Sitting in her Greenpoint home on a Friday night, Lorraine Leckie opens up a Zoom video session and gets ready for a night of crafting songs. Around 7:30 p.m., video squares begin to pop up on her screen, revealing her friends’ heads and torsos and a snapshot of their living rooms. The Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange had to move out of Leckie’s home to an online platform to accommodate for social distancing rules, but just because gigs are canceled doesn’t mean writing new material has to stop.
“I mean, obviously it’s not as good as in real life, especially because no one can eat my food,” Leckie said.
Leckie started the Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange in early 2018 to give people in the New York City music community a safe and collaborative environment to work on writing songs.
“There are all these fights about royalties, and people pay a lot of money for music lessons,” Leckie said. “And I thought, what would it be like to have a group of artists get together and they help each other for free and they get ideas from each other and there are no royalties involved and they don’t have to pay for lessons? So it’s artists helping artists.”
The group now has nearly 70 members of all different ages and abilities, although Leckie says many people come only once or twice a month when they have material to work on and need some guidance. The group showcased finished music every month at Pete’s Candy Store, in Williamsburg. Their most recent showcase was on March 9, just days before stay-at-home orders were issued in New York.
“One of my songwriters, Charlie, who was doing the sound — he’s an amazing artist and guitarist — he was doing the sound, we were all over each other and by Friday he had COVID,” Leckie said. “And we were all together and nobody got it and we can’t believe it.”
The group hopes to hold its next showcase at Pete’s Candy Store on September 14.
For the last three months, the group has held songwriting sessions online via Zoom, with members trickling in and out of their video frames to offer and receive advice on lyrics or song structure.
About 12 people attended the session on Friday, May 29, and the group started the night off hearing Carly Spell’s new song “Running from the Witch.” Spell joined the group with little experience and recently came away with her completed song “Altar.”
“She didn’t know nothin’ and she wrote this song finally, we helped her with it, and I said, ‘you know, Carly, you should go to the best studio and you should hire the best musicians and you should put this song on Spotify,’” Leckie said. “And she did. And it sounds amazing. She worked her guts out on it.”
Nervous to perform her new song for her Zoom audience, Spell arranged her guitar atop her lap and her phone screen near the camera so that she could read her lyrics and see her fellow group members. After a rocky start and tinny sounds from the guitar coming through her computer’s speaker, Spell played the song again with renewed confidence and ease.
“I really liked the second time you played it,” said Liz Engelhardt, a group member. “Do you like Natalie Merchant? There’s a certain way you’re using your voice that recalled that for me.”
Members took their turn addressing aspects of the song they liked and what could be improved, and then moved on to the next songwriter, PJ Jestry, who came to the session with a just-finished song. The group praised his lyrics and tossed around ideas for a potential song title.
“I’m always singing your songs for the rest of the week,” said Jeannie Skelly, another member.
The session went on for hours, lasting late into Friday night. Members refilled their wine glasses and joked with one another, and it was almost as if there were no computer screens between them.
“We are a musical family, and everyone supports one another and they go to the shows,” Leckie said. “Once you’re a member, you’re like family. You don’t have to play if you don’t want to.”