By SPECIWOMEN Illustration SENDRA UEBELE
"I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. My dad is a singer/songwriter, producer and engineer, so music was a big part of my upbringing."
Give us some background information.
I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. My dad is a singer/songwriter, producer and engineer, so music was a big part of my upbringing. He built a small recording studio in our basement and would have me record harmonies on his records every now and again. But prior to college, I could never hear harmonies; I was a soprano in choir and a first violinist in orchestra, so my ear was trained to follow lead melodies. It wasn’t until I studied at Berklee College of Music (I have my B.M. in Music Business Management + Songwriting) that I truly began to grasp music theoretically and conceptually. I now have my own business here in New York, “The Vocal Lab”, which provides vocal music lessons, portfolio development, vocal production and engineering. I’m also being contracted out for commercial vocal work, which has been an extremely exciting endeavor for me this year! I’m working on some new music to be released at the beginning of the new year with the intention of performing again next year.
What is the purpose of your job?
To inspire my students and audience to feel free to express themselves. To help foster new ideas while establishing a solid foundation, technically speaking. To work with my students to help them understand and trust their own bodies and voices.
How did you first become passionate about music? Tell us a story that represents a moment where you knew this path was for you.
Music has always been an intricate part of my life. My parents took me to see The Phantom of the Opera when I was five at what was then the Pantages Theatre in Toronto. I’ll never forget how inspired Christine’s range and athletic capability left me. I wanted to learn how to sing as she did! I listened to that soundtrack, along with Sarah Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye” album on repeat until I was probably 12. And I subjected my younger sister, Carrie, to play the part of the Phantom for when we lured our parents and grandparents into the basement (complete with homemade playbills) to perform. Typical child’s play, I suppose, but for me it represented the beginning of what I hoped would be a lifelong pursuit.
What and who are your biggest influences? Who are your heroes? mentors? biggest inspirations and what is your "music bible”? What is your favorite music?
Musically speaking, no one trumps Sia in my opinion. I’ve been inspired by her since her Zero 7 debut in 2004. Her lyrics and performance are genuine, and she really pours her soul into her art. It’s not heavily edited as many other artists are, and I admire that about her. When she arrived on the commercial music scene, she brought with her a visceral approach that was sorely lacking in pop culture. And that’s just pure honesty. And that’s bravery.
I’m also a huge fan of José González, Sufjan Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Chico Hamilton, Mulatu Astatke, Astrud Gilberto, Thievery Corporation and Agnes Obel.
Vocally speaking, I adore Marilyn Horne. I’ve never witnessed any other vocalist sing athletically with such ease and fluidity while still maintaining an emotional connection to the lyric. That is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing to achieve as a vocalist. I use her as a reference quite often. Pavarotti, too – he was a true force. No one can deny his utter brilliance. He was also my grandmother’s favorite singer, so I have a special place in my heart for him.
What genre of music do you sing?
I was trained classically in the Bel Canto method for 12 years, and then I studied jazz for five years prior to attending Berklee. I love jazz. At Berklee, though, I focused on electronic dance music because I wanted to secure topline work (i.e., writing melodies/lyrics to dance tracks). Post Berklee, I enjoy singing almost everything, with the exception of rock and metal. I just booked my first commercial for Honda and I had to employ my pop/Americana chops. That was a cool project to contribute to.
How do you work ?
It’s important that I constantly stay inspired! This applies outside of music, too. I don’t believe anyone can write well unless they’ve experienced life and have a zest for it.
Every week I set out to do something new with the intention of fueling my inspiration. This past week, my sister and I provided lunches to the homeless around Manhattan for Thanksgiving, and the experience moved me so much that I ended up writing a song about it.
When inspiration strikes, I typically sit down at the piano to flesh out harmonies and chord structures and then run a demo session to lay down the basic skeleton. From there, I take the concept to my musicians, complete with a chart arrangement, making sure they have room for their unique improvisation during production.
Where do you like to perform the most? Do you perform anywhere at the moment?
I am not currently performing because my focus this year has been to build a solid foundation with my students while revamping my portfolio. I’m excited for next year, though, because I have new material to debut and will be booking performances around the city.
My favorite gig was last year at Roulette, a large performance venue in Brooklyn for experimental jazz. I think it was the biggest venue I’ve ever played at with the exception of sports stadiums in Detroit for National Anthem gigs, which I did when I was younger.
Tell us about the best professional experience you’ve ever had?
Building my own business (The Vocal Lab) here in New York City. That has been an incredible undertaking! It first started just as vocal lessons but is expanding to incorporate group classes that integrate health and wellness with music. There are many components to my business that I’m working to expand upon, including production contribution, image consulting, health and wellness for sustainability, vocal engineering and portfolio development. It is both artistic and entrepreneurial, which keeps life exciting and exhilarating.
What are your favorite places in New York City? All around the world?
I absolutely love Brooklyn, specifically Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Every time I visit these places, a warm feeling overcomes me. I feel at home and intend to stay here and eventually – hopefully – grow my business and family here.
Beyond New York, I love Northern Michigan where my parents have a vacation home. I’ve spent many summers there, and it’s absolutely stunning in every season.
Does your job influence in any way your social, family or personal lifestyle?
Since pursuing music full time, I’ve had to stay completely self aware of my habits. Every little detail contributes to the effectiveness of my execution. I don’t drink much aside from the occasional glass of wine, nor do I “party” or “rage”. So, I have lost a few friends I suppose in the process of building my practice because I’m not one to go to clubs on the weekends. It’s just too much for me and it’s not where my priorities lie. I need a lot of sleep, 8 hours minimum per night. I also maintain a strict diet and stay hydrated in order to perform at my best capability.
My family relationships have strengthened exponentially; I value more than ever my parents’ advice, and they truly believe in what I’ve built.
I have found that I feel happiest inspiring others. It makes me feel purposeful and complete.
If you had to give a piece of advice to a young woman preparing herself to jump in the big ocean of music industry?
Really know yourself. Conceptually speaking and business-wise. Ask yourself questions: What are you trying to convey to your audience? What’s your plan of action? Who is your market and where do you stand within it? Educate yourself in all of these areas. Take your time and be patient! Life isn’t a movie; everything doesn’t happen in two hours.
We are in a day in age where the Internet can be used as such a vital platform, so use it wisely. Be a businesswoman. Delegate jobs and tasks. Understand that you are the head of your company as an artist and that you can choose who to surround yourself with in order to support your ultimate vision.
Tell us a little story about yourself or interesting fact (it can be something not related to music at all!)
I love my life and I am so grateful for everyone in it, especially my kids (my students). They have taught me so much about life. I haven’t always felt this way, though. In fact, I felt very depressed about life in general for many years. But I took control, and reprioritized.
I continue to strive to be the best person I can be by helping others achieve their goals, make them laugh, and help them cry when they need to. I want to provide the world with knowledge, music and food. In my spare time, I’ll write and sing my heart out.
I look forward to my thirties when I’ll be able to hopefully settle down a bit here in New York and have a family. That’s my absolute greatest dream.
Make us a playlist of 5 to 10 songs.
- Hand On Your Heart – Jose Gonzalez
- Abdullah and Abraham – Chico Hamilton
- Sia – Sweet Potato
- Aimee Mann – Save Me
- Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
- Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
- The Shins – New Slang
- Simon and Garfunkel – April Come She Will