Image credit: Christophe Berjot
I Heart Songwriting Club is an online community platform for songwriters all around the world.
What started as a small club between friends has grown to 750 songwriters from 18 countries who have written over 10,000 songs through the program.
“I was teaching at the Conservatorium of Music at the time and recognised that one of my students was really struggling with songwriting due to huge blocks and barriers around not being good enough. This is something I had been personally struggling with and I wanted to make songwriting fun again and take that pressure off,” founder Francesca de Valence says.
“The music industry is judged by how popular we are, how young we are and how beautiful we are, and creating for that kind of marketplace becomes debilitating.
“Five and a half years later, I Heart Songwriting Club has taught me that nine out of ten songs will probably be trash to get the practice it takes to create a good one. But at the time I didn’t know that, I didn’t have the experience and no one was talking about it.”
The lesson with the struggling student is where clarity came for Francesca and the club began with its first two members.
“We chose a theme, gave ourselves an hour and texted each other the final product and that was the beginning of the startup,” Francesca says.
“We then invited our friends to join and swapped to email, which we did for two years. We weren’t a business at this stage, just a club. During that time I wrote 104 songs, when I’d struggled to write four songs prior to that.
“It was and still is about making a community where songwriting is fun, fast and productive.”
When working via email Francesca quickly realised that numbers needed to be capped at 20 people for members to get the most of the experience and the process to be well-managed.
“Then all of a sudden we had a waiting list of people wanting to join. One of the club members approached me and suggested that this needed to be available to more people, she was the first person to cite the idea that perhaps this could be more,” Francesca says.
“I realised that would take a membership site and I would need to charge people for it, but as an artist, I had major barriers about valuing my work. Music is so undervalued and I had a block around putting a price point on that and stepping into the entrepreneurial role.”
Francesca began testing the membership model using Trello and it had 50 people sign up in the first month.
“While Trello wasn’t a great platform it was a free testing site and the uptake showed that it could really work,” Francesca says.
“Some people who joined us with that first public site are still in the club today.
“About six months later, we had a minimum viable product that we could offer to the marketplace and in March 2017 the current membership site was built.”
I Heart Songwriting Club is also about education.
“We still have weekly themes and we’ve added guidelines around those themes. For example it could be pot plants but you’ve got to write a country song or use an AABA song structure. This way the songwriter can be educated and can build on their skills,” Francesca says.
“We also use peer feedback as an educational tool. We find this so important as others in our group understand the process and can hear past the demo, sometimes even more so than the writer can. And it helps songwriters create something that will more realistically work in the marketplace and saves resources being invested into a song that doesn’t connect with an audience. This immediate feedback can also become a really uplifting and confidence building experience for members”
The club has also introduced courses and workshops for both kids and adults and has a mentor program for songwriters looking to take it to the next level in their career.
The main problem that I Heart Songwriting Club solves is writer's block.
“Writer’s block comes from all sorts of things, it can be so overwhelming when you can write about absolutely anything. We give people a focus and a starting point,” Francesca says.
As part of that, it also helps with perfectionism, excuses and isolation.
“We try to instill the belief that who cares what you make in an hour, it is only one hour, just have fun with it. This helps people let go of the perfectionist, self-judgement and self-criticism they feel over time,” Francesca says.
“We also take away the excuses. You don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike you down like a lightning bolt before you do anything about it. I Heart Songwriting Club encourages songwriters to put themselves in the creative space, it creates consistency and helps build those songwriting muscles. It creates structure and discipline and if you can’t find just one hour for yourself then that is a bigger problem.
“Our community also helps with feeling isolated, which is particularly relevant at the moment with COVID-19. Having a supportive environment gets you out of your head and combats the mental health issues that stem from that isolation, perfectionism, self-criticism and overall writer's block.”
The biggest highlight for Francesca is just helping songwriters to create every single day.
“From the outside, it may look like it would be the glitz and the glamour, such as the songwriters from our community who have taken the next step and been nominated for ARIA Awards, launched international careers, gone on tour and been played on major radio stations, but it is so much more than that,” Francesca says.
She gets emails everyday with positive feedback and from people whose lives I Heart Songwriting Club has changed.
“We build resilience in creators and in humans and there is so much wellness, fulfillment and connection in that. It really is the main reason I do what I do and it is the absolute highlight of the whole experience. It has been so amazing to see all of the hobby songwriters who have fulfilled their dreams of becoming artists through the club,” Francesca says.
“It moves me seeing people become creatively free, mindset free and emotionally free to connect with who they are and what they have to say. This experience helps songwriters let go and just express themselves and the overall wellness this brings to their lives is huge.”
Francesca has also been blown away by the opportunities she has received since moving into the entrepreneur space.
“I’ve had more amazing opportunities as an entrepreneur than as a musician in the Australian music industry,” Francesca says.
“I’ve attended BigSound BigTech 2018, South by Southwest, the Folk Alliance International Conference and a bunch of other different songwriting conferences, the door has been wide open.”
Having entered this venture with little previous business experience, the challenges for Francesca have been particularly about taking the next steps as a business.
“These challenges are all around my own mindset blocks that I’ve had to overcome and I’m sure there will be many more,” Francesca says.
“Building a team has also been a challenge, it has been difficult to let go of some of that control after being a solo entrepreneur for so long.”
I Heart Songwriting Club received a $5000 grant from APRA AMCOS - the performance rights organisation in Australia - last year.
“It has been really good to have them on board and to have that strong alignment. We used that grant to provide creative development for our members,” Francesca says.
“Other than that, we have been lucky enough that the rest of the funding has come from the users paying for the service.”
Moving forward Francesca wants to continue to grow I Heart Songwriting Club.
“We want to continue to grow so we can touch more songwriters in the most positive way possible,” Francesca says.
“Anything is possible when you’re creating, because you’re living in the space for potentiality and possibility. There is nothing defined, it’s up to you to define.”