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Monday, December 9, 2013

Are We a Bunch of Commitment Phobes?

Hi there,

I've seen it time and time again from other acts in the last year but now it's happened to me - a show is pulled by a venue because there are not enough pre-bookings - ouch! Is that fair? I understand the venue doesn't want to lose money, but surely there should be a certain amount of faith and trust in the act they've booked too? With the gig I was part of, stacks of people said: 'But I was just about to book tickets!' or 'I was going to buy tickets at the door!'. How many of us are organised enough to book tickets to an event more than eight days before - because in our case the venue pulled the plug a whole week and a day before?

Three years ago I would commonly get booked for Christmas events and weddings at least a year before the big day. Nowadays it is no surprise to get a request for a booking two to three weeks before a function. What is going on? Is the ability to get a message out to people in seconds putting an end to pre planning? We cherry pick our tunes and don't like to commit to buying an entire album from our music artists. Even our retailers are popping up instead of instead planting roots. Are we always looking over our shoulders for the coolest way to fill every inch of our lives and refusing to pledge our time until we're sure we have the best possible date secured in our hectic event-filled lives?

Well I'm way more full of questions today than answers, but I'd love to hear what you think. Are we turning into a bunch of commitment phobes?

So, 'till next time, whenever that may be (maybe I'll text you),

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

15 Truths About Being a Professional Singer

Hi folks,

This blog comes from a professional dancer in the US, via Aussie muso Lloyd Gyi - just replace 'dancer' with 'singer' and it is spot on! I couldn't have said it better myself, so I didn't try:

"15 Truths About Being a Professional Dancer"
written by Melanie Doskocil, original post found at her blog, Ballet Pages

1. Dance is hard. – No dancer ever became successful riding on their natural born talents only. Dancers are artists and athletes. The world of dance today is akin to an extreme sport. Natural ability and talent will only get us so far. Dancers must work hard and persevere. Dancers give years of their lives plus their sweat, tears and sometimes blood to have the honor and pleasure of performing on stage.

2. You won’t always get what you want. – We don’t always get the role we wanted, go on pointe when we want, get the job we want, hear the compliments we want, make the money we want, see companies run the way we want, etc, etc.  This teaches us humility and respect for the process, the art form and the masters we have chosen to teach us. The faster we accept this, the faster we can get on with being brilliant.  We’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but we can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.

3. There’s a lot you don’t know. – There is always more a dancer can learn. Even our least favorite teachers, choreographers and directors can teach us something. The minute we think we know it all, we stop being a valuable asset.

4. There may not be a tomorrow. – A dancer never knows when their dance career will suddenly vanish: a company folds, career ending injury, car accident, death…Dance every day as if it is the final performance. Don’t save the joy of dance for the stage. Infuse even your routine classroom exercises with passion!

5. There’s a lot you can’t control. – You can’t control who hires you, who fires you, who likes your work, who doesn’t, the politics of being in a company. Don’t waste your talent and energy worrying about things you can’t control. Focus on honing your craft, being the best dancer you can be. Keep an open mind and a positive attitude.

6. Information is not true knowledge. – Knowledge comes from experience.  You can discuss a task a hundred times, go to 1000 classes, but unless we get out there and perform we will only have a philosophical understanding of dance. Find opportunities to get on stage.  You must experience performance firsthand to call yourself a professional dancer.

7. If you want to be successful, prove you are valuable. – The fastest way out of a job is to prove to your employer they don’t need you. Instead, be indispensable. Show up early, know your material, be prepared, keep your opinions to yourself unless they are solicited and above all be willing to work hard.

8. Someone else will always have more than you/be better than you.  – Whether it’s jobs or money or roles or trophies, it does not matter. Rather than get caught up in the drama about what others are doing around you, focus on the things you are good at, the things you need to work on and the things that make you happiest as a dancer.

9. You can’t change the past. – Everyone has a past. Everyone has made mistakes, and everyone has glorious moments they want to savor. “Would you keep a chive in your tooth just because you enjoyed last night’s potato?” Boston Common TV Series. Dance is an art form that forces us to concentrate on the present. To be a master at dance we have be in the moment; the minute the mind wanders, injuries happen. If they do, see #12.

10. The only person who can make you happy is you. – Dancing in and of itself cannot make us happy.  The root of our happiness comes from our relationship with ourselves, not from how much money we make, what part we were given, what company we dance for, or  how many competitions we won.  Sure these things can have effects on our mood, but in the long run it’s who we are on the inside that makes us happy.

11. There will always be people who don’t like you. – Dancers are on public display when they perform and especially in this internet world, critics abound. You can’t be everything to everyone.  No matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks differently.  So concentrate on doing what you know in your heart is right.  What others think and say about you isn’t all that important.  What is important is how you feel about yourself.

12.Sometimes you will fail. – Sometimes, despite our best efforts, following the best advice, being in the right place at the right time, we still fail. Failure is a part of life. Failure can be the catalyst to some of our greatest growth and learning experiences. If we never failed, we would never value our successes. Be willing to fail. When it happens to you (because it will happen to you), embrace the lesson that comes with the failure.

13. Sometimes you will have to work for free. – Every professional dancer has at one time or another had to work without pay. If you are asked to work for free, be sure that you are really ok with it. There are many good reasons to work for free, and there are just as many reasons not to work for free. Ask yourself if the cause is worthy, if the experience is worth it, if it will bring you joy. Go into the situation fully aware of the financial agreement and don’t expect a hand out later.

14. Repetition is good. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is insane. – If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.  If you keep doing the bare minimum of required classes, don’t complain to your teacher when you don’t move up to the next level. If you only give the bare minimum in your company, be happy staying in the corps. If you want to grow beyond your comfort zone, you must push yourself beyond your self-imposed limitations.

15. You will never feel 100% ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises.  Dancers have to be willing to take risks. From letting go of the ballet barre to balance, to moving around the world to dance with a new company, from trusting a new partner to trying a new form of dance, dancers must have a flexible mind and attitude as well as body. The greatest opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means you won’t feel totally comfortable or ready for it."

See you next time,

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do you want to ride The Beast or the Ladybird?

Hi there,

When I was starting out in this business, I sang in a Top 40 Dance Band with another female singer. She also did regular gigs in cocktail bars and even sang at weddings and parties. She had gone to a Performing Arts High School - like the kids in 'Fame'. To me, she had it made and I looked up to her. She had what I wanted - she lived off her music and even owned her own microphone. I felt I was on my way to living the dream she had already achieved. 

But she always seemed restless and after a few weeks she sat me down and told me she was leaving the band. Why would anyone want to do that? We had a gig that was highly sought after by every other covers band in town - a well paid residency to big crowds in a classy venue. But she looked at me knowingly and said, 'look while you're 21 this is all great but I'm about to turn 25 (!) and it's time I got on with life.' She wanted a real job with a real income and some stability. 'You'll be the same when you're 25, you wait.'

Well I'm not going to tell you how distant a memory my 25th birthday is, but let's say that things are still looking green and lush from my side of the fence. I experienced a solid wage and security thanks to the corporate jobs I took after uni, so the lure of that life was never that strong for me. 

recently overheard a muso saying something particularly wise to another after listening to him bitch bitterly about our industry (we've all been there). The wise one said and I paraphrase, 'As professional musos we sign up for the rollercoaster. Our lows can be really low but our highs are right up there. If we wanted safe we would have got on the Ladybird ride but that just wouldn't be much fun'. 

I'll take one ticket to white knuckled exhilaration and stomach lurching intensity with the earth teetering beneath my feet, thank you. By the way, I now own three microphones.

See you next time,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Give 'em What They Want

Hi there,

I have a theory that is yet to be disproved in all my years of fronting party bands...Now, your raison d'etre is getting your audience to dance... if you can work out roughly when the majority of your audience was 20 years old ie their halcyon days, you're off to a flying start. Pluck out a big dancey hit from aroundabout that year and you're almost guaranteed to have a packed dance floor. The flow of alcohol also helps and females are generally easier to shift but the good thing is that the men generally follow the women onto the floor so get to the girls first. 

If you have a group that's hard to pick or they are of really mixed ages like at a wedding, then go for Retro hits. Even Gen Zs know the big songs from the '70s and '80s thanks to their constant re-emergence in movies and sitcoms. It doesn't seem to matter how many current hits I learn for these occasions, 'I Will Survive' and 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' are still top of the dance floor hit parade. 

Of course you might have a bunch of hipsters that won't go for Top 40 from any era - then you have to be a bit smarter (and have a wide repertoire). Pick a hip song that regular bodies probably don't know, that still has a good beat, and pump that out while gazing at your shoes. The hep cat gets to be the dude dancing and mouthing along to a song no one else is familiar with while everyone else will join in so as not to appear uncool.

Of course it's simply understanding what your audience wants. Are they there to dance, to just listen, to impress? Are they straight-laced corporate types or wild and woolly hippies? Don't be like an agent I heard of recently (see 'Agents, who needs em?) who was sending disco dancing drag queens to entertain at events for the very elderly and very conservative! 

And if in doubt, just sing 'Brown Eyed Girl' - that'll cover more than half of your population,

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Sing Harmonies

Hi there,

I've worked with lots of great lead singers who say they can't sing harmonies. I reckon if you can sing at all then you can absolutely learn to sing harmony. A music teacher would probably train you in intervals, but I'm going to leave that to the pedagogs and give you tips from the shop floor instead.

1. Treat a harmony like a shy melody.
A good backing singer will be able to pick the obvious harmonies to a melody out of the air and won't need to be told what notes to sing exactly. But if that doesn't come naturally to you (yet), just treat your harmony line like a melody – learn it by itself as a tune and then slip it in with the melody once it's in your head. Go to a site like where you can customize karaoke files and download your song with the lead vocal muted. Listen to that over and over. Once you've got that down, download the track again, this time adding the lead vocal too. If the lead vocal is not pulling you away from your part, you've got it! To truly test yourself, download the entire track with everything bar your backing vocal line and slip it in yourself as you sing along.

2. Tune in on the Wavelength
You probably sing along to the melody of songs on the radio - that's what they're designed for after all. Try to tune into a backing vocal line instead – chances are it will repeat, so by the end of the song the harmony will start to grab your ears. The more you tune your ear to the 'other' vocal lines in songs, the more obvious they become, the more patterns you'll start to notice and the easier it will be to sing harmonies yourself.

3. Make the Bass your Buddy
Some people practise the harmonies at home and feel secure but then imperfect stage sound, nerves and booming Marshall stacks throw them off the scent when it most matters. Ask the sound engineer to put some bass guitar in your foldback wedge. While the guitars and pianos are off playing all sorts of fancy shmancy lines that might throw you, the bass player is playing one note at a time and that note will sometimes be yours.

K-PopStars Girls' Generation, know all about Taking Off.
4. Getting a Smooth Take Off
Lift offs and landings are nerve wracking, right? But when a plane reaches its cruising altitude, it and we all breathe easier. As a harmony singer, you need to get the first line right, then once you're in the zone it's pretty easy to stay there. So your first note is crucial. Listen to the intro of the song when you're practising – maybe the lead singer passes by your starting note on the way to the chorus. Keep it in your head until you need it so it you're not just grasping for it out of the blue. Repetition of course always helps - and it will create muscle memory. You need to listen and sing along with your part until it sticks. Then, even if you start freaking out and reaching for your oxygen mask on the big day, you can just breathe and trust that your voice actually knows where to go.

See you next time,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Secret to Success: Turning Up

Hi there,

(Now guitarists, when I say turn up, I don't mean turn up to '11' a la Spinal Tap). 

I'm just going to go ahead and put it in writing - I love Dr Oz.  If he told me to jump I probably would. And he says one of the secrets of life is 'turning up'. He means you've got to participate in life, be part of it. I mean that too but I'm being even more literal. 

I was speaking to a muso friend of mine this morning who did a high profile gig on the weekend. Ten minutes before the band were due to perform for the masses, two of its members decided it was time to get a cup of coffee at the bar nearby. So at the moment the event organiser came by and asked the band to start, the singer was left hanging out to dry with just a drummer and trumpeter. Needless to say, the usually calm, polite chanteuse who had booked the band, let loose on the two strays when they returned, which was well after the preordained starting time. She also turned to my friend and said that next time she would simply book mediocre players who turned up, rather than go through that again. 

Having run a function band for years myself, I feel her pain. I'm still recovering from a moment many years ago when the guitarist that I hired for a wedding band came stumbling down the aisle right after the bride, holding his shoes, trailing his leads and dragging his equipment. The rest of the band had been set up an hour before the first guests had gathered. Great guitarist, lousy organisational skills. The stress is simply not worth it. 

I truly believe that punctuality, preparation, respect and enthusiasm are at least as important as actual music skills in a professional entertainer's arsenal.

Of course if you are a great musician that turns up on time as well, you've got it made!

See you next time,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Agents...who needs em?!

Hi there,

Why would you use an agent to get you gigs?

It's an agent's job to have strong relationships with venues, event bookers and even other agents. A good one will harness these contacts to get you work you might not otherwise get - and then manage the booking so that you can focus on just entertaining the masses. It's quite a luxury, well worth paying for in my book, that allows you to just be a performer and leave the business to the business people.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I'm not hear to praise all agents from the rooftops - it is an occupation up there with car sales and real estate in the trustworthy stakes, in some cases. However, one of my pet hates is entertainers constantly bitching about their agents (not suggesting I don't indulge in that sport myself occasionally). I booked a weekly singer songwriter night (PopTarts) for almost 10 years and while I wasn't strictly an 'agent', I certainly did a lot of the same work they did. And I can tell you, it's bloody hard! Dealing with publicans who measure entertainment success in terms of schooners sold and entertainers for whom the notion of promotion is a nebulous one can be frustrating and soul destroying. So before pissing on your promoter, try doing their job for yourself.

The problem is, a business hat doesn't always sit comfortably alongside an artistic hat on the same head - not everyone is cut out to balance books and belt out a ballad as well. But I do believe everyone needs to pull their head out of that creative soil just briefly to at least learn the basics.

Like many of my fellow songstresses, I've been doing this long enough that I have a pretty good idea what venues and event organisers are after. We should know how to do our own promotion and paperwork and understand the importance of being a business buff as well as polished performer. No one knows better than the act themselves, what they need, so could we just cut out that middle person - oh and save that at least 10% agent fee? Yes and No.

It's a tenuous world of work that I inhabit, where a gig can disappear on a whim. So I book about 50% of my work directly and the rest through a handful of agents I have built a rapport with - I like to share my eggs around in different people's baskets. I guess I just have to hope I get to deal more with competent cockerel types than the cocks.

See you next time!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

5 Reasons you SHOULD Sing Covers

Hi there,

I know, last blog I said there were 5 Good Reasons NOT to Sing Covers...but a record does have two sides, right?!

1. Practising your Craft: Being an original artist is, ah, an art! But it is also a craft. Singers with good breath control, pitch, delivery and range can highlight their art much more effectively and regular gigs make a fertile training ground. Sure you can do regular original gigs but in the early stages of your career, there are more cover gigs around and they are likely to pay much better too. The Rolling Stones were a Blues cover bands before they gave us true satisfaction. And having to sing other people's songs, written for their style and ranges, will really stretch your technical abilities. 

2. Walking the walk: As well as the actual singing, cover gigs will perfect all the other skills that go into becoming a great live performer like stagecraft and connecting with audiences. Whether you're being a cool indie chick or channelling Madonna, the skills are part of the same showbag.

3. Making the Contacts: The music game is the music game and there are many players including agents and venue owners you will be able to cultivate while doing cover gigs.

4. Learning from the Hits: Performing other people's songs to audiences night after night gives you an insight into what songs 'work' and why. Valuable info you can feed into your own songwriting.

5. Making Money from Music: I never forget a conversation I had at a party after being introduced to a fellow independent artist. He asked me what my day job was. I told him I sang in covers bands and the look of horror on his face was unforgettable - he didn't hold back in expressing shock and contempt at my choice of income. I returned the question and he told me he was a painter. OK, so he was an all round artistic type that managed to make a living from his artistry, good for him. I wondered if it were landscapes of Picasso-esque stylistic masterpieces and so I asked him what he painted. He answered 'houses. sometimes fences, mainly walls'. Oh.

Music is a wonderful job and whether they are my masterpieces or someone else's, I can't think of a 'job' I'd rather do.

I've just joined a soul/funk/blues/motown/swing band called Red Light Orchestra. I wonder what narrow pop pathway I would still be on if I hadn't had the experience of singing covers like this. Because what you can't learn about soul from Al Green and the gang, cats, well it ain't worth knowing!

See you next time,

Monday, September 16, 2013

5 Reasons NOT to Sing Covers

Hi there,

I’ve spent a lot of cyber inches defending the practice of singing ‘other people’s songs’ but today I’m going to be the Devil’s Advocate. Here's why you should not sing covers if you want to be an original music artist:
Amanda Gaga

     1. Branding Badly – The pilgrimage from disco queen territory to cool indie princess land is a long and arduous one. If you want to make a decent living from singing covers, chances are you will be singing pop and dance hits from the last three decades. Once you establish a reputation – among punters and industry – as this type of performer, it’s hard work shaking that image and establishing a new one at the other end of the spectrum of cool. 

2. Sullying your Style  – Becoming an original artist is all about finding and honing what is individual about you. On the other hand, the best cover and session singers can sing just about anything and do it convincingly. Cover singers spend so much time in Lady Gaga’s songwriting shoes that it can drag their skills and style in everybody’s direction but their own.

3. Distracting Habits – A few gigs a week, a few sets a gig adds up to lots of other people’s songs to be learnt. And if you want to stay in that game you can’t rest on your repertoire. It needs to be constantly refurbished and revised. Precious time that you could be spending writing your own masterpieces.

4. Losing the Love – sweaty, sleazy punters (show me one cover singer who’s never heard ‘Show us Yer Tits’ during a normal night’s work); a sound system from 1975 that makes it almost impossible to hear yourself sing; being on stage in front of a Spinal Tap-worshipping guitarist making it almost impossible to hear yourself sing; venues that make you sit in a broom cupboard in between sets and then ‘forget’ to pay you…you get the picture and I’m only scratching the surface of this particular image. If you were doing your own thing you might see a light through the end of the tunnel of poker machines, but sometimes singing Beyonce and Britney night after night just doesn’t make this scene worth it!

5. Showing your Bad Side – When you write for yourself, you custom the songs to suit you. You don’t have to try to sound like Ke$ha to please the punters.  Your own lyrics reflect the way only you would express yourself and you can manoeuver the melody to sit in your sweet spot. You’re presenting a brand new piece of art that is all you with no compromises and shows you at your best.

Next time: ‘Five Reasons You SHOULD Sing Covers’.

As usual, love to hear what you think,


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Length IS important

Hi there,

It's an age old dilemma - do we choose quality or quantity, width over length?

I'm not sure when it happened in the music industry here, but one day I woke up and agents were telling me that if my band wanted to compete, we had to play longer. The standard - I'm talking covers bands, in pubs and the like - was to perform 3 sets of 40 minutes. But then some bands started offering to do 4 or even 5 sets of 45-50 minutes for the same fee and of course many agents and venues were hiring them instead. Fast forward to now - those same venues are saying: 'Live entertainment doesn't work - it doesn't bring in the punters'. 

Well I disagree - 'Rubbish entertainment doesn't work'.  And even good entertainment wears thin after about 3 hours. There is such thing as too much of a good thing. People go out to socialise and that's hard to do with almost constant live music. It gets to the point where punters have had enough, the excitement wears off and they drift off to talk to their friends in another room or tune in to the delights of the one arm bandits. Live entertainment then becomes little more than elevator music. And that's no fun for the band either - without a dedicated audience it's hard to give a great performance. And while stomping the stage is an exhilirating thing to do, it is also physically and emotionally draining (when done well) so after about 3 hours the audience is not getting the best out of a band anyway.

We all want the best value for our money but I think PT Barnum of the 'Greatest Show on Earth' (Barnum and Bailey Circus) knew a thing or two about great entertainment. He said 'Always Leave Them Wanting More'.

So, until next week...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Singer Searching for the Sweet Spot

Hi there,

I did a recording session for a Grammy Award winning producer recently. He'd heard my voice before hiring me so while I was nervous, I was reasonably confident it would go OK. 

He played me a few songs he'd written and after a while we got to work. The first one was a rocky number and I did my best to give it some. But I could see on his face and hear in my own head that it just sounded...blah. There were no notes I couldn't hit and I was doing my best to channel Joan Jett but it just wasn't happening. Beyonce was looking down at me disapprovingly from the personally signed photo on the wall. No pressure then.

Now sometimes the problem with songs written by one sex for the other is, no matter how much the writers know about music and songwriting, they just don't quite fit the voice for which they're intended. How often have you heard great singers do mediocre performances because the song just doesn't suit them? That's why song choice and key choice is make or break on TV talent shows like The Voice and when you putting that decision in someone else's hands, well, good luck!

We come to grips with the scope of our own ranges as singers but within that cluster of notes I've realised there are those that make my voice soar and others that are just a bit...blah! In other words, there is definitely a sweet spot and if the song doesn't enter into that neighbourhood then maybe that tune's not for me, not in that key at least. So when a band says: 'Well, we do this song in this key,' I think you have the right as a singer to say: 'Do you mind if we do it in my key?' After all, they don't yet make capos for voices. 

Anyway, the second song we recorded at this session went much better. I could see the producer's face relax and could swear I saw Beyonce winking at me. Bet she knows all about the sweet spot.

See you next time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Phone Sex?

Hi there,

Well they might not be suggesting that exactly but is it only me who thinks advertising the new Samsung phone as a 'life companion' is a little sad? Now I'm a major fan of all things digital but I would prefer to lay my digits on something, somebody, with a pulse! Having said that, I heard a TV Talent Show contestant say recently that music was their 'best friend'. A bit cheesy no doubt, but this I can relate to, in fact would even step it up a notch. It's all about lust, even love!

I recently came back from about 6 weeks overseas visiting family and just being on holiday - that means 42 days without singing, except for the bathroom and car stereo concerts! I can't remember the last time I've gone that long without my fix. Coming back after a long break was like being away from a lover and having to get to know them all over again...I flirted around my falsetto, was reticent with my resonance and became introverted with my intonation. But once I realised how good it all felt and why I was in love then I simply let go and, ah, went all the way. Nice to be back. By the way...what are you wearing?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 a hole in the head!

Hi there,

In the last couple of months I've been lucky enough to fall in love with Finland, be amazed by Estonia, be brought to tears of joy and admiration by Russia and then to reignite my wondrous affairs with Thailand, France and the Channel Islands - in short, had the time of my life with the people I love best. But I missed one thing (apart from you lot of course). I really truly missed singing! I came mighty close to wrestling the microphone from the band singer at a Bangkok riverside restaurant and I more than flirted with the idea of finding the closest karaoke joint in numerous European cities. I decided in the end to delay my gratification since I knew I was going to be greeted by a lovely full gig calendar at home. 

I often wonder what I would do if I didn't sing. Not just for a job, but I find singing to be the most wonderful release. Emotions, stress - the world just feels like a much better place once I've let it all out over the microphone. 

I have a favourite acupuncture point on the top of my head. When that needle goes in, it feels like pressure is released - like letting a trickle of air out of an over-filled balloon. Singing feels a bit like that for me. 

So, I guess you could say, I missed a hole in the head!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Don't Dis the Backing Singer!

I'm a little miffed at all this talk about people being 'only' backing singers. The judges say it on 'The Voice' all the time. Comments like 'She's not just a backing singer any more'. Excuse me, 'just'? Not many of us would be categorised purely as 'backing singer' anyway - all the singers I know who sing back-up, are also amazing lead singers and that's certainly the case with all those 'backing singers' from the current season of The Voice. In fact, you could argue that the skills required to be 'just a backing vocalist' belong on a list way longer than those for being 'just a singer'! 

L to R: More than just backing singers: Jo Elms,
Amanda Easton and Sarina Jennings. (Chris Fields on Drums)
The most obvious one is having a great ear for harmony - I know plenty of fab lead singers who can't put their hand up for that one. As a backing singer, you're part of the band rather than the front of it - that comes with responsibilities. You can't let loose and sing wherever you want and expect the band to follow you. You have to be able to blend. You may need to change tack at a moment's notice if the lead singer decides to stray from the regular song path (you get good at reading lips). You can't upstage the 'talent'! I learnt that one the hard way. My very first bv job was for a well known Sydney Diva who saw me getting too animated on stage and literally, publicly, slapped me down for pulling focus.

There are countless occasions where backing singers carry the show, whether it be for an ageing artist who doesn't have the range they used to, or a pop starlet who is more tits than talent. As a 'back-up singer', I see it as my duty to do just that. It's our job to back up the lead artist so they look their best. 

All of this doesn't sound easy, does it? 'Only' a backing singer? I think not! Sheryl Crowe, Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross all started their award-winning careers as backing vocalists. And where would Gladys be without her Pips? What would Bee Gees be without all the Gees? And the Beach Boys would be a lonely guy standing on the sand without the other voices...So, don't dis the backing singer!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Voice will not Give you a Career!

Hi there,

Well it's the topic du jour and I'm loving watching 'The Voice' from the safety of my armchair (see 'Sticking it the Voice' from last week). I love the way all the contestants are coached to say 'everything is on the line for me'. If there is a lot at stake for them, we are more likely to be pulled into the drama. But one singer recently said to the cameras: 'Tonight is my last chance. I have obligations now. If I don't get through, this will be the end for me.' Then his fiance came on saying: 'He's got responsibilities now so if this doesn't work, it will all be over'. 

Oh so it's your last chance because you've got a fatal disease hanging over your head? No. So you're the one with tonnes of kids to provide for? Oh, no kids yet. So you're getting on and feel like time is running out? Hmm, you're in your 20s. Oh I see, you're engaged and 'real life' is calling you. Ah! Well thank goodness you didn't get through to the next round because if you can let it go so easily then frankly, you don't deserve it. Jump in with both feet. 'The Voice' is never going to hand anyone a career on a platter. It's going to enhance what they already have. 

Look at the most successful contestants so far. Darren Percival has taken his TV exposure and run with it to build on a strongly constructed base. Simon Meli had a career before 'The Voice' and its aftermath will hopefully open new doors to bigger live shows and more record sales. It's those like him who have already put in the work and shown their commitment that really win. Whether they 'win' The Voice or not, no fiance or white picket fence is going to stop them singing. They're not going to be working in music because they won a TV singing contest and winning a TV singing contest is not going to guarantee a career for them. They're going to do it because they couldn't live with doing anything else.

No doubt I'll be here next time with another 'Voice' rant. Love to hear what you think...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stickin' it to 'The Voice'!

Hi there,

There seems a lot of that lately - more than usual criticism of the show we love to hate, 'The Voice'. Don't get me wrong, keep reading my posts and you'll hear me having a go too; we're all entitled to our rants. But for the moment I find myself, once again, defending the show that I didn't want to be part of myself. Most of the negative stuff I've been reading is about the poor treatment of artists. I've had friends who have suffered by being part of this show - this industry can be soul and ego crushing at the best of time and I hate to see fellow artists become 'fodder for ratings grabs'. The thing is, isn't it naive to think it would be any other way? 

I do actually think this show is more respectful to its participants than compatriots Idol and X Factor, but 'The Voice' wasn't designed by its producers to be a vehicle for artists' careers or even to showcase the best singers. Just as the Biggest Loser wasn't designed to be a helpful way to lose weight and gain health. Both shows are created by the same production company after all. These shows and all like it were designed to, well, make money! Commercial TV is a cut throat world and ratings make or break a show. Viewers need drama to keep watching and producers use what they've got to create it - in this case artists, often with fragile egos. So it hurts to feel used - couldn't agree more; I couldn't subject myself to that. I often don't agree with the judges' decisions and quite often the best artists aren't the winners. At the same time, some artists gain massive exposure and great contacts by tiptoeing along this TV tightrope. 

We need to understand the business of this business and go in with eyes open. It's a risky one with potentially huge payoffs. Just like the music industry itself and a bit like life really! I don't necessarily like it but I do believe it's a matter of 'live by the sword, die by the sword'.

Till next time,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Just learn to sing man!

Hi there,

I think I have the best job in the world but the problem with doing something that looks like so much fun (it is) is that people think it's only fun and that it's easy (it really isn't). 'The Voice' judges on TV gabber on a lot about the importance of singers 'telling a story' and 'making a connection'. As important as that stuff is, they don't seem to talk much about technique and the practical side of learning to actually sing properly. I have heard gigging singers say, 'I've never had a singing lesson' - well don't boast about it! Lack of training, at the minimum, usually means a voice that will blow out after only two gigs in a row...let alone lack of breath control and weak projection. 

If you had a natural flair for a volley and a mean backhand and were aiming for the professional circuit, wouldn't you get a tennis coach pronto? There probably exists the rare warbler whose voice is so good that training can't improve it - but I'm yet to hear them. Now you may tell me about a guy called Bob Dylan - never had a singing lesson. I would say, as a singer, Bob makes a mighty fine storyteller. And you may tell a story better than Hans Christian Anderson, but that does not a singer make! 

I can't help but get personally offended when people get up on the professional stage without a lesson behind them (I am a Cancerian so I do take most things personally!) You think so little of this pursuit that you're not willing to put everything into it? It's an art, sure, but it's also a craft - please respect it and get thyself to a singing teacher!
See you next time!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is My Baby Ugly?

Hi there,

I have often compared the process of creating a CD to having a baby. So here I go again - my brand new EP 'Out of the Blue' was an emergency Caeser after a prolonged traumatic labour. Forceps and drugs would have been most helpful. But the musical offspring eventually showed its head and I'm now a proud parent.

After all the hard work to get to this point you'd think Mum deserves a rest, right? No such luck - now the really hard work begins. Time to show it around and have people coo and fuss over the newborn. Except in the case of the musical baby, you're not guaranteed positive reviews. The neighbours who think your baby has a funny shaped head will still do the required fawning and praising in your presence and maybe only behind their hands to their spouses will mention your baby's likeness to Yoda.

The CD however - that piece of art that you poured your life experience, heart and soul into - is ripe for the picking on. Once it's released into the world, anyone with access to a pen or keyboard has the right to slam and damn it, and by extension, you. When my first single 'Celebrity' was released (we're talking the '90s here!) the first review published was glowing. The critic completely understood the sarcasm intended in the lyric. He praised the production, the singing, the lot and I was on Cloud 9. Then came the rain. Reviews stormed in and they seemed to be either disastrous or dazzling, with no middle ground. This Cancerian had to learn how to bunker down behind that outer shell we're famous for.

Well it's that time again folks. Copies are going out to professional reviewers as we speak. Wish me luck!

If you want to have a listen for yourself - after all, I care more about what you think - you can listen to the new EP here:

Cheers, Amanda

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to get the Clap

Hi there,
'Grease' at Taronga Zoo Twilight Series 2013
I was lucky enough to do a gig recently to an audience of over a thousand enthusiastic people. It was on a huge stage with all the lighting and sound set-up you'd expect from a well-produced live music event and a great time was had by all - both sides of the stage. Throughout the entire event the crowd went wild - applause and cheering could be heard for miles.

I did another gig recently to an audience of about 50 people. There was no stage and no lighting. People had to say 'excuse me' to walk in front of us - to get to the bathrooms. Throughout the entire event the crowd went mild - you could hear tumbleweed rolling down the main street.

So what's happened to clapping peeps? The latter style of gig can be bread and butter to many professional musos and I've noticed more and more recently that clapping is a dying art at such shows. Now you may be thinking, people aren't clapping because they aren't enjoying the music. That's the first conclusion I jump to - and I can tell you it's no good for the fragile artistic ego. But then almost without fail, something strange happens after the final song. People from the audience come up to offer their compliments on the performance and press us for more! Ah, so you loved what we did but remained silent in that traditional space left between songs to show your appreciation? 

My theory is that if the venue doesn't show respect for its performers - by offering a proper performance space - then an audience responds accordingly. An audience seems to need cues to do their job properly - and those cues include lighting and a pedestal on which to view their performers. Ideally far away from the toilet door.

The more venues shove performers in the corner on a piece of carpet, the less impact their performances will have. And the more we'll hear venue managers say that live music just 'doesn't work'. And then we'll all be listening to the sound of one hand clapping. 

See you next time,


Monday, February 4, 2013

Shut Up and Stress Out

Hi there,

Husband and I were complaining to each other last weekend about having way too much on our plates. We catalogued our stresses to each other. 

Husband: I've been playing guitar for 18 days straight - not one day off - and for at least 7 hours today. Now tonight I have a rehearsal so I still don't get a break.

Stress out...or else!
Me: I've got to learn the lyrics for 6 songs by tomorrow morning and I've got to do the artwork and replication of my new EP-oh and actually record the thing, rehearse the band, promote the launch, keep my crowdfunding campaign on the boil...

Then we looked at each and laughed. Our lives really aren't too bad are they?

Thinking back 10 years to what Corporate Me, slaving long days over a hot computer keyboard at Microsoft, would have said. She would look at Today's Me and say:

'Oh boohoo. So the very career you've always dreamt of is thoroughly filling up your life now is it? So you're oh so busy singing and performing for a living and creating new songs and recordings. Sounds dreadful.' Then she'd look at me with a snarl and snort sarcastically.

We all need to vent sometimes but we also need perspective. A famous experiment on rats shows that those placed under stress, as long as they had the tools to manage it, were far healthier than those who didn't have any stress at all. Many believe humans are the same.

So, advice from old Corporate Self to Today's Me: 'Stress out, it's good for you!'

PS The Crowdfunding worked - thank you!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Farts on Facebook

aka 'Over-Sharing'

Hi there,

If you were sitting on a bus and the stranger next to you told you about their fungal infection and how, in great detail, it curtailed their sexual exploits, you'd probably get off a few stops earlier than originally intended, wouldn't you?

I saw a cabaret show recently where the artist, within the 8 minutes that her show ran, told the audience about the great love of her life who had a long drawn-out battle with breast cancer and shared intimate and gory details about how she lost that battle. It was a heartfelt story and obviously deserved our great sympathy but don't you think it is all a little, well, too much information? At least for our first brief meeting with her?

I think nowadays many of us demand to know much more about the artists who create the music, movies and musings we love. We want the ins and outs of our favourite celebrities' every day lives from their underwear preferences to their spiritual beliefs. I understand why, but as a performer myself, I'd like to retain a modicum of mystery and like to think that people will take a bit of time to let my full story unfold.

Am I being old-fashioned or do you agree that the age of Twitter and Facebook is turning us into a community of over-sharers, where no bodily function is too inconsequential to require its own tweet or status update? 

Most of us have a 'story' to tell, whether it's a crime we've committed or a calamity we've confronted. I've got a doozie of the latter variety -  maybe I'll tell you about it over a glass of Shiraz one day. But I'm loathe to drop it onto an audience, who are probably just out for a night of entertainment to forget their own tragedies. Am I wrong - should I use everything I've got to 'make a connection' with people I'm performing to?

While tip-tapping on the keys to write this very blog, one of my best friends rang me to suggest that I did in fact become more public about my particular ordeal. I am trying to 'crowdfund' for my latest recording and with 8 days to go, am sorely under target. She believes that being more revealing could actually help my campaign and is, after all, simply sharing a saga that brought me to where I am today and could even prove inspirational. I respect her take on things but am still stewing on it...

Love to hear what you think.

Oh and by the way, here is the link to my crowdfunding project - your help is much appreciated:

Now one thing I don't mind sharing is my video - above - please pass it on - share share share!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Name Game - Hairy!

Hi there,

What's in an album name? I mean what was Adam Ant thinking when he released 'Dirk Wears White Sox'? Oh that's right, it was 1983. A decade for great album names, like Jermaine Jackson's 'Let Me Tickle Your Fancy'. I can see how the 70s could sire REO Speedwagon's 'You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish'. But what was Paul McCartney's excuse with his 2012 offering of 'Kisses on the Bottom'?

So, I'm trying to come up with the name of my new EP. My first album was called 'Amanda Easton'. Well I'd run out of creative energy after writing all those songs! The second was 'Chanteuse' suggested by an audience member. I like that one but the pronunciation caused consternation among radio DJs everywhere who ended up calling it 'Chantoozie'.

I have been stewing on the name for the new EP for quite a while. Mentioned my dilemma to husband, as he was hanging out the washing this morning. He said, quite out of the blue, how about 'Out of the Blue'? It's the name of one of the songs on the EP and it has double meaning...

Around 10 years ago, during an annus truly horribilis, I felt that my head was on fire so I dyed my hair flaming red. Fast forward to two years ago and life delivered me another corker to send me running for the dye bottle. (At least it wasn't a tequila bottle - we all have our particular coping mechanisms!). 
'Blue Velvet' I now am and 'Out of the Blue' is the name of the new EP.

If you'd like to be involved in it, please check out my crowdfunding link: and check out this little vid:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Try Hard but don't be a ..Try-Hard

Hi there and happy new year!

Try Hard. It used to really bother me that these two words, when used as a noun, could be negative - how could there by anything wrong with trying your absolute hardest? Call me a try hard and shouldn't it be a compliment? 

But I think I get it now. Recently a newbie pop artist directed me to their YouTube videos. I saw an impressive stage, custom-made sets, multiple back-up singers and slickly-choreographed dancers - all there to support this artist who strutted the stage, changed costumes multiple times and... sorry, but could barely sing in tune! I respect and almost envy the confidence he has to organise and finance what were obviously his own productions, but it all looked very, well... try-hard! Some style perhaps but very little substance.

He was skipping all of the vital steps - he had some of the trappings of the popstar but none of the goods, yet at least. Talk about putting the cart before the horse - and I know a thing or two about going bass ackwards, having announced my CD Launch before actually recording the CD!

Do you remember the 'Marcus is Coming' campaign of the late '80s in Australia? Those three words adorned hundreds of billboards and bus-sides - one of the first examples of a teaser campaign that went viral, before the internet even existed. So much attention ensued that when this singer-songwriter was finally revealed and his song launched, it was slammed viciously from all quarters. It had no chance of living up to the hype.

It might be something to do with our instant celebrity culture, but this kind of thing seems even more common nowadays. Kids (I know, that makes me sound old doesn't it?) want the end result without all the hard work, all the trying hard! 

I say, let it flow naturally man and those set designers will soon be knocking down your door. 

See you next week,