Monday, August 10, 2009

Random Thoughts with Natalie Brown

Hey again everybody, months back (or should I say almost a year ago? I can't really say for sure since for all obvious and/or somewhat hitherto semi-educational purposes I seemed to have lost track of time.) Anyways, I came across a MySpace profile for singer/artist/performer Natalie Brown and added her to my friends list. I didn't think much of it at the time; that was, until I saw a message of hers on the status and mood field which I felt compelled to answer, because it was one of those random questions that she throws out every now and again to network with her fans. And I was really surprised when she took the time from her extremely busy schedule to respond to my rather off-the-cuff comedic quip to whatever it was she was asking at the time (again, forgive me, but I seem to have lost track of what exactly it was that I said since it was so long ago...way before I even had this blog up and running!). Later on, when I was in the process of adding friends (up the wazoo and beyond) to the now defunct T-Central MySpace profile , I chose to conjure up a slide show for her (which is now defunct as well due to copyright issues and her recent signing to a major label and whatnot since it used a sample from her song It's A Beautiful Day), which she really dug, so now I'm happy to announce that she agreed to do an interview for this blog, and so here it is, for your eyes only...Enjoy!

PS: How did you get started in the music business?

NB: I performed in choirs from a very young age and then lead worship in churches as a teen. From there I got my first taste of recording and liked it a lot! I moved to the US to do a Gospel tour and from there decided I wanted to pursue a secular career. I became a session vocalist and signed with an Independent label. The label decided not to release my album, so I teamed up with the producer of that album and we released it on our own imprint. That’s the very nutshell story of how I got into the business.

PS: At what age would you say that you discovered that you had a talent, or natural ability to do what you do best? (i.e. sing, perform, etc.)

NB: At about eight years old people started to take notice of my voice and said it was special. I really didn’t pay attention to this until my teens when I sort of woke up to this and began to take it quite seriously. I’ve always performed really. Since the age of five I have been acting or singing even earlier if you count in dressing up and putting on plays and shows for anyone within ear or eye shot!

PS: How many instruments do you play? And were you classically trained or self taught?

NB: I play one instrument, my voice. I grew up performing in choirs and musical theatre, so I never had truly formal training until I studied the Speech Level Singing method with Dave Stroud in San Francisco. I studied with Dave, Seth Riggs and Lorna Emata Goodwin for about two to three years. That’s the extent of my training besides some rudimentary piano and theory, but I definitely would not call myself a piano player by any means!

PS: In your bio, you mention that you're originally from Canada. Can I ask you how living here has changed or challenged your perception about America?

NB: Yes I am from Canada and recently moved back to Toronto full time. Wow, this is a very complex question and I feel like trying to give you a paragraph answer would just not be sufficient. If you want to try to be something in the US there is a market to attempt it. The downside to the US is that there a zillion people striving for the Milk and Honey and not everyone will get it. Having seen the US in the 90’s and 2000’s and living through two administrations and the ushering of the latest one (I went to the inauguration and moved a few days later)... all I can say is that I’m fortunate to have learned a lot from the US and to take that knowledge with me wherever it is I go in the future.

PS: And as a follow up to that question, what is your opinion on health care reform down here in the states? Do you think that the current administration is doing enough to get the ball rolling in terms of creating a better health care system that works for everybody, or do you think that we still have a long way to go?

NB: I really can’t comment on what I feel that the Obama administration is doing in terms of Health Care reform as I have not lived physically in the US since the inauguration and have not been as attentive to the releases put out by the White House. I think there are so many problems and fires raging in the social, political and economic spheres within the US and that it must be incredibly difficult to do anything effectively when there are so many competing opinions. I will say that I believe that there should be a standard level of Health Care provided to all citizens (not to be, as we’ve recently heard, confused with “Socialism”). Healthy people make for happier and more productive people and this in turn boosts an economy. I’ve been a resident of the US without access to affordable Health Care, and I certainly would not wish this on anyone. Again, this is another question that one could write an entire piece on, but I will say that I think the US has a way to go on Health Care reform. It will be up to the people and the government to see that the Health Care situation is taken care of in an effective and efficient manner. There needs to be a healthy balance between a safety net for the people, free market flexibility for businesses, and everything reasonably in between. There seems to be a clamoring from interest groups for one extreme or another.

PS: Can you tell us why there was such a long wait between your first album Let the Candle Burn and Random Thoughts

Natalie Brown Image 1
Let the Candle Burn
Released 2000

NB: Lots happened during the eight years between releases! This business is full of paths that you least expect to go down. One path that I ventured off onto was writing music for Film and TV licensing. That was something that I really enjoyed and still do now and I spent some time developing my publishing company and learning that side of the music business.

During the time between releases there were also some deals offered that I ended up not accepting and also some joint ventures that I explored. At the end of the last negotiation, I realized that nobody really knew how to release my music properly except for Jeremy (manager) and I. After 2007 I decided no more entertaining these deals and going through meetings and paperwork, more meetings, new teams (because people were laid off like mad!) and more paperwork. I just wanted to make and release my music and I realized that I could best do that (for now) as an Indie artist.

It’s really interesting because there were Major and Indie artists out in 2000/2001 that were quite popular, and they had a few years of a run, and now they have just disappeared. I’ve seen so many people come and go and get burned out on music altogether. I’ve always envisioned my career to be a lifelong one. I see myself doing this fifty years from now, and I realize that there is a real danger in some commercial music pursuits because often times your run is very short or you just get so utterly jaded from what you go through that you throw the towel in and leave the game. I want to always be making and releasing music and so I have decided to do that on my terms.

PS: In your opinion, how much would you say that the sound you were producing back then differs from the songs you're producing nowadays? Would you say you've matured more as a vocalist/performer or as a songwriter/lyricist?

NB: I think there is always a “Natalie-ness” to everything I do. I feel like the songs on Random Thoughts are a progression from Let the Candle Burn, but the sound is still me. I think I definitely played with more styles on the new album and definitely explored some different topics and yes, as anyone would as they practice their craft; I’ve matured as a performer, writer and also as a person.

PS: Speaking of which, what do you regard yourself more as? A singer or a songwriter? Or is it a little bit of both?

NB: I regard myself a vocalist first and writer second. What I write tends to lean towards the poetic realm, so songwriting is something that I have had to work hard to learn as I’ve progressed in my career. I really do love to write songs and it is definitely an integral part of my artist self, but my natural talent is to be a vocalist.

PS: Are there any new projects on the horizon?

NB: Just working the release of Random Thoughts online and looking towards some live shows next year.

PS: When can we expect to see a new album, or perhaps even a single release type of offering from you?

NB: I release music when I feel led to and don’t really go by any sort of set release agenda. I can’t set an agenda on my creativity. I can say that it won’t be another eight years for a new album, but I really can’t say with any firmness when the next release will be. I philosophically don’t believe in releasing singles. That format of releasing music is not for me. I see my works in ‘bodies’ which are contained in the format of albums. This is a very personal view I hold, but I’m very adamant about it. In my view, singles are really for major label artists who are able to push them through radio and the machine that handles all that goes along with it. I don’t promote my songs to terrestrial radio and I feel that if someone wants a ‘single’ then can purchase whatever ‘single’ they may want from one of my albums on iTunes or Amazon Digital.

PS: If it were not for music, what else would you see yourself doing for a living?

NB: I’d be a professional beach explorer! I’m not really sure what I would do but some other crafts I enjoy are acting, jewelry making and digital art. Maybe I would have pursued one of those. I’m at heart, a creative person, so it would have to be a profession where I could use my creativity.

PS: Can you tell us what being a performer is like? Meaning, do you feel more at home (or natural) on the stage nowadays, or do you still get the occasional bout of stage fright every now and then?

NB: Being a performer is an enormous privilege for me and something that came naturally to me from my earliest days. To be able to present my songs to people and have them enjoy them is mind-blowing to me. As for where I feel at home, I would have to say that I’m very comfortable on stage, but I’m pretty comfortable in the studio. I love both environments for different reasons. It’s interesting you bring up stage fright. I was performing at a Jazz festival some years ago and Bobby McFerrin was there and I had the chance to sit down and pick his brain for a few moments. He told me that the day I do not get butterflies before I go on stage is the day I should take a long break from performing. The butterflies give you the edge.

PS: Which artists (be they musical, literary, visual, etc.) would you say have the most profound influence on your work?

NB: This is always difficult for me to answer because I have such a broad range of influences. In all honesty, the thing that influences my work the most is life, experience and my constant search to understand humans and this world. But if I have to answer this question with specific artistic influences, I would have to say that Annie Lennox, Mozart, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Billy Joel, classic Whitney and Mariah would be the musicians I connected to as a child. I’m an avid reader and I always get inspired by literature. I have pages and pages of ideas I’ve written down from my journeys through literature. I enjoy movies and get ideas from that medium. I would say that music, film and literature are my biggest art influences. As I’ve grown up, I’ve been exposed to so much more artistry and I can’t even begin to list names as it would take volumes. I basically read, watch and listen to anything I can and I also watch life happen around me. All of that inspires me to write and create.

PS: Are there any artists out there that you would one day like to collaborate or perform together with? If so, would you care to share it with us?

NB: Some artists I’d like to collaborate or perform with would be the ones below (for right now anyway!). Well known artists like: Gladys Knight, Alicia Keys, Chrisette Michele, Teena Marie, Common and Mos Def. And on the Indie tip, I’d like to work with: Ni Taylor, Adama, L*A*W, and Barry Southgate.

PS: How do you personally rate the importance of social sites such as MySpace, Facebook and/or Twitter when it comes to getting the word out about what you do as a musician?

NB: Honestly, I think social networks are huge, especially for Indie musicians who don’t have access to mainstream media exposure to become known by. I’ve been promoting my music online since 1997. This was before I even had an album out. The net has been huge for me to be able to spread the word and meet people who connect with what I do. Before Social Networking all we really had were forums and a handful of Online Music Distribution sites, and it was harder to spread the word to non-musicians specifically. MySpace blasted those doors open and since then it’s just been rapid fire growth and expansion which I welcome with open arms!

PS: Also, do you feel as though, that the dependence of artists to get visibility on the market through the use of the internet, in this day and age, may actually cause a disconnect between them and the audience? Like for example... why should people go to a Natalie Brown concert, when they can stay home and check out on YouTube or something?

NB: It’s interesting you say this because I feel the opposite. I feel that I have an even closer connection with my fans because of the internet. I think that this closer connection compels them even more to come and see me live. The beauty of something like UStream or YouTube is that I can get my show to people in other places or countries where I just would not be able to travel physically to. So I see these internet driven tools as a connector, not as isolators. True fans are going to come to see my shows no matter what, and I’m all for the true fans!

PS: Can you name what type of approach you have towards marketing yourself? Is it a do-it-yourself kind of a deal, or are you relying on outside help at the moment?

NB: We do everything in house here at our label. I do have a super web person that I work with and when I can’t tend to my site or I need some help she is there for me, but it’s usually myself or Jeremy doing everything from the social network stuff to the PR. We’re basically a two person team doing the work of ten departments! Thankfully we have a very strong work ethic and a real passion for what we are doing. This helps us go the extra mile!

PS: Explain the advantage that an artist who has their own publishing company has over others out there that are not aware of this type of business...

NB: To generalize, music publishing companies are set up to exploit musical compositions for commercial purposes.

Keep in mind that income from album/single sales is different from music licensing “sales”.

Music publishing deals with compositions (songs) only. The role of a publisher is to exploit the compositions and pitch them for use in television, film, recordings, musical theater etc. You don’t have to run a publishing company yourself to have your songs pitched. Some artists will seek out a publishing deal and assign this promotion/pitch task to that company, but to do this you usually assign a percentage of your publishing in exchange for the work done by the publisher and then you would only be paid your writer share. Royalties on songs are div'ied up into two halves: 50% writer, 50% publisher. The beauty of owning your own publishing company and doing all of the grunt work is that when your song is used in a commercial manner, you get the publisher cut and the writer cut, so you earn more money.

Publishing is a rather in depth subject, so I would suggest that if someone wants to know more info, they should Google “what does a music publisher do” and you will come up with answers to this question. I also offer a listing of books on the subject on my music business resource site Music Business 101 here:

PS: What do you see yourself doing in the next couple of years?

NB: I see myself increasing my fan base using the internet, doing some live shows, possibly doing a live DVD, delving into some more video stuff and writing and releasing more music.

Natalie Brown Image 2
Random Thoughts is also available online at:
iTunes , CDBaby, and/or Amie Street...
You can also buy a personalized autographed copy
from Natalie herself by clicking here.

For more information on Natalie Brown, check out her website at This has been P.S. Elliott (AKA: Dr. Gonzo XXVII) reporting for the disassociated press, that is... The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog. Peace (frog) out!

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