Jeff and Chris sat down with independent artist Elisa Smith on the podcast this week. They talked in-depth about developing yourself as an independent musician, crowdfunding, and a lot more!
This article features some of the highlights from their talk, but make sure to check out the full interview on the Music Business Lounge podcast!
- Be nice to everyone, you never know what connections could help you in the future.
- Sometimes working as a team can be better.
- As an artist, you don’t have to stick to only one genre if you have the right team.
- Be authentic not only to your audience, but also to yourself.
Can you talk a little bit more about how you began and where you’ve been with music?
Yeah, absolutely. I think like a lot of musicians, I’ve loved music ever since I was a kid. The earliest memories My dad is a guitar player and when I was little we would go to church all the time and he played in the band at church. He would practice guitar all the time and I would listen to him play and practice. I would gather all of my stuffed animals and I would take them to his guitar case and I would close the lid and just sit there and listen to him practice. He would play all sorts of stuff but I could sit there and listen to him play for hours. So, I think that’s when I really got bit by the music bug.
All in my childhood and throughout my teen years, I would learn how to play guitar from my dad. My dad taught me. I sang and I wrote songs all through college. Then I really got the bug to start a band a couple years ago. Up until that point I had been doing a lot of solo stuff; a lot of singer-songwriter stuff. I started to write songs where it just felt like it needed a little more “oomph.” So I found a band, and we’ve been gigging around. It’ll be a year in March. We’ve done all sorts of stuff; we took festivals and local television shows and we’re heading down to Nashville to record an EP in April, too. So, we’re really excited.
How was the transition going from this lone person that wrote and sang everything, to adapting a band to that? Having this whole image that was more than just yourself.
That’s a great question. It definitely made things more complicated, but in a really delightful way. Sometimes. When I was beginning to write these new songs, I would be writing them and I would hear a drum part in my head. And I would hear an electric guitar part in my head, and they really needed some more “oomph” to really make them something special. So I think that, from a musical standpoint, integrating more instrumentation and arrangement already felt natural. It was something that I had already, kind of, been envisioning.
The whole part of working with other people, that’s the part that became more complicated. Whenever you create something and you bring in others to be a part of that creation, it’s really delightful but it’s also really challenging. You become very vulnerable and the people you play with are going to bring whatever they want to bring. And you, ultimately, as the creator of the work, have to kind of relinquish some of the control. I think that if you’re open to that there can be some very powerful things that can come out of that. And that was something that I had to learn. To be open to people being creative and doing things a little differently than what I initially envisioned.
Can you talk a little bit about some pit falls that you overcame to get to where you are? What were the stepping stones for you to get to this point of confidence in yourself and your music?
So much of your image and who you are comes from the way that you write songs, right? I had the benefit of being able to actually get my degree. So during the day I work in education. The program that I did was comprised of artists, and during that program I really began to start looking at my songwriting in a different light, and to look at my songwriting in a different way – to study songwriting throughout country music history.
For example, I really love Loretta Lynn and there’s something about her songs that no matter who’s performing it, when you hear a Loretta Lynn song, you know that she wrote it. You just know. Because it has a certain sound and it has a certain feel to it. So, what I do as a songwriter is I look at those songs and I start to kind of pick them apart. I try to figure out what are the commonalities between those songs that make them sound so intrinsically hers. I’ll find, in the case of Loretta Lynn, she uses a major two a lot, in either the chorus or the verse. Or, she uses really sassy lyrics. She showcases strong female characters. So, as an exercise, I’ll write a song kind of in the style of Loretta Lynn. That’s one aspect.
Then another point, I love the song “Achy Breaky Heart” because it caused a crazy sensation. That song was insane! So catchy, and people from everywhere just absolutely adored that song. And so…how? How on Earth did this song become such a hit? I’ll take “Achy Breaky Heart” and I’ll tear it apart and try to figure out what makes it so catchy. When I began to do that, I realized that I had all of these desperate songs that sounded very different from one another. One song would sound like Loretta Lynn, one song would sound like Billy Ray Cyrus, one song would sound like Jason Aldean, and they were just kind of all over the place.
So to your question about trying things and failing and trying to figure out your image when you have all of these pieces and parts. I remember having a discussion with my bassist and she was like, “You know, I think we’ve got our honky-tonk stuff and we’ve got our rock n’ roll stuff, and I think you just need to pick a genre and stick with it.” And I was like “No, I don’t want to do that.” What I’ve done is, I’ve surrounded myself with musicians that are agile enough and open-minded enough and flexible enough to be able to play a multitude of country genres but also play as themselves.
A perfect example of that is my drummer. I just got a new drummer and his name is Victor and he’s awesome. He has played a little bit of country in his life, but the majority of what he plays is more Motown and R&B. While he’s familiar with some of the country rhythms, he really brings his R&B and Motown feel to all of our songs because it’s him. That’s his authentic self. What that does is, it brings continuity between all of the varying country genres that we have.
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You can find our full audio interview with Elisa on the Music Business Lounge Podcast, where we dive even deeper into Elisa’s thoughts on development for independent musicians!
Be sure to connect with Elisa!
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