Until this year, I was not familiar with Helene Cronin’s music. Even though she is an active songwriter from my hometown of Dallas, Texas and often travels to my current home of Nashville, Tennessee, we had never crossed paths. I learned about her in what seemed like a random occurrence – a swift glance down at something on my desk that caught my eye. Peeking out from under a pile of mail was this flyer:
“Hmm, sing your heart out for a soldier.” I thought. “I can do that.”
The competition required video of a performance of Helene’s song “Lucky Me.” Big D and I got to work learning the chords and making the agonizing choice of which parts of the song to cut. The song is a story, and like all good stories, it is best told to completion from beginning to end. But the competition required the video to be no longer than two minutes. In the end, the time constraint was a blessing because my greatest challenge was singing this song without getting choked up.
Helene found Big D and me on Facebook during the competition. That was when I learned that she performs at places in Texas that I frequented when I lived there. With each year I find exponential truth in that famous childrens’ song carrying the message of a small, small world.
“What are the chances that two raindrops, flung from the heavens, will merge on a windowpane?” – Robert Brault (www.robertbrault.com)
It was the experience of divine merging that brought Helene’s song “Lucky Me” to life. She has graciously agreed to talk about her story of meeting a soldier at the airport, her current musical projects, and the journey of a song.
Helene has shared with me that “’Lucky Me’ is a song born out of discouragement.” Because of doors that closed during one of her trips to Nashville, she had a simple conversation with a soldier that turned in a direction it never would have gone had the trip been a success. Big D and I did not win the Sing Your Heart out for a Soldier Competition, and when that door closed we did not get what we thought we wanted. Instead, we met a fellow songwriter whose work is source of inspiration and encouragement. All I can say about that is . . .
. . . lucky me.
How did you become involved with Dollar General’s Sing Your Heart out for a Soldier Competition?
The Dollar General/Josh Turner contest people found me. My song “Lucky Me” has been knocking around YouTube for awhile now, with over 118,000 views. I think they found it there and tracked me down.
Please share your story behind the song “Lucky Me.”
The short story behind “Lucky Me” is that I was on my way home from Nashville. Most of the time, I drive back and forth from Texas, but this time, I was flying standby. I think I had a divine appointment with this soldier, but didn’t know it at the time! I happened to be in line at the counter with a guy in uniform. I didn’t usually talk to soldiers back then because of my personal shyness (although now I often do!). But this time I spoke up and we chatted briefly. Next thing I knew, he said something very simple, but in that moment, very profound. I knew it needed to be a song someday; however, I waited 2 years to even attempt it.
When I got my yellow pad out, the story poured out of me much as you can hear it today. It began to gain attention as I entered songwriter contests and was often a finalist, and sometimes a winner because of that song. As I realized that I had something special, so did my sister. She is the one who created the video to put with the song and “made me” post it on YouTube. I’d never paid much attention to YouTube before! The song took off. A talk radio station in Houston got behind it and sent it out in an e-mail blast. It began gaining momentum.
I was soon invited to sing it for a joint Houston Texans (NFL team) and USO event where I met a couple who know Mike Huckabee personally and who sent the song to him. 6 days after they sent it, I was being flown to New York to sing it on his Fox News TV show for Veteran’s Day!
Another high point was singing it at the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the creation of the Medal of Honor (established by Abraham Lincoln) in front of 16,000 people in Louisville, KY. There were 65 M.O.H. recipients in the audience that night. The audience reaction was stunning and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Of all the artists appearing on that stage, I was the only one who got up alone with a guitar (no band, no tracks) and the power of the song was allowed to come through. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
The song is currently signed to a publisher in Nashville, and I hope to hear that it will be a cut on someone’s CD someday!! I believe very strongly that “Lucky Me” is a song that unites people, and that expresses appreciation for our Armed Forces in a unique and very personal way.
When did you begin songwriting?
I began songwriting in college. I’ve gone through phases of not writing much, but I always come back to it. I am at a point now where I am able to give more time to it than at other seasons in life!
What is your process? Does a song come to you all at once or over time?
Songs come in every way imaginable. Sometimes a guitar riff or piano progression will inspire the song. Usually for me, it starts as a lyric idea. I have scraps of paper in a file with notes and ideas scribbled down. Every once in a while I pull one of those out and work with it, but I also love having fresh new ideas.
I am not a fast writer; I don’t whip out finished songs easily. I agonize over lyrics and want them to be right. I’m willing to spend a lot of time on the songs that are worth it. I’m learning to let others go that I might have put a lot of effort into, but that didn’t flesh out to anything special. That used to be hard for me, because I wanted every song to be a potential hit! But, some are “B” songs, some are “C” songs and that’s all they’ll ever be. I get excited when I get an “A” song idea that I feel happy about writing and that I can’t wait to sing for other people.
Some songs have taken a couple of years to write, and of course re-write, and some move along a lot faster. Re-writing is always a crucial part of the process for me on any song. After the initial rush of writing something I love, I sit with it for awhile, I play it a lot, I start to play it out in front of other people, I take feedback, I tweak. My goal is to reach the point where there is not one line that bothers me, or that I know is not doing its job.
How important is performance to the songwriting process?
Performance is an important part of the songwriting process for me because it lets me see how the song goes out into the world and if it affects other people. Does it hit the floor with a thud? Does it resonate? How do people look as I’m singing? Are they with me? Are they crying, laughing, bored, listening? For me, the main point of songwriting is probably self-expression, followed closely by connecting with other people. I like to express thoughts and feelings in a way that impacts other people. If that’s not happening, then the self-expression seems vain and empty.
But, not every song I write is for me as the songwriter/artist to perform. I do write songs that I pitch in Nashville, hoping to land some songs with artists who are established and well-known! While I may not sing those songs myself, in public, they still go through a polishing process by other people hearing them and me taking the songs back to the woodshed.
As a songwriter out of Dallas, how important is it to be involved with other songwriter-centric cities like Austin and Nashville?
As a songwriter, living in Dallas, it is very important to me to travel to Nashville and network with people there. For the type of music I do, and the aspirations I have Nashville is the appropriate music center. I go there to co-write, to meet with publishers who will listen to my songs, and to perform at writer nights.
My growth as a writer has increased exponentially by spending time there. It is also crucially important to me to get out every night and hear the professional writers playing there. It always inspires me to continue to stretch my writing and to keep growing as a songwriter.
What projects are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on writing new material, and demoing the best songs so I can play them for publishers. I am also doing some of my own recordings and gradually releasing them as singles to CDBaby and iTunes. I recently released a new song “How a Mother Loves” and another called “Pink” to iTunes. “Pink” has become a new audience favorite! I am considering doing an EP, or perhaps a full-length CD.
I guess my current projects are writing new songs, promoting old ones, and developing my network of writers and publishers and friends for the journey.
– Anita, Noted in Nashville
Learn more about Helene’s music by clicking the links below:
YOU TUBE VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t0mJAUGESQ
FACEBOOK MUSIC PAGE: http://www.facebook.com/helenecroninmusic?ref=hl