My Time At Judy Stakee's Songwriting Retreat

I was laying in bed on a Saturday morning drinking coffee when something in my news feed caught my eye "Judy Stakee songwriting Retreat“ I clicked it. It took me to Judy’s website. One hour later I got off the website. 

Judy Stakee, former Senior Vice President of Creative at Warner Chappell Music for 20 years, has signed and worked closely with many of today's most acclaimed artists: Grammy-award winner Sheryl Crow, Katy Perry, Michelle Branch, Gavin DeGraw, Jewel and Joy Williams. Judy is pretty much the Boss. She finds the songs, finds the people, puts them together and then we all listen to them  and enjoy. Now she’s running around the world releasing all that knowledge and experience to song writers through a 3 day retreat. 

“Songwriting retreat.” Something about that stuck out to me. I think it was just what I was looking for without realizing I was looking for it. The past year of my life with music has just felt like a disaster. After picking our band back up off the messy ground in 2015, recording a wonderful album but only touring it for a few months before again the band dispersing… I lost all energy and motivation to keep going. I had all these wonderful songs but nothing to do with them. Because in my head: no band= no music. I was getting emails after emails with opportunities to  tours and  have concerts but I didn’t want to respond. I didn’t feel brave enough to play alone and I didn’t want to admit it. 

So here I was for a good hour on this website and everything in me knew I needed to go to this retreat. But nothing in me had the confidence to think I would get in. I applied. Shut the computer. And then forgot about it. A few weeks later I got an acceptance email in my inbox. I was in shock. Then I went. 

Here I am, a week after the retreat amazed by this experience. We met at an old Mill in Normady, France. A group of 12 song writers, 3 staff, 2 vocal coaches (from the voice UK: Will Lester & Juliet Russell), 2 cooks, 1 yoga teacher, 1 photographer and one Judy.  For 3 days we ate together, did yoga together, worked, critiqued, performed and created our music together, and in the end, we all took the treasures Judy passed onto us home and are now applying them to not only our music but our lives. Judy is such a lovely person. She welcomed every single one of us with the huge hug that made you know you were not only welcomed, but you were in a safe place. 

The first day Judy got up, shared her story and experience and said something that switched everything in my thinking:

“There would be no management, A&R reps, executives, sound engineers, labels, musicians, or singers… unless there is a song writer… so I’m focusing on the song writers.” 

The day I had to perform my song (one that I brought from home), I was so nervous. I delayed going and didn’t want to perform it at all. The room was filled with incredible musicians and I was feeling anything but confident.  At the end Judy encouraged me so much. For her, this was probably not a big moment, but for me it meant a lot. It wasn’t about the song in this moment. It was about me as an artist. It was the exact amount of motivation and encouragement I needed to keep going. 

The whole retreat was. I met just the loveliest people. One assignment was to co-write with two other artist. I got to write with song writer Michael Wong and world famous Carlos Capacho (best cuattro player in the world- and lay down a demo for a new song called “I never walked away.” It was such a unique experience to co-write with complete strangers. We sat down to write and with in 5 mins Mikey got me to open up about everything that is going on in my life right now, while picking out lines from my words. And then we put that together to create some great lyrics. Then you know, there was Carlos who pretty much can turn anything into gold, so that was easy. 

The afternoon before I took my flight home I spent the day with one of the girls from our retreat: Neni Chacín-Larreal (check her out she’s a wonderful Jazz singer  She and I walked through Paris and she told me her incredibly powerful story about how she had cancer and overcame it. When I asked her "what is the main thing in your life you wanted to change after going through all this?", she said she decided that she needed to “get on with her life" and do the things she’d always been to scared to do. So she completely uprooted, moved to Paris to become a Jazz musician, and since has become a successful one.  Ironically, when I got back on my flight there was a very kind girl sitting next to me. We got to talking and she told me about her recent experience with fighting cancer (as well) and overcoming it. So I asked her: "what is the main thing in your life you wanted to change after going through all this?"  She said: “Not much, maybe I don't know, maybe take more vacations?”

The past years of my life beat me down so many times I didn't know how to keep going. But I realized, coming out of it, I have two options. I can either “get on with my life” and do whatever it is I’ve been wanting to do but too scared to do it, or I could go through it all and really change nothing. I came home from this retreat and started saying yes. I've since booked three tours. I've started writing.  And I've started figuring out how to keep going. I don’t have it all together, but I’m just going to say yes. 

If you’re a song writer, I strongly suggest you apply for this retreat.


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