Tag Archives: singer

British Singer Demands Unpaid Wages

English tenor Jonathan Ansell says that he and fellow performers were never paid for a 26-date 2016 tour of UK and Ireland, peforming A Night in Venice, produced by Stephen Leatherland. Noting another Leatherland production, A Viennese Strauss Gala, was being performed at Baths Hall in Scunthorpe, UK, Ansell snapped into action and made a guest appearance. Before the show began, he climbed on-stage and addressed the audience, informing them of the owed money.

“We absolutely love what we do but I think you’ll agree that this is totally unacceptable,” said Answell, who is personally owed around £10,000 ($12,500). “It’s extremely unfortunate that I’ve had to take this drastic action here tonight but I hope it goes some way to stopping this happening to anybody else ever again.”

Ansell explains that Leatherland, who runs the production company World on Stage, left performers in “such a dreadful position” that they had not been able to pay rents and mortgages.

Serena Ryder

Serena Ryder Discovers Utopia Through Her World of Contrasts

Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Serena Ryder is known for her vocal range and full voice. A natural talent, the six-time Juno winner has opened shows for Aerosmith and One Republic, and traveled with Melissa Etheridge on her 2011 tour across Canada.

Through hard work, networking, and creativity, she’s built a steady following in Canada with her catchy, genre-blending songs. Ryder relocated to Petersborough, Ontario, from the small town of Millbrook at age 18 to launch her career. Roughly nine years later she had her first hit “Weak in the Knees” (2007) and then won her first Juno Award: Best New Artist of the Year (2008).

Though people stateside might not yet know her name, they may have already heard her music. The catchy tune “Stompa” from her fifth album (Harmony, 2012) was featured on both Grey’s Anatomy and Hawaii Five-O. In 2013 Ryder performed the platinum recording on the Tonight Show.

serena-ryder-handNow a six-time Juno winner, she has sold more than one million singles from her releases. All the while, she has been a member of Local 149 (Toronto, ON). “Now, as an adult I’m seeing the importance of being a part of a larger community and learning from that community,” says the singer songwriter who will release her sixth album, Utopia, in early 2017 and launch an international tour.

As a child, Ryder’s mother would write out the lyrics to songs she wanted to learn. At age seven, her mother found Ryder a private music teacher who ended up becoming more of a collaborator. “I already knew a bunch of songs—Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Holly, Roger Miller. He would play them on piano and I would sing. I did my first gig when I was eight years old at the Legion hall in Millbrook.”

“I just knew I always wanted a life in music,” says Ryder, who began writing her own songs at age 11, after her step-father gave her a guitar.

“My biggest influence was definitely Roger Miller,” she recalls. “He was a quirky, amazing songwriter who kind of blurred the lines, but always made it fun and kind of silly. He didn’t take himself too seriously, which I loved,” she says.

She was further influenced by her parents’ record collection. “When I was about 13, I went into my basement and just started unearthing all this vinyl,” she says. There she discovered diverse artists—from Leonard Cohen to The Beatles. Their sounds now resonate in the music she creates.

Ryder says that the Canadian weather inspires her. “It’s the changing seasons that really make Canadian music and gives artists diverse emotional perspectives. The weather affects how you feel. When it’s freezing cold—minus 30 degrees Celsius—you don’t want to even walk to the corner store. Music becomes more insular—about your close friends and family. In the summertime it gets as hot as Los Angeles and you’re [music is] inspired by spring fever.”

At just 33, Serena Ryder says she has seen huge changes in the way technology helps her create music. She says that, with the past two albums, she’s had more creative freedom. Beginning with her fifth album, Harmony, she completely changed her writing process.

“It shocked me that I could go into a studio, write a song, and have the track finished in four hours. I used to write for a year or two, get all my songs compiled, find a producer, hire a band, and then we would get into the studio to learn the songs. Then, that would take a couple weeks,” she explains.

She also finds her new process more instantly gratifying. “I feel more free to write whatever I want because it doesn’t feel so painstaking and it doesn’t cost as much in terms of money and time,” she says.

“I made my last record mostly in my garage studio,” she explains. “My producer stayed in my basement. In the morning he went to the studio and got all the tracks ready and the sound running. I’d go out with my guitar and start riffing and write for a couple hours; then he’d produce it. By the end of a day, we had one song done, sometimes two. The main recording of the whole album took a couple weeks.”

Among the innovations it allows, is the ability to experiment with different instruments. She recorded some of her own harmonica and drum tracks. She also plays these instruments at her concerts. “Sometimes for an encore I’ll play drums and guitar and sing, all at the same time,” she says.

Ryder says the process of creating her sixth album, was even more unrestrained. “For Utopia I recorded stuff all over the world,” she says.

With all her success, Ryder is the first to admit she’s had struggles with depression and self-doubt along the way. She advises struggling musicians to look within themselves for answers. “The more you think about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it, the more complicated it gets.” She says that one of the best pieces of advice Ryder received came from veteran AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) musician Melissa Etheridge who told her simply, “Do what you love.”

The two met through Ryder’s manager, Sandy Pandya, and developed a friendship. When Etheridge was looking for a Canadian musician to pair up with for her Canadian tour, she turned to Ryder.

serena-ryder-sitting“Melissa Etheridge was an amazing person to be on tour with; she’s one of the coolest people I’ve met and she kind of took me under her wing,” says Ryder who was just 29 at the time. “She heard one of my songs, ‘Broken Heart Sun,’ which I’d written with one of her producers and she loved it.” Etheridge recorded the song as a duet with Ryder and released it in Canada before the tour began.” The pair also performed the song for the 2011 Juno Awards.

Of late, Ryder has been particularly prolific. She’s written about 80 tunes in the past three years. “I really love them all,” she adds, explaining how she followed her own advice. “I think it’s because I haven’t been taking myself so seriously, and I know that not everything I do matters as much as I think it does.”

She says that being true to yourself is important in songwriting. “Write from the place where you feel, even if you think it’s a bunch of shit!” she advises. “A year later you will look back at the songs you wrote and think they are amazing. I may not always be present with myself in some sort of happy state that we all want to be in, but I am honest.”

Coming to terms with her inner struggles is at the heart of the new album’s title, Utopia. The idea came from a First Nations story about two wolves. “There is a white wolf inside of you that is love and peace, happiness and joy, and it’s starving; there’s also a dark wolf inside you that is anger, jealousy, resentment, pain, and it’s starving too. They are battling each other. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.”

“Utopia, for me, is about marrying the light and the dark, and making a gray area—a balanced area. It’s about finding your own balance in life. Utopia is a place of absolute light and perfection,” she says.

This balancing act brings Ryder’s typical diversity to the album. “There are a lot of dark songs about dark feelings and dark places, like the song ‘Killing Time’—one of my favorites. It’s about wasting time and getting caught up in your head. Then there’s ‘Got Your Number,’ which is a single I wrote while jamming on the drums in my apartment. I was thinking about New Orleans, which I love, and people dancing in the street.”

“Then, there’s a song called ‘The First Time’; it’s about treating your relationships like you are meeting the people in your life for the first time. We all have history and we think we know our mom, sister, brother, but in actuality, we are always changing and every second is a new opportunity to see things differently.”

Serena Ryder is pre-releasing a few singles from Utopia over the next few months, with an album launch planned for early 2017. “We are doing a lot of intimate shows to test out some of the new stuff live to see what the industry thinks,” she explains.

The Ring of Success: A Career in Jingles Keeps Annagrey in Business

Annagrey of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft Worth, TX)

Annagrey of Local 72-147
(Dallas-Ft Worth, TX)

Singing jingles—the ubiquitous refrain on the radio that usually gets stuck in your head—is serious business. Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) member Annagrey Wiechman, who now goes by the mononym Annagrey, landed her first jingle for Lays Potato Chips at just 14 years old. At 18, she was singing at a wedding when she was discovered by producer Otis Conners.

Now 45, Annagrey has done radio identification and advertising packages for home builders, cheese, dog and cat food, doctors, and a lot of car commercials. There are no sure-fire formulas for success in the industry, but her distinctive voice has secured gig after gig. Nearly 30 years after her first commercial, she’s surprised by her own success.

Right around the time the Broadway musical Annie came out, with Andrea McArdle of Local 802 (New York City), Annagrey decided she wanted to become a singer. She was in seventh grade when the young star inspired her. Annagrey eventually attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

In the jingle world, art and advertising coexist to meet a particular need. In this case, Annagrey’s career singing jingles allows her to compose her own songs and do solo work. “One feeds the other. After a long session of singing call letters, that’s usually when I like to write my own music. It’s therapy, detox from jingles,” she continues. “You spend four hours using your voice—and emoting. It’s all about the sound and the emotion, but you’re not saying words that are emotional.”

Jingling requires talent and tremendous vocal agility. Being able to calibrate one’s voice, knowing which words to emphasize, not only takes practice but plenty of experience. Within the commercial, the cadence, the perceived emotion must all be readily accessible. In other words, it takes acting ability.

In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s the jingles sound was more of an ensemble sound, a chorus—think “Buy the World a Coke”—which eventually morphed into a solo sound, with unique voices instantly recognizable. Annagrey says, “I feel like I’ve become one of those voices, and I’m proud of it. To do live work is fun, and jingles has been a great living. I honestly love to sing jingles.”

Annagrey was doing jingles at Rosewood Studios when producers for LeAnn Rimes heard her singing and they asked her to do backup. Since then, she’s also done backup singing for pop artist and Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member Meghan Trainor. She was on The Oprah Winfrey Show as part of the Pop Star Challenge, competing on three episodes, and finishing as a finalist. 

A regular lounge singer, who also plays with bands and artists around the region, Annagrey says, “I love the fact that I can take an old, old song and almost remake it. It’s like singing a brand new song. It’s been cool to experiment with songs that I’ve been singing since I was seven years old. It feels fresh because there’s a different style. I can add a little bit of jazz or blues, even classical music.”

Annagrey’s influences are as diverse as her vocal range: Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), Robert Plant, Celine Dion, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). Vocally, she evokes Etta James and Norah Jones. With three CDs to her credit, she has covered and written songs that showcase an array of styles, from country to funk.

“As long as it’s from the heart,” Annagrey says, “Sometimes it’s jazzy, sometimes it’s bluesy, or straight out rock ‘n’ roll!”

Patrice Rushen: Keyboardist Inspired by Teaching

Patrice RushenPianist Patrice Rushen is the ultimate role model for young female musicians. Among her achievements, she was the first female music director for the Grammy Awards (2004-2006), first woman to serve as head composer/musical director of the Emmy Awards, as well as the first female music director of the NAACP Image Awards, PEople’s Choice Awards, and HBO’s Comic Relief.

She’s composed musical scores for Emmy-nominated television shows and movies, plus the feature films Men in Black, Waiting to Exhale, Without You I’m Nothing, and Hollywood Shuffle. She released a total of 14 solo albums that earned her multiple Grammy nominations. Her music is frequently sampled.

The Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member is considered one of the world’s top jazz pianists and continues to perform and compose, while also teaching at two of the country’s most prestigious music schools: Thornton School of Music at University of Southern California (USC) and Berklee College of Music. Education has always been a priority for Rushen who recognizes the vital role it played in her life. She says her teachers, including high school music teacher Reggie Andrews, shaped her future in a big way.

“I think I always wanted to become a musician, I just didn’t know the pathway,” says Rushen. She began playing piano at age five, but says when she picked up the flute in middle school, it was life changing. “Being in the middle of all the sound in the orchestra and band, you are conscious of your entrances and exits and the whole production, in the context of a team; that informed me in a different way.”

Rushen says the all-black Los Angeles public school that she attended was ahead of its time. “The high school experiences opened the door for me to see what was possible. We were playing high school orchestra and jazz repertoire, but we were also playing jazz as America’s classical music. That sort of opened up the vocabulary for other forms of contemporary music.”

Students at the high school didn’t just learn about music in a classroom. Field trips included visits to local jazz clubs. “On a Friday night we’d sit in the back,” she says. “Everything sounded really good and the exploration was profound. I heard some of the most amazing jazz musicians in their environment—Cannonball Adderly, Freddie Hubbard, and [Local 802 (New York City) member] Herbie Hancock’s sextet.”

Patrice RushenSome of the musicians were even coerced to come out to the school,” she recalls. “This was before jazz was institutionalized, particularly at the high school level. We had a lot of information firsthand. Bandleader Gerald Wilson, who lived in Los Angeles, would send us stuff to play; it was way over our heads, but the idea was for us to see the possibilities. That music pushed us.”

“The idea of being able to play music—all different kinds of music—and watch people react to it was supported by the entire school. It was an incentive to keep your grades up,” she says.

Aside from the music, Rushen’s high school gave her the fundamentals to succeed. “There was very clear consciousness towards a positive identity and the faculty supported that in the way they gave us information. They kept us busy all the time and everything was connected. If you were lucky enough to find your passion, you could learn a lot.”

“Preparation was a big deal,” she continues. “There’s luck, but luck is being prepared for the opportunity. That’s what Reggie used to tell us.”

Rushen’s first such opportunity came in her senior year when her combo won a chance to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Her talents were noted by Fantasy Records, which offered the 17-year-old a recording contract on the Prestige label.

“I wasn’t really interested in a record deal; it wasn’t even on my radar at all,” says Rushen who was getting ready to enter college. “I was going to school, but I did need money.”

Rushen immediately joined the AFM. “I was very happy to join the union; it was like a milestone,” she says. “You have protection by belonging to a larger organization. It supports what we do with rules and regulations.”

Rushen’s very first album with Prestige, Prelusion, had her playing with established artists like Kenneth Nash, Joe Henderson, Hadley Caliman, Hubert Laws of Local 802, George Bohanon and Oscar Brashear of Local 47, plus contemporaries Ndugu Chancler of Local 47 and Tony Dumas.

“I began playing with a lot of different people, especially when the record came out. I would play with a lot of studio musicians who would play the clubs when they weren’t working,” she says. That’s where she met and befriended people like Local 47 members Lee Ritenour, Harvey Mason, and Abe Laboriel.

Patrice RushenThough there were offers for her to tour, she was firmly focused on college. Film composing was her goal, but her parents insisted  she major in music education. “At the time, USC had no jazz, and certainly no contemporary or popular music major,” she explains. She says the broad curriculum of the music education program served her well later on.

“A music director has to be able to see the big picture and understand the components that will make it happen. You need to know the goal of the presentation and then break it down into what it is going to take to make it happen—casting the correct people and empowering them through your direction.”

“It helps if you are able to work well under pressure and don’t sweat the small stuff,” she adds. “Respect is a given. When people feel like you care about them, they care about you, and want to help you. You also need awareness of a lot of different styles and the resources to pull the essence out of those styles.”

Rushen’s first big job was composing for Robert Townsend’s first movie, Hollywood Shuffle. “He didn’t know who any of the composers were. He went around to different agencies and my name was at the bottom of the list, in pencil,” she laughs. “He knew me because of my records. He said, ‘I want her,’ and the agents were probably horrified!”

“From that movie, I got five HBO comedy specials [as music director],” she says, adding that the role of music director served as a showcase for the skillset she had developed. Word got out, and that led to more work.

While being a woman never kept her from pursuing her ambitions, she’s sure there were jobs along the way that she didn’t get because of gender bias. Then, there were a few people who made the leap that she was a man. “I’ve had some surprised looks because my name doesn’t necessarily give it away,” says Rushen. “There’s the female thing, and then there’s the African American thing that sometimes comes as a surprise.”

Among other challenges, she points to the balancing act that women often struggle with. She advises young women to go for it. “Be strong in your resolve to be as good as you possibly can be. Then, don’t be afraid to let your priorities shift as your life changes and allow yourself the possibility of a family life. Understand that now, more than ever, a career in music involves lots of different layers and different related skills. If you build on that set of skills, you will always find something to do that’s musical. You don’t have to sacrifice any of it.”

As her own career has evolved, she has taken on more teaching roles, but she doesn’t see it as a huge shift from performing. “I don’t really see those things as mutually exclusive,” she says. “When you perform, you are teaching. There is always somebody out in the crowd whose approach could be modified or changed on the basis of a performance they hear.”

Patrice Rushen“I think teaching is important,” she says. “I’m fortunate to have had great teachers. They were all really open to the communication of music and using the piano as a kind of media, teaching great technique to give you the ability to play anything.”

Rushen is currently chair of Popular Music at Thornton, plus Ambassador for Artistry in Education at Berklee. “All of my different experiences have impacted my methodology and I can call on that as a teacher,” she says. “I’m teaching a music style that I lived—popular music—that’s informed by a certain tradition. It’s exciting for me to find a pedagogy that teaches and celebrates that.”

For Rushen, teaching is as much inspiration as it is instruction. “When you teach you are learning at the same time. I think artists are perpetual students, you know? You are always soaking it up. The inspiration and understanding of what it takes to make art takes you out of yourself. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to communicate on that level.”

Rushen is also involved with youth programs, including USC and Berklee outreach programs, a jazz mentorship program in Los Angeles area high schools, and work with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra in the Bay Area. “This is an amazing organization that takes at-risk youth and puts them in an environment where they can thrive as musicians,” she says.

During the school year, Rushen’s focus is mostly on her students. Summer allows her to travel and take on other projects. This summer she’ll play some gigs as Patrice Rushen & Friends with Local 47 members Eric Marienthal (sax), Paul Jackson, Jr. (guitar), Reggie Hamilton (bass), and Ndugu Chancler (drums).

“We have some dates sprinkled throughout the summer, which is kind of cool because it allows everybody to do their own thing,” she says.