10 tips for recording children’s songs

Ayo! Let's Go! demo coverThe most exciting thing coming up for me in 2016 is that I have a collection of children’s songs recorded and ready to be released (Ayo! Let’s Go!). I’m so excited about this because it represents a lot of work I did while living in Bali. Just before I left Indonesia in December, I was able to book a music studio, get singers and a pianist together and finally record 11 songs.

I was recently asked for some tips on recording children’s songs. A friend is planning to record his original songs this year. Gee, I thought, I don’t know much – I’ve only done it once. But after reflecting, I realised I learnt an enormous amount from doing this recording. Here are some of my tips on how to prepare for a recording.

First – getting your songs ready to record

1) Revise your lyrics.

Two music teachers heard my songs in the early stages and the first thing they said was: too many words. I crammed so many words in some of my lines that it made it hard for adults, let alone children, sing. Not every song has to be Jack and Jill for rhythm and simplicity. But too many words makes it much harder to follow, especially for kids.

When it came time to prepare for recording I revised every single song. I scrutinised every word and every line. I took out innumerable ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘that’ and unnecessary conjunctions. If a word wasn’t completely necessary, I took it out. I even deleted whole verses when I decided the verse didn’t fit the pattern of previous verses, or made the song too long.

As the songwriter you have one way of singing your song. Trying to imagine how other people will approach it is much harder. Looking at your lyrics on paper as if they are poems makes this easier.

2) Be sure about the structure of the song (this might need to be step 1). It could be: intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse, chorus x 3 as ending. Or it could be more complicated. There is a wide range of children’s songs out there. It’s okay to do something complicated.

However, don’t be scared of repetition. Kids love that they know what is coming up next. Interaction is also fabulous. Have a think about how to include a call and answer, or some other interaction for the kids. One of my songs has an introduction that is completely different to the main song. I had actually written two bamboo songs and decided to combine them. In between the intro and the song I have a short spoken piece, and then there is counting through the song. It was fun to record, took longer of course, but because I had it very clear about who would do what, and what the accompaniment needed to do, it went very smoothly.

3) If you have time, money or friends who play more instruments, think about doing a more complicated arrangement. What instruments would be best for each song? I ended up going with a simple piano and voice arrangement for my songs, but I always thought if the songs needed it I could get other musicians to add drums, guitar or gamelan on top. Work out the basics first and then have a wish list for improving them.

4) Work out the key signature for each song. This was essential for me as I had a fantastic pianist, Thomas Zebua, creating the accompaniment. One of the first things he needed to know was the key for each song. I wasn’t singing the songs myself. In fact I had four different singers working on the album and we worked out the key for each song at the first rehearsal.

Then – have plenty of time for rehearsal

5) Phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, timing, pauses. All this gets worked out in rehearsal. If you’re the one being recorded you’ll have to record yourself over and over again. Ask yourself—and other people: Was that word clear? Should the song be slower or faster? Or should the tempo speed up? When I was rehearsing I was the one listening to the singers so it was easier for me to pick up on phrases that needed work. Pronunciation of English words was one area where we needed to go over some phrases many times. Funnily enough, even some of the Indonesian was improved upon in the studio when there were other Indonesians listening to the songs.

6) Practice the endings. I didn’t want all my songs to end the same way. I thought it would be dull if every song finished fading out, or if every song repeated the refrain three times and then finished. So I made sure some finished abruptly, some finished with piano, some faded out slowly. The same with beginnings.

Finally – what to expect in the studio

7) Book as much time as you can afford and be very prepared that that might change. I had some crazy idea that we could record 11 songs in one day. Well, we almost did, but that was only the piano. I had to book two more days in the studio after that to get the singers recorded. That was my inexperience showing up big time! Luckily I was in Bali in a small studio near my house in Sanur and the studio was available the following two days. I ended up having not just the Friday in the studio but Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. It’s unlikely that a song will be recorded in only one take so if you’re the person who has hired everyone to be there, you have to decide when something needs to be done over and when it’s good enough. Singers only have so many takes in them and you only have so many hours in the studio.

8) Don’t forget the mixing. Most of the mixing for my songs was done in the studio straight after the recording and the engineer did a great job. That meant we both stayed in the studio for another two hours after the recording finished to make sure all the tracks were right, and I could leave with all the tracks pretty much finished. But I’ve still sent it to a friend who is a professional musician/engineer in Australia and he is working on it and getting it ready for distribution.

9) Take some photos. You might want to document this experience. It’s so much fun! I had a blast of a time in that hot little bamboo studio in Sanur. I got to listen to my songs sung over and over. And, while it was kind of stressful, worrying that we wouldn’t get it all done and wondering if the singers were getting quite the feel that I’d hoped, it was a fantastic experience.

10) And finally, get copies of all the files. Ask for every possible format that you might need. Mp3 for sure but if you want some more mixing afterwards, you’ll probably want them in a different format. Also, you might want the accompaniment by itself, with no voice over. If you’re a solo performer, suddenly you have your own backing track and you can be free to perform the song without having to play an instrument.

These are just the tips from someone who has gone through a recording experience once. Others are sure to have more.

Publishing in Indonesia: Tips from Sarita Newson

I had a chat with Sarita Newson last year about the latest children’s book she is publishing. With more than 30 years of experience in publishing in Indonesia through her company Saritaksu Editions, Sarita Newson is a wealth of interesting stories and useful information. This is part of our conversation.

How did you begin publishing children’s books?Sarita Newson

We did one way back with an Australian friend of mine Adrian Clynes who is a linguist – his thesis was on the language of Bali. He put together some of the stories that the old people used to tell. We were concerned they were getting lost as the oral tradition petered out with the arrival of TV. That book was called Grandfather’s TalesKakek Bali Bercerita. We sort of self-published it. There wasn’t any proper distribution in those days but Bali is small enough you can spread them about. It was very popular.

At that time, the early eighties, there were very few books for children in bookstores. You could only get Majala Bobo. There weren’t any of the lovely colourful picture books in Indonesian in those days. Now there are some wonderful comic books and picture books.

Tell us about your latest book Rajawali and the Children: Making the lake clean

It is the third book in the Clean Bali series of books written by Maggie Dunkle and illustrated by Margiyono. [Maggie Dunkle was a librarian and author who moved from Australia to Bali late in life and passed away in 2012.]

The book is trying to point out the wisdom of nature. How the birds know how to survive and how we should listen and observe. If the birds leave, it’s for a very good reason. There is a reason they are dying.

Rajawali cover

How long does it take to publish a children’s book?

One book can take six months to a year from taking a manuscript through translation, illustration and printing. This one has taken longer. We ran out of steam. The illustrator got busy, but I wanted to keep the same artist the same way through as I wanted them to look the same. He spent a lot of time learning about the different birds in Bali and trying to depict them accurately.

Another thing that slowed us down was that the author Maggie got very ill and passed away. She was a great force for pushing things along. She was a very grumpy old lady. I was very fond of her and we never had an argument, but she had arguments with everyone else.

Clean Bali booksHow did you find the illustrator?

The illustrator, Margiyono, was working as a stonemason. A friend saw some paintings he was doing and asked, ‘have you ever tried to illustrate anything?’ She encouraged him to do some illustrations and when they had some, they came to me. I told them there is a lot more work to do but I’d love to publish it.

All three books in the Clean Bali Series are printed in Balinese, Indonesian and English. I did the Indonesian translation with the help of my son. And Balinese author Made Taro translated the Bahasa Bali.


What are some of the practicalities of publishing in Indonesia?

It is most important to have a good printer who will be responsible for quality. Not all printers have the equipment or know-how to print books, or the ethics that are necessary, when printing mistakes happen. It is important to be clear on responsibility, and to have a good quality control. Just as with any other production, rushing orders is not a good idea, as it doesn’t allow enough time for checking and control. Storage is also important – it must be airconditioned and/or dehumidified in the tropics.

What are the steps involved in setting up a publishing company in Indonesia?

First one has to be Indonesian, and have a legal, registered, tax-paying company. Second, one needs to have a reliable and trustworthy printer. Third, a team who are willing and able to distribute and follow up with book shops and other places that sell the books.

Is it possible to self-publish?

It is possible to self-publish, but it is important to have a good editor, as few writers are capable of editing their own work. Self-publishers need to be savvy in promoting their own books, both digital and printed, as they are on their own. Preferably they should have their own network or access to buyers for selling the books, as book shops are not always keen to accept books unless recommended by established publishers. It has taken us many years to build our relationship with the bookshops.

How does the price of printing here compare to printing overseas, say in China?

We print the books in Jakarta. The printing is much cheaper and better quality than in Bali. Then we have them trucked here. It used to cost about $200 to ship a truckload of books to Bali but that has increased too.

When it comes to printing in China, importing the books is going to be a problem. In Australia you don’t have to pay duty to bring them back in but here you do. And they’ll never let on how much you’ll have to pay. They can be quite coy about it.

Clean Bali

How do you manage distribution?

We have a great relationship with the local bookshops. They’re really supportive. It may be because the industry is so unregulated. I’m sure it would have been a lot harder for me to do this in New Zealand. Book distributors charge a lot there too. But, you see, people can afford to pay more for books in Australia and New Zealand. But here, for local people, even to buy a book is a luxury. Which is why we give them away – to schools. When it comes to children’s books we give about half away and sell half. The intention is really to teach children about the environment. The first book in the Clean Bali Series has been reprinted once and 10,000 copies have been distributed. We printed 5000 copies of the second book and they have almost run out. Now I am seeking funding for the third book in the series. 

How about getting your books into the larger stores such as Gramedia and Kinokuniya? Are they open to that?

Yes we have an agent who delivers to Gramedia. Kinokuniya is more difficult, as they don’t have so many stores and their purchasing seems to be more centralized. Periplus order direct from us and we keep them informed of the release of new titles.  Rajawali spread

What are the some of the challenges you’ve faced in publishing picture books?

Picture books particularly are very challenging because it’s very unusual to find an artist here who is used to depicting stories. And the fact that the landscape behind the story should not be something completely different every time. And also being constant in depicting the characters is not always easy for the artist – they should even keep the same clothes on if the story is just continuing. All these kinds of details.

It’s a long process to understand how to create a sequence without the child’s face changing into three different children. A lot of artists are not able to reproduce the same face every time. Most of 50our artists here are autodidacts so it is a completely new idea. We had terrible trouble with the monkeys, even, looking the same [for Monkey Tales of Bali].

Sarita Newson

The Clean Bali Series of books all have a song included with the lyrics and music at the back of the book. Why did you decide to include a song with the books?

Song is how I used to love to learn things. My husband learnt his English through singing. Music resonates with children. It gives so much more. Music is very special. My son has written the songs for the first two books and is working on another for the third book now.

 

Sarita Newson first visited Bali in 1973 from New Zealand and moved here permanently in 1975. She had three children with her Balinese husband. Sarita started publishing books under the company name Saritaksu Editions in the early eighties as a sideline to her main business, a graphic design studio. Gradually the publishing took over and, as she wound back the graphics, publishing became Sarita’s fulltime job though she is now considering retiring from publishing to concentrate on writing. She has published more than 50 books including novels, pictorial art and coffee-table books, non-fiction and children’s books.

For more information contact Sarita at saritaksu.editions@gmail.com

Learning from writers at UWRF

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on workshops run by amazing writers and performance poets, held during the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This was the second year I’ve volunteered for the festival – it’s a great festival – and the first year that I had the responsibility of organising school workshops. It had its ups and downs but the job was worth it to meet the fantastic group of writers who took part.

NEW 2015 logo black
I started off spending a few months contacting international schools in Bali and Jakarta (and even Singapore) to encourage schools to book a workshop with a visiting writer. The writers were all coming to Bali for the festival which was held from 28 October to 1 November in 2015. A school workshop meant a great opportunity for schools to have international writers visit, something that doesn’t happen
too often in Indonesia.

A few months out from the festival I had to start contacting the writers to tell them about the workshop and almost all of them were delighted to have a school visit as part of their events during the festival. I was worried to begin with, maybe some writers wouldn’t want to give up a whole morning to visit a school? But almost without exception, they did!

The hardest thing was negotiating with schools about the visits and making sure both the school and the writer were happy with what was organised. Some schools were easy. They booked one writer for one class and the time was up to us. 9.30 to 12.30? Done. All that was left was to give a list of equipment and resources needed.

Other schools were more demanding and wanted the visiting writers to work around their break times or visit the entire primary school in three hours. But, I was amazed to learn, most writers were very amenable and rose to the challenges of multiple groups, or limited time, or larger class numbers.

I also learnt that the writers visiting the festival were very hardworking. Zohab Zee Khan, for example, had seven separate events over four days, including two workshops. Another writer, Porochista Khakpour, still had to give Skype tutorials to her college classes in the US, sometimes at 3.30am, while she was at the festival.

The best thing for me was I got to meet these amazing writers, and then sit in on their workshops. I tried not to waste my time, either, and joined in as many of the writing exercises as I could. Even Sofie Laguna’s writing workshop with Grade 3’s at the Bali Island School.

In total, six schools, four in Bali and two visiting from Jakarta, had workshops with 13 visiting writers, illustrators, journalists, photographers and performance poets. There were 11 workshops in total and, with some of the writers sharing their time among two or three groups, I worked out about 342 students had the chance to be in a workshop with one of the visiting writers.

And it wasn’t just the students who enjoyed the workshops. One of the visiting journalists told me it was by far the best thing he had been involved in at the festival. Not surprisingly, the school he visited, the Australian Intercultural School, was rapt with his visit.

Next post: what I learnt from performance poets.

Names not to have in Indonesia

Following on from my last post about words that look the same in Indonesian and English but have different meanings, here is a list of names that look or sound the same in both languages but mean very different things.

Carlie – it is a very pretty name but it sounds like the Indonesian word for stream. Ooh, that sounds pretty too, you think! Maybe not when you see the globby green-slime covered waterway opposite our house that is our local kali.

Dan – what a lot of people called Dan there are in Indonesia! Hang on, it just means ‘and’.

Gorden – curtain (ok, I’m cheating here as the name is usually spelt Gordon, but it’s very close).

Lucky – why is this not a good name? Well, it’s totally fine actually, unless you’re a girl. More one to keep in mind when it comes to naming your dog, as opposed to your children. But even so, it’s worth knowing you’ll sound like you’re calling out ‘boy!’

Mara – an old family friend has this name, not very common I know. But I can’t help wondering when she visits Bali and is introduced, if people look at her twice and wonder … ‘is she really angry? She doesn’t look marah.’

Marie – the French way of saying this name sounds quite like mari, let’s go or go on then. Thus: ‘Mari Marie!’

Sandysandi kata means password so does it mean your name is a secret?

Summer – while not a widely used name anyway, you still need to be wary as it sounds like an exceptionally common word in Indonesian – sama – which means same or likewise. So introducing yourself as Summer could have people thinking you have the same name as them. ‘What a coincidence! Your name is Wayan too?!’

Tanya – in Indonesia, tanya means to ask, so you could enjoy a laugh with an exchange like this one.

Mau ke mana besok? Tanya Tanya.
[Where do you want to go tomorrow? Ask Tanya.]

Tim – which tim are you part of? One of the many words that Indonesian has taken from English, it means team.

I’m sure I’ve missed many many funny examples of names and words that have different meanings in these two languages. What are some you’ve come across?

Why are there so many bottles of air and cat ovens in Indonesia?

Most languages have these accidental cross overs where one word looks exactly the same, or sounds the same, as a word in another language. But the meaning is quite different. Called heteronyms, these are a few of my favourites from Indonesian to English.

Air – just to be confusing this is indeed one of the elements, and something you can’t live without. Do you breathe it? No, of course not. It means water.

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Are – a way to measure land, it is a hundredth of a hectare (10m x 10m). [note: I just found out that this word also exists in English. Who knew!?]

Ban – a tyre and one of several car-related words on this list.

Cap – the first word in the ubiquitous stir-fried vegetable dish, cap cay, it comes from Chinese.

Cat Oven (or Cat Open) – despite the images this name conjures, it is not a place where kittens are baked (or opened). It means a place that can redo your car’s paint job.

 

A variation on the baked kitten is the open cat (creative spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

A variation on the baked cat is the open cat (creative Indonesian spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

Gang – why are there so many gangs in Bali? They even have their own sign posts. Gang means small street.

Got – we have one of these across from our house. A nice big drain.

Jam – I love strawberry jam, mango jam, guava jam. But in Indonesia it’s a different kind of stickiness, it means hour.

Helm – you don’t actually need one of these if you’re at the helm of a boat or plane. But you sure should wear one on a motor bike on these streets. Yep, it’s the underutilised helmet.

Lima – if you resided in the Peruvian capital a situation might conceivably arise where you have to give your address and confusion ensues. At a stretch. But anyway, lima means five.

Big bags of...? Cement. Obviously.

Big bags of…? Cement. Obviously.

Made – one of the most popular names in Bali, you really can say Made in Bali and it would be accurate each time

REM – yep, kind of cheating here with all capitals but otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. Rem is another car part, this time it means brake.

Rad – that’s totally rad, man! No it’s not. In Indonesia it means council.

Resort – why are the police in Indonesia always going to resorts? Signs saying Polis Resort are not uncommon but it only means a local division of police. It doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sun lounges and happy hours though…

Sari – it’s a piece of clothing in India but in Indonesia it means essence. This leads to hotel names like Alam Sari (essence of nature), restaurants named Sari Organik and even health foods like Sari Korma (essence of date).

Yoga sign in Bali

Now, those are two words you don’t normally think of together.

Semen – cement, obviously. Hence the big bags of it.

Tang – ooh yes, that pair of pliers has a nice tang to it.

Tas – in Australia this could be the a shortened form of the picturesque state of my birth. But in Indonesia it’s just a bag.

Yoga – Ubud is well known as a place with more yoga mats per square kilometre than anyway else in the world. But why do all these other little shops have signs with Yoga on them? Some of them are even selling mobile phones. Yoga is a name.

There are sure to be many more that I haven’t thought of. What is your favourite?

The power of punk (and other music) for language learning

Fransoa

A few months ago I came across a song called ‘Aku Lapar’ from Fransoa, a Frenchman living in Bali. Sung to the tune of seventies hit ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, he gives a list of 40-odd Indonesian foods accompanied by a punk parody film clip made in a Seminyak restaurant. From nasi goreng to bakso to pepes the list is quite impressive. In place of the original chorus, which means ‘it’s alright for me’, he sings aku lapar (I am hungry).

This song, and the video that goes with it, made me laugh out loud. Why do I like it so much? Many reasons. For a start, the original song by Plastic Bertrand was one of the few foreign language pop songs that was played in Australia in the eighties (it reached number 2 on the Australian charts in 1979), so I have fond memories of it. And it’s already so camp. You couldn’t really take the line ‘I am the king of the divan’ seriously, could you?

The hidden educational value

Also, there’s something about a list song that appeals to me. I’ve written a few myself. One lists 16 fruit and their attributes (in Indonesian); one gives 20 ways to use bamboo. And another gives the names of the major Indonesian islands and cities found on them, in a kind of ‘I’ve been everywhere’ song. I have even written a song for yoga teachers to help them learn the names of poses in Sanskrit. I think the appeal for me is the hidden educational value. If the song is catchy you’ll remember the words. And if you remember the words you’ll have learnt something. I’m pretty sure I learnt some history from Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

Fransoa Aku Lapar Xtra PedasIn the case of ‘Aku Lapar’ you could learn the names of some Indonesian food. But even more than learning words I admire Fransoa’s creative spirit and his willingness to write and sing in another language. Indonesia could do with more foreigners being creative in Indonesian instead of so often sticking with English (or another language).

Multilingual music

I also like song that’s sung in more than one language. Let’s face it, I’m a language geek so I get a kick out of hearing pop songs sung in other languages, like ‘Las Cosas de la Vida’, an Eros Ramazzotti song which has Italian, Spanish and English versions (the last a duet with Tina Turner no less).

Tarkan Simarik

‘Kiss, Kiss’ was much better in the original Turkish, by the way (Simarik by Tarkan).

A song that mixes languages, an interlingual song you could say, is also something I’m very fond of. Manu Chao does it better than anyone. A well-known example from the early nineties is ‘Amigos Para Siempre’, which was the theme song for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It featured three languages but it took me until I started studying Catalan at La Trobe University to realise that. I was singing along like everyone else: ‘amigos para siempre means you’ll always be my friend. Duh da da da means our love will never end.’

And if you’re wondering just what those missing words are? Amics per sempre. Yep, exactly the same words as the Spanish (friends forever) just sung in that hard-to-understand-flat-vowels-closed-mouth Catalan way.

Kita Australia

Some years back I was part of a latin choir in Canberra. That’s latin as in viva la fiesta, not as in Gregorian chants. One of the songs we sang was ‘I Am Australian’ by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton… in Spanish. Yo soy, tu eres, somos Australianos. I loved singing that. It really felt like we were showing diversity in our community and demonstrating solidarity with all Spanish-speaking Australians.

Indonesian would be a great language into which to translate that song. The chorus fits quite well: ‘Saya, kamu, kita Australia.’ Has anyone done it? Maybe the time is right.

Words I’ve learnt from subtitles

Picard Laksanakan

Like pretty much everyone in Indonesia I watch a lot of subtitled television. Most of it is in English with Indonesian subtitles but occasionally I stumble across something more exotic. My semi-regular indulgence is when the boys go to sleep and I’m alone in the living room. That’s when I get to watch my favourite Latin American soapies or telenovelas.

My favourite is Corazon Indomable (Wild at Heart) from Mexico. I get to listen to Spanish and read the Indonesian. It’s like eating a fluffy pavlova with some salsa on top, and sambal on the side.

But, more often than not, I’m reading Indonesian subtitles for an American show and this has helped me somewhat in my language acquisition. Not, I have to say, as much as actually talking to people, but seeing the same words used over and over has aided my memory.

One word I would never have learnt were it not for subtitles is astaga. Many exclamations and expressions of surprise – Good heavens! Crikey! and so on – are translated as astaga! But I have never ever heard someone use this in real life. I feel like I’m on an Indonesian sinetron (soap opera) myself when I use it so I tend not to.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Adil is another word I’ve learnt from the subtitles. It means fair. And the phrase ‘it’s not fair’ must get used a lot in American dramas as I’m pretty familiar with its equivalent, tidak adil. This phrase I count as a useful acquisition.

Brengsek is just about the closest thing to a swear word that I know in Indonesian. I think it’s my gender, maybe my age, and certainly the circles that I mix in, but I don’t seem to be picking up swear words. Brengsek means jerk so I occasionally use this when there’s a particularly good example of mindless motorbike riding right in front of our car.

I can’t leave out sial though. It’s the word that is used in subtitles whenever people swear in English. Damn, drat, shit all translate as sial. Do people actually use it? Not that I’ve heard. It means unfortunate.

Another word I have to thank American TV for is laksanakan. We grew very fond of this phrase through watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise point to the monitor and say … laksanakan (see image at top). That’s a rough translation of make it so, in case you don’t remember. For a while my husband got a kick out of jumping in the car and saying to our driver: ‘The office! Laksanakan!’ Sadly other people just looked at him strangely if he said it and it hasn’t caught on. Not surprising when you realise it also translates as implemented. Now that’s an English word lacking romance.

I haven’t even started on the staggering eccentricities of pirated DVD subtitles. Sometimes they seem to belong to another movie altogether. And often everything is literally translated including names like Pat and Bob.

As I’m still trying hard to improve my Indonesian, every bit of Indonesian language around is useful, even if I do have to be careful before I start talking like subtitles.

What words have you learnt from television subtitles?