From a song to cheer up a miserable friend to an ambitious plan to record a song every day for a year to raise $100,000 for charity: this is the Songs And Smiles story, led by Perth musician, Clayton Mitchell.
Known for his vocal dexterity and dramatic performances with local theatrical metal bands Reaper’s Riddle and Beyond Never, Clayton Mitchell is refusing to let genre expectations confine the project. One of his first videos – Let It Go from the Disney movie Frozen – quickly racked up 11,000 YouTube views, for instance, and in April alone he tackled acts as diverse as Prince, The Who, Taylor Swift, Soundgarden, Dusty Springfield, Bad Company, Cher, Dr Dre, The Beatles and Insane Clown Posse.
Mitchell says the hardest thing is that he set himself the limit of not covering the same band twice during the course of 2017.
“So it’s going to be 365 different bands by the end of the year,” he says. “It’s hard and I can’t play the same genre twice in a row, so I’ve got to jump out of my comfort zone as well. I’ve got to mix it up, so I’ll do rock and then hip hop. There was one day where I’d done full brutal metal and then the next day I’d done Bah Bah Black Sheep!”
“I try to mix it up and make people go, ‘what?!?’” he adds with impressive understatement.
Mitchell admits that between learning the song, arranging how to perform it, shooting and editing the video and publishing it – every day – it’s a lot of work. Admirably, almost five months into the project, he remains undaunted.
“It takes a lot. Especially like last week, I wrote a complete new parody for Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know, but in the form of Star Wars. That took a long time. Hopefully people watch it and it gets out there and it gives people some laughs. Some of them I give more time than others: if it’s a simple, straightforward song, I’ll just rock it out and it’ll just be a video of me singing it. Then there’s other ones where I’ll actually edit together a video to make it a bit more entertaining. It really depends on the timeframe I’ve got for the day.”
Mitchell is singing most of the songs karaoke style, but there’s been a few that he’s drafted some muso mates in and performed live.
“I did put the word out a couple of months ago, and said if I’d release a CD (of covers) for charity, would people buy it?” he explains, “and heaps of people were actually really keen, but I’d have to get a studio on board to donate their services because it’s all non-profit. Even with the daily videos, most of them I make a bit of revenue off which is very tiny, but the more views it gets, then all that money also goes towards the cause, as well. But a lot of the copyright owners take most of the money first.”
Taking requests in exchange for a donation is another method Mitchell has tried to encourage more people to contribute to Songs And Smiles.
“I’ve done a few request videos – stuff like George Michael, there were heaps of requests for him. There was about 20 requests for Prince. Hopefully we can get more people involved and more people requesting as the year goes on.”
There have also been a few special guests on Songs And Smiles – none more special than Mitchell’s daughter Casey, who popped up on Day Two duetting with dad on Taylor Swift’s Love Story.
“Yeah – and we’ve also done Miley Cyrus, as well!” Mitchell says proudly. “Yeah, she’s amazing. When you watch the video, you can just tell she’s just like me, poor girl. When I was in staying in Kalgoorlie we performed on stage in Oliver: The Musical together, which was pretty awesome. I’m going back to Kal soon, so I’ll do another couple of songs with her while I’m there, as well.”
The theatrical side of music and acting is something Mitchell has always enjoyed, and Songs And Smiles has become an extension of that – for a good cause.
“Yeah, you know I love that stuff. That was one of the main reasons that I chose to do this. I was thinking, ‘well I’m currently not doing a lot of original music, so it’d be good to use that, because I love entertaining and also using my theatrical side and singing’. I know I’m not the greatest singer in the world but I love singing.”
Another side-effect of applying himself to so many different genres and styles of songs has been the improvement in his own vocals.
“It has helped with my breathing,” Mitchell explains, “because I’ve got asthma, as well. Doing the rap songs, you have to learn with your vocal breathing to choose your points to breathe in so that the words don’t get cut off or sound weird. That’s been helping, and also I’ve noticed that my asthma’s been getting better since I’ve been singing and breathing a lot more.
“As far as actual singing goes, I have to push myself to do some of the songs – notes that I normally wouldn’t hit in the music that I write. It’s definitely helped me push my range.”
These are great side effects, for sure, but it’s all about the charities for Songs And Smiles and Mitchell. All of the proceeds of the project will be split between four charities, one of which is very personal for the singer: Beyond Blue.
“I lost a friend to suicide and I’ve always wanted to help bring awareness towards that,” he explains passionately. “Especially these days, it’s so common in youth. They’re so early in life and they haven’t really given themselves a chance to experience problems and issues and they end up taking a bad route or a bad moment and turning it into a permanent issue. People who are having a good day can still share a song and maybe one of their friends can watch it and get a smile or a laugh. It’s hard to always check up on everybody, every single day and make sure everyone’s okay, so that’s why I thought it’d be nice to have something consistent every day. Everyone’s like, ‘you should do one a week’ and I’m like, ‘that’s not a challenge! THIS is a charity challenge!’”
Two other recipients will be The Cancer Council and Save The Children.
“Cancer Council is for my father,” Mitchell goes on. “He always wanted to donate and help kids with dire cancer because he really believed that they deserved a chance to live, whereas older people already had that chance. He felt that helping the kids was most important. When he passed away, me and my sister Caroline donated our inheritance to The Cancer Council.
“And Save The Children, which help out kids in poverty and homelessness. They started in the UK early in the 1900’s and they’re just really great with helping supply water and homes and education to people who are less fortunate than us.”
The fourth charity will be voted on by Songs And Smiles fans, says Mitchell, who hopes to raise $25,000 for each of the four.
Donations so far have been steady, but there’s a long way to go to reach the $100,000 target. Mitchell’s positivity is infectious.
“I reckon we’ll hit the target – I do, but I’m a very optimistic type of person,” he declares. “I have my down times where I doubt myself and question it, but I do believe it. I think it’s just a matter of hitting the right audience by getting the right kind of push or promotion. I’ve done a radio interview. I’ve got a radio station that’s going to do three ads which I’m working on. They’re also talking about me doing a half-hour show a month to sort of run over the month but also talk about the project and play some of the most popular ones. People keep saying contact A Current Affair and Today Tonight…
“It’s stuff like all that which slowly picks it up. It’ll build momentum. Even though it seems quite low compared to what the target it, it’s just the beginning!”
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