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40 minutes | Aug 2, 2017
Parenting & life balance for musicians
Madison-based singer Betsy Ezell sat down with me in July to chat about her musical journey. She shared the story of how, born into a family of mathematicians, she fell in love with music early on and later found a home in jazz. Betsy also shared what it’s like to balance singing, songwriting, a PR job, and parenting—something I can’t imagine having the energy to do myself. But I left feeling fueled and uplifted by her perseverance, and I hope you do as well after listening in. We talk a little about fighting the negative voices in our heads, the enduring nature of jazz, how Betsy scored her all-time favorite gig at Madison’s gorgeous Memorial Union Terrace (two words: bomb threat), and some of the joys and sacrifices that come with parenting two little ones. “My kids were young when I first started songwriting [six years ago], but I didn’t do any gigging. There was definitely this sense of putting my art, putting my dreams, putting my ambitions on hold intentionally, very much as a result of the demands of parenting. … I see it as healthy; I see it as sacrificial. And that doesn’t make it easy—I think both [my husband] and I have a sense of loss and some grief around what you have to give up to be a good parent. So there is sadness in it, but it’s worth it.” Recorded on July 22, 2017, in Madison, WI. Original theme music by Alma Cook. Additional songs featured: “Worn” by Alma. Relevant links & mentions Find Betsy Ezell online * Website: http://betsyezell.com * Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/betsyezellmusic Other * The Urbana conference put on by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: https://urbana.org/ * Rivers of Madison, a vocal group directed by Betsy’s keyboardist Becca Grant: https://www.facebook.com/RiversofMadison/ * The Creative Company, PR firm where Betsy works: https://thecreativecompany.com/ * Betsy’s powerhouse boss, Laura Gallagher: https
50 minutes | Jul 19, 2017
Singer-songwriter Lily Virginia: “I’m tired of being strategic.”
Enjoy this conversation with Lily Virginia, a New York-based artist who joined me in LA for an encouraging, insightful interview. We cover all kinds of things: Lily’s songwriting philosophies, her treasured friendship with her producer, how she’s grown her newsletter organically, PR advice, the challenges of trying to become a full-time musician, and more. “I guess what I would say, at least at this point in my life, is that I’m kind of tired of being strategic. It can be fun—but ultimately, when you get caught up in the strategy and planning, I feel like it does take a toll on the amount of time you have to be creative. So at least for right now, I just kind of want to focus on writing.” Lily Virginia’s latest project, Play Me Twice, can be purchased through her website (live videos included) or streamed on Bandcamp. How to grow your newsletter organically Lily hustles harder than any other singer-songwriter I know—I’m not kidding—and she’s managed to do it while keeping up genuine relationships with fans. This is especially obvious when you look at her newsletter, which she sends out regularly to almost 2,000 engaged subscribers. She’s grown her mailing list organically by… * Announcing onstage at shows that she has a mailing list. * Walking up to people after the show to ask if they’d like to join. * Putting a lot of care into each edition, keeping it interesting, not too wordy, good images, etc. “Have something to share that’s of value,” Lily says. She finds the list is a good way to organize your contacts in different cities, too. When she knows she’ll be in a certain city for a gig, she tries to reach out individually to everyone she knows there. How to get your music on blogs PR is a beast. Here’s Lily’s strategy for submitting music to blogs, based on advice she got from a friend who works in PR: Get a list of blog names/contacts together. You can manually compile the list or purchase access to various directories online, but remember that lots of for-purchase lists, like Indie Bible, go out of date quickly
38 minutes | Jul 5, 2017
Is the ASCAP Expo worth it? It depends.
This episode of VOICES gets at a question that many songwriters, producers, and musicians ask Google every year: Is the ASCAP Expo worth it? The ASCAP Expo is a three-day conference put on annually by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. Hundreds (maybe thousands?) of music industry professionals gather at the Loews Hotel in Hollywood to attend lectures, meet one another, and see some of their favorite artists perform. The price tag is steep—between $300 and $500, depending on when you register and whether you’re an ASCAP member—but the days are full and the content is rich. And there’s always a chance you’ll run into someone who could push your career to the next level. I sat down with my friend Miguel “Goda” Godínez (who’s listed in my phone as “Goda from ASCAP” because it’s how we met) to chat about our experiences at the 2015 conference. Goda is a musician based in Mexico City with expePayPal Donationsrience in music direction, music production, and international PR. Our responses to different Expo-related questions are paraphrased below. Is the ASCAP Expo worth it? Expectations going in Goda Alma Since Goda was touring as a music director at the time, he didn’t have much experience in or knowledge of the songwriting/publishing world. He hoped to get a feel for that side of the industry and connect with other creatives. Goda invested a lot of time in looking up fellow attendees in the Expo directory beforehand. Alma didn’t have particularly high or low expectations going into the ASCAP Expo; she just wanted to see for herself whether it’d be worth it. She received a lot of emails from people who’d found her in the directory, and that was a comfort because she knew she had a few buddies she could team up with. First impressions On the night of registration, ASCAP rented out some space at Dave & Busters where Expo attendees could meet up and socialize. Goda Alma Goda thought that the social aspect was a good way to warm up for the rest of the weekend. He
42 minutes | Jun 21, 2017
How to get started in session singing & voice acting: Mella Barnes shares tips & experiences
Mella Barnes is a full-time session singer based in Nashville. As it happens, I’ve been looking to learn more about session work, commissioned songwriting, & voiceovers—so I loved having the chance to pick her brain about all of the above. Born into a family of musicians and audio engineers, Mella got an early start in the world of session work: “I was a young teenager—I couldn’t drive yet, so my grandparents had to drive me around—but my cousins started saying, ‘Oh, I have a cousin who sings if you want her to sing this track for you.’ So my grandparents would drive me to my cousin’s studio to start doing stuff like that. And I wasn’t getting paid, so my grandparents were like, ‘Listen, we’re spending gas money to take you to these places, you need to start charging.’” And now music is Mella’s main gig. She co-founded a company called Brainstamp that specializes in creating custom songs from start to finish—mostly, at this point, for people who want music made for special occasions like marriage proposals or Mother’s Day. Her partner takes care of the instrumentation and production, while Mella takes care of vocal arranging and the business side of things. “I really believe that everyone has a song within them,” she told me. “But maybe they aren’t a musician or a songwriter. That’s where Brainstamp comes in.” I asked Mella about her day-to-day and found out that she keeps a pretty steady schedule. She does most of her recording at night so that she can review and edit the next morning with fresh ears. Her afternoons are typically reserved for business stuff, accounting, etc. “It’s something I fell into, but I like having the overnight to walk away from the song and come back. I’ve always found that that works best for me.” Ask Mella How to get started in session singing I’ve done session work here and there, but I’d love to start doing more of it. I asked Mella for advice, and here’s what she recommended: Don’t use Craigslist to find session work. It’s a flooded market, and you’ll often find that people aren’t willing to pay you. When playing shows and open mics, announce that you’re available for sessions. Songwriters who need vocals for their demos sometimes scout open mics for singers who would be a good fit. Mention session w
43 minutes | Jun 7, 2017
Athlete-turned-poet Darien Pasulka shares his origin story (& you’ve never heard anything like it)
Two weeks into the school year, one of Oak Park High’s best football players showed up to practice 45 minutes late. It was a pivotal day for Darien Pasulka, who—despite how furious his coach got—decided it was time for a change. He left the game for good, and today more people know Darien (Da$H) for poetry and hip hop than for football. “In one moment, I turned on everything I thought was truth and reality.” Darien’s relationship with music has been full of ups and downs since then, but he’s stayed faithful—and now he’s released a new album, Scuffed Kicks, which I personally consider a masterpiece. “My whole goal in music is to make that for someone else who needs it,” he told me. “The fact that Lauryn Hill can change my life and never meet me was just a really powerful concept.” We talk a little bit about practice routines (emphasis on writing; Darien says that his goal is to pick up the pencil at least once a day) and the recording process as well. Scuffed Kicks by DaSHtone Chicago locals can link up with Darien at the June 9 Lake City Music event (info on Facebook here), a creative meetup for artists of all kinds. Da$Htone will be the house band, with Ethan Butler (seen on The Voice) as the headliner. Recorded on December 2, 2016, at Columbia College (Chicago, IL). Original theme music by Alma Cook. Additional songs featured: “Ankles” and “Southern California.” Relevant links & mentions Find Da$Htone hip hop online * Facebook: http://facebook.com/dashtonemusic * Instagram: @dashtone_music *
57 minutes | May 24, 2017
Economist Bob Murphy on public speaking, standing up to bullies, & co-hosting Contra Krugman
Bob Murphy is an economist on staff at Texas Tech, the author of several economics books including Choice & The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, & the co-host of a podcast called Contra Krugman. The gist of Contra Krugman is this: Every week, Bob & his co-host Tom Woods take a recent New York Times column from Paul Krugman & pick it apart, saying, “Here’s what we agree with, here’s what we disagree with,” & so on. (Spoiler: They don’t usually find much to agree with.) “The idea for the podcast was totally Tom’s,” Bob says. “He called me up & said something like, ‘Okay, I have an idea. And I don’t want you to interrupt me in saying no; you have to give me 3 minutes to explain it first. Okay?’ And he was right—when he first said it, my immediate reaction was ‘No, I don’t want to do that. We’re going to be pigeonholed, we’re going to be letting Krugman set the agenda, & we’re gonna look like we’re elevating him.’” Needless to say, Tom talked him into it, & the two of them now have a sizable listenership. Bob & I met on Twitter in an unconventional way, to say the least. I’d checked out some Contra Krugman episodes & liked a lot of what Bob & Tom had to say, but I had a problem with the show’s tone & thought they should go a little easier on their rival. So, like people with opinions are known to do, I tweeted him about it. Hear Bob’s retelling of the story in this episode, & learn why he ultimately decided to keep the show’s “snark” (my word) intact after all. Regardless of your politics, I hope you enjoy hearing Bob talk about how Contra Krugman started, how he & Tom have grown as podcast hosts, why he thinks it’s important to stand up to bullies, & what he believes makes a great public speaker. Public speaking ti
45 minutes | May 10, 2017
Actor/singer Dan Olivo: “You are enough.”
Dan Olivo has been immersed in the performing arts since birth. His parents, both Italian actors, met when his mother auditioned for a play at the theatre company his father founded. Sitting in on his parents’ rehearsals as a young kid, Dan developed a sharp awareness of his surroundings—& he liked what he saw. “My mom said I would sit in the audience—I was four years old—& she said that when an actor would miss a line or a cue, I would say, ‘Hey, they messed up, they screwed up.’ … I think anytime you watch your parents do something, there’s an interest. From then on, I had an interest in the arts.” I sat down with Dan at The SmokeHouse, a vintage lounge in Burbank, & he shared a bit of his story with me: how his parents got him an agent at a young age; how he lost interest in acting during his teenage years & “just kind of wanted to be a kid”; how he took up saxophone & pursued a music major at Cal State Northridge; &, ultimately, how he dropped out of school to study with Milton Katselas because he’d caught the acting bug again. Now, Dan has put his eggs in a lot of different baskets in order to keep the arts a centerpiece in his life—something that’s not uncommon for LA actors & singers. What’s uncommon about Dan is the self-awareness & wisdom I discovered as he shared some of the challenges & joys of his creative walk. Enjoy listening in as we chat about how technology has changed the acting world, what it’s like to play the lead versus a costar/guest star, his pet peeves about music today, & what my “type” would be if I (as in, me, Alma Cook) decided to take up acting. “The biggest obstacle for actors is confidence that you’re enough. You don’t have to be like, ‘Well, I want to be like George Clooney or I want to be like, you know, Bradley Cooper.’ You’re you. You’re enough. So be the best you you can be. Can you learn from those guys? Definitely. But there’s only one you.” Dan’s advice for young actors * Take an acting class. This will build your confidence & your skills as you consistently study your craft, and being in a room with other actors is a wonderful networki
8 minutes | Apr 26, 2017
Ear training for pop singers—worth it?
This is a short episode on ear training. Though I can’t actually train your ear in the span of 8 minutes, I can share why I think it’s important (even for pop singers!) & point you in the right direction. I also made a few original resources for you as well—two worksheets & a video—which you can use to test or train your own ear right now. When I transferred to Chicago to study pop voice in 2011, I lived an hour away from my downtown campus. Like others on the train, I would spend that commute listening to music—but not the kind of music people around me were listening to. These were short, homemade tracks with strange names, like “G Half-step Whole-step Diminished” & “Locrian Mode.” They were recordings of me singing solfege—those “do re mi” syllables that most of us only know about because of The Sound of Music. That year & the next, I spent two hours a day listening to my own voice singing solfege, all so that I could pass my ear training course. It’s the part of music school many singers dread, & it’s probably one of the biggest reasons students drop out. Not only is ear training hard & time-consuming, but it just doesn’t seem relevant to someone who isn’t trying to sing opera or sing anything at all from a written page of music. But I want to convince you that—even speaking as a pop singer—ear training is the most valuable thing I got out of my degree. How ear training has helped me * Ear training through solfege has done wonders for my ability to learn and retain music. By nature I’m pretty slow learn, but much like how it’s easier to memorize full words than long strings of random letters, solfege gives you a language for what you hear & helps you sort it into little phrases that make sense. This has even helped my songwriting because there are times when an idea for a song comes to me & I can’t record it on the fly. Voice memos are the best, but if my phone is dead or if I’m in public & can’t just start singing into my phone, solfege bookmarks the main idea of that melody for me so that I can remember it or jot it down on paper. * If you have a trained ear, you can transcribe your own chord charts easily. I have plenty of weaknesses as a singer, but I do make a mean chart that has everything a band member nee
40 minutes | Apr 12, 2017
Music teacher Christina Flaherty on “winning the students over”
Christina Flaherty is a music teacher at a K-12 private school in Madison, Wisconsin. Every week, about 200 students come through Christina’s classroom, & she’s faced with the variety of interesting challenges that come with teaching such a wide range of ages. Going into the interview, I knew almost nothing about music ed, so this behind-the-scenes look at classroom life was really fun for me. Christina had her work cut out for her when she started at the school; she essentially redesigned each grade’s curriculum from the ground up. But she credits her music education program at Winona State University with making sure she was ready: “My music education professor was amazing. I had all the resources I needed, I had good mentors, people I could stay in contact with, people whose curriculum I could copy in areas I needed to—so that really helped, but a lot of it is trial and error to see what works with your personality as a music teacher.” We chatted, too, about the pressure music teachers sometimes feel “to focus on that [performance] and almost shut down classroom music learning just to get the singing out”—music learning meaning theory, ear training, & history. I was so heartened to see that Christina doesn’t give in to that pressure. Her goal is to set every student up with at least an openness to music, a groundwork they can build upon if they want to. Other topics we covered: how to create a culture of openness in the classroom, the unique challenges of different age groups, the advantages of teaching at a private school, & how to plan a private voice lesson. Recorded on December 15, 2016, at Abundant Life Christian School in Madison, WI. Original theme music by Alma Cook. Additional song featured: “Blind Side” by Alma. Relevant links & mentions Christina’s go-to voice teaching resource is a book by Richard Miller. Miller has dozens of books out there, & he stands out among his peers in that he always comes back to physiology, avoiding language that’s too abstract. The general consensus, however, is that Miller is a great reference for teachers but that novice singers who explore his works might get overwhelmed—so just make sure you’re minding your skill level. * Browse Richard Miller books for yourself
63 minutes | Mar 29, 2017
How to lead a band: Hip-hop frontman Isaiah Oby shares strategies & common mistakes
“I was always the weakest link in the piano department,” says Isaiah Oby, referring to his time at Columbia College Chicago. “If I were to see myself playing like I played and if I heard someone that age being like, ‘I’m gonna be a professional musician,’ I’d be like, ‘You’re goofy, don’t.’” Goofy or not, post-college Isaiah is doing pretty well for himself, working full-time in the arts as a church music director, a hip-hop frontman, & a keys player/M.D. (music director) who helps singer-songwriters get their music sounding great in a live setting. In this episode, Isaiah shares some key lessons he’s learned about how to lead a band (CliffsNotes version: communicate well & don’t play too many shows) that you get to benefit from secondhand. I wish I’d overheard a conversation like this a decade ago! It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble. How to get gigs How should you as a singer-songwriter get gigs—& the right kind of gigs? Isaiah’s advice: * Rather than playing a million shows a month, shoot for one show at a medium-sized venue every month & a half or two months. * Be upfront with promoters; don’t pretend you’re world-famous if you’re not, but if you’re confident you can draw a crowd, say so (& then hustle to deliver). * Be willing to play free shows in places where your target demographics hang out. For Isaiah, that meant campus events. * Create a basic video recording of yourself (with your band if you have one) to email promoters with. Doesn’t have to be amazing quality, just needs to communicate what you can do. * Look at what acts are playing in your area. Who might you fit well on a bill with? Email those venues’ promoters & introduce yourself, offering to fill the opening slot. “If you’re doing it for free, if you’re good, & if the promoter is confident that the artist is already going to bring in a lot of people anyways, more than likely they’re going to give it to you. But don’t get discouraged; it’s definitely a game. It’s definitely send 50 emails, get 7 back.” * You can even email artists directly to see if they’d let you come on as an opener. How much to pay your musicians Isaiah also talks about how much you should pay your musicians. It varies a lot, he says, but “if I can’t at least pay everyone [of the usual band members] $50, it’s not worth i
37 minutes | Mar 15, 2017
Campus minister LeAnn Jenkins on letting go of “supposed to”
LeAnn Jenkins has a gift for thinking outside of the box. She leads the Columbia College chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry through which she challenges young Chicago artists in their walks of faith & creativity. I can tell you firsthand that her leadership style is one-of-a-kind. “When I first started out, I had in my mind […]The post Campus minister LeAnn Jenkins on letting go of “supposed to” appeared first on VOICES | The Podcast for Singers, Speakers, & More.
64 minutes | Mar 1, 2017
Public speaking tips from "The Silent Crowd," a Sam Harris essay
Listen in as I swap stories & exchange public speaking tips with my friend Ben. Last summer, Ben told me about an essay on public speaking by an author we both like, so I figured I’d bring him on the show to talk about it over drinks. The essay is “The Silent Crowd” by Sam Harris, & […]The post Public speaking tips from “The Silent Crowd,” a Sam Harris essay appeared first on VOICES | The Podcast for Singers, Speakers, & More.
45 minutes | Mar 1, 2017
Going viral: YouTuber Lynnea Malley hit the jackpot on the first try (& lived to tell)
Many singer-songwriters & bloggers spend years jumping through hoops with one goal: going viral. But is internet fame all it’s cracked up to be? Ask Lynnea Malley, who hit the jackpot on the first try. At 19, her “Facebook Song”—the first song she ever wrote & released to the public—exploded online, getting hundreds of thousands of views almost overnight. “It’s so […]The post Going viral: YouTuber Lynnea Malley hit the jackpot on the first try (& lived to tell) appeared first on VOICES | The Podcast for Singers, Speakers, & More.
3 minutes | Feb 22, 2017
What is the VOICES podcast?
Welcome to the VOICES podcast! Starting March 1, we’ll be releasing episodes every other week that explore the worlds of speaking & singing. The goal is to be a resource for performers of all kinds: musicians, actors, teachers, comedians, podcasters, politicians, & more. I’m Alma. By day, I work from home as a copy editor […]The post What is the VOICES podcast? appeared first on VOICES | The Podcast for Singers, Speakers, & More.
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