I was super excited when singer, voice teacher and podcaster Valerie Day asked me to contribute to her most recent blog post. In it, you’ll hear my top three tips that I share with all my students.
I was super excited to be published in Classical Singer Magazine‘s blog this week! They reached out to me to see if I would share how my work for Piano Skills for Singers would translate to the classical world. YES – faking is for EVERYONE!!
In my experience as a professional pianist, vocalist and educator, I have found that one of the weakest links in the vocalist community is a lack of functional keyboard skills. This deficiency creates a huge handicap for singers and educators, keeping them from positions as section leaders, music directors and teachers. In the post-pandemic world, singers are going to need as many tools as possible in their toolkit to carve out a livelihood. Continue reading here
Career Assets for Emerging Artists
Now that winter is upon us and many of us still in lockdown, this is the perfect time to tackle a project that I’m sure has been in the back of your mind. Whether you are a music student, a recent college graduate, or a musician just starting out, there is a standard tool kit that each of us needs to have. These resources, or career assets as I like to call them, will help you to identify yourself as a serious artist to performance venues, media outlets and most importantly, your audience.
Every artist who wants to start their career needs a common set of assets, including photos, a bio and press quotes. This article will give you some clear guidance on what assets you need and how to go about gathering them. The ultimate goal will be for you to have your own website, which provides a centralized location for people to learn about you, hear and see you perform and get excited about your work!
I know that this list may feel daunting, but I urge you to not give up before you begin. Break down each step and give yourself a few days to work on each one. In the matter of a couple of weeks, you could be finished and ready to establish yourself as a professional.
Photos are super important! If you don’t have photos, then how are you going to have a press kit or a website? Everyone needs a professional looking headshot that shows them looking their best. Your headshot will be necessary to promote performances, to use on social media, to have on your website and for media to publish when they write about you.
Professional photos are ideal, but a friend with an iPhone and some decent lighting will also work in a pinch. (You can always upgrade them when you have the budget.).
New York City-based photographer Erika Kapin gives this advice: “It’s important to work with a photographer whom you trust and feel comfortable with.” She also recommends wearing something that helps you feel good and confident in your body – remember, these photos need to represent you at your best!
Do you want to pose with your instrument? Do you want the photos to be formal or casual? The look of the photos should match your music in some way. Look around to artists you admire to get some ideas for the look of your photo shoot.
To check out some create musician photos check out www.erikakapin.com.
2. A Great Bio
A bio is a document that tells the story of YOU. A successful bio will give the reader a clear picture of who you are, what you do and what your accomplishments are. Your bio will inform potential bookers why they should hire you and will tell your audience why they should listen to you. What makes you unique?
Every bio should include:
- What instrument you play
- The style of music you play and who you are influenced by
- Where you are from
- Where/with whom you studied
- Where/with whom you have played
- Accomplishments like awards and prizes
Your bio needs to be well written with accurate spelling and grammar (ask someone to read it for you!). It is ok to embellish, but it is important for you to be truthful. (Don’t say you “performed with Sting” if you went to his concert and sang along from the audience!). Are you a tuba player who sings? Do you play jazz oboe? Tell us what makes you unique and exciting so that we will want to hear what you do.
You’ll want to have 3 different bios – short (250 words), medium (450 words) and long (900 words). Make sure to update your bio regularly to include new projects and accomplishments. Read bios of your favorite musicians to get ideas on how you want yours to read.
3. Press Quotes
Press quotes are a staple of someone’s press kit, as they reinforce that you are an artist of a certain calibre and that other people in the industry have heard your work and respect you.
If you haven’t been written up in the press yet, don’t worry! You can gather quotes from notable people who know you and your work. Make sure that the person writing the quote is someone in the music industry. A quote from the principal of your school or the family you babysit for is not going to be useful here. This would be a great time to reach out to teachers or mentors who know your work and are willing to write a quote for you. Make sure to identify the person who wrote the quote, so you are making it clear that the person who is talking about you is knowledgeable.
“Brenda Earle Stokes has a creative approach to jazz improvisation and is a rising star of the Toronto Jazz Scene.” – Betty Jazz, Jazz Radio Host
Over time, try to build your list of quotes by inviting bloggers and local media to review your work, by sending them a recording or inviting them to your performances.
Nowadays it is nearly impossible to get away with not having video. Video has literally killed the radio star (please tell me you’re not too young to get the reference…), and you absolutely need to have video footage if you are going to be taken seriously. The good news is that it isn’t hard to get decent quality footage. Smartphones make it possible for us to film ourselves and video equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
First off, take an afternoon and gather any footage that you have from past performances. (Remember, you can download videos from Facebook – directions here). Once you have gathered the footage, pick 3-4 clips that represent your work well. Make sure that you use footage that has the best quality audio and video footage and shows you playing your best.
Using video editing software (iMovie or Adobe Premiere are both great), edit your clips so that they are approximately 3-5 minutes long. Make sure to add your name to the video clip, plus the name of the song and your website information. Upload it to YouTube and add links to your website and social media in the description box.
If you don’t have any good video footage of yourself, now would be a great time to get some. Video yourself performing in your home, making sure the lighting looks good. Using an external recording device like a Zoom recorder is a great way to get the audio sounding great.
If you have a lot of videos, you might consider putting together a performance reel. The reel should be under 3 minutes and give a quick snapshot into your work. This reel is one I compiled myself on iMovie, using a variety of footage I captured from past performances.
5. Audio clips
Audio clips are another non-negotiable career asset that you need to have. Just like with video, you want to take a few hours and compile all of the recordings you have. Pick three tracks that sound strong and showcase your skills as an artist. They should be of the highest possible quality and feature you performing your best. Professional audio recordings are once again, ideal, but you can definitely make your own if you don’t have the budget for it.
You can edit the tracks down using software like Audacity or GarageBand. Once you have your tracks sounding their best, you can upload them to Soundcloud.
6. Drumroll please…A WEBSITE
The good news is that if you have made it this far in my “to do” list, then you have everything that you need to make your website happen. It is easier than ever to have your own website: all you need to do is buy a domain name and then build a site. Your website is the home base for all of your work and will give yourself a single location to send people to learn about you and your music.
Your website should include all of the assets you have gathered, and should be assembled as neatly as possible.
Janelle Reichman, a saxophonist and website designer offers this advice to help you get started:
When musicians are creating their website, they often overlook these two simple but important questions: WHO will be using your website, and WHAT is your ideal outcome for each visitor who comes to your website? For example, do you want people to buy a ticket to your next live stream show? Purchase one of your albums or a piece of merch? Subscribe to your mailing list? Book a Zoom lesson with you? If you don’t know what you want your visitors to do, then chances are they probably won’t know either. Start with your audience and your end goal in mind, and then revolve everything in your website set up around that. From your navigation menu to your homepage headline to your call-to-action buttons and copy, everything should gently guide your visitors towards where you want them to go.
There are several website platforms that make it easy to build your own website. The three main ones that I have seen used are Wix, Squarespace and Bandzoogle. All three providers have a variety of templates that you can use to customize your site and they all look extremely professional on a budget. (There are free options and some cost around $20 a month).
Examples of Wix Websites
Examples of Squarespace Websites
Examples of Bandzoogle Websites
If you want to invest in a more customized website, then I suggest that you hire a professional website designer to create a site for you. Janelle Reichman is the owner and designer at Ellanyze and she builds stunning websites using WordPress.
Examples of Custom WordPress Websites (designed by Janelle Reichman)
Once you have build your website, you will want to make sure to update it with news, gigs and recordings and videos.
So, now that you have this list of instructions, I urge you to get down to business. Make a plan to tackle a few of these tasks each week until your have everything you need to build a website. Now is the perfect time to take this step!
I was delighted to be a guest on Nikki Loney’s amazing Full Voice Podcast. Nikki is a fellow Canadian and is a wonderful singer and voice teacher. She also owns the totally AMAZING company The Full Voice, which is an amazing series of workbooks, songs an resources for voice teachers who work with children. I am such a fan of here, so I was extra excited when she asked me to be on her very popular podcast!
We talked about my online courses, especially Piano Skills for Singers and the brand-new Crash Course in Solfege Courses!
- Treat daily music practice as self-care: With all the stress and uncertainty of pandemic life, we all need to be practicing more self care. Yes, this includes drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, but why not treat your daily practice as a form of self care too? Spending time every day singing, playing piano and just making music is a great way to invite structure and creativity into you day and will help to feed your mind, body and soul.
Make sure your practice space is cozy and inviting. Nice lighting adds a comfortable feel (get a decent lamp with a soft white lightbulb!), get a good quality chair or stool and fill your space with candles and inspirational quotes. While you’re at it, make sure you give yourself some private and distraction free time. Log out of your social media accounts, turn off your phone and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. (Time to let your kids have some screen time!). This is YOUR TIME to center yourself into creativity, even if it’s only for a short time.
3. Get organized: How many of us have desks and studios that are in rough shape? Messes, piles of paper and a lack of proper materials will derail your practicing. Take an hour or two and get your space in shape! Put all of your music in a folder or binder, putting the most recent material up front. Make sure you have your recording device, speakers, metronome, notebook and several pencils and pens handy so that when you sit down to work, you have everything you need.
- Put all of your music in a folder or binder so it’s all in one place when you need it.
- Make sure you have your recording device, speakers/headphones, metronome, notebook and pencils handy so that when you sit down you’re ready to go!
- Declutter anything from your practice space that you don’t need – household items like bills and paperwork and anything else that will distract you from practicing (Whose socks are these???)
- Get rid of anything that is visually busy or otherwise distracting to your creative flow. If there are small repairs that you need to make, or loose ends that need to be tied, take a couple of hours and just DO IT (We both know that your metronome has needed batteries for a while, so…)
3. Create projects and goals to work toward. It can be really hard to practice efficiently when we no longer have rehearsals, auditions and performances to be working towards. Now is a great time to find creative solutions to those external goals. Create new goals to help you stay on track and get motivated. Here are a few ideas:
- Do a deep dive of the work of a favorite singer or composer. This is a great time to choose repertoire that differs from your usual work or “type”
- Film yourself practicing once a week on social media to let your friends and fans know what you’re up to
- Host a Zoom concert for your family or friends
- Get together (over Zoom) with fellow musicians to share your work and do a feedback circle
- Take an online course to help you build new skills
- Create playlists of your “desert island” songs and learn them one by one (This is what I’m doing as part of my #RandomSongsILike project!)
Does the prospect of transposing a melody or chords fill you with panic and dread? I keep wishing someone would build a capo that would work on the piano, but my piano tuner says that wouldn’t quite work. Sigh.
In the meantime, I have created The Handy-Dandy Transposition Chart™ designed to make transposing your melodies and chords less painful and riddled with errors.
Welcome to the courses! Here is a quick-and-dirty tutorial on how to utilize the Teachable Platform. Teachable is such a user-friendly and intuitive platform, which is why I chose it as the home of my entire suite on online courses! Check out this short tutorial to get oriented!
Want to check out the courses?
CLICK THIS LINK to see the entire suite of online courses and get started learning piano TODAY!
Learning to play on the blues is a lot of fun and is a wonderful gateway into jazz improvisation. The Blues is a style of African American music that came into popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some important figures are Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker as well as Buddy Guy and B. B. King. Singing and playing the blues is very expressive, as the style was created to express sad and frustrating feelings through music.
The blues shows up heavily in jazz and is widely known to have been the precursor to rock and roll and R&B. Understanding the blues not only gives you a snapshot into this important musical style, but it also provides a structure for deeply satisfying improvisations. In this quick tutorial you will learn:
- The 12 bar blues form
- How to play the chords
- How to walk a bass line
- How to improvise on a blues
Easy to understand and addictively fun to play – and you learned it in under 15 minutes!
Check out the video! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below)
Want to continue learning jazz piano? Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment and build authentic jazz skills in a fun and easy way!
Drumroll please….I am excited to announce the launch of my brand new online course called Piano Improvisation for Everyone!
Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is a course designed to get you improvising satisfying music at the piano. In this unique curriculum, you will learn a variety of techniques to get started improvising exciting music at the keyboard. Learn how to explore different harmonic material, melodic ideas, accompaniment techniques and started points for creating improvisation compositions. In addition, we cover how to improvise pop piano solos and jam on the blues!
This course is perfect from pianists of any level, from experienced beginner too advanced. Piano teachers will also get some great ideas and exercises to work on with their students. Discover the enjoyment of developing your technique, harmony and rhythm in a creative environment. Experiment with new sounds and ideas to apply to your songwriting or composing. The exercises are structured, but open ended enough that you could take the work in whatever direction you want to go.
Check out the course HERE!
It is easy to get bogged down with lists of things you have to do, but before that you need to identify your “why”. Why do you want to learn piano? Leave your comments below…
Want to know more about my work? Check out my suite of unique online piano courses – Piano and Voice With Brenda. Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work!