My Dad was reading the morning paper one day as he always did and he came across an ad about auditions for singers, actors, and models to be held in Downtown Vancouver and he suggested I try it out. So I dressed up in my favorite polka-dot dress and my siblings and I all packed into the backseat of the car and off the family went to support me.
I was so nervous. Even now, into adulthood, high school far behind me, after years of performing in front of crowds, with un-flinching, consistently perfect pitch and control from decades of study, I still get nervous before a performance. Not when I'm teaching mind you, the one-on-one casual feeling of teaching is quite calming for me, perhaps because the student generally feels just as vulnerable themselves and are not there to judge, but to learn. But oh boy, auditions and performances stir up a full-on Papilionidae sanctuary in my belly. I sweat, my limbs tingle, and I get light-headed. But as soon as the music starts, the nerves melt away and I am completely comfortable, smooth, collected, in control, and this particular audition was no exception. I nailed it. The men that I was auditioning for were very complimentary and basically told me I had to accompany them to Edmonton, Alberta, to perform in the 2006 Great Canadian Talent Showcase. My family hip-hip hoorayed when I emerged from the audition room with the good news, and we began planning the specs of the big trip.
The following day, we had enough time in the morning to make a trip to the famous West Edmonton Mall, browse a small percentage of the stores, grab something to eat, and ride the roller coaster. According to US magazine, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were in the mall in the exact same place as us just hours earlier. Ooh la la! We rushed back after a few hours in the mall and I got dressed and ready for my performance. I still wish I had dressed a little more like myself. My style at the time was a little on the punk-rock/rock n' roll side but I opted for a very professional-looking black blazer and dress pants with a deep red blouse underneath. I looked sharp, but I didn't stand out.
The next day was even busier than the first, if you can believe it. The centre was full of performers, spectators, parents, and professionals, all packed in like sardines. Our conference room held a capacity of 6000 people and it was definitely full. Same routine as the day before, about a dozen performers before me I went backstage and lined-up for my turn. I was nervous again, but I had gone through my song catalogue the evening before and listened to my backtrack to assure that this song at least would give me my chance very early on to show them what I could do. If nothing else, at least I was going to be able to actually give it my all, instead of feeling short-changed. My knees were clacking backstage and my face was feeling flushed but this time, after the man before me was done, I strode onto the stage confidently and the nerves all melted away like they usually did. I was calm, collected, ready, and I felt comfortable on that stage. My music hit and I began "Black Velvet" by Alannah Myles. If you are familiar with the song, you know that right at the end of the first verse, the song busts into some pretty huge notes. My voice does not possess the same sultry rasp that Miss Myles exhibits, so this song's peak notes blast out of me in a boom of clear, controlled tone and epic volume and power. As soon as the words "Always wanting more" were sung, the crowd burst into thunderous applause, which caught me off guard a little. I was used to performing in shopping malls, old-folk's homes, and schools, where they silently and politely wait for you to finish before golf-clapping their appreciation, not in front of thousands of like-minded music fans like I was this time. I was startled by the volume of the crowd, but I didn't let it show. I didn't even flinch. I could feel myself drawing from the energy of the crowd and I was using it to intensify the performance. I made sure to really play up all the notes, adding in improvisation and trills, holding notes for inhuman amounts of time, playing to the crowd, smiling and pointing at individuals. And all the while, those scary executives were sitting there, jaws open, and silent. They let me perform for a full 2 and a half minutes before waiting for an instrumental break to cut me off. The crowd was wild. They were still whooping and cheering when the first executive, an out-spoken, eccentric woman from Disney studios, opened her mouth to speak. "Where was that yesterday?" We all shared a laugh and the crowd cheered again. There was an array of compliments from the professionals, comments on my impressive power, ease of performance, and so on. I thanked them again and strutted off the stage, and as soon as I was behind the curtain and out of sight, my knees buckled and a fellow singer helped me stay on my feet momentarily until I gained my composure again. It was fantastic.
So I lined-up for each, met and spoke to some fellow singers from all across the country, and waited for my turn. The first I spoke to was the rep from Sony. He told me he wanted to speak to me to teach me a little about the music industry. He told me how he had had the chance to see multi-platinum selling recording artist and songwriter, Avril Lavigne perform right before she was signed to Arista Records. He basically said that like her or hate her, she was a one in a million circumstance. She was discovered, signed, and then became a superstar pretty much overnight, but he very strongly emphasized that is usually never the case with getting a record deal. He said that artists don't really start to make any big money until maybe their second or third album, if they're lucky, because usually their first recording contracts cover ONLY the cost of recording, distribution, promotion, and touring. If the record sells copies, the record label obviously pays itself back for the put-up cost first, and then you get whatever sells on top of that. Basically, the artists make in-pocket equivalents to that of someone working part-time on minimum wage off of their music. That's why you frequently see musicians promoting products, cars, perfumes, electronics, fast-food joints, jeans, and so on. He told me that's why so many musical acts break-up, disband, or give-up after their first or second album. You work almost 24-7 for not so much of a return. He also told me that he felt I had very good potential, but that I should hone my skill a bit more, and that maybe I could be ready for bigger things when I was a bit older.
The second rep I visited was the Virgin rep, who pretty much said the same thing as Mr. Sony; this is a really, really tough business to make it in and you need to mature a little bit more before you're ready, but you have fantastic potential.
The third was the rep from RCA Records, which is actually a flagship for Sony Music Entertainment as well. They are a leader in R&B and Hip-Hop, but also have a sub-division which leads in jazz, musical theatre, blues, etc. This rep was quite a bit older than most of the other execs I was seeing. He had been with Flying Dutchman Records in the 70's before RCA took over their distribution rights. He looked to be in his late 60's or early 70's, he was heavy-set with a grey comb-over, wearing a navy blue, orange, and white striped golf-shirt with khakis and brown dress shoes. I only remember his appearance in such detail because it was so different from the rest of the professionals around him, who were wearing thousand-dollar suits and designer outfits. He was soft-spoken and his advice was less philosophical more practical. He asked me for my head-shots which I gave him, and then he asked if I had any recordings of myself singing. This, I did not have with me. It was frustrating because I did have professionally recorded demos of original songs I had co-written with a former colleague, I had just not brought them to Edmonton with me. He told me, if you are ever auditioning for people who matter, always have a full media package ready for them. Have pre-prepared packages containing head-shots performance resume and bio, and very importantly, a recording on a CD of yourself performing, even if it's a cover. He basically said, a record executive can see you perform and maybe they will be enthusiastic and impressed, but most of them see hundreds, if not thousands of musicians in the span of months or years and it is likely they won't quite remember how you sounded when they saw you. Providing them with a recording gives them that reminder of why they even have your information in the first place and keeps them from just filing it away or throwing it in the trash when their memory of you is hazy. Another thing he said is, if you get the rare opportunity to talk to a record executive or similar connection, take their contact info and every few months, send them updates about you, to let them know that you're still working, you're still motivated, and you're still performing. Newspaper blurbs about a performance, new albums you've recorded, venue posters for events that you've played, reviews, etc. Don't rely on them to go looking for you or to keep up with you, in short, they're too damn busy. I thanked him for his advice and kind words about my talent and we decided to wrap up the night without going to see the Universal South rep. It was late into the night by then and while I respect those who do it well, to tell you the truth, I don't enjoy singing country music. Over the entire course of the weekend, out of the thousands who attended and the hundreds and hundreds who performed, only one woman landed a record contract. She was as lush as Rita MacNeil and so was the woman who signed her. I have never heard anything from her to this day so I can only assume her contract fell through in the end. So that tells you how rare it can be to land a record contract, let alone actually get to the point where you make something of it.
So although I didn't get signed, I came away from the experience with some of the most useful and valuable lessons I've learned in my career. I still long for the opportunity to rock a crowd that large again. It really is like heroin. Once you go big like that, although the high is still fun and exhilarating when performing for any appreciative crowd, you're always striving to get that same feeling back, and you have to go bigger and bigger to achieve the sensation. I learned what not to do if I ever get the opportunity again, and what I should do differently, and hopefully you can take this advice to heart if you ever find yourself face-to-face with those intimidating dream-makers in your future. I have not yet conceded defeat to my dream; I am still young and I am better, wiser, and more experienced now than I have ever been. And so are you. But if you do find that you come away feeling like you've blown a chance, take a look at the lessons you learned and use it to come back more fierce than before.
There are no regrets, just lessons learned.