Vlog #11 – How Do I Compose For Film?

I recently asked my fans if they could help me out by suggesting some vlogging topics – as I’m trying to be better about vlogging more often and more consistently.  One of the topics that was brought up quite a lot was me sharing with you how I compose for film, and what my studio set- up.

My methods for composing for film and for my own music are quite different  – so talking about how I compose for myself is an entirely different vlog for another day. But I hope you enjoy this inside little glimpse on just a small part of the process I go through when composing for film. Enjoy!…

P.S. Are you subscribed to my Youtube channel yet? 🙂

10 Things You Can Do To Be a Better Artist

Jennifer Thomas-581KAT 2As a composer/recording artist with four albums released and a growing music career, I am immersed daily in a global community of musicians that contains everything from amateurs to seasoned professionals.  I get to see a lot of really amazing stuff, some things that are maybe not-so amazing, and everything in between.

Before doing what I do now though, I performed in the world of Classical music (violin and piano) for about 20 years before discovering I wanted to have my own voice and compose my own music.  I’m now 10 years into my composing/recording career, and I only recently started finally feeling like I’m starting to get it – you know – this thing called the music business.

And while I know I’m definitely far from learning everything I still need to learn, I wanted to share with you what I HAVE learned thus far.

I’ve actually been wanting to write this blog post for quite some time – as I’ve jotted down thoughts in a journal regarding this subject. But here it is…

10 Things You Can Do To Be a Better Artist.


  1. Know that you will never be able to please 100% of the people, but you can be 100% true to yourself.

    Truth.  Even if you get those tens upon tens of thousands of Facebook or Instagram fans, or millions of YouTube views on our videos and you start to feel like you are hot stuff and the best at what you do – you still won’t please everyone.  Even if you write what you feel is possibly THE most beautiful song and produced to perfection, there may still be someone out there who will disagree and give you that aggravating thumbs down, or rude comment.

    I used to let this get under my skin when it would happen.  But you know what?  This is life.  Everyone has a choice of what type of food they love, what style of clothing they prefer, and what music they listen to.  They are going to love what they love. And YOU…you just need to have confidence in yourself and what you are putting out there and remain true to your own creative vision.

    I really like the saying “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.

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  2. Don’t put too much thought into “Likes” or “Dislikes” on social media.

    There was a time when I used to check my number of Facebook likes almost daily.  I would also pay attention if my number of Instagram followers went down after a particular post that I made.

    Oh man, I just lost some followers probably because I did a mommy post about my baby and they are only here to follow my music.

    I would say this to myself – because HELLO – I wanted to retain followers and goshdarnitt I wanted people to like me.  I became overly concerned about what I posted until one day I realized I shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they liked me.  What other people thought of me was none of my business.

    You can’t worry about what others think. You just have to be you.

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    Now I rarely have a clue how many followers I have. It’s exhausting try to care about it.

    First of all, do YOU unfollow people that are no longer relevant to your current interests?  Yes, of course you do.  And do you do it because you dislike the person or you think they suck?  No. I mean, not usually.  It’s personal, right?  It’s not really about them, but it’s more about whatever it is you are into right now and what you want to see in your social media feed.  So don’t take it personal when someone unfollows you.  It’s not about you.

    And as for Facebook?  Pshsh.  Don’t even get me started.  With how you have to pay to boost posts for your current fans to even see anything you post anyway, and how people can pay for fake likes and so forth…I don’t see the relevancy on number of likes anymore.

  3. Be a real human.

    I don’t have too much to say about this other than – don’t be someone who just pushes your music on people like a used car salesman.  Be a real human being with your fans.

    In all reality, people nowadays really just yearn to know about you and what you do outside of music, behind the scenes.  This doesn’t mean you have to disclose your inner soul, but just be real.  Don’t try to be perfect. Allow people to know that you are human, that you too wake up with messy hair, you have bad days, and you eat fast food.

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    One of my fans once told me that the biggest reason she followed her favorite artists on social media was not to find out about the latest music news or listen to links to their music, but to find out what they were doing outside of music.  The whole reason she was their fan in the first place was because she already knew and loved their music. That was a given.  But she wanted to know them as a human being.

  4. Be humble.

    I always tell myself that if I ever get to a point where I think I’m pretty awesome and better than others, then I need to check myself.

    Don’t ever think you are better than someone, or that you have it all figured out. Even if you have won multiple awards or have X number of albums out, you still have things to learn.

    And be humble with your fans too, btw.

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  5. Make your own dreams come true. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

    I feel like there are so many artists out there who are waiting for some big record executive to discover them, offer them the deal of a lifetime so that they can go on to make lots of money and be super famous.

    Look, it just doesn’t happen that way. And if it does happen, it is very VERY rare that, especially in 2016.  Do you want to know why?

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    First off – competition.  For every one of you, there are thousands more out there who are also trying to land a record contract or who are waiting for that bigtime producer to notice them.  So not only do you need to be talented, but you have to be EXTREMELY multi-talented, beautiful, young, and unique. And you need to have quality demos that basically sound like a finished product (which they will then take and completely change it to sound like something else).

    Second, the need for artists to have a record label in order to be successful is becoming more and more of a thing of the past.  It’s 2016!  Look at violinist Lindsey Stirling.

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    She is a successful self-made millionaire with record labels offering her contracts left and right, but she turns them all down. Why?  Because she has built such a huge system of fan support that they stand behind her and continue to help her have success – she doesn’t need a label.  And it goes without saying that with her huge success, aside from her talent and originality, one of the reasons labels want her so badly is because they see how successful she is and they want a part of that (with dollar signs in their eyes).  But I love how she continues to defy all odds and show the world that she is a force to be reckoned with.

    And P.S. with more and more artists becoming successful independents, the need for record labels continue to decline and many are not as financially affluent as they once were – thus making the number of new artists they sign fewer and fewer.

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    I truly TRULY believe that you can do anything you put your mind to.  You have to think outside of the box sometimes, but it is entirely possible.  If you have a dream, YOU can make it happen. You just have to work hard.  And you need to ASK.

    Do you want to perform with an orchestra but you don’t know how?

    Ask.

    Do you want to record a music video but don’t have the money, do crowd funding?

    Ask.

    People want to see you succeed.

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    My first album was produced on a really crappy keyboard with basic software. I did all my own artwork, promotion, and everything.  The only thing I hired out was 2 soloists, and my mixing/mastering engineer.

    My most recent album was recorded with a real orchestra, and a choir at one of the most prestigious recording cathedrals in the country and mixed and mastered with a Grammy award winning engineer, and my debut concert was at Benaroya Hall with full symphony and choir.  All because I ASKED.

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    And do you want to know what?

    That first album, despite it’s humble beginnings, is what got me onto Pandora, which then led thousands of listeners to discover me.  I now have  over 40 million unique listeners on Pandora (and it pays the mortgage.)

  6. Do invest in quality artwork and photos.

    You know how they say to never judge a book by it’s cover?

    Well that doesn’t apply to music albums.

    Your album cover will totally be judged as it is the first thing someone sees when they are introduced to your CD. And if you have really bad artwork or amateur looking photos, then they are going to assume that your music is really bad and amateur too.

    I’m super picky when it comes to this, and my biggest thing is fonts.  Even just the font you choose can make your cover look professional or amateur.

    Photography?  Hire someone.  It’s worth it, I promise.

    If you want people to take you seriously, you need to have some professional looking photos.  Put down the smart phone, and don’t try to manipulate that one photo that your friend took of you from 10 years ago to look like an album cover.

    (From my 3rd album – “Illumination”)

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    From my 4th album “Winter Symphony”

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    Make sure you have high-resolution photos.  Be sure the coloring is correct – you don’t want your face to be shadowed or colors to be weird (unless of course you are going for a shadowed face).  Also keep in mind that nowadays, most people will be viewing your album cover as a tiny thumbnail on iTunes or Amazon because most people buy digitally.  How does your album cover look as a 100×100 pixel picture?  Does it stand out?  Does it make sense?

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    And last of all, get opinions!  Ask people that you know and trust will give you their honest opinion. It’s better to have your cover reviewed by someone then to go to print and realize you ended up with this:

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    Or this:

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    This…

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    Haha…this…

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    or THIS.

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  7. Keep up the maintenance practicing.

    I am SO guilty of not doing this.  I am either in full blown performance practicing mode for concerts or not practicing at all.  And then opportunities will come to me while I’m on a “break” and will sometimes miss those opportunities because I’m not up to speed on my music.

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    I get it. Life is busy. I’m a mom of 3 little ones and so I don’t always practice every day. But DO do maintenance practicing, even just to keep your most popular songs in your fingers (or voice).

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  8. Do make contracts and agreements with people you work with.

    I actually have really fond memories from my first album where I knew everyone that was helping me with it – we were friends – and most of them were just doing it for free to help out. I was so grateful and I loved the feeling of trust between everyone.  We did not do any agreements or anything, because honestly at the time it never even crossed my mind.

    But 10 years later, as my career has progressed, I’m learning how essential it is to have these agreements set in place before starting a project.

    I have had several experiences where I worked with people where we never made a formal agreement or a contract and then later on something came up where it seemed we weren’t clear on an issue, or another situation where perhaps one person didn’t feel that they were compensated enough.

    The people you work with want to be protected, but you also need to protect yourself. It goes both way and is mutually beneficial.

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    And read and consider everything before you sign an agreement too. I tend to be the type where I just want to trust everyone and I think “everything is going to be just fine!”.  Because ALL projects start out blissful. But I’ve done projects where I agreed to an amount, and then as it turned out it ended up taking 100 more hours to complete than I thought it would and I didn’t put anything into my contract about being compensated for extra hours or a bajillion extra editing sessions – so by the time I finished the project I felt like I actually went into debt for it instead of being paid – haha.

    And to be completely honest, I still reeeeeeally dread the “money conversation”. Part of me wishes that I could always just have that friendly nice working environment that I did like on my first album – where everything was bliss, no problems arose, and we were all friends. But even sometimes working with friends, misunderstandings happen and it can be so awkward. So having the “money conversation” needs to happen and so does a written agreement.  And trust me it’s so much better to have this all done upfront so you’re not left in the dark later on. I’m speaking from experience on this one – where I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been the person that someone was upset at, and I’ve also been the person who felt like I worked way more than what I was being paid for.

  9. Don’t vent on social media.

    In case you haven’t learned already, being present on social media is a must on every artist’s to-do list.  The better you can become at it, the better you will be able to be present out there to people who love your music and will prospectively come to love your music.

    So DO be present on social media.

    But for heaven’s sake do NOT vent, publicly bash, gossip, or belittle someone on social media. There will probably be times when you get frustrated with a project, or maybe someone you are working with – but tweeting about it only makes you look like a jerk, and it will also ruin relationships. Keep your head and your cool, and be professional.70b37bc4765f5a39e931c6b6c569984e
    I know an artist who had a bad experience filming a music video and while that person stayed 100% classy, the person they worked with went onto twitter and posted a tweet that was extremely derogatory towards this artist.  I’m not sure if this person didn’t think that the tweets would be seen or what, but the artist cancelled the video and it was never finished and obviously those two will never work together again. Not to mention the person who put out the tweets got a bad rep as being volatile and rude, which probably ruined some possible prospective projects for them as well.

    Unless you plan to vent about something that could have a positive outcome – i.e. a cause you believe in, or something silly that will make people laugh but is of little consequence – just. don’t. type. it. Period.  Put the phone down and walk away from the computer and vent to your best friend in person instead.

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  10. Thank your fans.

    Please do remember to let your fans and the people closest to you that support you know how much you are grateful for them.  A little “Thank you” goes a long ways.  Without them, you would probably be performing to an empty room so make sure you let them know that you value them and their presence.26382753-Thank-You-Word-Cloud-in-vector-format-Stock-Vector

    And besides, people who support the arts are just basically some of the coolest people I know. 😉

Being Happy for Your Friends’ Happiness

20150206_183709I just returned from Grammy weekend in Los Angeles!

Will (my husband), and I flew down with the purpose of supporting our dear friends, Ricky Kej, and Wouter Kellerman as they were nominated for a Grammy Award.

And guess what? THEY WON!

It was very exciting, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for them!  I have known Ricky for a couple of years, and Wouter for the past year.  Early last year, Ricky and his wife spent a few days in Seattle and I showed them around and we had so much fun.  And Wouter is so incredibly nice and has a 100 watt smile all of the time!  I can honestly say that these two gentlemen are a couple of the most genuine people I’ve met, and they do music for all the right reasons.

I am beyond happy for them!

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Aside from this amazing weekend, I wanted to talk about success and happiness.  It’s something that we all want.  We ALL desire happiness in various shapes or form.

But there is this thing, especially now days with social media, where if we see a friend have a little bit of success – whether they got a job raise, or lost 50 pounds, or sold a million copies of their new book – we sometimes feel bad about ourselves.

WHY?

This has been on my mind so much lately – so many instances recently where I’ve seen people hate on others for their good fortune.

I read this article last week that was featured on the Huffington Post entitled “When Her Good News Makes You Feel Bad“.

READ IT.

I think comparison and competition exist partly because we believe that there is a scarcity of good things in the universe. And that belief makes us kind of small and scared and unable to feel true joy for others or peace for ourselves.”
(Read more in the article).

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I will admit, that there have been times in my own music career, when I’ve seen other similar artists get millions of youtube views, or sell a lot more albums than me, or maybe they are just a heckuva lot more famous than myself…and there is a part of me that has momentarily felt bad for myself.

On the flipside, I have even had friends unfriend me before, or not talk to me – and at a later time I come to find out that it was because I was doing well in my music and they weren’t, or that my life was going so much better than their’s and they just couldn’t take seeing the positive status updates.  At one point, a friend sent me a personal message telling me that the reason she had backed away from our friendship was because I was always posting about things going well in my life, and it made her feel bad about her’s.

Everyone has their good days and their bad.  But we are all different, and we all certainly do not have the same talents.  While I might be good at music, I can tell you that I am not very good at crafty things.  But instead of dwelling on the fact that I will probably never sew my kids’ Halloween costumes or have a Pinterest home, I remind myself that I can appreciate others who are gifted at those things and concentrate on the things that I am good at.

And above all, HERE’S the thing, everyone:

When you finally understand that there is NOT some cosmic rule that the universe or God makes about how much good fortune there is to go around – and that just because someone else has something good happen to them does NOT mean there is now less of it available…you will find yourself in a place where you can truly and genuinely be happy.

You will be happy for yourself.

You will be happy for your friends (and I mean GENUINELY happy).

You will find hope for yourself.

And you will find a whole lot more love in your heart and see the world differently.

And if you see your friend talking about something wonderful that happened for them?  Be happy for them, and then you get out there and work hard for yourself too and just know that it IS possible for you as well.

– Jennifer

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The Art of Attaining Your Goals

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Last Sunday, I was asked by the teacher in the women’s organization at my church if I would take a few minutes during her lesson and share about a goal I had achieved, how I did it, what obstacles I faced along the way, how overcame, and felt, etc.  Her lesson was on bettering ourselves in the new year and setting goals.

Goal setting is something I am very passionate about.  I’ve set goals since I was a child, and have always set my sights high.  I have always had this natural faith that I could do whatever I set my mind to.

Mind you, I don’t always accomplish every single goal that I set, but I try very hard and my ambition is great.  And when I set out to do something, I am one the most determined persons you will ever meet.

I thought I would share some of my thoughts that I shared in church, in hopes that it might help any of you.

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Goals are NOT crap.

I recently read a blog post where the author talked about resolutions and “how they are crap”.  She believed that instead of setting goals, failing, and then feeling discouraged – that you should just leave your life up to God and allow him to decide what comes for you.  As I read the comments on the blog post, it seemed like everyone was praising the author and saying how much better this made them feel instead of setting goals.  And then there was one commenter who had the guts to say what I felt inside – that life was about bettering oneself, reaching for something higher and not allowing oneself to be complacent. Of course, the other people attacked him a bit for having a difference of opinion and having the audacity to say so.

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Some people will argue that resolutions and different than goals, but to me they are the same.  It’s saying that you want to accomplish something and are willing to work towards it.

Maybe resolutions/goals are overwhelming to some people because they really do feel like they fail, and fail often.  I personally don’t think it’s because their goal was unattainable, but it was probably because a) they weren’t ready to commit, and b) they didn’t set themselves up for success.

As I think back over my life and the various goals I’ve set/accomplished, there are a few that really stand out to me.

Goal #1 – Finishing ‘Illumination’

It took me 4 long years to complete my 3rd album “Illumination”.

I started writing the songs in between other projects until I had enough songs and the kind of songs I wanted for this album.  Some of the songs took me over a year to finish composing. My skills as a composer developed immensely during the process, and the diversity of the music on the album reflects that as well.

During those 4 years, I had a child, finished a film score, started and completed a 2nd album, got pregnant again, and gave birth to our 2nd child, worked and completed the 3rd album. So not only was I busy working on music, but I was busy growing our family and both took a lot of time and effort and energy.

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Many people asked me “How do you do it??”.

It did take a lot of time management and goal-setting to complete, and even got to a point where I made myself write out goals and deadlines, otherwise I feared I would never finish the album.

(Here is a blog post I wrote as a guest columnist for author Alex Bledsoe, on the act of balancing parenting and career).

Monthly Goals and Deadlines

One thing I did was I set monthly goals with specific dates of when I wanted to accomplish certain things by.

This is a screenshot from the ACTUAL goal sheet that I made and had pinned to the wall in my music studio.  As I was still trying to lose all my pregnancy weight, you will also see that I had some weightloss goals defined on there as well – as I was preparing for photo shoots and videos and wanted to look my best.  I was working hard on all levels, I tell ya!

You can click to enlarge if needed.

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Another thing that I did was create a spreadsheet for each process of the album creation so that I always knew where I was at with each song and what I had left to do.

On the left you will the name of each song (some names changed later on, btw).  And then a space to check off everything from recording, editing, orchestration, mixing, mastering, naming the song, and more.  (To clarify Glen co-orchestrated some of the music, and Rob was my sound engineer).

Click to enlarge

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That spreadsheet was so crucial to me. And I was VERY adamant about not checking anything off until it was absolutely 100% completed.  So it always felt great when I could put a check mark in any of the boxes.

Setting Myself Up for Success

One thing you need to keep in mind is in order to accomplish a goal, you need to arrange your everyday life so that you make it possible to attain. You need to set yourself up for success.

My husband works a busy day job for Microsoft, and since we have two kids (now as of Jan 2014, one more on the way – due in March), we had to figure out a system in our home where we could juggle parenting responsibilities, work, and more.

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Fortunately, I married a guy who has ALWAYS, always been my hugest fan and supporter.  He would move mountains to help me accomplish my dreams.

We created a weekly schedule where 3 days a week he came home early from work and took over everything. I mean EVERYTHING.  When he walked in the door, I was ready to hand the kids over to him and go into my music studio and shut the door.  And I was typically in my studio until the wee hours of the early morning trying to get things done.

There were days when I needed more time, and so I would hire a babysitter to watch my kids all day, or take them up to my parents’ house so that I could have a few solid days of uninterrupted work-time.

I Was Kind to Myself

My original goal was to finish my album by June 0f 2012, but I know that things usually always take longer than you think. So when little hiccups came up, I wasn’t hard on myself or disappointed, I just kept moving forward.

Many people tend to give up when they fail, or say “What’s the use?”.  Thing thing is, is that LIFE HAPPENS.  Illnesses happen.  People you depend on fail you.  Money can be tight.  Other responsibilities come up.  The key is to not give up and keep going. I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true!  Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to believe in yourself.

I completed the album only 6 weeks behind schedule and released it in the latter half of July 2012.

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So the biggest ways I was able to accomplish the goal of finishing that album was

1) Setting monthly detailed goals and deadlines
2) Setting myself up for success by arranging my life to make my goal possible
and 3) Being kind to myself in the process.

Goal #2 – Fitness and Weight loss

This isn’t a topic I usually talk about publicly because it has nothing to do with my music, but since you obviously now know it was part of my goals (from my goal sheet I attached above), I wanted to talk a little bit about this goal and how I worked EXTREMELY hard towards it and achieved it.

603315_10151233773213425_1842082860_nHaving kids does some crazy things to your body. I will say that.

Both of my pregnancies were really hard on my body and I gained more weight than I would have liked.  I seemed to have anything and everything go wrong with me – from several dislocated ribs, hip problems, pancreatitis, pre-eclampsia, and emergency C-sections both times.  Exercising during my pregnancies was hard.

After I had our 2nd son in Aug of 2010, I will tell you that I was very self-conscious of my body and how I looked.

I actually turned down performance opportunities because I was too embarrassed to go on stage and have people judge me for how I looked.  And granted, I have the best fans and supporters in the world and most of them are there for the music and not for what I look like, but still, in MY mind, I just didn’t have the self-esteem and courage to do it.

So for a good year or more, I really didn’t perform very much. I was still busy working on music in my studio, and commissioned projects, but just too self-conscious to get up on stage.

As I got closer to releasing “Illumination”, I knew I wanted to be in better shape so that I would look good in my photos and feel more confident.

At my “Illumination” Photo Shoot – Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA – May 2012

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Even at my photo shoot for my album (pictured above), I wasn’t at my goal weight but was still proud of where I was at that point.

It took me close to 3 and 1/2 years to lose all the weight I had gained from both pregnancies. From 2010 (after I had our 2nd baby) to summer of 2013, I lost a total of 70 pounds – which actually put me UNDER my pre-pregnancy weight.

The following photo is a progression of me in 2010 (after the birth of Taylor), and finally on the right in 2013 when I filmed the outdoor scenes for my Illumination music video.

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I will say that THIS goal was not as straight-forward as my goal for finishing my album.  I am very good at disciplining myself to work on music, but not always great at disciplining myself with my body (which is why it took me over 3 years to lose the weight).

But there came a point in Feb of 2013 when I was tired of losing a little, gaining a few back, losing a little, gaining a few back.

I wanted to reach my goal and I was finally in a motivated frame of mind where I wanted to kick some butt and just get it done!

A few things I did to accomplish my goals were:

1) I hired a personal trainer
2) I set myself up for success by re-arranging my daily schedule so I could go to the gym 6 days a week
3) I got my family’s support with my food goals

Each of those things were very involved with many variables.

1040700_10151565003563425_246904629_oFor example, I hired a trainer because I needed accountability and I was at a point where I felt like I had done everything I could myself and needed outside help.

The trainer (Monica Lynne) I hired was also a life coach and nutritional coach, and so we had many hours of wonderful talks that provided insight into my soul as to the reasons behind why I did certain things.  For the first time in a long time, I was overcoming issues I had and reaching goals that I really wasn’t sure I ever would.

It was the BEST feeling to know I was capable of achieving this goal and could overcome trials.

As for setting myself up for success, this involved making my gym time a priority – even over friendships sometimes and other things that were fun.  I had a rule that the mornings were “my time” at the gym, and I would say no to anything else that got in the way.

It wasn’t easy, at first when I would tell people “Sorry I can’t, I have to go to the gym.”, they didn’t really see that as a valid excuse to get out of something. So I stopped saying that I was going to gym, but just instead said I had a standing appointment every morning and that I was “unavailable”.

My gym has a daycare too that my boys absolutely LOVED to go to, and so I didn’t feel guilty for having the “me time”, because they were also having a lot of fun, meeting new friends, and being social.

1234964_10151680335663425_1868392960_nMy husband was also very supportive by making sure I had my gym time, sometimes re-arranging his schedule in case I needed to go to the gym in the evenings, and also Saturday mornings.

My husband is an ultra-marathon runner and his big training runs are usually on Saturday mornings.  As crazy as this sounds, he would usually get up around 4 a.m. and go on his 4 to 5 hour trail run, and when he got back we would switch and I would go to the gym.

I got my family’s support with food goals, and this was not easy.

With an ultra-marathoner who loves his carbs, and 2 little boys who are picky eaters (can we say chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese?), we often rarely all ate the same thing at dinner time.  And everyone was okay with this.  I would eat my lean protien and veggies, while they ate their carby stuff and proteins.

I also didn’t bake as much, or bring sweets into the house as often, and got very good at saying no to things.

I was very motivated by the success I was having, and how fit and wonderful I felt.  Some people who say getting in shape is a vain endeavor obviously don’t know how great it feels compared to having extra pounds on you.  I LOVED being able to hike up mountains and not be out of breathe, to fit into my dresses with ease, and to be on stage performing and feel confident.

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Shortly after that last photo was taken in July of 2013, I found out we were pregnant with baby #3!

So I am going to be starting the process ALL OVER AGAIN come March. 🙂  This time though, I have still been able to work out at the gym through this entire pregnancy. I am currently 30 weeks along and still doing cardio and weight training 3 to 4 days per week.

To Sum It Up…

My point to all of this is YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS.

It’s not always easy, it’s not always fast, but it IS POSSIBLE.

Goals are not crap!

If I can do this with 2.75 children, husband, busy music career, and everything else, YOU can definitely accomplish your dreams too.

I want to leave you with a neat story about world renowned concert violinist Isaac Stern.   A real hero of mine…

(Story retold by Rex D. Pinegar)

stern1“Isaac Stern, the world-famous musician-violinist, was asked by a television talk show host at what point in his life he determined to devote his energies toward a career as a concert violinist. Mr. Stern told of having given his first concert in San Francisco at a young age. Music critics were extremely impressed and predicted a fine future for the promising young talent. With this encouragement, Isaac Stern began preparations for another concert a year later in New York City. The critics were not so kind to him there. It would require a tremendous amount of work, they judged, if Isaac Stern were to achieve success as a soloist.
Dejected and discouraged, the young Mr. Stern boarded one of New York City’s double-decker buses and rode it up and down Manhattan a number of times. He was, in his words, “crying inside” as he tried to decide where he was going from there. Were his critics correct? Had he gone as far as he was capable of going? Should he now seek a profession as just another member of an orchestra?
After his fourth bus ride through the city, he returned to his apartment where his mother was waiting. He had made his decision. “I am going to work, mother—work at my music until it works for me. Today Isaac Stern is acclaimed as one of the finest violinists in the world. Work is a principle with a blessing. Work builds us physically and spiritually. It increases both our strength of body and our strength of character.” (Isaac sterned passed away in 2001).

Restrospective

You may have noticed that my Facebook and Twitter feeds lately have been less about music, and more about the fact that I am currently consumed with the thing called “life”. A.k.a. having kids, making food, spending time with family, and whatnot.

I see my piano every day sitting in my living room. It says “Pssst, hey you, wanna come play me?”.

I entertain the thought, but then reality hits.

Playing with a big hard unrelenting 7 month-along baby-belly in the way makes playing the piano incredibly, utterly UN-enjoyable right now. So I pass on my 6 foot grand piano’s offer, while it sits collecting dust and probably going out of tune.

I can feel it’s sad lonely eyes staring at me as I ignore it with immense guilt.

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Not only do I NOT have the desire to play right now out of physical discomfort, but it’s like I can’t get my brain to even think about music either. The desire is not there.  At ALL.

When I think about my 2014 goals, the idea of NEW music, or NEW album, or NEW music video just makes my head hurt.

Is it burn-out?

Maybe.

Is it the over-whelmed factor?

Oh for sure.

I remember my mom telling me that she once didn’t touch the piano for 6 years. “Impossible”, I thought. “It’s part of who she is.” I also for years judged her for giving up her music dreams during the prime of her life in order to be a stay-at-home-mom. “She gave up years of pursuing music professionally and then regretted it later in life.” I often thought to myself. “I will NEVER do that.”

Out of the 30+ years I’ve done music, about 20 of those years were strictly Classical music training, and the other 10 have been composing and producing my own music.  

The last 2 years of my life in particular have been the MOST involved.  

It has included balancing a life of 2 young children, husband, releasing a 3rd album in Q3 of 2012 (which took me 4 years to write/produce) and then spending the following year and a half promoting it with trips to Los Angeles, New Orleans and more, receiving nominations, winning awards, walking red carpets, filming music videos, performing, meeting and working with renowned musicians and producers, and being on the receiving end of many more project requests.  

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I have worked very hard.  When I put my mind to something, I go for it.

I have always been my own producer too. I have invested years into my home studio – where I work when the inspiration hits (convenient to me as a mom with kids at home, where I can control my workload).

I have been choosy with the people I work with, how I present myself and my image, and I’ve also been very careful to TRY to maintain a sense of balance when it comes to my personal life.

I’ve somehow miraculously been able to pull off motherhood/wife during the day, and musician by night for several years.  I’ve never had a manager, or an agent, or outside funding, or a wealthy investor.  But what I HAVE had is fans and supporters of my music throughout the years to keep me going. I’m married to a super smart guy who advises me very well with how to spend the money I earn from my music and make it go further.  I’ve never gone into debt to produce an album or a project, and I have been very careful on what I spend money on – always with the intent that it is an investment towards my music and career and my family. I do a lot of things myself, and then hire out for the things that I truly do not have the talent to pull off.

It is a lot of work and things do take longer with DIY, and also balancing life.  I have thought “Wow, I am actually pulling this mommy-wife-career thing off.”

But…

Lately as I’ve been enduring the last trimester of my 3rd pregnancy (due in 11 weeks from now), I admit, I’m FREAKING OUT just a tiny little bit.

I have found myself wondering “How in the world, do I continue to do this with a 3rd kid?? How does ANY woman in the music industry keep doing this with kids? Am I crazy??”

And then the fear of becoming my mother goes through my head quite often.  “I can’t give this up just to be a stay-at-home-mom. I’ve worked too hard.”

And yet, while I do love babies, I feel this way about pregnancy…

And yet during my 2nd pregnancy, I somehow managed to teach 30 piano students up until I was 7 months along, complete an award-winning film score and finish it 2 weeks before I delivered, as well as another commissioned project. Music just seemed to flow from me.

But this time?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I can’t seem to get myself motivated physically, emotionally or otherwise to work on music during this 3rd pregnancy. I should say to work on my OWN music, that is. And it has sort of left me feeling…well, quite guilty and like I’m not doing enough.

I did finish some commissioned recording/composing projects and also perform a little bit up until my 5th month…

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(After performing at Benaroya Hall with Grammy nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker)

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And while I said “no” to many requests to perform this Christmas, I did agree do two concerts in December at 6.5 months pregnant…

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But my inbox continues to fill up with messages from people almost on a daily basis asking when am I am going to come perform in their town, when am I going to hurry up and finish my songbooks of sheet music that I’ve been promising for the last year, can I collaborate with them, would I produce an album, when am I going to release a new album, when will I do a Christmas album, am I submitting to next year’s Grammys, and more.

…And while I am so incredibly flattered, I have to message them back and explain, essentially, that in all reality – I’m just a normal person with a family to look after and I have no “team” to do any of this for me and any project I do is time-consuming and they would probably have to wait.  And then wait some more. I wish I could do more, but I start to get that “I’m so overwhelmed” feeling again.

And then…

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A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I actually UNDERSTOOD my mother and why she gave up what she did. And why.

And I have realized I may have completely, utterly, misjudged her for YEARS and years.

She wasn’t “giving up”. She was sacrificing.

She decided to forgo the craziness of a music career so she could enjoy the years of being a mother to my three brothers and I.  She did it because it was important to her.  And instead of me feeling sorry for her giving up her dreams, it’s taken me 36 years to realize I should be thanking her for the sacrifice she performed so that we could have a healthy full childhood.

Because you see, there is really no such thing as being “JUST a stay at home mom”, in case you didn’t know. It’s important stuff. And most of what our moms do for us we don’t even truly understand until we become parents ourselves.

So even though in this moment of time, during this “season” of my life when I am feeling overwhelmed with the idea of how to keep doing it all and doing it successfully, and often feel guilty for not living up to expectations or putting out enough new content, material, and more — I see moments like these…

Where my boys try to copy me on the piano by flipping through my book of Beethoven Sonatas and perform “duets” together….

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…the time when I hired a fun babysitter (with pizza and movies!) for my two boys so I could perform at my CD release concert and have my husband there as well – but my older son cried because he wanted to come sit in my concert so badly.

I relented and let him come, and my favorite moment of the evening, hands-down, was when he came running up on stage to give me a bouquet of flowers that he and my husband got for me.  He was so bashful he was on and off before I could even give him a hug to say thank you.

It meant more to me than anything else that happened that night.

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…and then afterwards he was so tired and all he wanted to do was snuggle up next to me. Not next to Dad, or Grandma, or Grandpa, but ME.

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When my younger son was so excited to come see me play the violin, that he just HAD to bring his miniature violin and stand on his seat during the concert pretending to play it along with me…

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And the time when he was at my parents house – and my mom heard “Help! Help me!” from the other room, only to come in and see that he had been trying to play the bass fiddle and it tipped over on him.

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Preston’s very first piano lesson with me and how eager he was….

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And then there are all of the moments when my mom has supported me in my music career and performed with me as well. Sometimes even though she didn’t always gush over me, I could see in her eyes that she was proud of me. And I have to say, I wouldn’t be what I am today without the years of music lessons she gave me, and again…for supporting me in my career while she gave up many years of her own.

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I think of all of these things and realize, you know what, it is OKAY. For one, all those moments actually meant 100 times more to me than walking any red carpet or receiving an award.

It is okay to take a break and not meet the world’s expectations for how they define success.

It is OKAY to be enjoying my down-time.

It is okay to not be putting out a new album any time soon.

It’s okay that right now I am 90% mom/wife, and 10% musician.  Because frankly it’s extremely hard to be 100% at either all of the time.

And it’s even okay that I haven’t really practiced more than a few hours in the past couple of months on my piano.  I won’t forget how to play. The piano will be there WHEN I AM READY AGAIN. 🙂 And yes, that day will come and I will be come back strong.

But for now…being a parent is important.  And “No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home” – David O. McKay

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No more apologies for “not being enough”.

No more feeling bad because I’m not busy in my music career right now.

God has a way of molding us into what we are supposed to become, even if it is not always in our own timeline or exactly how we want it.

In retrospect, it all works out perfectly how it should.

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P.S.  I almost forgot, you can check out my mom’s beautiful music at http://www.carolynsouthworth.com

Beauty and Photography Tips

This is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, but knew it would be time consuming and so I kept putting it off.  But no more.

I’ve received quite a lot of questions from my fellow female friends who have asked “Where did you find that dress?”, “What type of foundation do you use?”, “How did you get your hair to do that?”, Etc.

Here it is – a whole lot of beauty/fashion tips and secrets that I’ve learned through having to do many photo shoots, stage performances, and red carpets. I am NO EXPERT, but here is what I know

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Before I start, I just want to say that I used to be of the train of thought that “You are what you are and there’s not much you can do about it.”  But then usually someone else has come along (a beauty professional) and shown me that I don’t have to just “deal” with what I have, but there are tricks to improve oneself, or hide things, or what have you.  And since I am far from perfect, here are some of the things I’ve learned.

MAKE-UP TIPS

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#1 – Properly prep your skin beforehand.  The best way to get awesome looking skin is to have your “canvas” all prepped.  The biggest thing is exfoliating all the dead skin off and moisturizing afterwards.

My make-up artist usually has me apply a vitamin serum, moisturizer, and under-eye cream.  The under-eye cream helps the makeup to not settle into those fine lines. It also works great to pat on even after you’ve put your makeup on for touch-ups.  I had to do this when I was filming in the desert for my “Requiem” video shoot.  After 3 days of shooting and not getting enough sleep and having the dusty desert sand get all over my face, my eyes were looking really “tired”.  Noelle (my makeup artist) dabbed some under-eye cream and it fixed the problem right up.

#2 – Use a good HD Foundation for a flawless natural look.  I was only introduced to “High Definition Foundation” last year when I was in Los Angeles.  And now I’m hooked.

Because most cameras all film in HD now, the clarity of the way peoples skin shows up on camera is super enhanced.  You don’t want to look like you are wearing cakey foundation.  But you also want to still get coverage for little flaws.

These are a couple of my favorite foundations and I’ve used them for the last year, so I know they work really well:

Givenchy Photo Perfexion

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Smashbox HD Healthy FX Foundation

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I also use this foundation “prep” formula underneath, which helps prevent the makeup from settling into fine lines as well. A “BB cream” is actually something you can wear alone without foundation – it is a combo of serum, moisturizer, SPF and it’s tinted so you can wear it as a sheer-type foundation. OR you can wear it underneath a foundation for more coverage, as a base.  It has been used in the Asian market for years, and a lot of women actually use it as their cream and it has improved wrinkles and dark spots.

Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream

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#3 – False Eyelashes.  Use them.  They make a huge difference in your look.  Being a fair-haired person myself, my eyelashes are very blonde and short.  I have to wear a whole lot of mascara to get them to stand out, and even still they are not very impressive.  So if I’m doing a photo shoot or an event, I will use false lashes.

Katy Perry has a great line of false lashes that I’ve used many times before, and they are definitely some of my favorite.

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Here is a great shot where you can see my eyelashes (and Viktoria’s too). We are both wearing Katy Perry false lashes in this photo shoot.

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#4 – Don’t be afraid of the “Wet Line”.  I admit I feel really dumb saying this, but I only just learned how to do this a few months ago when I did my photo shoot for “Illumination”.  The eyeliner “Wet Line” look.

Typically I’ve always applied my eyeliner underneath my eyes close to my under eyelashes and above the top eyelashes.  But there is a certain dramatic look you can acheive by applying the eyeliner to the wetline of your eye – especially if you’re going for a smokey eye look.  The key is to using a quality eye liner, preferably with beeswax.

This is the type of look I’m referring to:

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Here is a fantastic eye liner that works great for this and actually stays on the wetline for a long time before wearing off (as you usually have to touch it up quite often, especially if you have watery eyes like me).

Loreal Extra Intense Liquid Pencil Eye Liner

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#5 – Applying shadow in the right places.  You can add years to your face by applying eye shadow incorrectly. But you can also reverse your age by applying it correctly.

You open your eyes up more and look younger if you put a lighter shadow in the upper outer corners under your brows, like this:

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It depends on your eye shape, but sometimes when you put a lighter shade above your eye with a dramatic color in the crease of your lid, you can sometimes look older than your years.  This is a beautiful model, but I just wanted to demonstrate the look I’m talking about (see below). I think the reason is it creates a sort of heaviness to the lid.

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I actually had to look extremely long and hard to find an actress in today’s Hollywood with the above makeup look on the red carpet (lighter shade on eyelid, with dramatic shadow above it), and after looking at Google images forever, I did find Ashley Greene:

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Here is Ashley Greene again but with a darker shadow on the eyelid. I think she looks much more youthful in the 2nd look:

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#6 – Rule of Thumb:  If you have dramatic eyes, less color on the lips and vice versa.  If you want to have a dramatic smokey eye look (like Ashley above), then you need to do a pink or nude lipstick.  You never want your eyes and lips to compete with each other, or else you will look like you should be working the street corner 😉

The same goes for if you want to sport some really red lips, you should do a simple eye look.  Here are some great examples:

Big dramatic Eyes, Nude lips:

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Luscious red lips, minimal clean eyes:

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#7 – Best way to Conceal...I have always had stuff to “conceal” on my face.  For example, I was born with a birthmark on my chin.  Even though I had it “removed” via laser surgery when I was 14 yrs old, some of it has come back.  And so I’m always having to conceal it on my chin (or later Photoshop it out).

Here is me before a video shoot (for Requiem) with absolutely NO MAKEUP on, and you can see the two little red spots on my chin from my birthmark:

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Here I am (with Noelle – my makeup artist) after getting my hair halfway done, and my foundation/eyes done. Notice birthmark is no longer there:

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The only way I’ve found to cover up stuff like birthmarks (or zits, or whatever) is to put a little more concealer on than you THINK you need (because it comes off), and make sure to powder it afterwards. The powder will set the concealer and hold it on longer. I like to use a colorless powder (usually “white”).  And then my biggest advice after that is just DON’T TOUCH THE AREA. 🙂

HAIR TIPS

734329_10151183712396689_1706873005_nMy hair is the thing that I get the most comments on.  I have a TON of it.  Not only is it long, but it’s thick and I just have an ample amount of it.

My hair is naturally curly and so I have the option of wearing it curly or straight.  It takes a LOT of effort to straighten my hair though, and so I don’t usually wear it straight very often.

Some of my favorite hairstyles have to do with curls, and so I will share some of my tips and tricks to get great looking hair.

#1 – Curling Iron + Pinning = Awesome curls.  Over the years I’ve curled my hairs all sorts of different ways from using a curling iron to hot rollers.  But probably for the past year or so I’ve been just using my curling iron because I discovered a new way of using it that creates really great shaped curls.

I used to roll my curling iron from the ends of my hair up. This way of curling is okay for the underneath layers of hair that people aren’t going to notice. But for the top layers and the front of my hair, I use a technique that is shown here in this awesome Target hair ad:

Basically, you take strands of hair and about halfway down start rolling the curling iron and slowly turning as you go, then pulling the ends up and around.  What you achieve is a very rounded out spring curl. AND as you will notice in the video, the stylist pins some of the curls to her head. This is my best secret for getting great hair!  After each strand I curl, after taking it out of the curling iron I roll it back up and then use a bobby pin and pin it to my head.  I do this will all the outside curls and leave them pinned up until I’m ready to get dressed and go.

#2 – Herbal Essence Spray Gel to Hold Curls.  I spray my dry hair with this stuff before I curl it, and it is my best secret for getting curls to last all night long.  I’ve used this product for like 10 years and I swear by it.

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#3 – Teasing – To get some volume to my hair, I usually take a comb and tease it underneath.  For ponytails, I will tease the hair before I put it into the pony, and then afterwards I will also tease just the top layer of hair in the pony (next to the rubberband). You always want to be sure to sort of comb down the tease afterwards so your hair doesn’t look too messy.

CLOTHING STYLE TIPS

I admit I am a total bargain shopper.  There are SOME things that I am willing to fork out a little more cash for (like dresses), but for the most part I like to find deals. And even still, my definition of “paying more for a dress” is still pretty inexpensive compared to some women out there.

And because I am a mom of two little energetic boys (who do NOT do well inside department stores), I do most of my shopping online.

Here are a few of my favorite places that I usually find really cute clothes from:

DRESSES

ideeli.com – This is a sample sale site.  They only have whatever clothes are available for about 24 hours and then they move onto the next designer.

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The white silk Nicole Miller dress that I wore for my Illumination CD Release concert last Fall was a dress that I bought off of ideeli. It regularly sold $1100, and I got it for $250.

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I also bought the red dress from my Illumination photo shoot off of ideeli.com. It’s a wrap dress that you can wear like 20 different ways.  I bought a red one, and a turquoise one (that I wore at last year’s Indie Music Channel Awards).

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promdressesol.com – This is a site where I’ve gotten MANY dresses from.  I try to stay modest in my dresses – which means I need them to have sleeves, backs and fronts 🙂  This website has THE most variety of “modest” dresses that I’ve ever found, and they are not the cheesy bridesmaid kind either (you know what I’m talking about, right?)

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Here are a few of the dresses that I have gotten from promdressesol.com:

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Both Viktoria’s and my dresses are from this website in this photo:

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I also just bought one more from them for the ZMR Awards show that is happening on May 11th. I won’t show you which one though – just to keep it a surprise 🙂

Casual Clothes

Alloyapparel.com – This website has some pretty cute stuff on it, and usually for good prices.  I LOVE long maxi dresses, and they always have a lot of those. And I love that they are super long – because sometimes they just don’t always make them full length for us tall people (I’m 5’7″).  I recently bought this red maxi dress from Alloy…

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Express.com – LOVE Express. Probably one of my favorite stores in the world.

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DorothyPerkins.com – This is a new site for me that I just discovered not too long ago, but they’ve got some really cute stylish pieces on there for low prices.

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TIPS FOR THE RED CARPET

Again, some of these things I feel dumb for not knowing before, but all I can say is there are always solutions to “problems”! You just have to be “in the know” 😉

#1 – Spanx.  Wear them.  Even skinny girls sometimes need them. Katy Perry even wears them!  I own like 3 different kinds of Spanx. One with shoulder straps, ones without, and ones that are like a tank top that you just wear underneath a shirt.   Spanx totally hold you in, and get rid of any wierd curviture that just should not be there….like the following model who was brave enough to show us all the difference:

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I will also say that I have tried many different kinds of brands of these types of “things”, and Spanx is the only one that really works.  A lot of other roll down, stretch out, rip, or don’t cover all the right places.  Just trust me and go with Spanx.

 #2 – Sally Hanson Airbrushed Legs. ‘Nuff said.  I have used this on my arms to get rid of freckles or “red dots”.

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

All right. This is the last thing I will talk about.

My friends are always telling me “Jen, you are so photogenic.”  I am actually NOT, but I just have learned the best way to pose for pictures and some great tips on how to look better in photos.

#1 – Stand up straight.  It makes a huge difference in how you look in a photo, and will also make you look thinner if you aren’t hunching over.

#2 – Create some space in between your arms and your waist.  In other words, if you want to LOOK like you have a waist, then don’t let it disappear into your clothing or arms.

A great example of both #1 and #2 is this photo that fitness model Amanda Adams posted on Facebook a while back.  These two photos were only taken a few moments apart, but look how different she looks based on two different poses. She is totally slouching on the left and holding her arms close to her.  In the 2nd photo, she is standing up straight, hip out, and created some space between her arms and waist.

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#3 – Take photos where the camera angle is HIGHER than you.  A big mistake a lot of people make is having their photo taken from an angle where the camera is below them.  This is not the most flattering angle for anyone! It only accentuates anyone’s double chin.  Here are two examples from a photo shoot I had for my first album:

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#4 – Pose Correctly. When standing, I’ve found the two poses that make me look the slimmest (because let’s admit, I’m a curvy girl!) are the following:

Hand on Hip – great way to make waist look smaller

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One Foot in Front – Great way to narrow hip and leg area

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#5 – Know what you want, and don’t be afraid to say so.  I think a lot of people get photos back and are unhappy because they didn’t express their ideas or concerns to the photographer.  If there are certain angles you don’t like, be sure to bring those up.  If you favor one side of your face over the other, then if you do profile shots make sure you tell your photographer that.

#6 – It’s also a great idea to do a run-through of your hair, makeup and your outfit BEFORE you do an event.  For example, the dress that I wore in my Illumination Paramount Theater photo shoot – while it was a GORGEOUS dress, I didn’t take into account that it didn’t work well when I sat down at the piano.  It completely POOFED out and made my stomach look pregnant or something.  So you will see that there ended up being no official “sitting down at the piano” shots from that photo shoot because the dress just didn’t function well sitting down.  This was something I didn’t exactly practice doing with the dress before the photo shoot.

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Anyway, I’m going to stop here.  This is a lot to take in.  The most important thing to remember is that YOU are beautiful without all the makeup, hair, and fancy clothes. 🙂 Truly you are.  But if you must get all dolled up one day for anything special in particular, I hope that these tips help you out. These are all things I wish someone had told me a LONG time ago. 🙂

P.S. If you have any more questions about anything I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below!

What I’ve Been Up To.

The past 6 weeks have been super busy for me.

I had a photo shoot, a music video shoot, a cd release concert, a house concert, finished a new song, and hosted company for 10 days during most of that.  That doesn’t even include the errands, the meetings, the babysitters (for my kiddos), the late nights, the lack of sleep, the stressing over whether I look good factor, and more.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the house concert was 3 states away, which was a long roadtrip – but very fun.

I’m back in Seattle now.  I do have lots coming up still, but I feel like the super busy part is overwith.

Before I share pictures and details about the lat 6 weeks, I thought I would share some good news first.

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GOOD NEWS

My new album, “Illumination”, has been receiving some pretty cool reviews.  Haven’t heard one negative thing yet *wipes sweat off of forehead*.

Piano Heaven in the UK selected my album as an “award winner” for their site.  Stephen Cairns wrote a really lovely review of my album – which you can read here.  “Every so often, a CD comes along that blows the listener away with its creativity and quality of music.  This is one such CD…The CD is brimming with quality from the very first track to the very last – all seventy-three minutes worth.  An outstanding album, and one which I have no hesitation giving my highest recommendation.” 

Pandora finally accepted my newest album. In case you missed that whole drama, even though my first two albums have been rotation on Pandora for several years, my newest album was rejected.  Pandora was flooded with hundreds of emails from my fans requesting that they add Illumination to their collection, but it was still refused.  However, thanks to more fan efforts and the persistence of my promotion company, Evolution, Pandora changed their minds.  As an independent artist who appreciates stations like Pandora who support my art and actually pay me for it – this was the best news all year!

This December I’ll be performing with the Evergreen Youth Philharmonic – one of the top youth orchestras on Seattle’s eastside.  We will be performing some of the work from Illumination.  I’m very excited about this opportunity!  I’ve performed with symphonies before but only in the genre of Classical music. Never before have I performed my own original work with a live orchestra.  Pinch me please.

I’ve also received some fantastic reviews from Kathy Parsons of MailyPiano.com, Michael Debbage of MainlyPiano.com,  David B Davis of Music Notes, RJ Lannan of the Zone Reporter 9who gave me 5 stars, and he rarely gives 5 stars!), and also many local Seattle newspapers.

I was also nominated (2nd year in a row) for the 2012 Hollywood Music in Media Awards for “Best Contemporary Orchestral/Instrumental”, and “Best Film Score for Short/Documentary”. The awards will be November 15th in downtown Hollywood. I’m looking forward to walking the red carpet again and seeing many of my fellow composers/performers.

Illumination also debuted #19 on the top 100 albums on The Zone (New Age Music Reporter) for July. I’m curiously waiting to see how it did for August.

And last but not least, Illumination has been receiving airplay on radio stations across the world.  My biggest radio achievements thus far is Music Choice/Soundscapes, and Hearts of Space.  I’m currently still waiting to hear about XM/Sirius Satellite.  Evolution is also trying to get some of my classical pieces on Classical FM San Francisco and Classical FM Seattle.  If you happen to live in either of these cities, it would be great if you would contact these stations and request me.

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All right! Now onto the re-cap portion of this blog post…

Moonlight Video Shoot

For the past several months, Swedish singer Viktoria Tocca and I have been working together on a collaboration.  For those who don’t know who Viktoria Tocca is, she is a very talented songstress who won my category in the HMMA’s last year for her rendition of “Dark Waltz“. She also has a heavy background in musical theater, where she played the part of Christine in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera for 2 years straight in Denmark.  Viktoria and I met after the HMMA’s and became very good friends, and decided to collaborate together on a few projects.

As we are both classical crossover artists, we knew we wanted to do something of that nature.  One night while practicing the piano, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in particular, I realized how great this piece would be.  I talked to Viktoria about it and she was on board.

So I wrote an arrangement based on themes from the Sonata (though the piano part is quite different).  Viktoria’s vocal part actually follows the original melody of the piece.  We are both so excited about this piece since this really hadn’t ever been done before (adding vocals to Moonlight Sonata). At least no version we had ever heard.  Viktoria wrote the lyrics and recorded her parts in Stockhohm, while I recorded the piano part and some of the violin parts here in Seattle.

While I normally orchestrate most all of my own music, I asked Glen Gabriel (also from Sweden) to orchestrate Moonlight.  For those of you who have heard my new album, you’ll recognize Glen from there – as he did a lot of the beats/effects and some of the additional orchestration on the album.

While we have not yet released the song, you can hear it here if you like.

We obviously also decided to film a music video for this while Viktoria would be in the US this summer…

While it is only expected of two blonde female classical crossover musicians to do some sort of flowy-dress fairy-in-the-woods type of video, we decided to do something very juxtaposed to all of that.  Director Moses Olson and cinematographer Ali Mohsenian came up with a concept that matched the dark feel of the music.  The thing that we both liked about the idea was a) It’s unexpected, and b) while you hear this classical oriented music with Viktoria’s smooth soaring voice – it just glides over the top of the action oriented video.

I have to give them props for coming up with something that would equally feature us both.  Being that Viktoria is a singer and I’m a pianist, it is difficult to show the audience that this is not just a “Viktoria Tocca” video, or a “Jennifer Thomas” video – especially with both of us being female leads and having it be an equal collaboration between both of us as artists.

I won’t give the full details of the plot, but it involves a bank heist (Viktoria is the robber), a hideout in a fancy mansion, a good looking man (who played the part of Viktoria’s boyfriend in the video), and me as a cop who ends up on the trail of her.  There is also a part of the storyline where you will see that Viktoria and I knew each other before the heist, and that comes into play as well.

We are finishing up the performance shots of me on the piano this Saturday (the 15th), and then we are hoping to have the video edited and ready for release either late October or early November.

The talented Demone Gore and Gretchen Black (seasoned actors) so kind to give me pointers on acting for the city rooftop scene.  Gretchen and I were supposed to look like we were discussing the crime, but we were actually discussing what food we were going to eat after the video shoot, and what groceries we needed. 🙂

The talented Rick Walters (actor/filmmaker), as our getaway driver….

Demone and I in the bank’s parking garage as we find clues.  This was actually a parking garage of an apartment building in downtown Seattle.

One of the getaway scenes with Viktoria and her actor-boyfriend, Chris Hynes – in the boiler room with a bag of $500,000 worth of fake money.

Those shots above are actually stills from the video, but here are some more behind the scenes pics…

Chris Hynes – the actor who played Viktoria’s boyfriend in the video.

Me wearing a faux bullet-proof jacket and trying to figure out how in the world do I wear this thigh holster-thingie??

Our beautiful hair/makeup artist, Noelle Jensen, doing Viktoria’s hair for one of her performance scenes.

Both Viktoria and I in makeup for our first scenes.  The other fabulous makeup artist is Jonelle Cornwell.

I also have some behind-the-scenes video footage, but after spending over an hour editing it into a video, my program crashed and sorry, but not starting over now. Maybe later after we film my piano performance shots for the video, I’ll finally put something together.

Photo Shoot with Viktoria Tocca & Jennifer Thomas

Viktoria thought since we were doing some collaborations together, it would be a good idea to get some photographs taken together for promotional purposes.  And, well, because let’s face it- it’s just FUN to do photo shoots and why not?

Viktoria is actually working on a new album (to be released 2013), and some of the themes/concepts for the music have to do with water (earth, water, fire, etc I guess? I don’t want to say too much).  We thought it would be really cool to do some photos actually IN the water.  Also because, originally, our concept for “Moonlight” was going to involve beach scenes (our original music video idea was that we would be sirens and would lure a poor sailor to his death in the video).

So water has always been something fun we wanted to work with. We searched a lot of google images and Pinterest boards looking for inspiration.  We eventually came across these photos that were taken from the show America’s Next Top Model…

We actually found the episode where they shot these photo shoots and watched how they did it.  It looked very cold, and very complicated to be honest! Ha!  And neither Viktoria or I wanted to destroy any of our beautiful dresses by wearing them in the water.

So we came up with an idea to wear white swim suits in the water and then drape flowy material around us to make it appear as though it were dresses flowing out.  I’m not sure they ended up looking as flowy as we had originally wanted, but nevertheless, the photos turned out beautiful.

Here is a preview of one of the photos from that shoot…

I won’t say it was easy getting into a bathing suit to be photographed, and given my usual modest attire, it took an act of bravery to do the pool shots.  However, I’m just grateful that we had classy bathing suits with material to cover us!  I’m not going to share any more of the proofs – as we’ll keep them pretty under-wraps until we need them for promo purposes.

Oh, and our fabulous photographer was Ross James – a fashion photographer from Seattle.  He did a fabulous job!

Along with the brave pool shots that we did, we also did some photographs of us in similar black dresses next to some very cool rock structures.  Here is a preview of one of those photos…

I personally think the ones of us in our black dresses will be great promo shots for our “Moonlight” song.

Illumination CD Release Concert

As well as the video and photo shoot, I also was busy preparing for my big CD release concert during all of this.

This was no small task.

It took me roughly four years to complete Illumination, and I really felt like celebrating.  While my husband would have been more content with me just doing a small piano-store sized concert, I wanted to hold it somewhere where I could use my full orchestral backup tracks and have it sound amazing.

So I ended up having the concert at the Kirkland Performance Center in Kirkland, WA.

The venue had fabulous acoustics, as well as the ability for surround sound.

Prior to the concert, as if I wasn’t already busy enough working with my projects with Viktoria, I also ended up in the ER a few times for stomach pains and eventually having surgery to have my gallbladder taken out.

It was rough after the surgery – and I was feeling very anxious about not being prepared for my big concert.  I was THIS close to cancelling the concert. I lost 2 weeks of preparation time due to having to stay in bed and recover. Practicing my piano was hard to do because I just felt weak, and my mind was very fuzzy due to just being tired and also the painkillers.

Eventually though, I started feeling better and was back to practicing. Thankfully as the next couple of weeks went by I felt like I could do the concert – with the help of some sheet music.  There was no way I had enough time to memorize all 13 of the songs for my concert. I would say I was close to having them all memorized, but not completely.

Here is me the night of my release concert on the red carpet…(photos by Kathy Boll)

My soloists with me on the red carpet – Kristen Yose, Kelley Marie Johnson, me, Viktoria Tocca, and Stephanie Yose

With my handsome husband, Will.

This is my cute (and shy) 4 year old, Preston, coming up on stage to surprise me with flowers after the concert.

And here is a little video snippet of him with the flowers. SO stinkin’ cute!!

You can also catch some of the footage from my concert on my YouTube Channel here.

Here is “Requiem For a Dream”…

I am still editing video footage from the concert, so I will continue to post more on YouTube in the coming weeks.

I have to say though, that my concert was so much fun!  I had some nervousness beforehand like I always do, but everyone there was so incredibly supportive and enthusiastic and it made it a lot easier on me as a performer.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for certain.

Here are a few more behind the scenes photos from the concert…

Preston in the dressing room with me – he was so excited to come to my concert 🙂

My hairdo that I paid to have done – that only lasted a whole 2 hours. I ended up taking it down right before the concert and just throwing it into a side pony.

Why yes that is my name on the marquee! 🙂

My hubby and I at the Cheesecake Factory after my concert – with Viktoria, my brother, and a few other friends as well.

  The day after my concert, Viktoria left to head back to LA for another few days, while I recovered! ha!

The following weekend, my little family and I headed down to Utah for my house concert at Michele McLaughlin’s Cozy Corner House Concert Series.  I was really excited because the show had completely sold out, and she even overbooked it. I was wondering how we were possibly going to fit all those people in her living room!

I apologize – these aren’t the best photos because they were taken from mobile phones, but here you are…

With my dear friend Dixie and her husband – after the concert. Dixie is the one whom I dedicated “After the Storm” to on my album.

With Jared and Tamara…

With Dwight Tanner, my cellist for the concert…

With singer and friend Lori Cunningham

With pianist and friend Michele McLaughlin…

Performing “Secrets” with Dwight…

And now for some goofies…

Out to eat after the concert…

You can watch the concert on YouTube here:

Along with my concert in UT, my husband also ran the Wasatch 100 mile Endurance Race. Yes 100 miles.  Here we are at the mile 53 aid station…

So anyway, now I’m back in Seattle and enjoying a nice little break from things.  That is, I do have to film my piano performance scenes for the Moonlight video this weekend, and also prepare transcriptions for an entire orchestra for the December symphony concert, and also film a music video for “Illumination”, oh and head to LA in November for the HMMA’s….but other than that….I’m just playing with my kiddos 🙂