FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
NF: Songwriting technique? That’s easy. Usually I am most inspired to write music if I have lyrics first. So I try to keep a book so I continue to write lyrics and if I get stuck for ideas, I can always page back and see if I had anything good in songs that have been trashed. I always try and write lyrics even if they’re sentence fragments or just ideas or images that I see. I try and get them into the book so I can try and use them later. And then as far as coming up with progressions, kind of based around the melodies that form from the lyrics I have, most of the time. Other times, it could just be everything coming out all at one time, or a hit and miss kind of a thing.
FEMMUSIC: How has working at the studio really helped you in your career?
NF: Well, it’s definitely the kind of job one who is looking to get into the music business should have as their day job. If you have a really cool boss like I do, your agenda, which is to become, you know, a successful musician, can be achieved a little bit quicker. Sometimes I get pulled out of the front office to sing on stuff. It also puts you in the right place at the right time. Just the other day I got to sing on a Shirley Cesar/Patti LaBelle duet because I happened to be there, and they needed an extra voice. And also I got to sing on about 8 tracks on the Wood: Songs From Stamford Hill record that Columbia Records released in 1999, from working in another recording studio, just by being in the office and them needing another person to do harmonies. So it’s definitely good as far as opportunities arising, and you being there instead of at another kind of a day job. And it also, when you’re a musician you should be familiar with every aspect of the business, so its helped me familiarize myself with publicity. Because I’m the publicist for the studio, and I’m sort of a homegrown, roots-based, self-taught promoter, and it’s really helped me promote myself well. I learned how to write press releases, and gained contacts in the media, etc. What else as far as recording, working in the studio…just being around other musicians. I like to help people, it’s kind of my gig. I enjoy helping other people with their careers as well. It gives me the opportunity to meet lots of people and make suggestions to help their careers go well.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge for you making Smitten?
NF: The biggest challenge was finishing it, because it took about 13 months. I recorded it at the bane of everyone’s existence. The producer’s schedule, the studio’s schedule, the musicians being able to get them in. If I had ten days blocked out, we would have been lucky to bang the whole thing out and then start mixing it. But instead it took 13 months. Some months we only got into the studio 2 times in the whole month. So, for me it was just a matter of “Come on, I want to finish it!” And then as far as everything else, I think it went extremely smoothly. I had the band that I was playing with at the time is the band on the record, and we stopped gigging to go into pre-production for about three months so that we could bang out the rhythm tracks in two sessions, which happened. It was really smooth. Getting all of the musicians to play on it was really easy. I had a lot of favors coming to me, and I did a lot of trade. I had offers to sing on certain people’s records if they played on mine, etcetera. So it was pretty easy, as far as making it. I didn’t have a whole lot of challenges except just getting it done.
FEMMUSIC: And what was the best experience?
NF: Asking Ian McClagen, who plays keyboards, to play on the song “Give It Up”. I just felt that that was so cool that he said yes. I e-mailed him so as to not call him on the phone and have him just say “no”. I let him think about it. (laughs) I had met him at a different studio than I managed a few years back, and stayed in touch with him, and then someone suggested I ask him to play on one of my tunes and I did via e-mail and he wrote back “yes”. So I sent him a VA-88 with a left and a right mix of the song, and it came back with piano AND B-3 organ, and I had only asked for piano. So that was just the most amazing day, to pop that tape in and hear my song with what he put on it. He played on “Stay with Me” , you know, The Faces, and “Maggie May”—he’s just amazing. He founded the Small Faces. I’m a big fan of theirs. So that was pretty much an honor. And I also had a huge amount of fun with Todd Young doing the Moog tracks for a couple of tunes. I had never worked a Moog before and they let me play it, and at one point the producer, Shane McMartin, Todd and I were all playing different buttons on it at the same time to make tracks. It was just really a lot of fun. Back to the challenge…vocals. The lead vocals…I can sing for anybody else and nail it, and then when it comes to me, I just have the hardest time. Lead vocals were a challenge. It took a long time to get good vocals out of me. At least 2 1/2 hours per song to get good vocals and make them sound as close to perfect as possible. When I’m singing for hire or for someone else, I nail it. But I guess when you’re working on your own stuff, you just sort of feel like you have to be more perfect than anything, and then it creates havoc in your mind. That was pretty challenging. The producer I thought did a really good job getting vocals out of me.
FEMMUSIC: I have ask at least one question about the “Ask Nancy” column (seen at Women of MP3.com). What is the most unusual question you’ve had?
NF: The most unusual question was from a guy, and it was “Do you sing in the shower, and can I join you?” Everything else is really people just asking about the music business pertaining to their career. Hopefully I can help. The questions I can’t help on, I just don’t answer. Some of them are too hard. (laughs) A lot of times I try and enlist other professionals to help me answer them. It’s all about helping other people, it’s plugging people. Even the people who ask the questions get a plug for their website. Go to “Ask Nancy”. It’s at http://www.thewomenofmp3.com . or www.mp3.com/womenofmp3.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry itself?
NF: I guess I would want to make it easier for people to get more money. I don’t know how that would happen, but I know that there are so many people that are so great, that try so hard. You spend a lot of money promoting yourself, from envelopes and bubble wrap and postage, to printer ink and cell phone bills and gas in your car. I just wish there were more opportunities to pay people for their efforts, even if it’s at gigs or via more opportunities for publishing. Make it a little easier to get songs into movies or TV. I don’t know. I would want to make it a little easier for people to make some money. I mean, I understand you need to be a shining star to…the cream rises to the top to make it in this industry, but there’s a lot of people that are really great that deserve big breaks, that don’t get them. So that would be my answer there.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
NF: Honestly, I have never found it difficult to be a woman in the music industry. I think because of my, I guess my time here in the business, it’s been a lot easier for women to succeed. I think your music should always speak for itself, and your gender really doesn’t make that much of a difference. I mean, I find that being a woman gives me a lot more opportunities to be seen and heard on websites like yours, or to be a part of something like Indiegirl.com, or be part of the Women of mp3. I just find it more of an opportunity, because there are so many men in the rock and pop world that being a women, you almost get singled out. So I haven’t found any discrimination at all and I don’t see it happening in the near future. I guess, as far as appearance is concerned, that’s whether or not I’m a woman, I don’t feel that I look like a 16 to 18 year old pop star. But as far as just being a woman in general, I have no roadblocks or stumbling blocks because of my gender.
FEMMUSIC: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
NF: I would say practice and write as much as you can. I’m sure everyone says that, right? And I guess the biggest bit of advice is be extremely persistent without getting on people’s nerves. And the way you can do that is by, when you contact other people to get what you want, whether it’s airplay or gigs, or press, don’t call every time. Sometimes you can e-mail, sometimes you can write a regular snail mail letter, sometimes you can send something cool in a neat little package. Just be persistent and do it differently each time so that they don’t constantly see a pink slip on their desk with a message from you that makes them not want to call you back. And be polite and gracious and thankful, and write thank-you notes. That’s my advice. I practice what I preach, and it’s gotten me very far. I feel really happy. I never feel like I’m moving backwards. I always feel like I’m moving forward in this music business, and it’s a lot of steps. So just being nice to everyone you meet along the way. You never know where people are going to be five years from when you meet them. So people remember the nice ones. Actually, people remember the mean ones even more and then don’t give you opportunities. So take your time and be nice and polite and persistent.