Behind the Scenes with Sonia Rao

I was first introduced to singer-songwriter Sonia Rao at BMI’s Acoustic Lounge at the legendary Genghis Cohen in December. After her emotional performance, I knew there was something special about this young artist. Today, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rao one on one, to discuss her journey, challenges, and goals within the Los Angeles music industry.

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When did this journey start for you? Did you always know you wanted to be a professional musician? 

I definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a professional musician at first. Looking back, I think the journey started when I was very little. My mom had my brothers and I learn three instruments each. I played violin, piano, and flute, so there were lots of lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and practicing, but I never thought of myself as creative because I was just studying what was on the page. The actual songwriting happened after college.

How has your life changed since deciding to pursue a career in music?

Everything is so different. Life changes logistically, of course, in my day to day, but more internally it changes how I interact with the world. I just wrote this song about coming into songwriting: growing up I didn’t really speak out at all, I would never participate in school, etc, and once I started songwriting I started finding that I had all these opinions and ideas of things. It changed my life in that way, and I like that. It changes everything – you’re going after a thing you love, so I think that you have to face yourself, you have to be really honest with yourself, what you want, whether this is worth it, the battles you come up against. You face your family, and expectations. I’ve battled my own inner self – Do I think I can do this? Can I make a living out of it? But for me I feel like those are the good questions to ask in general.

What have been some of your biggest challenges?

I guess one challenge after graduating college was realizing that my parents and family had certain hopes for me that were different from the hopes I had for myself. I surprised myself with this music career, so a big challenge for me is continuing to stay at it when everything and many people close to me were not wanting me to do it because they were worried. Facing doubt in general from others and from myself, and still sticking with it has been a challenge. As you know, LA is kind of a beast of its own, and deciding you’re going to stay here, no many how many inner demons arise, no matter how many doubts you have in yourself. I’ve been in LA 3.5 years, and with each year that passes, I’m so glad I stayed.

What is your inspiration?

Books that I’m reading. Relationships – beginnings, endings, songs follow the arch of a relationship. I’ve written a little bit about my family. The last album is called Los Angeles – so I’ve written about moving here, my experience with reality TV (Rao was a finalist on the 1st season of The Voice), all that. Everything is inspiration, as for me songwriting is a way to process how I think about things.

Can you tell us about your songwriting process?

I think there’s two kinds that happen for me – one is when I really feel like writing, but a lot of the time, I don’t feel like writing, but I decide I’m going to sit here from this time to this time and I’m going to write no matter what. One song comes out first, then a song that makes it to an album comes after that first song. It’s like when you meet up with your girlfriends and you talk about whatever for a minute and then the real stuff comes out – that’s what songwriting is like for me.

You’ve placed a lot of your music on several television networks. What can you tell us about that process?

That is all because of my publisher, he does all that, he’s awesome. I met him when I first came to LA and got very lucky with that. That’s just been so helpful for my music and for having my career here. It’s funny though, because when I write these songs, I’m thinking “this is about my ex boyfriend” and then it’s used with Snookie and someone are making up after a fight, which is totally opposite from what I wrote about. They use my songs mostly for the emotional scenes.

Your website mentions that you’ve spoken and performed at TEDxWomen, can you tell us about that experience?

That was an amazing day. All day you’re listening to these really inspiring speakers. It was so great to perform after all that inspiration, the audience was so hyper-present. I performed four songs and spoke in between about my experience with my family and pursuing music. One song I wrote about patriarchy, so I discussed that and the importance women’s equality in our society.

What are some of your short term goals?

I’m going to Nashville in two weeks to finish my next album – we’re so close! Then I’m looking at artwork and planning the release and the tour.

How do you hope to impact the industry? What would you like to see change?

I’m working on an interview series called “Conversations”, where I speak with artists more about their inner experience -how they experience jealousy, what was the hardest thing for them about their career that they didn’t expect, when have they experienced contentedness… questions like this. I feel like a lot of the video interviews out there are more promo based, and while there’s a place for that and it serves artists, I do think that there is a desire for people to hear more than promotional material from artists. I really want to make sure that I stay in that same space when I’m writing, in the self-expression mode instead of thinking about what the product is. I’d like to see more of that in the industry. Sometime after this album, I would also like to have an all women’s project, where the writers, producers, engineers, are all women. I realized all the people I’m working with, who I love, have been men. I’d like to see what could happen and what would be different when we get a bunch of talented women together to work on a project.

You just performed in Bali for New Year’s Eve, what can you tell us about that experience?

Bali was beautiful, it was awesome to play the countdown show at Ayana on New Year’s Eve. It’s such a lucky thing to travel and get to travel for work, and then I travelled around afterwards. It was a nice way to end and start a year.

What advice would you give fellow aspiring musicians?

If you ever lose sight of yourself or what you are doing here or why you’re doing it, just come back to what is it you want to say, what is important to you – come back to self-expression, as that will always guide you back to why you wanted to do this in the first place. The other thing is don’t dismiss yourself just because there’s so many people doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t make it less important that you’re doing it.

What’s next for Sonia Rao?

Finishing this album, figuring what the name of it is. Releasing it and touring. We’re thinking Midwest, NY, Nashville, San Fran, and LA.

 

 

To learn more about Sonia Rao and to keep up with the release of her upcoming album, and to follow her on social media, head to www.soniarao.com.

Drea Dorman is a singer-songwriter and music enthusiast living in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Drea and her music at www.dreaofficialmusic.com.

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Behind the Scenes with Sharin

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dominican singer-songwriter, Sharin, who made her live debut in Los Angeles this past Tuesday.

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How did this journey begin for you? Did you always know you wanted to pursue music as a career? 

Music was always the plan. I didn’t take it very seriously until I was about 12, but I always sang from a young age. I started playing piano when I was 6, began writing my own songs when I was 9, and was singing in the church all the time.

When Selena died it really made me want to pursue music because it hit me so hard – she was a huge influence in my life. I started to sing a lot more in church and to sing more of my idols’ songs as practice. At school I was always doing the National Anthems and then I went to a college in Kansas on a vocal scholarship, but it wasn’t a good fit, so after a year I moved to Miami to really focus on my career in music.

In Miami I was doing it all: modeling, the Miss Universe/Miss Florida pageant, contacting label people, I became good friends with an A&R at Sony… But three months later, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to stop everything.

You’re very open with your battle with stage 4 Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer. How has this experience shaped you and your music? 

I don’t think a person so young who has never had any health problems would ever think they would have cancer, which for me was essentially a death sentence. I was in a really bad state because I was stubborn and didn’t want to go to the doctor. They said if I had waited another week I wouldn’t be here today. Music is what kept me going because I kept feeling like it wasn’t my time yet.

My battle with cancer has given me purpose more than anything. I think I now have a good sense of life in terms of how fragile it is, and have gained a deep understanding for people who suffer and feel alone, and feel pain. As far as music goes, when I get on that stage it’s just full passion – I just want to communicate, I want people to be moved constantly. That’s my goal.

You’ve spent time all over the country – Tampa, Boston (Berklee College of Music), Miami, and now LA – how have these experiences inspired you? 

It’s amazing, I’ve always lived on the East Coast. I have a good sense of what Miami, Boston, and NYC are like. Being on the West Coast now I don’t have as many connections, so it’s super inspiring. To know the major cities in the country is an honor and a privilege. The mountains, the sunlight – California definitely inspires me.


How has the past year in LA changed your career and your outlook on your future in the music industry? 

Before, I was a door away from my audience and my market, now I’m directly at the source. I’ve met so many encouraging people. It’s very young out here, and I love that. It’s very creatively driven – which is different than the East Coast. In LA you’ll run across people trying to do acting, trying to write, dance, trying to do music, it’s very creative more than anything.

What is the impact you hope to have on the music industry? 

I hope to be the first female Latin voice that does really good quality pop music but plays guitar, plays piano, composes her own songs… I want to be the first Latin woman to do that in a soulful way.

What advice would you give to other people following their dreams, specifically in music? 

Education is key. They need to be educated – on the business, on their craft. At the end of the day, this is a business and it’s a very serious one, and no one will take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously. No one has your back, only you, and knowledge is everything.

What is next for Sharin? 

Eventually, I’d like to be touring internationally, to collaborate with great artists that I admire, and to start my own label. I love discovering new talent and helping them grow. I’d especially like to do that in the Dominican Republic. There’s a lot of talent out there and not enough help. I’d like to help the talent be educated and not be stuck in the old business model that can be very exploitative over there.

My immediate goal is to create a stronger internet presence and stronger fan base so I can really penetrate my market and the people that appreciate my style of music. I want to continue to make my social media presence stable and constant so people have a sense of expectancy from me.

 

To learn more about Sharin and to hear her newly released EP “Quiero”, head to www.sharinmusic.com.

Drea Dorman is a singer-songwriter and music enthusiast living in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Drea and her music at www.dreaofficialmusic.com.

Behind the Scenes with Brandyn Burnette

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Warner Brothers artist, Brandyn Burnette, to discuss his newly released single “Thanks For Nothing” from his much anticipated debut EP “The Couch Surfing Chronicles”, set to release Fall 2014:

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When did this journey start for you? Did you always know you wanted to be a professional musician? 

I actually wasn’t really interested in music to begin with, even though I grew up in a musical family. My sister was an amazing singer, and my dad was an artist on Capitol Records. But when my grandmother gave me my first keyboard at age 7, I learned the entire song bank by ear. When I was 13, I wrote my first song about my sister going away to college; that’s when I unlocked something inside of me. In high school, friends would be partying and I’d be on my keyboard for 8 hours.  Everything changed when I got a full ride to NYU for theater. I auditioned on a whim and got into their program. But I can’t dance, and you’re essentially preparing yourself for Broadway in that program, so in the middle of a ballet class I said “screw this”, I’m gonna be an artist. I felt like it was a universal moment that said “I can do this now”, and I knew I didn’t want to go down the musical theater route; it just clicked. I walked out of that ballet class and went straight to student affairs and took a leave of absence. As I pursued music, I couch surfed with my friends in NYC, figuring out my next steps. 6 months turned into a year, and I traveled everywhere from Oslo, Norway to LA for meetings with publishers and record labels. I eventually signed with Warner Brothers. Several years and a few couches after that ballet class at NYU, this is where I am now. My first single “Thanks For Nothing” is finally out, and I feel like within my experiences and exposure to a variety of musical sounds, I’ve found a way to do my own thing and keep that young 13-year-old in the room feel about my music.

What is your favorite part about your life as it is today?

I woke up this morning to a text from my friend saying, “I heard your music in the mall” in the UK. For me to be signed for this long and feel like I’ve had this song in production for years, it’s great to see “Thanks For Nothing” get the circulation it deserves. You never really know what a label does for artists as far as exposure until it happens. The possibility of hearing the song outside of my own phone/headphones/car is so exciting, I can’t believe it.  I got signed and my music got released – those are the dreams.

You just spent several weeks in Scandinavia. What can you tell us about your trip?

When I left NYU and went to Norway for the first time, it was because my manager had another artist over there. The publishing company I met with then is still involved in my career today, which is why I went back. My deal with Sony/ATV flew us out to Sweden for 7 days, and then on to Norway to continue building my radio profile. I’m trying to really establish myself as a songwriter in the down time between releases, and in Scandinavia I explored writing in many styles, from R&B to house to indie folk.

Is there anything you would have done differently on your journey?

I wish I had never stopped acting. There was something special that those theatrical moments brought to my music. Being onstage is extremely emotive and inspirational. I feel like if I were to practice acting even more now I could tap into that for my record. I really miss it.

What do you think has been the key to your success?

Patience. My journey has been so unconventional. People could call it wasting time, but those couch surfing moments were a part of making me, me. You’re always evolving and I think success can be a hindrance that keeps you from getting to the next level. Having patience and remembering to enjoy what you do – that is success right there. There’s such beauty in feeling that every day is a success.

What are some of your end goals? 

I want to travel the world and perform. Music videos and studios are so much fun, creating the song is great, but if I can’t deliver it live there’s no point. I’ve never been comfortable just being a songwriter – performing the songs is such a great payoff, you’re reliving that moment. I also want to do film and television earlier rather than later, because I want people to know that my artistry is 360. And I want to put my mom in a house. She’s supported me so much, 9-5. I would love to be able to take care of my family at this point.

What piece of advice would you give to fellow aspiring artists?  

Don’t give up. Know how good you are, because lots of people have opinions in the industry. If I listened to every one I don’t think I would have gotten to the point where I feel comfortable enough to unlock my potential. I feel its very intimidating to do something with your life when people are telling you “no”. I didn’t let anything discourage me. I think that even trying in the first place is so important. After that, persistence is key.

 

The lyric video for “Thanks For Nothing” will come out very soon, with the official music video to follow. As a songwriter, Burnette also has singles for other artists coming out in the near future. His 6-song EP “The Couch Surfing Chronicles” is slated to release Fall 2014. You can catch Brandyn at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood every two weeks, with the next show on Tuesday, June 10th, at 9pm

You can purchase Brandyn’s new single “Thanks For Nothing” at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/thanks-for-nothing/id881336801?i=881336827.

For more on Brandyn Burnette, and for links to his social media, head to www.brandynburnette.com.

Drea Dorman is a singer-songwriter and music enthusiast living in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Drea and her music at www.dreaofficialmusic.com.