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!

College Music 101 Class Paper on Composer Jennifer Thomas

So there’s always a first for everything.  A friend of mine emailed me last week to tell me that in his college music 101 class, he was assigned to write an essay on a composer – and he picked me. Yes, ME. Not Beethoven, but moi.

Okay, on second thought, this is not the first time this has happened.  My niece wrote a paper on me for her 4th grade class one time.

Anyway, my friend sent me a copy of his paper that he turned into his music professor and thought it would be entertaining for anyone who wanted to burn 10 minutes learning more about me from a mere “historical” stance.  I don’t even have a Wikopedia page but gosh darnitt I’ve got college papers written on me.  I’m impressed that he even did a break down of my songs and explained the theory behind them. (I don’t even think I could explain the theory behind them).

Enjoy.

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Steven Casper

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Stephen Voorhees

February 24, 2013

Semester Project – Jennifer Thomas, Composer

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            My favorite instrument has always been the piano. Not because I have any skill with it, but simply because the music of this particular instrument has always fascinated me. It is such a versatile beast, able to provide a powerful beat and rhythm, while simultaneously drawing me, heart and soul, through complex melodies.  And it can do it all at the same time. While most instruments are tied down to just one line of music at a time, the piano can play them all, giving it a range and majesty that is rare amongst its peers. With that, let me introduce my chosen composer: Jennifer Thomas, classically trained pianist and violinist, accomplished competitive musician and composer, and a good friend of mine.

Jennifer Thomas was born and raised in the Seattle area to Ron and Carolyn Southworth. The second of three natural children and a fourth adopted son, Jennifer was raised around music. Her mother, an accomplished musician herself, introduced all of the children to music, and encouraged them to practice daily. Jenni and her older brother, Michael, had a morning routine of taking turns on the piano and their preferred string instrument: Jennifer played the violin, Mike played the cello.

Jennifer started playing the violin when she was five years old; her mother started her on Suzuki violin lessons (Suzuki being a play-by-ear method of learning the instrument). When she was seven, her mother was a volunteer in the music department at the elementary school, so Jennifer would go along and join in the before-school orchestra practice. She later learned that she had been the only second-grade student in the sixth-grade orchestra, though she had no sense of being younger than the other students.

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Despite dividing her time between piano and violin, Jennifer came to a time in her youth when the piano stopped being the instrument she had to practice, and became the instrument she wanted to practice. She was no longer playing scales or simple songs from primers and learner books that she was playing from, but actual pieces composed by classical greats. Specifically, when she was twelve years old, she asked her mother to purchase the sheet music to Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2. Carolyn mother warned her that it was not an easy piece to learn and play, but Jennifer’s insistence won out in the end.  Jennifer did learn it, however, despite the challenge it presented with its E# Major mode. And with this, as well as other piano-centered experiences, Jenni’s love of the piano really began to blossom, overshadowing her love of the violin.

When she started high school, the small school did not have an orchestra, which meant she found even less reason to pick up her violin, and so for four years, she played only the piano. Jennifer had an otherwise robust musical “career” in high school as the choir accompanist and the accompanist for school plays and talent shows, as well as being a blue-ribbon winner in Solo and Ensemble festivals.  At home, during this time, she did not just play piano, she played hard piano. Some of her favorite composers for piano include Rachmaninoff and Beethoven – anybody who wrote music that allowed her to play loud and fast… and drive her parents crazy.

Eventually, Jennifer graduated high school and took a stab at college. She went to what was then Rick’s College, now BYU Idaho, in eastern Idaho.  She joined school symphony-orchestra and put herself to work trying to catch up to her violinist peers who had not let their hard-earned skill rust. It was while she was at college that she first understood that she had been, to use her own words, “a sloppy player.” While at school she learned much about precision, and playing in an ensemble gave her a great respect for how difficult and rewarding precision playing can be.  She studied with Dr. Stephen Allen, dean of piano studies and learned much from him about how to connect with the piano and really make it sing.

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After graduating, Jennifer pursued music through various avenues, from teaching students, to joining various community symphony-orchestras, and volunteer performances. She joined the Salt Lake City Temple Square Concert Series, where she performed regularly in the Conference Center at Temple Square in Salt Lake City as well as at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for three years, before moving back to Washington.

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There is so much and more to share in this paper, but two pages in I realize I have not even gotten to Jennifer’s compositions.  She had never thought of herself as a composer. People asked her regularly, after hearing her perform, if she had ever written anything of her own. She usually just laughed and said “no.”  On a whim, she had attempted to compose something once, but it was not impressive, little more than a “sad version of chopsticks.”

One Christmas season, however, in 2003, she felt inspired to give it another go. And that night she composed her first-ever piece of music: “Old Movie Romance,” and two days later she composed “Prelude in F.” Both of these songs are featured on her debut album, Key of Sea, released in 2007.

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Jennifer gave birth to her first child in 2008, and after dealing with a baby who wouldn’t sleep for months on end, she began making up little lullabies to help him relax and sleep. It dawned on her one night that she could do more than just make the little, spur-of-the-moment lullabies, and that is how she came up with the idea for this Album. The Lullaby Album, was a collaborative work with her mother.

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Now, with two children, she has recently released her third album, Illumination, which is, in my opinion, sounds exactly like her.

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She and I became friends over a decade ago, and I could always tell when she was playing something she had to play versus when she was playing something she wanted to play. Illumination is like a page out of the book of things Jennifer loves to play. Though her music is almost always composed for a broad range of instruments, rarely solo piano, piano always plays a strong role in her music, which keeps me listening, sometimes for hours on end.  Her skill as a composer has been reflected, not only in her successful releases of three different albums over the past several years, but in that she has been nominated for countless awards, winning or placing highly among many of them.  Just last year she was a strong contender for the Grammy Awards, though ultimately she was passed by… this time.

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History of Selected Work

I have selected works from the album Illumination, by Jennifer Thomas. Specifically, I have selected the songs Etude for the Dreamer, Illumination (the title track from the album), and Across the Starlit Sky.  These songs I’ve specifically chosen because I think they represent not only some of Jennifer’s finest work, but because they (with the exception of Starlit Sky) are characteristic of the kind of fast-paced music that she loves to play, though to be more representative of her skill, I have included Starlit Sky which is much slower-paced and illustrative of her more serious side.  I had a hard time selecting music for this paper, as I thought I wanted to present a variety of her works for the greatest introduction to her, and making such selective choices was, I felt, beyond my expertise.

I asked Jennifer directly what she thought I should select for this paper, what would be representative of her. That put her on the spot, I think, because obviously she loves all of her music. She did finally encourage me to go with the Illumination album, mentioning that the entire album was more of a suite than a collection of individual songs. The whole thing goes together as a single work. This made it that much harder to finally land on the songs I eventually did.  Being forced to narrow my choices down to 10-12 minutes, I found myself cutting one piece after another until I was left with my three favorites from the album.

Etude for the Dreamer – Released on Illumination, July 2012; Tickled Ivory Music.

Jennifer knew from the outset that this would be the opening track on her new album, she specifically opened it in minor mode, with the expectation of giving listeners a sense of anxiousness or excitement for what was to come.

The inspiration for the song came from her looking out over an evergreen forest and the idea of it being covered, saturated with fog, this thought had a definite dream-like quality that she wanted to harness and convey through music. She drew on her training, specifically taking inspiration from Frederic Chopin, as she describes him as the king of creative, skill-strengthening pieces, and this piece is very technically difficult. She confesses it is possibly the most difficult-to-play composition she’s ever written, and said that she has yet to perform it live without making errors, while at the same time, it’s also a very satisfying piece for her to play or even just to listen to, as so much work went into composing it.

Illumination – Released on Illumination, July 2012; Tickled Ivory Music.

The title track of the album – one of my favorite songs of all time, in fact – has the unlikely distinction of having been created initially as a one-minute “audition” submission for a car-commercial. Because the car manufacturer’s advertisement agency did not select it for their commercial, she was able to retain her ownership of the piece and has expanded it, building it into a living, lively piece of art.

Originally written for violins, French Horns, Percussion, and celli, she later met with the conductor of the Evergreen Philharmonic Orchestra and with the help of couple of transcriptionists, was able to score Illumination for a full symphony. The end result is a fast-paced thrill-ride around twists and bends of a road designed with luxury in mind.

Across the Starlit Sky – Released on Illumination, July 2012; Tickled Ivory Music.

This is the only solo-piano piece released on the Illumination album. It’s mellower, much more toned down from Jennifer’s usual fiery piano music, but it’s so full of introspection and peace, that I thought it would fit very well as part of this paper. The piece gets its name from the deep night sky that she could view out the large window as she sat at the piano.

Listening Guide

Etude for the Dreamer

0:00 – The music starts with the piano setting a pace that grabs attention. The music cycles through several notes, then ascends briefly, making an arch as it comes back down.

0:07 – As the arch descends below where it started, we get the first beat of percussion which is a queue for the strings to start. The violins maintain a distant humming accompaniment, while the celli make occasional statements.

0:21 – Percussion becomes more involved, over the next 10-15 seconds what sounds like cymbals, or perhaps maracas, begin a slow crescendo reaching their loudest by about 0:35.

0:49 – The percussion cuts out altogether, as do the string, leaving the piano alone for about 7 seconds when the celli return.

0:57 – the celli return along with the rest of the string and percussion instruments.

1:02 – the music returns in earnest at this point, drawing the listener forward.

1:36 – there is a diminuendo, which feels like the piece is drawing to a close, but it’s a mislead.

2:03 – the mode changes from minor to major and the almost ominous feel of the piece becomes brighter, giving a sense of a new day dawning.

2:50 – a drum-roll signals a return to minor mode and the piece darkens for a while.

3:20 – the pace picks up again and we’re brought back into major mode as the piece approaches its ending.

3:50 – All the other instruments disappear one last time; allowing the piano to close the piece with two final, but strong notes.

Illumination

0:00  – Much like Etude, Illumination starts with a few very quick notes on the piano.

0:02-0:10 – The violin(s) enter, almost teasingly, hinting at their presence, but then they’re gone briefly, to return again, fully joining in with the piano by 0:10

0:16 – Here, a low chord is struck and allowed to fade before the melody comes back with a vengeance.

0:37 – The strong piano melody takes a break, and the violins take over, imitating the melody introduced at the beginning of the song by the piano.

0:47 – A crescendoing slide of the string instruments brings the strength of the melody back again, part of a pattern throughout the first half of the piece. The beat is now set by the piano, firmly.

1:05 – 1:07 – A pause in the music followed by the drums taking a turn, rumbling in the introduction to a new movement.

1:07 – The piano takes over the melody while maintaining the beat for about 10 seconds, without other instrument accompaniment.

1:18 – The violins return, mimicking the initial melody.

1:34-2:17 – The piano introduces a new melody, rich and full, in perfect harmony with the original melody still playing in the background by the strings.

2:17 – The piano and violins return to the original melody/accompaniment.

2:52 – At this point, there is a major key change, and the strings come in with a strong support to the piano’s melody. There is also a hint of brass in this movement.

3:13 – Again the arrangement returns to the original melody.

3:21 – The piano introduces a change back to minor, and it carries us through towards the end.

3:39 – The tempo slows considerably, letting us know we’re near the end.

3:50 – The piano brings us to a conclusion with a quick descent into the final closing statement.

Across the Starlit Sky

0:00 – This song opens with a  lento ascending form and a gentle progression.

0:16 – The melody changes very slightly for a moment, becoming more involved, before returning to the basic original melody.

0:36 – The evolution of the melody continues here, introducing a lovely upper-register melody that drives the movement.

1:15-1:24 – the upper-register piano takes a momentary break

1:41 – a more mature lower register tone joins the upper pitches bringing a soulfulness to the piece.

2:30 – the high notes begin telling the story again, drawing the listener along.

3:12 – We’re approaching the end, and the higher notes slow their pace, introducing us to the end.

3:28 – The notes start a progressive descent towards the end.

3:50 – The entire piece is wrapped up with the final few notes and a closing chord.

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 🙂

The Significance of Music in My Life.

I hope it’s okay if I write a little something more personal here on my blog this evening.  I have had some thoughts on my mind that are burning within me, and I feel I must write them out.

This morning I got up and saw my husband off on another ultra-marathon race, and then took my boys to a funeral of a little girl that passed away (we know the family). And then this evening, I played in a flute recital as an accompanist.

To say the least my emotions today have gone from excitement, to sadness and grief, to happiness. As I sat there and listened to these talented high-schoolers performing this evening, it really hit me how much music had effected me this week, today in particular.  I was in awe, as if it were the first time, at realizing how much music impacts each and every one of us; How absolutely significant it is in our lives.

You would think as a musician, I would know this.  I dare say, I don’t know the extent my own music has on other people.  I do receive lovely comments from many of you and I cherish them.  But I DO know the impact that music has on me…

At the funeral earlier today, we sang the hymn “How Great Thou Art”, and I watched many people in the congregation unable to sing because they were so affected by the song and its meaning and words (me included). The tragic passing of one so sweet and young – the music not only touched our hearts but healed us as well. So many beautiful and meaningful words were offered, and the words did help…but not in the same way that the music did. At least for me. During the service, the family’s children, nieces and nephews all got up and sang a song, “I Am a Child of God”, and it was so emotional. There is something about hearing little children sing that is so touching.

This evening, trying to pull my emotions together as I had just come home from the funeral and then had to prepare for the recital, I mentally had to flip a switch and get into a different mode (not to mention turn into full mom-mode as well, as my hubby was still running his race and not home to help out). I turned on Seattle’s classical radio station, as I was performing on a Bach piece this evening, I needed to have “Classical brain” tonight.  And of course my favorite radio program was on, “From The Top”  with Christopher O’Reilly.  If you’re not familiar, it is a nationally broadcast radio show on Saturday nights where the host (Christopher) has a young person (usually between the ages of 8 and 18) perform Classical music.  The children are usually prodigies, but the great part is afterwards he interviews them and it’s always funny and insightful – and they of course always say funny kid stuff and seem very non-classical-musician-ish.

Tonight there was a 10 year old pianist, and she talked about some hard events that had happened in her life – living in a domestic violence shelter with her mom, having all of their personal belongings stolen by an abusive father. Through it all, music was her solace – and you could see the impact it’s had on her life and how it’s been her rock (as well as her mom).  Through all she’d been through, she still managed to play and perfect her musical ability. Her story touched me.

At the recital this evening, as I listened to these young flutists perform, I recognized the Bruch Violin Concerto (arranged for flute) that was performed, and it took me back 10 or so years ago to when I was in college as a member of my university’s symphony orchestra when we performed that same piece of music. I was filled with nostalgia with each note I heard this evening – as if I was sitting there in the concert hall of my college watching my conductor wave his baton.  I remembered all of a sudden, the practice rooms and what my life was like then.  The hours and hours of practicing…

Every time I have attended a live performance lately, I have been so affected. So inspired.

And then I realized, today, what music does is that it takes each of us back somewhere.  Music creates a memory within us from the time we hear it – and we make an association. Whenever I hear the Bruch Violin Concerto, I will think about college.  Whenever I hear “How Great Thou Art”, I will remember the sweet little girl that passed away.  “Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” – Aaron Copeland.

This evening, after my husband returned home from his 50K ultra-marathon – I was asking him how he did.  Usually I’m able to attend his races and be there from start to finish, and I was a little sad today that the kids and I weren’t able to be there for him.  You know what he told me?  He told me that as he was coming into the finish of the race, he had my song “Illumination” playing on his MP3 player and it lifted him up, even to the point of having tears in his eyes, as he felt me there with him through my music.

And all this time I really haven’t gotten it.  But today I did.  Today I got it.

What is the significance of music in MY life? It’s everything.  It speaks my emotions for me.  It is my solace.  It is part of my spirituality.  It is an expression of my love. And if my gift in music can do for someone else what other wonderful musicians out there do for me through their talent and hard work –  then I would feel like I had succeeded.

I received this comment on my Guestbook this past week, and it touched me:

“I bought this album as I happen to go on music buying sprees… Some I keep and share, others tend to get lost in the caverns of my hard drives. Queued it up on the way in to work on a gorgeous, cloudy day. I had to pull over…and just listen on the side of the interstate with my eyes turned upward and inward. Absolutely stunning…” – Jamie C from Atlanta.

THAT is what I got today.  A lesson about the true significance of music in our lives. It is powerful.  Simply put.

Thank you for allowing me to share my music with you.

What I’ve Learned.

Well here we are – the beginning of a brand new year.

I know many of you are working on new years resolutions, goals, and trying to find ways to make 2012 an awesome year for you.  I can surely lump myself in with the rest of you as I’m personally working on many goals this year as well.  On the music front – I have a new album coming out this year, I’ll be shooting my first music video, and I’ll also be working on several collaborations with a few other incredibly talented artists.

But I’ve also been looking back too.  Mostly, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I am now compared to 2006 when I was recording my first album, “Key of Sea” (which was released at the beginning of 2007).  What have I learned?  What am I still learning, and what do I want to learn?

While I realize that compared to many other seasoned veterans in the music industry, I am still just an infant.  Okay, maybe not an infant. How about a toddler. I can say that, right? — That I’ve graduated from infancy and am now into the toddler stage of my career.  Anyway, my POINT is that while I may not have experienced all that I am to experience, or learned all that I am to learn – I do feel that I have learned a great deal coming from where I was to begin with.  And if I had known an artist in 2006 who could have shed this insight with me then, I know I would have really appreciated it.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my gems of information – things I’ve learned from being in the music business these past 6 years.  If you are an artist just starting out, maybe you should read this.

What I’ve Learned.  And I’ll be blunt…

1.  Patience.  This encompasses so much that I’m not sure I can fit it all into once paragraph.  I’ll try.  First off, you need to have patience with the amount of time it takes for your music to get “out there”.  They say that you can’t judge how well an album has done until it’s been on the market for 2 years.  If after 2 years, you still haven’t sold more than 10 CDs…well…then there you go. Maybe it wasn’t your best work.  But if you just released it 2 months ago, don’t give up.  You have a lot of marketing still to do.

2.  You might be good, but let’s just settle down for a second. You might think that your first album is going change the world, sell millions, and win a Grammy award, but chances are, it probably won’t.  It doesn’t mean that you aren’t talented.  It just means you need to build your fan base and keep working harder.   And those Grammy awards are not always about how talented you are, but about who you know.  I know you didn’t want to hear that, but it’s true.

3.  Don’t hit that Upload button just yet.  You just wrote a new song, and you’re so excited about it and you want to share it with everyone on Facebook!!!  Don’t.  Trust me.  Don’t do it.  Reason #1 – if you give all the milk away, nobody is going to buy the cow.  Reason #2 – It has taken me a lot of mistakes and time and experience to learn that my work gets so, so, so much better with age.  A little percolating.  Let your songs sit for a bit and then come back and listen to them.  I guarantee you will either find mistakes, or ways to make it ten times better.  And this doesn’t just go for Facebook or youtube, or what have you.  Don’t share your work unless it’s something you can absolutely feel 100% proud of, because once it’s out there – it’s no longer your own.  Now the world owns it.  And you’d better make darn sure that it’s the final version you want the world to know.  When I am working on my own songs, it takes me an average of 6 months per song to be finalized – and that is on the speedy end.  I will compose it, let it sit, then come back to it, make changes (while recording it in the process so I can play it back and listen to it).  Once I have a final composition I’m happy with, then I’ll record the piano part.  Then I’ll start adding orchestration to it, let it sit for a while, come back to it, change it up, edit, add/change parts, let it sit some more, etc.  Perfection is a process of refinement.  Don’t rush it.

4.  Do It YOUR Way.  A lot of the recording process is accomplished quite often by the means of networking, who you know, who you are referred to because you know someone else who used that person and yadda yadda yadda.  Listen, just because your friend used so-and-so to record his album, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to as well.  This isn’t about them, it’s about you and your music and what your vision is for it.  I spent the last YEAR (or more) looking for an audio engineer that could achieve a certain sound I was looking for.  I received plenty of referrals from musician friends of engineers they had used and raved about.  It took a lot of interviewing, testing, emailing and more to finally find someone who was just what I was looking for.  And I had to go outside my normal realm of networking to find him.

5.  Be Choosy.  If you really care about your music, your career, and the quality of what you put out, then you need to be choosy with every decision you make.  I’m not saying this to sound like I’m stuffy.  All I’m saying is, say, if your friend offers to build you a website as a trade for free CDs – that’s awesome.  But if it doesn’t turn out how you want it to and reflects badly on you and your professionalism, then get it done right.  Build your professional relationships with people you can trust and depend on, and if you have to change something up, hopefully it’s with someone whom you won’t lose a friendship over for doing so.

6.  More patience.  I’ve mentioned patience right?  Well I’ll say it again.  It is far better to put out the best quality you can, over the most quantity.  It is better to look forward in hope rather than behind you with regret.  You can’t force creativity or it’s going to actually sound like it’s fake and forced.  Dig deep.  Don’t sell yourself short.  And work hard.  Work hard some more, and then some more.

7.  You are capable of much more than you think you are.  Just like how the human body is capable of achieving way more when under pressure (or under a physical trainer), your mind is capable of much more than you think.  You have not hit your creative cap, and I don’t think you ever will. You will always be learning and growing and evolving in your art.

So there you have it. My words of wisdom.  Take what you will from it.

Playing with my Munchkins

Where’s my private studio with a lock on the door? Just teasing. This is what it’s like for me to compose and practice most of the time. Half of the time my 2 year old is hogging the keys and so I can’t even play the notes that I need to. But I encourage it because I’m teaching him to love music and I hope I never have to tell him to “stop practicing”. But I know what you’re thinking – no wonder it takes her forever to put new albums out, right? lol Thanks for still loving me 🙂

P.S. Yessss my piano needs to be tuned desperately!