All The Clubs That Will Have Me

Well this is very interesting. Very, very slowly over the past 8 months or so I have been researching and joining music education professional associations with the vague notion that this will test my bureaucratic tolerance for jumping through hoops and force my brain to consider a little more than the day to day of being home with a 4 year old, cooking, cleaning, laundry – always the laundry – errands, appointments, and teaching beginner piano. All worthy things to do with my time of course. My homemade muffins, soup, and bread have evolved into tasty and delicious treats instead of punishments and my 4 year old is happy, smart, sweet and funny.
My paper trail started with submitting all of my degrees and diplomas, starting way, way back in the previous century with my first foray into music school. Selkirk College was a fantastic experience and obtaining my diploma only whetted my curiosity about music and made me desperate to learn more, do more, get better, study harder.

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so I successfully auditioned for Capilano University, obtained another diploma and kept going for a Bachelor of Music Degree, Education Major

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all of these pieces of paper I had not seen in many years and along the way there were several moves and a legal name change. But I kept going, slowly, writing emails to various school records departments, and paying money, lots of money, for my carelessness and lack of organization.

With all my little duck shaped pieces of paper in a row, I applied for membership to the BC Music Educators Association which is a Provincial Specialist Association of the BC Teacher’s Federation. They took me, and that let me into the Canadian Music Educator’s Association as well. Emboldened, I set my sights on the BC Registered Music Teacher’s Association which is a quasi regulatory body for private music teachers. I had to submit reference letters for this one. It’s a hard thing to ask for (at least for me) but I did and had the unexpected side benefit of reconnecting with former students and their parents, leading to several really fun coffeeshop visits to pick up letters that left me thinking, it’s so rewarding to proactively seek connection with fellow human beings. Why don’t I do that more often?
Anyway, after more deadlines to meet and more money to pay I got this in the mail

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A heartfelt thank you to Sharlene Hertz, Shannon Halkett, Andrea Finch, Ian McDougall, and Danine Griffin for your kind and effusive letters on my behalf. I could not have done all this without your generous help.

I now have my two diplomas, one degree, and three membership certificates within arm’s reach (well I don’t sleep with them next to me or anything) and now…I told myself after that was all done I would start looking into going back to school…here we are. I sort of didn’t think I’d make it this far but I did. And I’ve told way too many people that school is in my plans to stop now. So although I feel quite reluctant to screw up my pretty comfortable life with deadlines and submissions and hunting down transcripts that is now on the agenda. It’s not that I’m unhappy with what I do, it’s that I want to do more. And I need some good teachers to inspire me and show me how to be a better teacher, helper, and human being. So I’m currently combing through Maclean’s university rankings and trying to envision myself in a classroom, 15 years older than all the other kids. Bleah. I think I will slowly, very slowly keep moving forward on this – I have a year and a half before my little one goes to kindergarten, which I think is a good time for me to going somewhere educational too. Hopefully we will both embrace learning, new places, and new people with the same enthusiasm.

CBC Searchlight 2014

Tis the season to enter song competitions. I have done so for the CBC Searchlight contest. It’s a “hunt for the best new artist of 2014”. Ok, so I’m not a new artist. I entered a song called “Every Single One” from a small collection of tunes I wrote and recorded shortly before I entered the all encompassing world of parenthood. It was my first attempt at singing my own lyrics in public, and the first solo project I completed after being in other people’s bands for nigh unto a decade. So in that sense, in the “I am a total novice at this” sense, I am a new artist.
New artists need all the help they can get. You can see my CBC artist profile here and a click on the “Vote For This Artist” button would really tickle me pink. If you love “Every Single One” please tell your friends. I will be doing exactly that, in a classy non-pestering fashion (I hope). Polls are open until April 6, and you can vote for multiple artists multiple times. You can also listen to my songs
here, at my bandcamp page and even purchase them there – a rebellious concept in the 21st century – if you like.

CBC Searchlight Bio

This is a bio I wrote for a recent songwriting contest called Searchlight, sponsored by CBC Radio. My first attempt at putting my songs “out there” after being hit by that wonderful train called motherhood. I really did feel like I had been physically hit by a train after labor and delivery, and this has since mellowed to a metaphorical train that hit my mind, emotions, and personality rendering all parts of me unrecognizeable compared to who I was before. Like most people who have been hit by trains, it has taken me a long time to recover and regain my equilibrium, hence the two year gap in the Music posts.

For a long time I played keyboards and sang in two really great Vancouver bands. The Feminists (2001-2008), which I formed and co-fronted, and Parlour Steps (2007-2010). Cool things happened in those bands. We toured across Canada and the U.S, played at NXNE, SXSW, and Bumbershoot, had an iTunes Single Of The Week international radio play and placements in film and tv.Both bands imploded when it became obvious that real success was on the horizon.

I finally realized it was pointless to blame other people for what I considered to be the greatest tragedy of my life. (Thankfully, I also realized that a band breaking up was not a great tragedy). It was a huge mistake to give my maximum effort to somebody else’s songs and somebody else’s band. I totally believed all that crap about “do what you love and the money will follow” and “if you can dream it, you will achieve it” Now I believe, sometimes things just don’t work out. And that talent has nothing to do with succeeding in music. It’s more about winning a mysterious lottery, somehow attracting someone with more money and power than you to take an interest in what you’re doing.

And so, after a long interlude of snarling “playing in bands ruined music for me”, I decided to start again and do what I should have done from the start: write my own songs, revel in the ease I feel when playing and singing beautiful lines, and make art because it brings me pleasure and it’s fun to do. And forget about being an entertainer and caring about the music industry. That is a time sucker that distracts from playing piano and singing.

Wow, she has a bad attitude you may say. Very well. I have a bad attitude. I do not schmooze very well. I suck at small talk and being fake with people I don’t really know but maybe I could use to advance my career in some way. I am excellent at big talk, but there is not much call for that, anywhere. I am neither a joiner nor an extrovert. I am done with being conventional and playing the game. Art is a personal statement. And it has to be authentic and real. It must reflect who you truly are, not what others think you should be.

I have no expectations. Mostly I operate on the assumption that nobody will read my words or listen to my music. That’s ok, because I love and need to do it regardless of an audience. I create songs, because I have something to say. I want you to listen. I felt something when I wrote the words and music. I want you to feel something when you listen. And that shared emotional experience between you and me through vibrating sound frequencies, that is what I love about music.

The song I’ve entered into Searchlight is called Every Single One, and it’s the first track from my debut EP as a solo artist. The band who performs it with me is amazing. You can read all about them on my enormous blog at http://www.alisonmaira.com.

Don’t think I wouldn’t appreciate getting a few hundred thousand votes and advancing in the Searchlight contest. I would love that. How wonderful it would be to have many ears listening to my songs and make new connections with like-minded human beings.

I can’t say it would improve my attitude, though.

Worth A Thousand Words.

This past week I chose my final photos from over 300 proofs that were generated during my album promo photo shoot earlier this month. It was difficult to narrow it down to ten final choices. Well, ok 11. I just couldn’t cut it down any further than that and wonderful Angela was kind enough to let me have an extra one.

I must say though, I’m pretty tired of looking at photos of myself. Even though these are awfully good photos. I think everyone should have the chance to get professional photos done of themselves once in their lives. It’s pretty refreshing to see yourself portrayed in the best possible light.

The shoot itself was fascinating, fun, and very productive. Angela Fama was the photographer. I had first met her at the Parlour Steps photo shoot for the Hidden Names record and I was so impressed with how she handled the shoot and the resulting beautiful pictures. I never thought I’d get a chance to work with her on my own, but then again I never thought I’d be able to write and record my own songs either. Never say never.

Julie Bavalis, bass player extreme and stylish individual extraordinaire is great friends with Angela and wanted to style the entire shoot. Yay for me! We had a nice meeting at Angela’s house, wrote down some ideas and a few days later Julie showed up with feathers, leather string, and an armload of clothes from C’est La Vie, a fantastically hip Main St. vintage clothing store she works at part time. Julie always goes the extra mile for her friends and I have been the grateful recipient of her largesse many times.

Angela recommended a makeup artist named Marie Pierce. Marie had done makeup for Julie and I at the last Parlour Steps photo shoot and I was happy to work with her again.

We convened at Angela’s house on a Saturday night and six hours later had 300 photos to show for it. I was a little nervous, wondering how it was going to work with the wardrobe from C’st La Vie that was not materinity clothes. I’m 8 months pregnant now and I haven’t considered wearing “normal” clothes since oh, about October or so. The ladies made two chic bandeau tops for me by wrapping me in lengths of blue and white fabric and then taping feathers over top.

I didn’t even have to wear a bra, which shocked me. I thought for sure that would violate all sense of decency (and I didn’t want to take that kind of picture) but Julie made everything look so classy.
We were going for the blue/gray/feathery vibe that the ferociously talented Jim Miller had drawn for the album artwork.

Jim and I knew each other in high school. He was an impressive artist then; he is a seasoned professional now. He’s one of the only people I know who realized early what they were supposed to be, never stopped doing that, and has subsequently risen to a very high level in his career due to years of non stop effort and improvement. He’s now a storyboard supervisor at My Little Pony, for god’s sake (All the pre-teen girls I teach are impressed beyond words that I know someone who works on My Little Pony). I’m so glad Jim and I ran into each other again as grownups, and I’m completely delighted he found the time to design and paint a gorgeous picture for my album cover. Without his asthetic, this photo shoot may not have even happened.

We did a few different looks and included some full length body shots that probably won’t be used for album promo. But I wanted some nice pictures of me as a pregnant lady. It’s been an amazing time in my life and it’s worth commemorating.

It wasn’t all hard work, though. There were some girls with mustaches.

Angela had a studio space set up in her basement and we laughed, ate snacks, drank tea, listened to music, and were relentlessly productive.

It was exhilarating and completely absorbing. I think this was my first work project that was all female. These women and I were on exactly the same page and it was amazing and joyful to accomplish so much, so efficiently, in such a short time.

Angela Fama is truly a creative force to be reckoned with.

I found myself thinking, wow she’s so talented and confident. I will be like that too, from this moment on! I thought it was cool that her vibe was one of inspiration, not intimidation. She was working very hard, but I didn’t feel anxious or pressured. I had decided to do whatever she suggested and trust her professional eye.

This approach has served me stunningly well during the entire process of making this album and it’s getting so easy to shut up and take direction. It’s a relief to work with people who are skilled and confident and know more than me. It’s a joy to relax and learn from them. My record sounds a lot more expensive than it was, due to talented professionals who gave me incredible discounts for their time because of our friendship and their connections to other professionals. My photos look a lot more expensive than they were for the same reason. The final results have far eclipsed anything I could have done on my own, with my own meager resources. I am so grateful. And very impressed frankly, that so many of my friends have blossomed into very high level artists.

Here are some of those final results. Photos by Angela Fama

photo by Angela Fama

ohoto by Angela Fama

Yes well, life in general has an amazing, sparkling sheen to it these days. I think it’s mostly due to the amazing, sparkly incredibly high doses of estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin surging through my body. This hormone bath is picking my brain. But it’s a great pickling and a lovely bath to be in. I see more tenderness, joy, beauty and humor in everyday life thna I ever thought possible. How could I have missed all that before? If it’s a temporary phenomenon of pregnancy, I’ll miss it. And I’ll never forget it.

I see more pain and suffering too. My eyes constantly well up with tears of joy, and sorrow. I feel like my heart has grown ten sizes – not that I was really grinchy before I got pregnant – that my capacity for empathy and compassion has increased to delicious, almost unbearable levels. I’ve always been a sensitive person. But now my body and mind are frequently overwhelmed with how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes.

It’s a gift that has made me a better listener, more affectionate, kinder, more patient, happier, and infinitely more appreciative of the fleeting fragility of life. All traits that might help make me a good mama. Once again, I am in awe of how beautifully the transition to motherhood is designed by nature and a few million years of evolution. Thanks, hormones.

By this time next month, I’ll probably have a baby. After so many months of being pregnant, it’s hard to believe it’s almost over. And that the biggest transition, the most massive changes and adventure are yet to come.

It’s An Album!

Hello World,
The Blackbirds EP by OK Maira is freshly completed and eager to imprint itself upon your lovely ears, much like a baby bird does on the first object it sees. Usually its mother, and I’m not saying you should be my album’s mother…I’m just saying this wee record wants to make friends with your ears. Or something like that.


You can listen to and/or buy individual songs (or all of them!) at my page on Bandcamp. Also on the Listen page is the gorgeous album artwork, created by Vancouver artist Jim Miller. You can see more of his work here. Comment, forward, discuss. perhaps sing and dance. Delve into the OK Maira blog and read the story of recording with some of Vancouver’s finest musicians who play and sing all over this damn record.


I’m seven months pregnant now, feeling good but slowing down a little. It’s going to be real interesting to see how much farther along with the digital album release I can get before the baby makes its debut.

I’ve Been Mastered

I went to Alex Degrace at Suite Sound Labs here in Vancouver for mastering. I’d been to Suite Sound before to master The Feminists records, but I’d never worked with Alex before. And, I’d never really learned exactly what mastering was. I knew it was necessary, but in my younger days I couldn’t be bother to find out why. I never heard much of a difference after a recording was mastered, due to my overall impatience and poorly developed ears.


However, when you’re in charge of a project – and paying for it yourself – you start to become more curious and invested in what exactly is going on and why. At least I did. So here is a nutshell summary of what I have learned about mastering:


Mastering is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix (wave files on Mike Southworth’s ftp site in this case) to a data storage device (the master cd); the source from which all copies will be produced. What’s involved in the mastering process is quite detailed.


Mastering requires critical listening on the part of the engineer; part of their job is to improve upon sound translation on all playback systems, i.e. make the record sound good on your iPod, in your car, on your living room stereo. Basically, mastering “sweetens” audio to maximize the sound quality by editing minor flaws, adding ambience, adjusting volume, and equalizing audio across tracks. Kind of like putting on your makeup and touching up your hair just before you go out for a fabulous night on the town, having already dressed to the nines and made your plans.


Anyway, Alex put some great hair and makeup on my EP. It did seem to sparkle and shine a little bit more after he had applied his critical listening skills. The recording is truly, truly done. It’s time to let you all hear it and release it out into the big world to seek its fortune.



I’m six months into my pregnancy now and I notice some interesting parallels between making art and making babies. I could never understand women who insisted that their ultimate fulfillment comes from having baby after baby. But I sort of do now. It is an amazing process, and unlike most other creative projects, so viscerally physical. Anything that’s grounded so completely in the body will feel incredibly real and immediate. And critically important, which it is. Important to the baby in particular. I feel proud of my album that I made; I feel proud of the person I am making. For me though, I am glad to have had both – creating good works with head and heart and creating a baby with a beautiful man. I could have been quite happy just making art, growing my love and knowledge, and evolving as a human without ever being pregnant. I mean, come on. That’s the lot of all men (and many women) all the time. They seem to do okay. But I’m glad I have a chance to experience this particular kind of creativity too.



I definitely now understand, with the intensity of a thunderclap, that pregnancy takes its meaning from each individual woman and her particular circumstances. It’s very easy to judge when women handle their pregnancies in ways we don’t agree with. But pregnancy at the wrong time, with the wrong man does not feel wondrous and amazing and fulfilling. The complete physicality, the raw immediate-ness of the experience is overwhelming and can be terrifying in a negative context. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to change her mind about a pregnancy that happens in rotten circumstances, that of course happens every day thousands of times around the world. But for the ones who don’t change their mind, their absolute conviction that this pregnancy is a completely unwanted invasion of their body, of their life, is just as powerful as my conviction that my pregnancy is exactly right for me and a welcome, treasured expansion of my life and my body. Knowing it’s wrong for you doesn’t make it easy. Knowing it’s right for you doesn’t make it easy. I have a newfound respect for this fact. It may not solve any problems, but it does enable me to have a lot more compassion towards other women and their struggles.

Mixology 101

My mixing sessions with Mike Southworth had arrived. I’d been so busy growing a human and teaching full time and trying to regain some semblance of normal life that the weeks had passed rather quickly. Mike Zobac and I had flailed around attempting to edit vocals and start the mixing process, but a lack of experience coupled with unfamiliarity with the studio gear gave me the uneasy impression that we were making the songs sound worse, not better.


This was in fact the case. It took Mike a bit of time to undo all the half baked “strategies” and “fixes” that Zobac and I had forced on those poor little songs. But once we were effectively back at zero, things went quickly. A few days later we had a set of first pass initial mixes done.


I popped the cd into my car’s stereo and grinned with amazed delight as I drove home listening. Mike Zobac and I grinned some more when we listened to them together. Mostly from relief, I think. It was deeply satisfying to hear the songs as we originally envisioned. We knew when we were recording that everyone’s parts were really good and the songs had solid arrangements and a decent amount of catchy melodic-ness. It was worrying and disappointing to say the least that after our mixing attempts the songs were missing all of these elements.


In hindsight, it was touchingly naive that we thought we could mix a record. Being decent musicians with decent ears and some computer facility allowed us to engineer, produce, and arrange. But not mix, oh no. And it really came down to familiarity with the studio’s gear and experience. Mike Southworth sat and casually talked to me while he cleaned up, edited, and employed a thousand little shortcuts and tricks to make everything sound rad. Mike Zobac and I sat in mute despair, wondering why we couldn’t hear our keyboard parts, or why we couldn’t line up the vocal parts perfectly, or where the hell was that plug-in that we just used.



We listened carefully for a few days to the initial mixes, and passed our notes on to Mike Southworth. About a week later we had our final mixes. And I knew I hadn’t just wasted a year of my life writing and recording songs.

Here’s Every Single One a la Zobac and Maira. Meh.

Every Single One



Final mix. Yup, I hear a difference.

Every Single One




Blackbirds, pre-awesome.

Blackbirds



Final mix. Warmer, fuller, lusher, more beautiful.

Blackbirds

After a couple of weeks of feeling overjoyed with how my songs sounded, it dawned on me: I am so happy with my art project that I made out of nothing. The depths of despair had completely disappeared. Nausea and fatigue were distant memories. I’m five months now, and I feel fantastic and beautiful. I’m eating well, exercising again, hanging out with my friends, and carefully tending my teaching practice. All the things I couldn’t imagine doing two months ago.

Every day, I am happy to be me. I don’t remember ever feeling like this. I feel my little babe swim and roll around like a goldfish in a bowl and it makes me smile. I’m so, so glad I didn’t give up on making this record. Next, we master.