Every now and then something that seemed like a great idea at the time becomes an even better idea when it’s acted upon.
Last year, Peterborough native Greg Wells, now a Los Angeles-based Grammy award-winning producer and musician, was looking for a meaningful way to honour his friend, the late Don Skuce.
Skuce, the former longtime owner of Ed’s Music Workshop in Peterborough and highly reputed guitar luthier, died in June 2018 at age 66 after a long battle with cancer.
The end result of Wells’ efforts led to the formation of the Don Skuce Memorial Music Collective that, at its heart, offers Peterborough-area musicians the opportunity to have a submitted original song recorded locally by producer James McKenty before being sent for final mixing and mastering, free of charge, by Wells at his Rocket Carousel Studio in Los Angeles.
That service, donated by a man who has produced music by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Elton John, and Celine Dion, to name but a few, is well beyond the reach of local musicians.
And so the word went out promoting the first round of the contest, the result being more than 60 entries submitted for adjudication by a five-member board, its members including Wells’ friend and longtime Peterborough musician John Crown who worked at Ed’s as a teen and learned how to repair guitars in the process.
“Peterborough wants to write songs and wants to have them heard,” says Crown, adding the response “far exceeded our expectations but in an entirely good way.”
Through January, board members listened to each entry on their own, made notes and, by group email discussion, reached a “pretty much unanimous” decision on the winning track, which was then forwarded to Wells for a listen.
“I sent Greg the one we agreed on but I also sent him another one (that scored high) and asked ‘Who do you want to work on here?’ and he said ‘I want to work on both of them,'” says Crown.
“The two songs sent to him were stylistically similar. Greg got back to me and asked ‘Is there something else you heard that’s completely not like what these two other artists are doing?’ That’s when I sent him a third track.”
The end result is Wells will put his talents to work on three songs — one of which is so well recorded that it will go directly to him for a remix while the other two will be recorded by McKenty before heading off to Wells.
VIDEO: “Make It” performed by The Colton Sisters
The winning entries are as follows:
- “I Didn’t Mean It” by Emily Burgess (co-written with Ryan Weber).
- “Make It” by The Colton Sisters (written by Martha Colton and performed by Mary and Martha Colton).
- “Eye Of The Storm” by The Marshas.
Once mixed and mastered by Wells, all three songs will remain the property of the selected artists.
Speaking to the response to the call for submissions, Crown says the ongoing pandemic may have played a part.
“A lot of times when you’re creating art, it’s a response to emotional things that you’re going through,” he reflects. “Given the nature of the lockdown and how it’s affecting how people feel, that opens the tap for creativity because things aren’t normal right now.”
And then there was the diversity of the entries, with the music genres running the gamut from punk to country to rock to folk to electronica.
“One guy, who isn’t a singer and doesn’t play an instrument, spoke his lyrics in the rhythm he wanted us to hear it in,” says Crown, admitting the adjudication process was a challenge.
“The one thing I realized early on is I had to set aside any sort of leanings I had towards stylistic preference. I’m a pretty diverse listener. I had to look at it in terms of ‘What is interesting to me about this particular song?'”
“It could be something in the lyrics or, chord wise, there could be movement going on that piqued my interest,” Crown adds. “For me it was about finding something that’s fresh and interesting.”
“If it had been a board made up of five other people, it could have been a completely different result. This (the result) isn’t us saying ‘This is good and everything else isn’t good.'”
As for the winning submissions, Crown says Burgess’ acoustic guitar-accompanied song “could go any number of ways depending on how it’s treated”, while The Colton Sisters’ song “is just a really pretty piece of music to listen to … beautifully harmonized.”
While those two songs, says Crown, are “stylistically similar”, The Marshas’ entry, which is headed directly to Wells, “is absolutely” not in the same vein.
“It kind of reminded me of my early musical adventures … guys that get together, turn it up really loud, and punk-rock out for three minutes. It’s pretty rowdy. The demo they sent in was really guitar forward. It had a really menacing quality, super fun to listen to.”
The next submission round for the Don Skuce Memorial Music Collective will start soon, Crown says, coinciding with the launch of a Rob Wilkes-designed website dedicated to the project.
It’s up now for viewing at www.donskuce.com, but will be populated soon with much more information including the bios of winning artists, samples of the winning songs, and contest rules.
The winner or winners of round two will be announced June 1st.
Moving forward, only song entries entered through the website as MP3s or M4As will be judged. That will make it easier for the judges, says Crown.
“We spent half our time trying to gather everything and put it in one place. It was pretty clumsy.”
Crown adds that those who submitted a song for the first round are welcome to re-submit, but it counts as their one allowed submission for the round — a change from the first round when entrants were allowed to submit up to three songs.
One thing that won’t be available on the new website for listening are the songs submitted to the contest.
“When you create art, it’s kind of like showing up at kindergarten and realizing you left your pants at home,” says Crown, referencing the reasoning behind that decision. “It’s pretty exposed.”
Like Wells, Crown is determined to ensure the project doesn’t lose sight of its intended focus: to honour Skuce by recognizing his immense contributions to, and influence on, the local live music community over so many years.
“(Ed’s Music Workshop) was like an old-style mid 20th century barber shop,” Crown recalls.
“Any time I would go there, it wasn’t just people looking at guitars and amps. Most times it was people sitting on stools playing guitars and talking, maybe not even about anything musical. It could have been politics, it could have been the weather, it could have been stupid jokes. Ed’s was a cultural hub.”
“By doing what we’re doing here, it’s similar in that anybody with a connection to Peterborough or Don can jump on board and be involved. That’s pretty great.”
For updates on the Don Skuce Memorial Music Collective, visit www.donskuce.com.