Category Archives: Performance

Random Songs I Like #6 – Steel Rail Blues

For this series, I will be posting a new song every week from every imaginable style and genre.  The only criteria is that I need to like it!

Anyone who grew up in Canada was inevitably steeped in the music of Gordon Lightfoot.  His music was a staple of my CBC listening as a child and even though I might have rolled my eyes at it as a teen, it is something that I have grown to love as an adult.  In my version, I try to reproduce his lauded finger-picking guitar style on the piano.  Enjoy!

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Career Assets for Emerging Artists

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.

1. Photos

Photo by Erika Kapin

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!

Photo by Erika Kapin

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


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:

  1. What instrument you play
  2. The style of music you play and who you are influenced by
  3. Where you are from
  4. Where/with whom you studied
  5. Where/with whom you have played
  6. 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.

4.  Videos

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! 

Random Songs I Like #4: Mayor of Simpleton

For this series, I will be posting a new song every week from every imaginable style and genre.  The only criteria is that I need to like it!

This week’s #RandomSongsILike is a favorite B-side from the British rock band XTC.  I lovelovelovelovelove them and their brilliant songs!  I was reminded of this one when working on math with my son (I’m terrible at it).

“Well I don’t know how many pounds make up a ton of all the Nobel Prizes that I’ve never won, and I may be the Mayor of Simpleton, But I know one things and that’s I love you”

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Random Songs I Like #3 – Walking in Memphis cover

This is the third installation of my year long weekly posting of songs as part of my #RandomSongsILike series.  Back in the early 2000s, I was a top-ranked cruise ship piano bar entertainer.  I was the youngest performer ever booked by Royal Caribbean (age 23!!) and I worked night after night taking requests and singing and playing my heart out while traveling around the Caribbean islands.  This song was always one of my favorites to play and is SUCH an amazing song!

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The Handy-Dandy Transposition Chart

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.

DOWNLOAD The Handy-Dandy Transposition Chart TM

Random Songs I Like #1 – You Get What You Give

Here is the first installment of my #RandomSongsILike project, where I will post a video of myself performing every week in 2021.  I outlined my plan for this in my recent blog post Resparking the Creative in 2021: An Invitation.

At the start of the pandemic, this song played over and over in my head.  This song was a radio staple of the late 1990s and I have no idea how it popped back into my consciousness.  “Don’t give up.  Don’t let go.”  Gorgeous song!

PS – Can you take a quick minute and subscribe to my Youtube channel?  It helps get more eyeballs on my work!



Resparking the Creative in 2021: An Invitation

Happy New Year!  As we tiptoe into this new year, I wanted to take a moment to reach out and share what’s on my mind.

Honesty time:  2020 did not allow me much time or space to make much music.  I started out all guns blazing in January with the debut of a new song cycle called The Motherhood Project and then POOF – it was gone.

To be honest, my creative life has not been very consistent since my son was born 8 and a half years ago.  I have kept my musical life kicking in fits and starts – doing shows, touring, releasing a couple of albums, etc, but it just hasn’t been a regular process.  Most of my time has been focused on mothering, running my private teaching studio and in the last couple of years, I have added an online course business – Piano and Voice with Brenda – to the mix.  While it has all been exciting and creative, I still miss the focus I once had for actual music making.

In November of 2019, I did an 8-day residency at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts, which is located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Banff, Alberta, Canada.  My creativity and inspiration were ignited once again, as I spent 10-12 hours a day in my own private studio practicing, writing songs and being engrossed in intensive music making again.  I wrote 10 songs over that short period of time for a song cycle called The Motherhood Project, which documented my journey as a mother in the 21st Century.  The project had its debut performance in January 2020 and my plan was to record and tour that project.  I could feel that my musical life was returning to me once more….

Of course, we all know what happened next.  Like pretty much everyone else on earth, I found myself in a tailspin that derailed every plan I had made.  Suddenly my son was home 24/7, and I was scrambling to teach my private students, run my online course business and keep my son occupied all at once.

Since then, I have been focusing on homeschooling my son and providing a loving and engaging home life for him.  I have also devoted a lot of my energy to making online lessons work so that my students can continue to grow and learn over Zoom (It ain’t easy!). Plus, the demand for online education has dramatically increased and I have worked hard to release three new courses through my Teachable platform.

As rewarding as all of this has been, I realize that there is a level of frustration rising in my soul.  Something is clearly missing.  So, as I’m often saying to my students, “sometimes you have to dig deep to be an artist.”

So, for 2021, I am going to get back to what made me a musician in the first place.  I want to get back to the root of what I love and honestly, I just want to have more fun making music.  Since there won’t be many (or any) in person gigs this year, I have decided that I’m going to do the best that I can under the circumstances.  To keep myself accountable, my plan is to record one song a week for the duration of the year.  Nothing is going to be terribly produced or elaborate – just something simple from my home studio.  I have no idea what I’m going to record.  I’m going to keep it loose and work on material that feels fun and engaging for me.

I’ll be posting it on my YouTube channel, Facebook page and Instagram account every week.  I still have no idea how this project is going to shake out, but damn it – I’m gonna do it!

If you have been thinking about doing something for yourself this year, I’d like to invite you to join me.  I know we’re all bogged down like mad and the last thing any of us has the energy for is ANOTHER PROJECT, but I do believe that a creative undertaking is usually something that brings more energy into your life.  Like you, I am stretched pretty darn thin, but I feel like I need to do this to get back to myself again.

So, who’s with me?!?  What creative project are you going to tackle this year?

There’s More Than One Way to Split the Octave

If you are working on scales, chords, technical drills or chord progressions, you should be practicing them in 12 keys! This video will give you some great ideas on how to practice in different ways, to achieve mastery quicker and without relying only on muscle memory!

**Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and leave a Like!**


Want to learn jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which teaches you everything I list in this blog post.

Downbeats and Upbeats Workout

Struggling with your rhythm?  In this workout video, I show you a super easy way to build your comprehension and ability with rhythm.  Clap along with Brenda and tap along with the “foot cam”.

**Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and leave a Like!**


Want to learn jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which teaches you everything I list in this blog post.

Vocal Jazz Introductions

Every singer and instrumentalist should have an arsenal of great introductions at the ready. In this video, I will show you how to play 9 of the best introductions, which are perfect for instrumental or vocal jazz!

**Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and leave a Like!**


Want to learn jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment, which teaches you everything I list in this blog post.