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Jai Ramage is a renowned vocal coach. She works on ‘The Voice’ and ‘The Voice Kids’ for the BBC and ITV, coaches leading West End performers as well as numerous international pop stars. We caught up with Jai to find out more about her work, her advice for singers to improve and preserve their voices and to discover what she considers the markers of a truly great vocal performance.

Hi Jai! Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us. You’ve had an incredible career in vocal coaching. What do you love most about your work and what would you consider your career highlights so far? I love that my work is varied and that all singers are different - no two days at work are ever the same. The job involves creativity, physiology and psychology in varying degrees depending on the singer and the project. Basically, I work in music, (which is my passion), I’m a science nerd (my teenage self would never have predicted this!) and I deal with peoples’ psyche (which is my fascination). My role is to enable singers to achieve their goals and when they do there is no better feeling. I especially love it when they achieve things that surpass even their own expectations of themselves. A career highlight for me was the first time I had a singer perform at the O2. It was his first gig at the venue supporting a massive A-lister, so the pressure was on and he was feeling it, to the point that I don’t think he even wanted to do it! After some pre-show prep I watched him nail his performance from out front and was immensely proud of him. That was a highlight for me. I think it is about how big the transformation is. But actually, every time I get a message from any of my singers telling me of a success they have just achieved, however big or small, it is very satisfying. What advice do you have for a professional singer to preserve their voice? Get a vocal coach! I coach a lot of professionals and I get to know their voices inside and out. I know what makes them tired, how much they can sing in a day and when they should rest. I monitor their voice use and tailor a regime to suit. Singers are not always able to recognise or control these things themselves. It is comforting for them to know someone is championing their best interests. As an artist manager, I’ve seen the strain that can be put on a voice whilst touring. What can singers do during those intensive periods to sustain strong vocal performances? All the natural things are the things that get neglected, yet they are so important. Sleep, hydration and healthy eating are essential. Warming up the voice can prevent injury and cooling down after a gig can speed up recovery. It’s all well and good being ‘rock and roll’ and not doing these things but no one wants to cancel gigs through voice loss. I also find the extra promo bits put an incredible strain on the voice. Artists are flown somewhere, get off the plane, dehydrated from the air conditioning, and go straight to several interviews where they are using their voices without warming up (they should warm up in the taxi if need be, even if they are only speaking) and then shipped over to the venue for soundcheck. These extra activities involve some serious voice use and that is not sustainable without some care. Could you explain how a vocal coach can support and improve a vocalists’ performance? For example, what would one of your vocal coaching sessions include? I would do a few warm-up exercises, unless I know them well enough to trust they will do the right things before they see me. The session would then be bespoke depending on what they are preparing for or what their goal is. It may be that they are getting ready for an audition, recording session or tour so the session may focus on details in stylistics, vocal techniques, stamina and/or confidence. Singers are emotionally connected to their music and their voices are part of their identity. They need encouragement and positive support which is why I approach everything with a strength-based focus. No singer needs criticism to trigger self-doubt. I’ve been one, so I understand how vulnerable they can feel. I will always start with ‘what do YOU want to improve?’ so they feel a sense of ownership. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so a session would be different for everyone, tailored to what they need. What pieces of vocal advice do you wish every new singer knew? When I was singing I hadn’t learnt that the functionality of the larynx is affected by nerves. Pre-show/gig/audition nerves may trigger the sympathetic nervous system into the ‘fight or flight’ response and, annoying as this, it's a perfectly normal reaction. I always thought there was something wrong with me and I couldn’t understand why I could manage that song in rehearsal but not when it really mattered under pressure. I wish I had known back then that my body was responding to the situation as it should and that I just needed some tools and strategies for my mind and body to counteract it. On a general level, I think we have this notion that being a ‘natural’ singer is good and that if you have coaching then you are not a ‘natural’. I can assure you that the successful singers I know think about what they are doing in detail. They prepare and practice so they inhabit their songs and believe in their vocal choices. Singers who don’t do this, fall down at some point either physically or mentally. So that’s what I advise - think, prepare and believe. It seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t. I'm always interested in what industry professionals consider a ‘great voice’. For me it’s the ability to translate the emotion of a lyric into a vocal delivery with personality. What do you consider a great voice? And who are the great voices of today that you respect and admire? I totally agree with you they have to be emotionally connected with what they are singing. All the high notes and vocal gymnastics don’t mean anything if the performance is not moving in some way. A lot of singers find it difficult to deliver an emotional vocal performance in the recording studio when they feel under pressure to do so; to capture that one amazing take. I’ve developed strategies to help singers with this but a lot of enabling an emotional performance comes down to how comfortable the singer feels to express themselves without judgement. This can be dependent on the relationship the singer has with the producer, engineer, vocal producer or anyone else who may be in the session. Being emotional can make singers feel vulnerable and exposed if they are not at ease. Singing is a very ‘human’ act. I love voices that are distinctive and unique, when the singer can be identified by their voice alone. Historically, I think people are drawn to singers with a strong vocal identity, take Nina Simone, Freddie Mercury, Kate Bush, Frank Sinatra, Bjork, Mick Jagger and Amy Winehouse as examples. Often the beauty is in the imperfection, for singing to be emotional it has to be authentic and emotion is not always pretty or perfect. These singers seem to encapsulate authenticity. These days I am drawn to male voices, I think because I can listen without comparing it with how it feels in my own voice. It gives me a separation from it. I love singers like Passenger and Hozier. I love that honest folk influence. I hugely admire Brendan Urie for his exceptional technical skill. There is a singer called Robinson who didn’t really have the success I think he should have had. Look up his ‘England’s Bleeding’ album on YouTube. I adore his voice, it is so raw and passionate. He moves me!

Find out more about Jai's work at: http://www.jairamagevoice.com/

Tersha co-founded Terrible Merch with Jack McGruer in 2016. Terrible Merch is now a full-service music merchandise and product management company, focusing on ensuring artists are profitable in this vital physical revenue stream. The innovation Tersha brought to the sector with live-stock updates, on- the-road restock requests and bespoke online and mobile tech solutions for artists and their teams, has won her much acclaim from the industry. Tersha was honoured in the AIM AltPower 100 Music List and was a finalist in The Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2019. She has been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, Wallpaper Magazine and MusicAlly. She is also a fellow in the JUMP: European Music Market Accelerator programme.

We caught up with Tersha to find out more about her work, the importance of merchandise to our industry, and to hear her advice for emerging artists selling merchandise and for entrepreneurs building new music businesses.

Hi Tersha! Thank you for speaking with us today. Could we start by asking you tell us more about Terrible Merch and the work you do?

We’re a non-standard, full-service merchandise company which prioritises quality, efficiency and artist revenues. What makes us different and new is that we’ve also built an app and online platform called TM* Live.TM* Live brings together an artist’s on-tour inventory, e- commerce inventory, sales analytics, day sheets and scheduling, with many more features in the pipeline. When it collects enough data, it’ll show you lots of neat stuff that’ll make your business even more efficient.

Merchandise is one of the last remaining ways to connect physically with an audience - what place does merchandise have in today’s digital music space?

Digital music consumption is mainly passive and we feel it’s always worth noting that the transition has been very lucrative for a lot of stakeholders. Ultimately, it’s very low commitment and we still believe that a small, committed fanbase is worth a lot more to an artist than a much larger, passive fanbase. A true artist-fan connection only really begins with the beginning of a financial relationship, when a fan invests in you. A fan’s options are pretty limited now: physical music; physical merchandise; and (at a push) a physical ticket.

Physical music is probably more of an objet d’art than a means for consuming the art contained within it, meant more for admiring, collecting, preserving, than actually using it as initially intended. We’re seeing the idea of a physical ticket pretty much eroded and with the question of live streaming’s place in a post-pandemic world, it’s difficult to get an accurate read of what live music will mean in the future. Generally-speaking, we don’t see any significant digital competitors for physical merch. We’re as interested as anyone in the rise of skins, etc as micro-transactions within the gaming market, but it’s not something that we’re worrying about too much, before the point of us uploading our consciousness and leaving our physical selves behind.

How do you see the merchandise sector progressing over the coming years?

When we started Terrible Merch no one would listen to us about the importance of merch as part of any artist’s business, so being asked this question gives me great joy! Merchandise is arguably the most vital revenue stream for artists – as a means to direct connection, it’s virtually unparalleled and in terms of control, it’s arguably the last revenue stream without any gatekeepers. We believe there’s scope for merch charts eventually and we’re hopeful that it’ll become more sustainable/quality focused. Merch is having a moment with fashion, but there are a number of questions about the future of fashion at all levels. The high street brands are struggling, and even high fashion isn’t sure how to move forward. So, we think this merch moment will probably continue on a little longer, but that eventually fashion could be run by artists and the brands they build around their merch.

What impact has COVID had on you and your company and what are your hopes for how the live industry will adapt, repair and indeed grow after the pandemic?

When Covid-19 hit, we had artists literally drop everything, leave soundchecks, get to an airport and fly home. We spent 3 weeks collecting merch from venues who were closing their doors and getting merch safely to the warehouse. It was pure chaos and we felt like everything we’d done and built was over without live, it was crushing. But we had to help the artists whose tours had been shut down, so we started to get everything online and we started to help them to sell online and - like everything we do - we made it really cool and high quality and hoped we’d be able to help artists make up some of the lost revenue from touring.

Now this is may be the first bit of really good news in music during Covid-19 - merch started to do really well, music e-commerce was finally having its moment...so many years late to the party after fashion and everyone else! We helped a lot of artists with fundraisers and we’ve also helped them grow a whole new side of their business they never paid much attention to before - online and it’s doing great, all things considered.

As a company we’ve grown a new part of the business, kept revenue stable and we’re now building all of online into TM* Live. We’ve found a lot of new ways to make e-commerce exciting for artists and that’ll be key to their future engagement with it.

Do you have any tips for emerging artists, perhaps planning their first headline tour, with regards to merchandise?

Absolutely! Do your research, know your audience, make the right products at the right volume, in the right sizes. Make it high quality; your future relationships with fans depend on the quality of your products. Set the right pricing, know your numbers and make sure you’re at the merch stand. Make products that you actually like. Get involved in every aspect of the design process and make sure you can take cards. Also, make sure your online store has some stock too - not everyone can miss the last train to buy your merch.

You’ve been placed in the AIM AltPower 100 Music List and been a finalist in The Great British Entrepreneur Awards. What advice do you have for new music business entrepreneurs today?

Tempting to throw out a snappy one-liner here, but the truth about building a successful company and business is almost entirely down to hard work and having a great team around you. That’s a universal truth in any business or industry.

My best advice to anyone entering the music industry - outside of the hard work and a great team - is to be patient. You’re on a very long journey, settle in for the long haul. Know your numbers, build good relationships, don’t party at work (just because it’s a show at a bar doesn’t mean you’re not working). Most importantly, always work with the artists, their stakeholders and their fans in mind. If the artists you work with are successful, you will share in that success. Your fates are intertwined.

Thanks so much Tersha!

Find out more about Terrible Merch at https://terriblemerch.com/

Find out more about JUMP: European Music Market Accelerator at https://jumpmusic.eu/

Artists are having to do more than ever before. It’s no longer enough to be an exceptional writer or performer. Successful musicians need to be talented social media strategists, savvy publicists, persistent pluggers and extraordinary content creators. We’re living in what some have dubbed ‘the attention economy’. Artists are competing for the attention of their fans within saturated newsfeeds on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The task of continuously creating and sharing content that is personal yet promotional, engaging yet brand aware, can seem difficult, daunting and never-ending. Our Music Marketing & Promotion course covers everything from brand building, press and PR, playlist pitching and of course, social media. We provide artists and businesses with a comprehensive range of innovative skills to build and implement superb social media strategies that are both time efficient, and results driven. But before you enrol for the next Music Marketing & Promotion course, I want to outline six truths of social media that I wish every artist knew.

Truth One: Connection Converts

In early music industry business models, the artist and the fan were separated by ‘the machine’ – labels, radio, TV, stores – fans would only vaguely connect with their favourite artists by purchasing a product. Even the primitive fan clubs of the 80s and 90s were far from authentic. A sticker through the post every month was hardly ‘meaningful engagement’. The fan was an observer; a mere consumer. Today, social media has brought artist and fan together. When used skilfully, social media affords the fan an opportunity to become a participant in the artists life, rather than just a faceless buyer of their wares. And it’s this connection that leads to revenue, and a viable career.

"When used skilfully, social media affords the fan an opportunity to become a participant in the artists life, rather than just a faceless buyer of their wares"

Truth Two: Listeners Aren’t the Same as Fans

I would cautiously suggest that most artists want their music to be heard, they want to share their art with the world, and they want to monetise their talent in doing so. Let’s consider this very common scenario. A new artist releases a handful of singles over a six-month period. With their incredible music, and their adept Spotify pitching technique (which you too can acquire on our Music Marketing & Promotion course) they make it on to some impressive editorial playlists. Within a year they accrue millions of streams, and 500k monthly listeners on the platform. Top work! So why did only 30 people buy a ticket to their headline show? Because you’re confusing listeners with fans. Listeners are consumers of your product. They may love your song, or they may have listened once and moved on. They may have actively searched for you, but it’s much more likely they passively discovered you… it was an accident! It’s fans, rather than listeners, that attend shows, buy merchandise, stream consistently, enter competitions, purchase experience packages and so on. Once you’ve acquired listeners, you need to nurture a relationship with them. Today, this is primarily done on social media. Turn the listener of the song, into a fan of the artist… it’s the route to revenue, growth and sustainability.

"Turn the listener of the song, into a fan of the artist… it’s the route to revenue, growth and sustainability."

Truth Three: You Must Humanise to Monetise

You’ve probably heard artists on various TV talent shows say things like:

‘music is everything to me’, ‘I only live for music’, ‘music is all I think about’, ‘without music I’d be nothing’. I completely understand what they are trying to say, and yes, passion is to be applauded! But I worry that such statements could hold an artist back. I began my career as a writer for one of the biggest music magazines in the world. I met and interviewed countless artists and I would always be looking for the angle, the hook - the story. Whilst commitment and dedication to music is something to be proud of, some journalists could interpret these comments as ‘I’m one-dimensional’ or ‘I don’t have any other interests’.

The reality is that even the most focused and zealous artists, have something else they care about, aside from their latest record. Everyone cares about more than just one thing – a film they’ve just watched, a book they couldn’t put down, a strong opinion on a recent news event, a cause or charity that they feel personally connected to, their family and friends… no-one is solely about music!

If you only talk about music in interviews, if your Instagram profile is a wall of song covers, if all you share on Facebook is links to your new single, you aren’t encouraging the listener to become a fan of you, the artist. You need to show who you are, because when you humanise, you monetise.

"Over twenty years of artist management and marketing consultancy, I’ve seen the dramatic effect on engagement and connection when artists get honest; when they discuss their flaws, frustrations and fears, rather than a manufactured perception of perfection."

People can listen to your music on Spotify. They can watch your videos on YouTube. When they choose to follow you on social media, they’re looking for something else. They want to find out who you are, not just see or listen to what you do. Of course, there has to be a distinction made between the private you, and the public you. I’m not suggesting you set up a live webcam in your front room, but sharing more than your music, and showcasing your personality, is essential. After all, your brand is as much your story, as your creative output. If you don’t allow your audience to know your story, your brand proposition is dead, and the fan journey ends prematurely.

Perfect performance videos are nice for ‘listeners’ but ‘fans’ also want to see what happens on the tour bus, get a glimpse of the green room, and watch the soundcheck! They want to know what you’re watching on Netflix, what your gym routine is, what your new dog is called… not just your tour dates. I’ve found that meaningful fan engagement is much like making friends. Author and philosopher, Alain De Botton writes:

“There is something at the heart of many friendships that seems important to identify and – in a way – to get good at: vulnerability. It’s too easy to assume that what makes us likeable are our strengths, our accomplishments, the things we’re proud of. Certainly, this impresses, but it isn’t what draws others to us. We get close to someone the more they – and we – find ourselves able gracefully to depart from the official story of what human beings are like, and can start to show the awkward truths which underlie the cheerful facade.”

Over twenty years of artist management and marketing consultancy, I’ve seen the dramatic effect on engagement and connection when artists get honest; when they discuss their flaws, frustrations and fears, rather than a manufactured perception of perfection. Again, humanise to monetise.

Truth Four: New Fans Are Fickle Fans

If you’re a new artist releasing your debut single, you may start to acquire listeners. You may even start to engage with them on social media. You may be masterfully winning at connecting, converting, humanising and monetising – and that’s wonderful! But if you then take a few weeks off to write and record your next song, plus another month to record an astonishing new music video, and you haven’t maintained a near daily dialogue on social media throughout, you’ll be starting from zero with each and every release. Those new fans will not be there when you return. New fans are fickle fans.

The ‘expectancy loop’ theory, suggests a new fan will return to your profile once, possibly twice, and if they don’t see something fresh and engaging, they won’t be back. That’s why it’s important to have songs and content ready – have a six-month strategy. Otherwise, all of the money, time, love, sweat and tears, that go into each campaign will get you absolutely no-where. Consistent releases, engaging and regular content, and no pauses – if you keep those fickle fans engaged over multiple releases, some will move through the ‘fan conversion funnel’ and eventually end up as ‘super fans’. As you progress through your career and your super-fan-base grows, so too does their loyalty. Blondie took 16 years off and returned with a global number 1 hit. That’s the loyalty decades of fan engagement can yield. But in the early days, a week of absence is a lifetime.

Truth Five: It Shouldn’t Take Over Your Life

If the thought of posting on social media every day presents itself as an unsurmountable challenge, or becomes a colossal time drain, something needs to change. There’s no single technique that will make the process of content creation and fan engagement on social media entirely effortless, and nor should it be! Engaging with your fans is important – it actually warrants your focus, care and attention! But there are ways to make it easier. We present a range of innovative approaches to social media management on our Music Marketing & Promotion course, that could dramatically change the way you work.

Here are a few simple strategies you could start with. Firstly, ‘long form to short form’. Look ahead at your schedule. Maybe next week you have a recording session? Or perhaps a live show? Use such events as an opportunity to gather content. Rather than asking a friend to film a few clips of the performance – document it all! Your morning routine, the rehearsal, the journey to the venue, the sound check, any backstage preparations, your pre-show ritual, the show itself, the after-show party, the reaction of fans… it’s a goldmine of content. This could be made into a long form piece of content for YouTube, as well as potentially hundreds of short form clips for social media. Extract the maximum amount of content from every occasion!

"Artists should recognise that both what they say, and the way in which they say it, are crucial to engage authentically."

An artist’s personal posts must come from the artist themselves! Authenticity is so important, and all content needs to be in the artist’s voice and reflect their values. One of the activities I sometimes ask artists to consider (during consultancy or in the Music Marketing & Promotion course) is to list five core values that sit at the heart of their brand and then to list five characteristics of their brand’s voice – that is the manner or tone that they will communicate their values to the audience. Artists should recognise that both what they say, and the way in which they say it, are crucial to engage authentically. But this places a lot of pressure on the individual artist to always have content ready – it’s down to them! Another technique I’ve used is to create a ‘personal evergreen content vault’. Here’s an example – I start managing a new 5-piece band. I begin immediately to build a collection of personal content that is not time specific, that can be dipped in to when the band want to take a few days off from posting. I ask each band member to send me a picture of them holding their favourite record, along with a sentence of why it means so much to them. I ask them to do the same for their guilty pleasure and the book they’ve just finished. I get them to film a brief video of them cooking their ‘signature dish’! I do tongue-in-cheek one-minute interviews with the singer’s hairdresser, the guitarists mum, the tour bus driver… I start rapidly building a body of posts that we can utilise when needed, taking the pressure off later.

Truth Six: If It’s Genuinely Important, It’s Worth More Than 80 characters

"Artists must be allowed the space, time and respect to write about important issues; subjects that clearly warrant our collective thought, reflection and action. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be reduced to the remit of a cursory social media post. "

If you as an artist, or an artist you work with, has something important to say, a unique perspective to share, a particular topic that they feel needs to be highlighted, consider whether it’s potentially bigger (in significance as well as character count) than a social media post affords. In recent years, some critically important issues in our industry, and in society generally, have been brought to my attention via in-depth blog posts shared on social media or via outlets such as The Huffington Post, written by artists. One such piece was Chloe Howl’s powerful account of sexual harassment. Artists must be allowed the space, time and respect to write about important issues; subjects that clearly warrant our collective thought, reflection and action. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be reduced to the remit of a cursory social media post.

Matt Errington is Director at SMB: The School of Music Business, tutor for the Music Marketing & Promotion course, and a global music industry consultant. He is also an Expert Board Member for JUMP: European Music Market Accelerator.

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