Amanda Carr sits down with singer, songwriter, guitarist Agona Hardison
Agona, we met as co-guests on a popular late night radio show. You came with your guitar and, on cue, performed a couple of your original songs, live on-air. Do you find that being able to perform solo and live is crucial to self-promotion.
I think that being able to perform “live” with just my guitar is a step towards independence as an artist. I much prefer playing with a band, and not having to carry the whole show musically, but if you are able to support yourself on stage, your confidence and the listeners confidence in you grows. There is definitely a raised level of respect when you are able to present yourself and your music all by yourself. I like to sing holding the microphone. It gives the freedom to move with the music and that’s how I think I sing best. But my band members like me playing the guitar, so I do a combination of both. But I only play the easy songs!
You can’t go to any artist’s main website and not come away with a sense of the depth of their career. It’s evident that you’ve been ‘at it” for a long time. With the understanding that we always want more, are you satisfied with where your journey has brought you, or do you feel “I’m just not there yet”?
Artists always strive for more, it seems, and that does not exclude me. I think that any true artist feels there is room for growth both artistically and professionally I always feel like my best work is ahead of me. My newest song is my favorite. The ebb and flow of success is tricky. I’ve had projects that looked like they were breaking into the top, and albums that have been received quietly. I have been recording and performing my original music for about 2 decades and I still would love and need to be able to expand my listeners and be better known…because the years keep marching on and “I’m just not there yet”…
Can you tell us where your music career began and who has influenced you?
I grew up in an art-saturated household. My mother, LEONDA, was a Folk/Blues recording artist with Epic Records and my Dad is a lifelong fine artist. My parents toured the country until I was about 4 and they say I was running up on stage to join my mom as a toddler. Their passion for artistry influenced me and my four sisters and brothers tremendously. All four of them are also involved with artistic work. My parents support and belief in my talents and gave me the hope and desire to follow this career path. The first band I fronted was a Christian band when I was 12. I sang in programs all throughout school and college, and still can’t give it a rest! I guess I’m a “lifer”, I hope!
You began your career decades ago as a young kid with the world-at-her-feet and have emerged as a road-savvy, seasoned performer who now embodies the roles of wife and mother. Can you speak to how these additional roles have altered the trajectory of your career goals? What are some of the ways you balance career and family.
I had so much freedom and open roads to explore as far as traveling for my music for a long time before starting my family. The ability to follow through with intensive projects for long periods of time and having a family sure does change things. My husband, Daniel Seminatore and I have two sons, aged 7 & 10. During these last 10 years I have written, recorded and released three albums. I don’t know how I did it. With pure drive and the mindset that I won’t stop just because I’m a mom I suppose. People had said it would get easier as the boys got older, but I find that now I am more pressed for creative time. It’s only gotten busier and I now am a car-pooling, mini-van Mom. I am not able to just pick up and tour. I am still able to work in Los Angeles for periods of time because my husband is very supportive of what I do. I have to choose and plan my shows carefully around my family’s schedule and while I don’t perform as frequently as I did, I am still able to get out and do my thing and sing. I appreciate these musical moments more now, because I have to really work to keep everything balanced.
Surviving a long career these days often requires a bit of re-inventing and re-branding in terms of image and marketing; has this been something you’ve had to do? If so, what are some of the things you’ve changed?
It’s true no one is 21 forever. Through the years I have had my own bands, fronted other bands, including “Antigone Rising- an all-woman band in NYC, sang back-up vocals for “The Commitments” on tour and have played solo-acoustic “live”. I’ve had short hair, long hair, short skirts and grunge wear. I like to change up my look…because I am a girl. But I have tried to develop and maintain my own sound and style throughout, which is a blend of folk, rock and soul with an overall pop sound. That’s a mouthful, but essentially, it means that I can draw on many of my influences to create a larger scope to then hone it down to what makes my own sound. That anchors me through working with different producers, co-writers and musicians and to keep a thread of consistency between my albums. I want to be authentic and true to myself and not mold myself to the music trends that tend to come and go. My stage shows are more expressive and bold than when I was starting out. I’m more comfortable in my own skin and at this point in my life I realize right or wrong, good or bad, famous or not, this is me! And that’s what I have to share.
Since the music business, is a business, have you been able to capitalize on some of the new avenues to sell your original songs and promote yourself as an independent artist? If so, what are some of the tools you use?
When I released my 1st Album “Going Home”, it was a big deal to actually have your own CD, let alone a laptop. Now, things are so much more designed for artists to easily promote themselves. I have a website, www.agonahardison.com and I sell my cd’s on Amazon, CDBaby and ITunes,. I also have a separate website for my 6th CD, www.agonathedrive.com Another music hosting site called “Reverb Nation” also helps to expose your music to new fans. I can record many of my vocals at home now that technology has brought so many tools for artists to work and record at home instead of having to pay studio fees. I can record and trade files with my workmates in other cities With that, for the past 15 years, I have worked with my music publisher in Los Angeles, co-writing with Emmy winning songwriters, to market my original songs to network TV. My songs have been heard on ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO and more, with shows including, “True Blood”, “All My Children”, “One Life to Live” and “The Young and the Restless”. Now, many of the Soaps are going off the air, and I will need to find new avenues in All of these new ways to promote my music does not mean it’s easier, as much of the work has to be done by me so I juggle and I do what I can! I remember my earlier days of having a big time manager (whom I shared with “Aerosmith”), a booking agent and publicist all at once. Those opportunities have become less available and I now have to wear many hats to be heard. Don’t get me wrong, I do have many great musical friends around me who help and support me. I am not totally alone.
Do you feel an artist still has to be able to go out and perform for live audiences, or do you think being a completely on-line artist,( i.e. selling music online and creating You Tube videos), is a viable path?
These days there are less agents and venues for the independent artist to work with and you have to present yourself via the web to reach new ears and fans. It you can find that flow and ride the tide just at the right time on the net, who knows, maybe you could go viral. I have lots of performance videos on You Tube and that hasn’t happened for me yet, but if you have any pointers please let me know, Amanda! I personally love performing and that’s where I feel that instant connection with listeners and it feeds me, creatively and personally. The combination of both performing “live” and utilizing your web presence seems to be the most complete way to move forward. I believe that one thing leads to another, but you have to put it out there first before it comes back.
It’s always interesting to get an opinion from someone who has been an active participant in the music business for a long time. What are some of the things that you feel have changed for the better and for the worse in terms of how its affected musicians.
Having the chance to market yourself on the online is great. There are so many more wonderful artists who emerge out of the woodwork. But with that, I find more and more of the responsibility is on me to do the promotion. That has never been my strength. I have always been a bit shy with talking myself up. The more independence you have, the more there is to manage! This is an area that I still need to work on. It’s one of the things I admire in you, Amanda. You are able to get right out there and know how to navigate and create an online presence for yourself.
What are some of the tried-and-truisms in the business that you’ve identified? For example, some might say that “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get” or “The same toes you step on on the way up are the same ones you’ll be kissing on the way back down”. Can you shed some light of the ‘constants’ you have identified in the music business; things that are always important or true and probably always will be?
People who invest time, energy and finances in you want results. If you don’t meet their expectations, they will move on. I have worked with Grammy Award winning producers, musicians and songwriters in Boston, NYC, Los Angeles and Nashville and everyone wants to be heard. I have been able to navigate by being honest, kind and easy to be around. Here in Boston, I have worked with some of the same musicians since I first began to venture out on the scene. For example, David Porter produced my first album and is playing a show with me on June 15th. I love working with new people, but I equally love to work with people who know me and get what I’m striving to do. I believe in karma. The energy we put out comes back to you. There will always be people in it for the fame and glory and there will always be those who truly want to make good music and good friends. Those are the ones I surround myself with.
What projects have you been working on and what lies ahead for you?
I have been singing lead vocals with “The Maverick Street Band” for the past year. They are a country-rock band and we have played some amazing shows, filling 1,200 seats. I sing some of my songs and other artists songs. Dennis Chaisson, the male lead vocalist is truly a country star waiting to break out, and I just love singing harmonies with other voices. This has been fun and low pressure for me. I am currently writing new songs for my publisher, working with John Hartmann, who produced and co-wrote on my 2012 CD, “The Drive”. I also am writing songs on the ukulele and playing instruments with my kids! The boys have been taking music lessons and it’s been fun to hear what they come up with lyrics and melodies. That’s a new part of life right there! I am sure a collection of songs will emerge for another CD before too long. A Christian Album, or an acoustic one or one featuring my kids!
Can you dispel some of the misconceptions you feel American Idolism has bestowed upon young people wanting to enter the world of music?
The music business has changed. Record labels don’t invest the time and resources to develop new artists like they used to. At first, I couldn’t handle the concept of these singing competition shows. It seemed like a shortcut. But some the artists who have emerged from them are outstanding. Many of the contestants have not been through the struggle it takes to develop maturity and experience out in the big world, on their own, but many of the contestants have been singers their whole lives too! It’s a very exciting and infectious concept and I am sure younger kids are influenced to think that pop-stardom can be quick and easy. That would be nice, but the reality for most musicians is very different. I guess we all have our personal “reality show” to live. Thank you for listening, Amanda!