Quality not Quantity: Music Historian’s 7th Year

This photo is by me, Patricia Trutescu

In 2016, I only published two posts on Music Historian. This first was an article in January, of the most read posts in 2015. In October, I published an interview article that happened to come out at the right place and the right time (the election) titled “A Love Shaken by War: Becky Warren returns to music with a solo record that tells a fictional story inspired by real-life events.”

The opportunity to write about Becky Warren’s record War Surplus humbled me. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter was getting ready to promote her album on the road as the opening act for the Indigo Girls. Further, this record is near and dear to the artist’s heart. If you want to know why, please read the article. 

While my blog did not get a lot of love this year – mostly because I was well into my first full-time permanent position and did not have a lot of free time to dedicate to interviewing and writing – I experienced moments of gratitude. I felt grateful as I reminded myself of all the people I had met and all the connections I made throughout the years I managed Music Historian. For me, it is quality, not quantity, that makes a music blog one worth reading. Of course, I understand that not every blogger would agree with my thoughts, but these opinions are mine. Feel free to take what works, and leave the rest behind.  

Remember your Connections: Music Historian’s Sixth Year

This pic is provided by Pixabay
This is a photo provided by Pixabay

Much like starting your career, a professional has an easier time networking after building a foundation for themselves. The same holds for a blog. Years of consistent writing and publishing help create a repository of stories and, hopefully, to some degree, a level of expertise.

In early 2015, I went to a party held by my piano teacher, Isabella. Community members who knew her through Opera Night and took lessons with her stopped by to play music together and to mingle. At this party, I met someone who had a connection to Arlen Roth, the guitar player who has influenced and taught many. That connection led me to an interview with Arlen.

A couple of years prior, I also started to incorporate Question and Answer styled interviews onto Music Historian. The first story which had this format was my interview with Daylle Deanna Schwartz, NYC’s first white-female rapper. Through Daylle’s family, I met Julie Coulter, a seasoned insurance broker and consultant for musicians.

If you had read my post from yesterday about how I got acquainted with Workman Group PR, that professional relationship continued. In 2015, through Workman Group PR, I would be invited to cover the SESAC Pop Music Awards, which celebrated publishers and songwriters who contributed to the hits that year. Later that year, through the same PR firm, I would hear about the opportunity to cover the Northside Festival.

At that moment, I was living—an event such as the Northside Festival was a place to learn and network. Interviewing Femi Kuti, the son of Fela Kuti, for a full-length article on Music Historian, I learned a lot about how the artist used Afrobeat to address some of the unmet needs of African citizens; including more stabilized journalism and reporting by Africans for Africans, and better economic conditions. Talking with Gypsy George for a full-length interview article, I learned about the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit required of a musician to make it in today’s creative business. That article with Gypsy George helped lay the foundation for a professional connection. Years later, I would invite him back to Music Historian to do a video interview.

Each professional will provide their thoughts about how to nurture a network. In my experience, some connections I have kept in touch with much more quickly than others. Most importantly, never forget who you meet because that contact may help you open the door to your next opportunity, whether creative or professional.

Work and play: Music Historian’s Fifth year

Image by Claudia Alejandra Sanchez Vega from Pixabay
Image by Claudia Alejandra Sanchez Vega from Pixabay 

Throughout 2014, my schedule was rigorous. I was in the middle of pursuing my Masters in Marketing at Baruch College full time. For part of the year, I was working 30 to 35 hours a week while attending school. I managed to also include Music Historian in this regimen.

Some of the most-read articles from that year included interviews with Kim Logan, The Blackfoot Gypsies, Yuzima, Juicebox, and The Dirty Gems. Four out of these five subjects I met at the New Music Seminar. This experience introduced me to the idea that a blogger could learn serious business and play.

During my busy Spring semester, Alyson Greenfield sent me an email to ask me whether I would be interested in a press pass to the New Music Seminar. I learned that she was hired by the boutique PR agency, Workman PR, to help promote the event. I said yes to her invitation.

The day came when I had to attend the first day of the three-day conference. I went to Webster Hall in NYC to pick up my badge and see the opening day, where I would have plenty of photo opportunities. When I went to pick up my badge from the stand run by Workman Group PR, I met a representative who asked me for my name. I told him what it was, and he responded, “Music Historian.” In addition to getting the opportunity to pick from a roster of musicians to interview who were invited to perform as part of this conference, I still had to write about some of the business-portions.

I captured several wonderful red carpet moments, including Alyson, along with the Workman Group PR team, the creator of NMS, Tom Silverman, and plenty of the bands, not excluding those who were up for the Artist on the Verge Award in photos. The highlight of the first day involved enjoying Meg Myers performing an electrifying set along with Alyson. The second day mostly consisted of panels to attend, interviews to be held with the artists I chose to write about and visiting the different exhibits on the floor.

I wrote about the following panels, The A&R Movement: Where music is headed, Music XRAY Presents A&R Live – Music Critique and Sound Selector Sessions, and Online Media Music Discovery. My review about these panels and opening day is all in this article, “Dive into the minds of industry players.” These panels provided sound advice to musicians, music publicists, and industry professionals who wanted to understand more about the music business trends.

More importantly, I wrote about the bands which I mentioned earlier in the article. Please don’t wait – read them now, and enjoy the conversations and the images, some of which I personally took. Happy Reading!

The Events Worth Sharing: Music Historian’s 4th Year

In 2013, Music Historian hosted interview articles with musicians from various genres, including the myth rock trio, Apollo Run; the collaborative that blends gangster hip-hop and bluegrass, Gangstagrass; and Christopher Seaman, the classical music conductor, just to name a few. While these subjects differed in genres and styles, they shared one commonality—they brought crowds to their performances.

I realized that it was not just enough to write about skilled instrumentalists, singer-songwriters, rappers, producers, and vocalists who had talent; I had to write about acts people perceived as special. The only metric for “special,” in my mind, would be a sold-out show. Then thought, what if I could have a hand in helping an artist put on a show that brought in a crowd of listeners?

In the summer of 2012, I had learned about the Make Music New York (MMNY) Festival-a city-wide public event which brought outdoor concerts to all five boroughs for free, all on June 21st and December 21st. That year, Avi Wisnia hosted his 6th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party – a series of performances put on by bands he either knew or had met via the MMNY events. He put on a set at a Williamsburg venue called the Cyn Lounge. While it drew a lot of attention, I could not help but notice how the little alcove of a cement-paved space closed off by a tall iron fence placed a noticeable and unsettling barrier between audiences and the musical acts. I asked Avi if he wanted help in planning his next block concert for MMNY Festival 2013. I felt grateful that Avi accepted my help. In early 2013, Avi and I would start planning for the 7th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party*.

Our greatest challenge was finding a venue that provided open space and located in a place where people could easily congregate. By April, Avi found Kinfolk Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I felt happy to see that the area had the type of outdoor space we had hoped for – a storefront with an open sidewalk within a neighborhood where warehouses got converted into businesses and event venues.

After getting the space came the more difficult parts: finding the musical acts, organizing the schedule, scouting volunteers to help with the merchandise table, customers, and signing-in bands who arrived 30 minutes before they went live. Being new to putting together an event of this magnitude next to a musician proved to be an educational and enjoyable experience. The greatest reward that day was watching how the mid-night hour’s closing act brought together the most massive crowd Avi had ever seen at one of his block parties.

This was the moment I decided that Music Historian needed a page called Event Diary. Avi’s block party was the first entry on that page. I had taken plenty of pictures capturing the moment of a riveting series of concerts. As of today, Event Diary has become the most visited page on Music Historian.

*To read about Avi Wisnia’s 7th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party, scroll down to the bottom of the Event Diary page

Finding the talent: Music Historian’s Third Year

Photo made available by Pixabay

By 2012, I found my flow. Now, I had to discover new talent in the independent music scene. I give props to Baeble Music, a video content creator, which showed me the indie music scene’s vastness. By interning at this company for a month in 2011, I learned about the city-wide College Music Journal (CMJ) marathon. After purchasing a CMJ pass to get into all the shows for free, I had researched musical acts like Stephie Coplan and The Pedestrians. I even contacted the talent for an in-person meeting and an interview. 

On the same day, I watched Avi Wisnia perform at The Rockwood Music Hall. When I reviewed his set on my blog later that week, he contacted me. Soon, that led to a meeting for a feature interview article in January. 

After interviewing Avi at The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, I then met Alyson Greenfield (she was also performing at the show that night). Soon, I had another interview opportunity booked with Alyson for February. 

In later years, Alyson would introduce me to musicians she was promoting as part of her publicity agency at the time, Tinderbox Arts. I would also continue meeting other musical acts at shows which either Avi or Alyson headlined. This held true when I met Kamara Thomas of Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers; her group opened for Avi at The Living Room*.  

I also want to backtrack to March, when I aimed to interview Imagine Dragons. I learned about a show they were doing in the Lower East Side at Pianos. I arrived there early, paid my $10 admissions, bought my $7 Stella Artois, and got ready to watch the show. After the set, my plan was to introduce myself, which I later learned was not as easy as I had anticipated.

After the show, Daniel, the group’s singer, got down to the floor in front of the stage and shook hands with all the journalists and media reps from various press outlets. Feeling outnumbered, especially my prominent news reporters such as NY1, I took a different approach. I went to the band manager, who also happened to be Daniel’s brother. I told him that I was an independent blogger and that I was looking to interview one of the bandmembers for Music Historian. We shared our contact information with each other, and the next day, I sent him an email the next day to see whether the band would still be available and willing to interview. A few back-and-forth exchanges later, I secured an interview with the Imagine Dragon’s bassist, Ben McKee

Later in March, when I published the interview article, the post got only about two dozen views. The key was bringing attention to it again in September when the band released their debut LP, Night Visions. Then, the visits to Music Historian started becoming more frequent. By December 2012, my interview with Imagine Dragon’s Ben became the most read article on my blog.

*The Living Room was a venue on the Lower East Side which shut down many years ago.

Entering the Flow: Music Historian’s Second Year

I needed to find a way to get into a flow[1], or “the zone”[2] with my writing. The routine I sought to establish would enable me to easily exhibit my strengths and talents while also challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone. 

I thought back to my undergrad years as a Music History student, specifically to a class called music critiquing and writing. Here, I learned how to write critically about music. The one area where I excelled was ethnographic writing, a style that involved interviewing musicians about their backgrounds, their music experiences, and where they wanted to take their music. I transformed those interviews into long prose, and by college standards, that was 4 pages double spaced and submitted the completed paper to my professor. I wanted to apply this to my blogging since I could take something that I truly owned and make it even better. 

My first ethnographically styled interview would be with my piano teacher from childhood, Isabella Eredita-Johnson. The story would be about the 7th anniversary of Opera Night, a.k.a. Opera Night, Long Island. Besides getting a great story for Music Historian, I also discovered that sharing the final draft of the article before publishing with my interview subjects created a sense of trust and confidence between the blogger and the interviewee. I decided to carry this practice throughout every exchange I would have with each person whose story I would share on my blog. 

The year 2011 is when I made a plan to find my flow

  1. contact the subject, invite them to an interview;
  2. Interview the person by phone, Google chat, in-person, whatever channel worked;
  3. take notes from that interview and transform it into an interview article;
  4. edit the story;
  5. have the subject review a final draft for accuracy and fact-checking purposes; and
  6. upon getting the final approval from the interviewee, publish the news on Music Historian.

I fully entered my flow in steps three and four. Five and six really proved to be a hit with some artists. One artist I interviewed that year enjoyed my story of their band and their music so much, they shared it with their network. You will find out who this artist is if you just follow my Music Historian page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Most notably, this plan felt full proof for quite a while: I was now publishing one major full-length interview article each month.       

1-2 The definition of flow, or “The Zone,” refers to “The mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment” as described by American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Santos, L. (2018). Stuff that really makes us happy. . Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/week/5

Works Cited

Santos, L. (2018). Stuff that really makes us happy. . Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/week/5

Searching for a voice: Music Historian’s first year

Early in life, finding my own voice proved a challenge. English was not my first language. When I attended school in the early nineties, ESL programs had yet to reach momentum in inner-city schools, especially in the kindergarten where I was enrolled. Then, a few months later, my parents would move my little sister and me out to the suburbs of Long Island. Somewhere here, a seasoned professional with a Ph.D. in education saw my potential. After providing me with a few tests, she evaluated my results decided that I could continue my education with peers in my age group. At this new public elementary school, I attended an ESL program that brought me up to speed. I learned English properly and had fun in the process.

I parallel this life story to learning the language of blogging. While I knew very well what a blog was before starting Music Historian on the WordPress platform, I still searched for my writer’s voice. The only posts I published in 2010 involved a funny but rather superfluous criticism of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” and then a critique of choral pieces – something which I could personally relate to. It then became clear that I had a voice, but what exactly held me back from expressing it fully? Reflecting after 10 years of blogging, I can say it was the following: 1) Being an authoritative voice on music in a world saturated with music critics who thought of themselves as experts; 2) Trying to understand my blog’s unique value proposition – what could I bring to the world of music blogging that was different from others; and 3) Uncovering a way to bring readers to the site – getting them genuinely excited.

Just like my language development, I had to reach these three milestones. Of course, this did not happen in a day. It takes nine months to a year and sometimes even longer to bring a successful idea to fruition. The key to doing this was consistency, which I touch upon tomorrow in my reflective journey.

Putting Faces to Names, and Coverage on Performances: Baby Robot Media’s Set at Pianos

On Saturday, October 7th, I went to Pianos (on the Lower East Side) to meet the crew of Baby Robot Media, a media service agency that has been introducing me to new and independent artists and arranging interview opportunities. I had met the founder, Steve Albertson, John Graffo, the Director of Music Publicity, John Riccitelli, Director of Sales and Artist Relations, and a few others. Then, of course, I also went to Pianos to see the set that Baby Robot had put together with the help of their partnership with Glide Magazine for the city-wide event, Mondo NYC 2017.

The set was divided into two floors. I started watching the performance on the top floor. The first singer-songwriter I saw was Gabriel Mayers. Steve described Gabriel as a troubadour on guitar. After hearing this description, I made a parallel to Gypsy George, another troubadour. Traditionally, troubadours wrote songs about courtly love.

Gabriel Mayers performs on acoustic guitar at Pianos, Oct. 2017

Gabriel Mayers performs on acoustic guitar at Pianos, Oct. 2017

In one of his songs, “Cocoon,” Gabriel sings, “How much can your lover take, before it all comes crashing down?” This song is composed of 3-5 chords on the acoustic guitar. The melody includes a few embellishments such as hammer-ons and hammer-offs, the technique which adds the trills the listeners hear. His next song, “Philando,” did not resemble “Cocoon” lyrically. This song would take Gabriel out of that description of a troubadour, as it addressed the case of Philando Castile, a 32-year old civilian who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota last year.

Although I cannot decide whether the song “Philando” classifies Gabriel as a political artist, he did appear in the documentary How to let go of the world (and love all the things climate can’t change) directed by Oscar nominee, Josh Fox (gabrielmayers.com/about). I would suggest you read more about Gabriel on his website and check him out performing solo on acoustic guitar sometimes.

After Gabriel’s set, I went downstairs to see another artist, Ava Raiin, whose music was composed of a synthesizer, pre-recorded loops, and her voice. Ava’s first song easily stands out with a synthesized drum beat that sounds like a distorted heartbeat. When I was a student in high school, studying music theory, my teacher told me that Disco beats typically imitate heartbeats.

Ava’s rhythm in her first song though seems to deconstruct disco into something that you would not imagine your parents listening to if they were into that genre in the 1970’s (while it enjoyed its run). Her songs do not stick, and the lyrics do not seem to represent a story or create any imagery. She sings, “It is time to move the world/It is time to paint the world.” I did not get the name of this song.

Ava Raiin performing at Pianos, Oct. 2017

Ava Raiin performing at Pianos, Oct. 2017

I am now trying to guess the name of Ava’s next song, and I believe it is “Eagle Eye.” In this song, the melody created by the vocalizations and the harmonies that cannot be classified as either major or minor. Based on what I have heard, Ava seems more interested creating space with sounds, even atmospheres, as they do not seem grounded in a structure that is detectable to a listener who does not spend too much time with the electronic music genre.

My concern with this artist is how much she showcases her voice, which comes in only for brief periods of time throughout her songs. I feel that within any performance that involves a vocalist and a synth player, the typical listener will be more likely to walk out of a performance commenting on the singer’s vocal abilities rather than the sound capabilities of a machine.

I want to talk about another band I would watch later in the day at 5 pm, Radiator King. The frontman, Adam met Steve of Baby Robot through a mutual friend who plays in another band. Adam took time to get acquainted with Steve before signing onto the company’s roster of musicians.

Adam prefers to write songs about historical events such as world wars, traditional American stories, especially ones about the underdog. Like many musicians, Adam never starts writing songs with a specific intent. The singer says that as a former history undergraduate, he approaches music by researching like a musicologist. During his years studying history, Adam has taken what he has investigated into his songwriting.

“You pick up certain things in a certain way, and put it into what you are imagining.” Adam would think, “I really like Jimmy Hendrix, I wonder who he liked?”

He continues, “Bob Dylan would listen to blues music from the south and try to recreate it. He played it like a boy from the mid-west, which he is, not like a poor man from the south. He listened to other artists and then replayed the songs in a way that made sense to him. It is very hard to find your own voice, but Dylan did.”

As I listened to Adam speak, I got the feeling that if he were to sing, he would have a range of a tenor, just based on his timbre. As I briefly spoke to Adam, it was only 3 pm. I would have some time before I would get the chance to hear Radiator King perform at 5 pm. I decided to continue my concert viewing downstairs.

On the stage on the first floor, the four-piece band, Oginalii started to play; the first rock band I had heard at the Baby Robot Media set. This group’s sound could have easily felt like a combination of Sound Garden and Stone Temple Pilots. If you are a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast like I am, yes, Oginalii’s music is filled with riffs composed of power chords, and drumming that is perfectly synchronized with the guitars and the bass. According to John Riccitelli, the band is from Nashville, and they are alumni of Belmont University.

Oginalii performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Oginalii performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

One of Oginalii’s songs, “Red” sounds like a cross between “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age and “Black Math,” a track on the 2003 album Elephant by the White Stripes. If you should have the chance to see Oginalii live, do expect a sound of rock ‘n’ roll from the early 2000’s and amazing solos from the lead guitarist – something else I miss from today’s mainstream music. Expect a timbre from the frontwoman that reminds you of Gwen Stefani’s voice. If I could paint a clearer picture of this singer’s timbre, imagine Stefani getting stepping into a genre that was opposite the mellowness in the pop songs she has performed recently. Oginalii may be a refreshing group for those who are looking for new and exciting rock music from Nashville.

Hayley Thompson-King performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Hayley Thompson-King performing at Pianos, Oct 2017

After Oginalii, came Hayley Thompson-King and her band. According to Riccitelli, Hayley is also an opera singer and she recently wrote a concept album. I will have to look back at a press release Riccitelli had sent me about this artist, because I was impressed with her energy on stage. The music Hayley plays resemble country, and she too is also based in Nashville.

Radiator Kings (Adam, right), playing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Radiator Kings (Adam, right), playing at Pianos, Oct 2017

Some singers sound very different when they perform versus when they talk, and I discovered that this was the case with the frontman of Radiator King, Adam. When he spoke to me, he sounded like a tenor. When he sang with his band, I heard a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but I felt that onstage, his timbre seems forced. Further, while Adam had explained to me that he (unintentionally) tells stories through songs, I could not hear the lyrics. The inaudible lyrics might have resulted from either the lack of volume in the microphone, an excessive degree in the Strat guitar Adam played, or both.

Trumpeteer playing with Radiator Kings at Pianos, Oct 2017

Trumpeter playing with Radiator Kings at Pianos, Oct 2017

In one song, “So Long Charlie,” Adam explained the story behind the song to the audience before playing. “This song is about the crazy characters you meet in your life. You don’t want them to be your roommates, but you don’t forget them.” For me, the most memorable part of this song was the guest trumpet player who performed a solo.

Baby Robot Media’s set finished at 6:00 pm. I appreciate the opportunity I got to review several performances in one location. I then recalled my first experience at Pianos, and had a brief flashback.

One evening in March 2012, I went to pianos to see Imagine Dragons play. That night, following their show, I met the band’s manager, and had told him that I was interested in writing a story about the band for my blog. I had a lot of competition from more established media channels in getting this band’s attention. New York media from all channels – television, radio, magazines – had been rushing up to the frontman, Daniel, hoping to get a story with the band. A few emails later with the band’s manager and the members of Imagine Dragons, I had a telephone interview scheduled with the bass player, Ben McKee. I consider myself lucky for the chance to talk to Ben. My interview with him is still one of the most popular articles on Music Historian.

Returning to the present, I realized that up until now, I had only seen Pianos at night, and I could not get a clear picture of the space like I did that day; it is beautiful. Most importantly, since Baby Robot Media arranged the performances, I felt so happy that I met the people whom I had been in contact with over the last few years. I saw the faces of this boutique music publicity firm and put them to names. I got to know the human beings behind the emails, press releases, and LinkedIn profiles.

I certainly hope to meet this crew again in person. I hope to continue the professional relationship and learn more about independent artists who might be writing gems that for the moment remain unnoticed by the mainstream, or maybe try their hand at showcasing their talent to various communities, or perhaps have a story to tell about their journey with music. Although I may not be interviewing as much, I will try to prioritize quality research and write about a few artists.

Connecting the Dots (Part 2): Leah Speckhard talks Female Empowerment and Coming-of-Age on her second EP, Sleepwalker

Leah Speckhard, Press Photo Although Leah changed her mind about her university major, she always made sure to remember music and make that a part of her life. The singer-songwriter reflected on the transition between recording of her first album Pour Your Heart Out Like Water, and her newest one, Sleepwalker.

“I recorded my first album in Greece. When I signed with the label, Legend Records, they had me record a full album, which they put out with full press coverage. But the follow up coincided with the downturn, and  the album came out during the whole economic crash.

“The record label was very supportive of the album and me as an artist, but everybody was tightening their pockets. I saw that it wouldn’t be easy for a new artist to break through in this environment.”

While Leah felt satisfied with the completion of her first record, she also admitted that it did not build up into what she expected. In addition, the young artist realized the market for Greek music showed a greater affinity for club music, which did not suit her lyrics-driven songs. Leah asserts, “I felt it did not make sense to keep pushing in Greece, so I decided to come to New York to see if I could make it happen here.”

Leah describes her first experience as a recording artist as invaluable. When she made her first EP, Leah listened to a lot of folk music, and she was relatively inexperienced at recording. She says:

“In Greece, the label was very supportive of me, but I did not understand how the whole process of making an album would play out.. I am a fairly assertive person in general, but in the studio, in that element, I did not feel that assertive. I had a hard time articulating what I wanted the arrangements to sound like.

“In the second record, I felt more involved in the process – which I think is just part of the indie experience versus the label experience. I worked with a producer in Brooklyn and within a different environment. You just naturally have more control over things.

“Many artists I talked to have a similar experience with their first album. You don’t know how to assert yourself and sometimes, you feel that you shouldn’t, because the label is paying for everything and they bring in people with a lot more experience to work on the music, too. The record was also the label’s investment, and I wanted to be respectful of that.”

“On Sleepwalker, I was more sure of what I wanted, and I’d evolved as an artist. I also worked with someone younger, so the collaboration felt easier and more intimate. I knew I was working with someone who believed in me and who brought a lot to the table – we co-wrote most of the songs, and he listened to me about what I wanted production-wise and we really vibed as far as finding a direction that reflected who I am as a person and the dance influence that I liked.”

A great lesson Leah learned was to be assertive on the second album. She would agree that learning assertiveness without acting rude, and finding that fine line, is also a process of growing up creatively, personally and professionally.

“When I was younger,” Leah recalled, “I wanted to be easygoing. I did not want to come across as difficult, but now I realize, you must be to a certain extent if you want your creative vision to come to life. You don’t have to be rude, but you have to be straightforward if something is not the way you want it, and that can be very awkward and uncomfortable. While I love to hear suggestions from other co-writers or producers, as an artist I have to be the ultimate decision-maker and ask myself “Is this what I want my sound to be or not?””

As an indie artist, Leah funded this album herself. Some people might think that an artist paying for their album defeats the purpose of making money with music. Leah says that having her music pay for itself would be a dream. At the moment though, she tries to separate money from music.

“I know some people to think about the connection between them [money and music] when they make music their full-time job. I realized that apart from the money piece of it, I want music to be a big part of my life. I try not to focus specifically on the money because it is really more about the emotions and the feelings for me.

“I try to organize my goals more around questions like  “Do I want to play for bigger audiences, make a music video, or get the music out?” To put it out, you want to have the audience.

“There are so many emerging artists now. To charge people right off the bat for your songs seems foolish – very few people will want to pay $10 or $15 for your album when they can get everything for free on Spotify. I know as a consumer, I am the same way. I’d rather pay to go see a concert, so as an artist, I try to keep that in mind. I think people have grown unaccustomed to paying for recorded music. It’s more about the audience now. I feel like my investment will pay itself off someday with a bigger audience, which is more important to me.”

Listening to Leah talk about her music and her experiences, I realize that growing up for twenty-something’s is not reflected so much how frequently they change their minds until they make a decision most people find logical. Maturing comes from the valuable lessons twenty-something-year-olds learn within their development and apply that to make better choices in the future. I then wondered whether Leah had a song on her album that reflected a coming-of-age theme. She talked about another song on Sleepwalker called “Time Machine.” Leah Speckhard Album Cover

“I was delving into relationship issues with my songs – examining all of the heartbreaks, trying to figure out what was happening, and getting into all of this philosophical questioning about what really mattered to me. In looking at my emotions more closely, I realized that a lot of my fears circled around  getting older, and I put that into my song “Time Machine”.

“I started having this strong urge to be young again and have all of this time again to do things over. Aside from the social pressure to have a “real job” and career, there is also pressure to be young from wanting to be part of an industry that emphasizes youth and beauty. I started feeling like I needed to make choices, and fast. With so many options, though I was blessed to have them, I felt overwhelmed. In “Time Machine,” I thought, “I just want to go back in time and be young and not have to make any of these decisions.”

Leah is not afraid to expose her feelings in her songs – though they may come across as hyperbolic sometimes, she thinks hat many people can relate to strong feelings like this popping up from time to time. If you are wondering whether to listen to Leah’s music, this is definitely one reason; but it is not the only reason. In today’s popular music, there is a disconnection about the definition of female empowerment. Major performing artists talk about being female within their pop tunes without emphasizing empowerment.

Leah addresses female empowerment by expressing the injustice, the dissatisfaction with it, and then taking responsibility for entering that disappointing situation in the first place all within her music. “Loser”, a bonus song on her website www.LeahSpeckhard.com, is the track that beautifully introduces this concept. As for the rest of the songs, listeners will have to attend the launch of Sleepwalker on February 23 at 8:30 pm at The Bowery Electric, which she will do in partnership with Tinderbox Arts PR.

 

More than Meets the Eye: Fiona Silver discusses her music, career success and building confidence

12/20/13 Fiona Silver In her music video for the song “Sandcastle,” which she just premiered last Thursday live at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, Fiona Silver frolics on the beach while sporting a 1950’s inspired bathing suit – with beautiful make-up to match – while building (wouldn’t you guess it) a sandcastle. Listen to the song, and you hear a heavy bass coupled with a sweet yet depressing sound of minor 7th chords on the ukulele. Then, Fiona releases her smoky voice. Some would say they are surprised to hear a big voice come from such a petite woman.

Fiona says, “Because I have played with many styles of music, the thread that kind of ties it all together is my voice. So, people comment a lot on my voice and the thing they often say is, “I can’t believe that gigantic voice comes out of that tiny body.” I’ve probably heard that about 100 times. Your outside doesn’t always reflect your inside, and I love that.”

The second sentence in Fiona’s quote then got me thinking about how often times in music, listeners and players focus too heavily on aesthetics – the artist’s physical appearance, what they wear, and the make-up. Now, I am guilty of doing this as well, at FIRST glance. Vision is our primary sense, not hearing. When we listen though, we find there is so much more to an artist and their music than meets the eye.

In this interview, Fiona shows me that even a talented, beautiful and imaginative musician still needs to humble themselves, keep their sight on the art they create, and focus on building confidence from the inside. More importantly, music can help with all of this. I am happy to welcome Fiona Silver to Music Historian.

I asked Fiona about the solemn tone of “Sandcastle” and the lyrics. There is a specific line which Fiona describes water rising on the shore and knocks down towers made of sand. I wondered what message she wanted to convey.

“This song is pretty unique and different in composition and vibe from the rest of my songs,” she explains. “It doesn’t have a lot of hooks. It really is a story, or a poem, about how you can be so focused on something that you really don’t see the big picture. It is the water, the image of a child, or me, building a sandcastle and trying to get all of the details right; being in a state of perfectionism and not noticing that the tides are changing and time is passing. The tide rolls in and knocks down the sandcastle. It is definitely a metaphor.”

While Fiona poeticizes her lyrics and keeps them vague so that they are relatable to anybody; the songwriter and singer also writes from her own experiences. One such experience that the lyrical theme of “Sandcastle” would fit within her own life include dealing with the dilemma many independent musicians have when they are presented with a possible record deal. Fiona Silver (on guitar)_1

“I would like to be signed to a record label if it makes sense for me. I don’t want to be so focused on getting a deal and everything around making music, that I miss out on really being an artist. Ironically, this goes back to the song, “Sandcastle.” I have met a lot of people who are just very focused on my look, and because I can also be versatile with genres – my voice has this range where it can be soft, then raspy, and then can also be belting and loud – they really wanted to push me into pop. For me, as an artist, I want to focus on my expression and creation. I think that if I focus on what I am actually making, things will fall into place as they should.

“The industry is in an interesting place. It used to be that this [a record deal] was the goal [for a musician]. Now, things are shifting. Artistic development is crucial and it is wild how [many labels within] the industry has dropped that.

“I am not interested in being boxed-in so that someone else can make money. I would love to have a record deal with a company that could nurture my talent and help me move to the next level. I am thoroughly confident this will happen one way or another.”

Although Fiona continues to simultaneously develop her own music and keep an open eye and mind for a possible record deal opportunity, she has experienced success independently. Fiona has collaborated with producer and owner of the Shabby Road Recording Studio, Roger Greenawalt on the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele Compilation. In addition, she received an endorsement from Luna Guitars and has become the representing artist for their ukulele line.

“Someone just gave me a ukulele randomly years ago, and I loved it; and who doesn’t? The ukulele is one of the sweetest instruments on the planet.

“When I toured in Austin for South by South West, I stayed down there for a while with my ex-boyfriend who was a BMX biker. I made a video with him at the dirt trails, he rode the trails and I played one of my songs on the ukulele. A fellow BMX biker happened to also be a filmmaker, and he works for Luna Guitars. He told me, “We are just about to launch a ukulele line, and you would be the perfect artist to represent that. That’s how I got sponsored by Luna Guitars for ukulele.”

While sponsorships help with monetary needs, Luna has also helped Fiona connect with more artists around the world, including Pipo Torres, a guitarist and songwriter in Puerto Rico who played on “Sandcastle.”

“I would have never known him if not for my sponsorship with Luna Guitars,” says Fiona humbly. “After I got sponsored, I learned about the different artists on Luna’s roster. He [Pipo] immediately reached out to me. I eventually went down to Puerto Rico for a vacation, and then met with Pipo. I jammed with him and some other great musicians he plays with and kept our connection strong since then. Now, we have this collaboration together. It is beautiful when you can connect with more musicians and people.”

Fiona has also received attention from the press. Curve Magazine named the musician one of the most desirable women next to P!NK and Tegan and Sara. In addition to feeling “honored” by the recognition, Fiona is also grateful for Curve’s support in helping give back to the New York City community that supports artists. Fiona explains:

“Curve Magazine is great. I got placed between P!NK and Tegan and Sara. Those are pretty big names in music now. Then, they featured me again in a full article in a later issue, where they talked about my music.

“They even sponsored an event I did to raise money for the Ali Forney Center – an organization that provides assistance to gay teenagers who are homeless. I put on an event where I played music, collaborated with other bands and DJ’s. We tried to raise awareness and funds for the center and have fun. Curve Magazine helped put the word out through social media.”

Fiona’s accomplishments reflect her ambitions as a young artist. Yet, all musicians in her positions who receive this great recognition all come from humble beginnings. Fiona kindly shares how she first became involved in music and how she decided to pursue music as a full-time career and lifestyle.

“My history with music is a bit varied,” she begins. “I started playing piano as a child. When I was a kid, I lived in a place that had a piano, so it worked out. Then, I moved and did not have the piano anymore. I would love to get back to that. I play around on the keyboard sometimes, but I haven’t really played anything in years.

“ I have an older brother who plays guitar, so I took his guitar and started jamming one night. I probably made the worst ruckus ever, but I felt amazing. So when I was about 13, I moved over to guitar and started taking lessons.

Fiona Silver_ukulele “When I picked up guitar, I started writing songs. My guitar teacher would record songs with me, then later on, I played bass in the rock band I had called Little Body and The Big Sound. Then, I picked up the ukulele.”

Fiona has always described herself as a creator. Fiona also claims that from a very early age, a tender 7 to be exact, she was determined to make a living with music.

“It really wasn’t a question throughout any of my adulthood or anytime through my teenage years,” she recounts. “I always just knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Fiona was also born and raised in New York City, a place that is filled with opportunities, communities and audiences for music. On one hand, the saturation of culture and art sometimes proves a challenge. On the other hand, with the challenges also come rewards.

“Being in New York in particular, is kind of a double-edged sword,” explains Fiona. “The rewards come from having so many great places to play. There are many avenues where you can get your music out. But, there is also so much going on. It is really difficult to grow in a natural process without getting sidetracked by the concerns of image, marketing and business.

“In this day and age, artists before they make it big, really have to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” You have to do your own promotions, make your own flyers, social media, and all of these tasks that have nothing to do with the music you create. Those are challenges.

“A personal challenge is to have a solid band. There are so many incredible musicians in the city, and I played with great musicians, but they are also in 10 other groups. This makes scheduling difficult, but I go with the flow and keep meeting new people and play with them. In other places, like Austin, for example, where it is not so chaotic, people have more time to jam and live in the process of creating as opposed to hustling around it.

“The reward is working with so many artists and gaining inspiration. This city is very eclectic and I get exposed to so many styles.”

Our artist definitely absorbs the variety of musical styles in her own work. At the moment, she focuses on making a music video for another song, “Medicine Man.” This track differs greatly from the straightforward yet challenging “Sandcastle.” “Medicine Man” literally takes a person on a journey both musically and visually.

“I co-wrote this song with Roger Greenawalt, whom I have known for many years. It really is an example of everything I love about music. It really blends genres from disco to psychedelic to reggae.

“The video [reflects] the journey happening in the song. I wrote all of the scenes which play like a wild dream sequence. We shot in various locations like Ithaca, we shot in the basement of a gay bar in Williamsburg, and we shot in one of my favorite venues, Pete’s Candy Store, and even the studio I recorded the song in. I have so many friends in the video, and some really talented friends who helped create the video with me.  I feel if I worked with anyone else, they would have said “you are crazy.” These guys just worked with me and made it happen.

“Everything [in this video] comes back to this sense of community and other artists I respect who have a lot of imagination and just want to create. The director, Leslie Van Stelton, who also worked on “Sandcastle” and the make-up artist for that music video, DNicole also showcase their range of talents here.”

Fiona does not currently have a release date for this video. When the public does see it though, they will observe the same grace, beauty and personality of the artist with great confidence. And, of course, listeners can expect to hear that voice that travels great physical distances. Reader, I encourage you to see Fiona’s video for the song “Tonight” as well as her promo video for Luna Guitars in which she sings “Sweet Escape.” While you are on her website, click on the “about” tab and you will learn about her vocal inspirations.

As I researched Fiona’s website and learned about the singers she admired, I wondered whether she tried to emulate any of these influences through her voice or music.

“Actually, I don’t,” responds the artist. “I feel like certain characters can come through, different sides of my voice. The genres which change from soul to rock ‘n’ roll to indie, all bring out different sides of my character but I don’t think like an actor. I never think I’m going to channel a specific person. I think the energy and influences, like Billie Holiday – who is one of my favorite singers without a doubt – and Aretha Franklin, are infused together to help create my sound.”

Armed with her sense of autonomy in her musical style, the songs she creates and the strong belief in what she does and represents, one will definitely see Fiona as a confident woman. Lastly, I wanted to know whether she is always this confident as a musician and person. If she is not, I wonder how Fiona builds up that confidence.   Fiona_Silver-3

“There are times when I don’t feel as confident as other times,” says Fiona. “I think I do walk with a sense of confidence in general. Part of that comes from the love my parents gave me as a child. Part of that also comes from growing up in a tough city and needing to toughen up. Sometimes, as expressive as I am, as much as I sing and dance and do all of these outward expressions, it is also important for me to get quiet. I love to do yoga and meditate, and also watch the sun set from my roof top.

“When I don’t feel as good, I definitely reach out to people who I love for support. I have an amazing community of friends and that’s huge in life. I express myself through song and poetry, and that really helps me process any pain. When I can move through the pain, it sort of transforms it from something that hurts me to something that helps me.”

An artist’s beauty, talent and imagination can certainly help in attracting the right people who will help them with their endeavors and career path. Yet, even with all the support in the world, a young artist must also toughen up and realize that not everyone in the music industry has his or her best interest at heart. Fiona shows me a musician does not have to change their demeanor, appearance or beliefs in order to experience success through their work. One must, however, persevere in periods of difficulty.

Transforming disappointment, pain or challenges into stepping stones towards success is definitely a stride in the right direction to building confidence as an artist. This is the lesson I learn from Fiona. Further, confidence has helped Fiona focus on staying true to her style and voice, while keeping out any distractions that might be counterproductive to her art. As she continues to sculpt a career that works best for her, Fiona continues to watch her environment. She is a creative soul who has experienced so many beautiful moments in the music world, while also having seen and acknowledging the challenges that knock at her door. Fiona will continue to build her castle, but when the tides roll in, she will be ready.