 2004’s The North Sea and 2006’s The Maginot Line, I’d been wondering what became of Crossingham and his band, and while Raising the Fawn has been silent on all fronts for a couple years now, Crossingham has been hard at work on another project… yes, it’s music-related, but it’s a completely different medium. It turns out the guy’s written a book. A kids’ book.
Published by the folks at Canada’s Owl Kids (publishers of the long-running Canadian children’s nature magazine Owl) Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs is aimed at the nine-to-12-year-old set, as Crossingham offers a beginners’ guide to creating music. And the scope of this 96-page book is remarkably wide, as he takes the reader through the processes of choosing and learning an instrument, forming a band, writing your own songs, setting up live performances, recording your music, promotion and merchandising, and myriad other little tips. Most importantly, he promotes a strong DIY indie aesthetic that serves as an extremely refreshing counterpoint to the mainstream’s preoccupation with instant, pre-fab, American/Canadian Idol fame. It’s all about the joy of creating, and I can’t think of a better message for little kids these days. In fact, reading Crossingham’s friendly, lucidly-written advice—for example, learning to be fair to your bandmates and treat them with respect, or how to organize a well-run, financially responsible concert—there are plenty of grown-up musicians who could even learn a thing or two from this book.
One of the coolest things about the book is all the little sidebar tips from various well-known Canadian indie artists, as people like Feist, Emily Haines, Dallas Green, Buck 65, Melissa Auf der Maur, Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, and many others offer their own advice for young readers. Also, scattered throughout are excelleently chosen playlists that offer terrific examples of such things as dynamics, cover tunes, unusual arrangements, lyrics, classic live performances, and lo-fi versus hi-fi. Jeff Kulak provides plenty of eye-catching illustrations that help explain what Crossingham is getting at, but in the end it’s Crossingham’s personable writing style, not to mention his years of experience writing and performing music, that makes Learn to Speak Music so enjoyable. It’s not so much a “how to write an incredible song” book as it is a “how to be yourself through music” book, and no matter what style of music a kid wants to play, Crossingham shows that the entire process can be extremely rewarding if you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s an absolute pleasure to read for kids and grown-ups alike.