queen esther, music

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This Rock n' Roll BlackGrrl's High Life

A Cautionary Tale


Everything Starts Right Now
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I got my new Black Americana album -- The Other Side -- this afternoon. I've been working on this music off and on and on and on for so long, it's kind of embarassing. Finishing it is the culmination of so much that when it finally got to my living room, I was so overwhelmed, I simply sat quietly and let this overwhelming sense of gratitude ooze its way out of my soul until all i could feel was pure joy. I didn't play guitar on this one (that's what's next!) but I did produce it and aside from three covers, I wrote the songs.  How this album came together is something of a blur. Pinching off of paychecks and tax returns. Calling in all kinds of favors. Bartering vocals for more studio time. Turning myself into a generic wedding singer. Whatever it took, within reason. And finally -- finally! -- it's finished.

All month long, it felt like Christmas Eve. And now here I sit, stuffing envelopes to send out a little of that "holiday" magic to the initial few -- the musicians who worked on it, my consiglieri Garry Veletri and long time loved ones in Texas and beyond.  It'll take a few weeks to get it up on CDBaby and all over the place digitally, which is why the official release date is May 1st.  The PR/radio push starts in April so there probably won't be any reviews in print until July or August, if I get any reviews at all.  But no matter. I finished it. Thank God Almighty, I finished it. The fact that it's done is so overwhelming, I'm not even remotely freaked out about anything else.

While I was woodshedding and spring cleaning waiting for the UPS guy today, I couldn't stop thinking about JefLee Johnson and this particular song -- because everything really does start right now.  It almost feels like he was telling me this as a statement of fact.

I've got a fantastic publicist and a radio promoter. I'm hyped, I'm ready. Let the games begin.

Oh - and if you'd like to hear what it sounds like, please click here.

INFOGRAPHIC: How the money flows back to songwriters and publishers
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For me, when it comes to this business of music, school is always in session. It's interesting to see how everyone in the music industry officially gets paid when the money starts flowing, especially songwriters that own their publishing.


FINALLY -- preview 5 songs from my next album!
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Here's a few songs from my next Black Americana album The Other Side -- available for pre-order by April 10th.  Yes, it'll be released in mid-May. (YAY!)


Making it online? How about making it, period?
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As I give serious thought and planning to my next release and how I intend to market it, I see blurbs like this that instinctively make me push pause and give my situation the once over.  Those once overs are a reflex at this point. That sounds paranoid but it's probably a good thing.

Interesting to note that according to this infographic, indie musicians make most of their income by touring and selling cds at shows.  I'll co-sign that. I think its strange that this doesn't mention songwriting contests like ISC or Unsigned Only that offer money, gear and press to unsigned artists -- or well-established, well-respected behemoths like the Independent Music Awards that have lots of categories (like best album art) and offer a megaton of exposure if you win.  Nothing gets your music heard -- by industry hotshots and fans alike -- like winning contests.

What's missing -- for me, anyway -- is the musician with his own studio that not only makes his own albums but writes, arranges and composes for theater/musical theater/cabaret/TV/film.  The position of producer is mentioned but what about music supervisor? There's music licensing to consider, if you own your publishing.  (If you don't own your publishing as a songwriter, you're giving it all away.) And what about musicians who are also teachers? I know a lot of musicians who teach (privately and in university) when they aren't gigging or doing session work and they make a great living at it. With insurance!

I'm not so sure that anyone that's actually paying attention to what's happening in the music industry right now is working towards actively submitting their music to a label. Macklemore sums it up best in this interview with Chris Hardwicke on the Nerdist podcast (if you haven't heard the whole thing, you really should):

Chris: I'm sure you've been approached a million times at this point, but you still don't want the infrastructure of a label?

Macklemore: Yeah, there's no reason to do it. With the power of the internet and with the real personal relationship that you can have via social media with your fans... I mean everyone talks about MTV and the music industry, and how MTV doesn't play videos any more -- YouTube has obviously completely replaced that. It doesn't matter that MTV doesn't play videos. It matters that we have YouTube and that has been our greatest resource in terms of connecting, having our identity, creating a brand, showing the world who we are via YouTube. That has been our label. Labels will go in and spend a million dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars and try to "brand" these artists and they have no idea how to do it. There's no authenticity. They're trying to follow a formula that's dead. And Ryan and I, out of anything, that we're good at making music, but we're great at branding. We're great at figuring out what our target audience is. How we're going to reach them and how we're going to do that in a way that's real and true to who we are as people. Because that's where the substance is. That's where the people actually feel the real connection.

And labels don't have that.

So you sign up for a label. There's not some magic button they're now going to push and it means that people are going to like who you are. Or that they're identify with your vision or your songs. It actually comes from sitting down, staring at a piece of paper for months or years on end, trying to figure out who you are as a person, and hoping that it comes through in the end. But a label's not going to do that for you.


Everybody has their idea of what it takes to "make it" in the entertainment industry.  If you're the kind of person that thinks making it means you have to be as rich and famous as Beyonce or Kanye to be successful in this business, you're not just missing the boat -- you're nowhere near the water.  When you understand this business of music on a basic level, you know that you can make a great living at it if your hustle is strong. Especially if you don't live in an expensive place like New York City.

And by the way -- if you want to understand this business of music, the book This Business of Music (considered the bible of the music industry) is a great place to start.


The Next NYC Gig: The Sweetheart Soiree, February 15th
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FYI: I'll be performing an evening of love songs (Lady Day's rare sides!) on the third floor of this elegant, well-appointed mansion with my trio for the evening -- Hilliard Greene (bass), Marvin Sewell (guitar) and Wayne Tucker (trumpet).



**ALL TICKET SALES ARE FINAL. NO REFUNDS AVAILABLE**
Return to romance at Michael Arenella's SWEETHEART SOIRÉE. To celebrate the Soirée's fifth flirtatious year, we have, in collaboration with ST-GERMAIN, chosen a most posh and exclusive rendezvous point - NORWOOD, a perfectly preserved, landmarked 1947 mansion. A strictly private club, enjoy a rare opportunity to experience this stylishly bohemian hideaway as our guest.
Whether with an amour, wedded to one you adore or hoping to meet the one you're looking for, this promises to be an evening of enchantment and delightful intrigue. Plenty of plush seating, artisanal French cocktails featuring St-Germain and wooden floors for dancers will assure a most chic and intimate affair.
A passionate programme of entertainment will be featured over four floors of this lavish Victorian manse:

*MICHAEL ARENELLA and His Sextet, your devoted host and beloved bandleader
*NICOLE RENAUD, the luminous accordionist and chanteuse
*Jazz royalty, QUEEN ESTHER and trio
*Tap-dance darlings THE MINSKY SISTERS

Enjoy a dance lesson for both singles and doubles at 9:30PM with the ever-dapper and undeniably adorable RODDY CARAVELLA.

A gorgeous gratis portrait in our St-Germain KISSING BOOTH.

Guests are welcomed with a complimentary ST-GERMAIN COCKTAIL.

Cupid-approved cocktails alongside fabulous wines will be available for purchase at three unique bars. Complimentary gourmet hors d'oevres and sweet treats will be featured throughout the evening.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH
DOORS AT 9PM
LIVE ENTERTAINMENT FROM 9PM - 1AM
ALL GUESTS MUST BE 21 AND OVER
BLACK TIE/EVENING ATTIRE IS ENCOURAGED.

...a thousand words (and then some!) from last night...
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Accompanied by her quintet The Hot Five, Queen Esther sings the timeless classic Stardust in the library of The Player's Club for The Salon's New Year's Eve Eve fete...

...and absorbing a solo from Patience Higgins. What a beautiful night. Happy New Year, everyone.


The Next NYC Gig: New Year's Eve Eve!
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New Year's Eve Eve
NYEE2

Queen Esther interview in Combustus magazine!
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I gave an in-depth interview to writer/journalist Monika Zameta for Combustus magazine in October, 2013. To read it in its entirety -- and to hear the song I Feel Like Goin' Home from my soon to be released Black Americana album The Other Side -- please click here.

Stand By Your Man (...for a few seconds...!)
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How cool is this? Someone -- rasupreme of Instagram, to be exact (THANK YOU!) -- captured a few seconds of me singing that Tammy Wynette classic Stand By Your Man at Sekou Sundiata's WeDaPeople's Cabaret last night at Aaron Davis Hall with Marvin Sewell on guitar, so I thought I'd share it with the world.

I cover this song on my first self-released album Talkin' Fishbowl Blues. Sekou believed -- in this really heartfelt way, I might add --  that the way I sang it turned it into the ultimate black woman's anthem. He was convinced that I made it belong to black women in a way that people wouldn't really understand unless they heard me sing it. So of course, he wanted me to sing it all the time, especially when I'd perform with him in Harlem.  I didn't always say yes -- it took some convincing to sway me. Now that Sekou is gone, I sing it all the time.

He was right, of course. It is a black woman's anthem. Or maybe it's that way because that's what I mean when I sing it.  How cool that my next album will be original country/rock songs.

Thankfully, Harlem Stage videotaped the entire evening so hopefully, I can show you the complete performance very soon.  In the meantime, enjoy this little snippet...!

The Psychology of Music
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