Amanda Carr sits down with singer and songwriter, Lydia Harrell.
What I love about my job is discovering great musicians in my own town; especially musicians that already have a notable career in their craft and yet I am just finding out about them. Through social media I found you, and was so delighted to learn more about your voice, your approach to songwriting and your style and presentation. But you aren’t originally from Boston, you’re from Battle Creek, Michigan. Can you talk about your early beginning in music and how you came to Boston?
From as far as I can remember, I was into music. I used to sing along with the soundtracks to movies at the age of 4. My favorite was Superman! You have to love John Williams. Right? At the age of 7, my mother decided to start me on piano lessons and bought a piano for the house. Around 8 years old is when I started to really enjoy singing. I sang in church, school and well, anywhere I could. I was in musicals, concerts and competitions all through high school and college in Michigan. I was ready to move on to something bigger when I was 21 years old. So, I decided to move to Boston. I had only one friend and NO family here. But, I made it work! It still has been one of the best choices I have made in my life.
Being here for over 15 years, and not having gone to a music school here, do you feel it was more difficult to integrate yourself in the music scene?
It was only difficult at first. I had no idea how I would meet people. Berklee accepted me and I really wanted to go, but, we were not able to afford it. So, I put up flyers around the area and I got a job directly across the street from the college and met people that way. I gave out CDs, cards and just spoke to everyone. The network started from me just getting out there and meeting people. I didn’t let not attending the school put me in a position to not be seen and heard.
You took a different look at going to school as a music major. With the cost of college educations soaring, you were able to weigh out the advantages vs. the investment and make your decision accordingly. What advice would you give young potential music students today looking at a formal education in music?
Fortunately, I learned a lot in the music program at the community college in Battle Creek that I attended. I did not graduate but, I took a lot with me when I left. I would tell young students to do their best to get themselves in the right school that can give them what they need for this business. Again, I do not regret my decision but, I know that school is a great thing and can create many opportunities. Stay in school and keep going for your dreams! If for some reason you decide to do what I did, get ready to put in hard work. School is work and so is no school. In some ways you have to work harder to open people’s eyes and give you a chance.
Whatever choice you make, be ready to work!
As a teacher of voice, you have carved out a student base on the internet. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits and the challenges of teaching voice over Skype?
Skype is a great way to expand your student base. There are many that want to take lessons with a specific instructor and can’t because they are not in the area. Skype (and others like FaceTime) have changed that. The clarity is amazing and it is fun!
A challenge that I have run into is time zones. That can be tough when scheduling lessons. You have to be aware of what time it is and will be for overseas students and even just out-of-state students.
As a songwriter, it’s beneficial to play an instrument. Do you play an instrument? If not, who do you collaborate with?
I actually started my musical journey on piano (I also played clarinet and some percussion through high school). I am not the best piano player because I stopped taking lessons and focused more on singing at age 14. I get a lot of my ideas on piano and then share them with many of the musicians I work with. Presently, I work with Steven Higgs on piano. In the past I was in a great band called Hyptonic and wrote songs with Scott Vercoe on piano. I have also worked with guitarists (Tak Tanaka) and many others. I am always open to new collaborations.
A little over a year ago, I started playing ukulele and I am now writing songs with that too! I am finding the ukulele to be a lot of fun and a beautiful sounding instrument!
With musicians having to be self-driven with promotion, what combination has worked for you best? Do you feel that Social Media is absolutely necessary for musicians?
I started when pay phones and pagers were the big technology. So, when social media came along, I jumped right on it! First, Myspace and mp3.com (remember that site?). Now, I have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, ReverbNation, Soundcloud and YouTube going. I think that all of them have helped my career in many ways. One benefit is being able to reach those that are not in the local area. I do believe that by now, if you are not using some sort of social media to help promote yourself, you are missing out on reaching so many potential fans. Everyone has a smartphone and has the apps. Use them to your advantage!
I have to say, on the other hand, that there is nothing wrong with the old fashioned flyer, email and phone call. Using all of these avenues will get musicians further in their career.
Among other recent accolades, you were a finalist in the “2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition” and chosen by Sony Records to be on the Bob Marley Tribute Album now globally distributed. Did this recent exposure open up new opportunities for you and how have you capitalized on them?
I was so honored to be a part of the Sarah Vaughan competition. I met some great musicians and vocalists. I do believe being a part of that gave me a bit more exposure. I know I gained some new fans during it. Especially after some of the radio interviews. I got to sing in an amazing performing arts center (NJPAC) and met Larry Rosen, Al Jarreau, Janis Siegal and Gretchen Parlato. They were the judges.
The Sony Music Latin/Bob Marley project, is still in progress, believe it or not. I do believe it may open up some great things. Right now, I know that many people in different countries are enjoying the recording and that is a pretty amazing feeling. Just knowing that.
This column being dedicated to women, I often ask a question pertaining to motherhood. How did your role change as a musician when you became a mother. Can you elaborate on your experience?
Being a musician was always the top of my priorities. However, I was a bit lazy. I just kept thinking that if I could sing and be heard, that would get me where I wanted to be. When my beautiful son was born, all of that changed. It motivated me more. Being a musician is truly all I know how to be. My son makes me want to be the best mother, musician… the best PERSON I can be. Being the best example for him, is what matters to me the most! I believe that showing him that I follow my dreams and still took care of him is a great example. Some say that being a mother makes you less of a musician. For me, being a mother has made me more of one!
I find reputation is an important aspect of having an extended career in music and keeping new opportunities in the mix. Can you offer the types of attributes you have strived to maintain and develop regarding having a good reputation? What are some of the ‘stigmas’ that follow ‘chick singers’ and how do you avoid them?
The first thing that came to mind with this question was, “DIVA”! I have worked very hard to be easy to work with. Most every musician I have ever worked with will tell you that I was very easy to work with. I was not rude, I did not expect the world. I just wanted great music and fun to happen on stage with me. Don’t get me wrong. Professionalism is very important to me. I just want to keep my musicians happy. I want them to feel good about working with me. I want them to be able to tell others how great it was/is to work with me.
Being a female in a male dominated business can be tough. I do my best to not let those things bother me. If someone ‘looks down’ on me as a female musician, I just show them what I can do. Usually, after they see that I am serious and work just as hard as they do, I have their respect. It’s not fair to have to work that way but, who says life is fair? I want success and if that is what I have to do (prove myself), so be it.
We all have dreams, although they may change as we get older. What are some of your dreams yet to be fulfilled?
I have so many. The few that come to mind immediately are:
- Perform with a Big Band
- Perform in Europe, Japan and other areas
- Sing with some of my greatest musical influences (Stevie Wonder, Kurt Elling, Jill Scott)
- Perform in The White House
- Travel with my family on a tour
There are just so many. I never stop dreaming and going for them. Never…
Do you write songs just for yourself, or have you found other avenues for your songs?
I do write for myself. That is how most of my writing was, in the beginning. However, It has changed a bit. Now I write about people I encounter or situations I hear about. I believe this makes songs more interesting. I also feel like I am writing for my fans more when this happens. Not everyone can relate to just me. But, they may be able to relate more to the others that I am writing about.
What would the Lydia ‘now’ say to her younger Lydia for sage advice?
The younger me let many people get in the way of progress. I would tell the younger Lydia, to get those negative non-believers out of your life! KEEP GOING! The truth is that so many times, I was on the right track and someone told me I wasn’t. I would then doubt myself and back track. “Lydia, don’t let ANYONE get in your way!”
How did you come to be known as ‘The Lovely Singer’. Was this a name description self-coined or did it come about by someone else?
It was 1996, I was with a friend in my living room and I was opening a Hotmail email account. It was my very first email account, if I recall correctly. “What is the username going to be? Hmm… How about Lovelysinger? Yeah! Lovelysinger!” It just stuck. I think of that story and laugh because I know it is not some extravagant, amazing story. Just a normal kid in her living room thinking of a good email username. Ha!
What are some of the fears you’ve overcome as you’ve developed as an artist and how did you accomplish this?
When I was younger, I was so scared to be on stage. I learned the best way to get over that was to just keep going on stage and singing! Now, I still get those nerves but, I use them to create this amazing energy. It is now more of a calming feeling.
I also was afraid to network. Speaking to people I don’t know seemed to be scary! I still get this way sometimes but, I use the same technique when it came to my stage fright. Just keep going out and meeting people. It has become much easier for me, over the years!
Do you have any projects you have completed and/or working on?
Yes! In 2012, I completed my fist solo EP entitled, The Way. It features 2 excellent saxophone players, Mr. Walter Beasley and Mr. Robert Douglas Gay (Bob Gay). There are unique covers and some original material on this EP.
I am now in the planning stages of a crowdfunding campaign that will start late Summer or early Fall for my solo full length CD. I will have many more original tunes and a few fun, unique covers on it too!
I also have a fun little series I am doing on YouTube called “Singin’ in My Car”. It is a series of my just… singing in my car! LovelySingerTV is the name of the YouTube channel.