My Thoughts On How To Practice Voice

I wanted to share some thoughts on how to practice as a vocalist because it seems to be a common question!

The first thing I need to say is that I am speaking as professional vocalist but NOT as a trained vocal teacher or coach. These are my thoughts and opinions based on personal experience.

1) There is no substitute for a qualified voice teacher. I used to take a lot of pride in being “self-taught” or not having any formal training. It made me feel like I was special somehow. But then I realized something very important: I was not really that good. If you are like me and were born not-great but have a deep desire to become excellent, then I strongly recommend finding a voice teacher. It may be a financial investment, but I have a hard time thinking of any professional path that doesn’t require a financial investment for training. Would you go see a “self-taught” doctor? Should I go get my hair cut by someone who is “naturally talented” or someone who has been trained? Find a voice teacher. Get training. Find one who has studied or been certified in vocology (Nashville, you know my girl is lizjohnsonvoice.com).

2) There are several different areas to practice. You need to warm up. You need to exercise and strengthen your voice. You can practice reading skills. You can practice vocal flexibility (being able to sing more notes faster). You can practice repertoire (specific songs). You can practice improvisation. You can practice scales. You can work on your vocal range. You can practice developing pitch accuracy. You should think about what you want to accomplish with your voice. My personal priorities are strengthening my voice and vocal improvisation. So I address those goals by 1) doing vocal strengthening exercises called Blaylock exercises, 2) working on exercises from Darmon Meader’s book “Vocal Improvisation: An Instrumental Approach”, and 3) learning instrumental solos from jazz recordings. Sometimes I also practice sight reading by reading new songs out of the Vocal Real Book.

3) Both consistency and variety have their place. Consistency is important for practice. You can’t do a set of exercises once and expect to see lasting change. You must pursue discipline and consistency with your practice. But realistically, we also go through emotional waves when it comes to music. Some days I practice and the sound of my own voice makes me want to cry. How helpful is it for me to spend a long time practicing when I’m in that mental state? I would argue that it’s better to just do the essentials (my voice strengthening exercises, for example) and ditch the extras (repertoire or learning solos) for the day in favor of a different form of practice. Maybe it means practicing ukulele or charting a new song to add to my solo sets. Maybe it means breathing exercises. Maybe it simply means listening intently to an album that inspires me. So I would recommend having an arsenal of various practice strategies so that you can switch it up and still practice on days when you’re sick or struggling with the sound of your voice.

4) Practicing slowly is vital. If you can’t do it yet, break it into smaller pieces and practice it slowly. Practice it as slowly as you need to to do it right. If there’s one measure that’s giving me trouble, my first thought is to slow it down. If I still can’t do it, I need to break it into smaller pieces and identify what is giving me trouble. Often, it’s a particular interval that I’m not used to singing. So I may practice that interval—a descending minor 6th, for example—as it appears in the passage I’m practicing, then take it up a half step, then down, etc. for as long as I can. Then maybe I try to practice the whole measure slowly. Eventually, this will drive me crazy and I’ll pause until the next day :) But don’t gloss over the things you’re close to doing well but aren’t nailing. Zoom in on those spots, practice them slowly, and then give it time to sink in.

5) Imitation is an important tool. I’ve had several different people ask about finding their true sound, their unique voice. I think one of the best ways to discover your own true sound is to spend a lot of time imitating others and trying on their sounds. No matter what you do, your musical vocabulary is made up of things you’ve heard. You can’t avoid imitation, no matter how hard you try! But you can use imitation as a tool for evaluating what sounds feel best on your voice. It will take a lot of time and a lot of imitating to sift through the information that’s out there, but don’t pressure yourself to “land” on a right answer. Just accept that it’s a process that will last a lifetime. Have fun trying on different vocal tones or styles. Keep what feels right.

That about sums up the questions or thoughts that have been on my mind lately. To close, here are a list of ideas to get you jump-started on your vocal practice journey:

-Schedule an appointment with a well qualified voice teacher

-Warm up with a video like this: https://youtu.be/YTMSwPq4KIo

-Pick a song out of the Vocal Real Book to sight read and then learn

-Pick a song off YouTube to sing along with and imitate the style of the person playing or singing

-Buy Darmon Meader’s vocal book and practice different scales

-Practice singing and playing an instrument at the same time

-Try playing a piano melody and singing along in unison. Make something up

-Learn a famous vocal solo like Chet Baker’s “It Could Happen to You”, Ella Fitzgerald’s “Blue Skies”, or Sarah Vaughan’s “All of Me”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, advice, and questions!

What's New

Sitting down to share about what’s new—I’m finally back in Nashville after several weeks working at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. I stepped back into an extremely busy (but exciting and satisfying) schedule here at home. A friend recently started sending out weekly e-mails to stay connected with close friends, almost like a newsletter but in a very personal way. They call it “Friday Five” so I’m going to steal that model and give you my Friday (Monday) Five.

1) Collaboration with Charlie Peacock: A few years ago, I sang a song at a fundraiser event for the not-yet-opened Rudy’s Jazz Room at Douglas Corner. Afterward, I walked to the back of the room and a man at the bar complimented my performance. We talked for a minute, and when we introduced ourselves he said, “I’m Charlie Peacock.” I said, “Nice to meet y—Charlie Peacock? Like… Charlie Peacock?” What can I say? I have a way with words. At the time, I was familiar with the fact that he was a pretty significant record producer. Give it a quick google. What I didn’t know is that he’s also a jazz pianist/composer. Fast forward a few years (to this past February). I had the opportunity to arrange 2 of Charlie’s original songs for vocal trio. So I got with my partners in crime/harmony, Hollie Hammel and Bethany Merritt, and we recorded my arrangements of Charlie’s song. These songs are finally available and I would LOVE for you to take a listen! We recorded them live—no click track, no punching in. Just singing and playing together.

iTunes: https://apple.co/2lBwuoV
Amazon: https://amzn.to/2kghUCZ
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2lzakDA

2) Upcoming Performances: You can check out my performance calendar page for dates, but I have shows on the calendar in Nashville, Huntsville, Chattanooga, Hamtramck (near Detroit, MI) and Dallas! I’m always looking to add more out of town shows—please let me know if you or someone you know would like to host a house concert!

3) Current Projects: Here’s a sampling of what I’ve done since getting home from Michigan, plus a few upcoming projects. The day after I got home, Husband and I got to play bass + uke duo for a fancy dinner party downtown. It started later than expected so we took a nice walk to get some decaf coffee beforehand. The next day, I had a morning session for a local music education software company. I’ve wanted to do work for this company for a while now, so I was grateful to finally get the chance! I recorded a short children’s song written by a brilliant friend, so there were tons of fun harmonies and jazzy details to enjoy. That afternoon, I got to sing background vocals for another brilliant friend, Cody Fry. It was a video shoot that probably won’t be released until well into 2020, but I will be excited to share once it is available. Thankfully, the weekend was a bit slower so I had time to rest and fight off a gnarly cold. Tonight I’ll be playing solo at a hotel on West End. Tomorrow, I play at Plaza Mariachi (truly one of the best destinations in Nashville) from 12-1, then a full band show at Rudy’s Jazz Room from 6-8:30! On Thursday, I get to help write children’s music for the software company I mentioned, and on Friday I’ll be playing at a coffee shop in Huntsville!

4) Babies: I didn’t know it was possible to have so many pregnant friends. A handful have already had their gorgeous babies, and I can’t wait to meet the little ones I haven’t met yet. Some are pregnant with miracle babies, some with unexpected babies, and some have had more babies than expected (God bless the parents of multiples). I’ve always wanted to record lullaby covers of pop songs from the early 2000s and now I will just have to get moving with that.

5) Recording: This isn’t real news but just something that’s on my mind all the time. I MUST do some recording in the next year! I can’t believe I don’t have any recordings of standards. So I’m just publicly declaring my intention to make moves on that in the very near future.

Thank you for reading! New videos on Instagram, new tutorials on YouTube, new events on Facebook. Until next time!

Exciting updates!

I’ve had an exciting couple of weeks up here on Mackinac Island, MI! Being here is, in itself, a total treat. I get to perform every night with a skilled and supportive group of musicians. I’m gaining amazing experience and a good bit of confidence along the way. Plus, I have the chance to work on my running and I’ve already gotten my mileage to a place I’m really proud of.

But beyond the simple blessing of having this amazing job, there’s been even more to celebrate. Here are some highlights:

  • Last week, I reached 1,000 subscribers on YouTube! This has been a goal of mine for a while and I’m really grateful to everyone who helped me achieve it!

  • On August 25th, I received the Nashville Industry Music Award for “Best Jazz Vocalist”. There were several amazing women nominated in this category and I was honored to be nominated. I’m so grateful to everyone who voted and has reached out with encouragement since the awards were announced!

  • I did my first instagram giveaway this past week! I love sharing about ideas and products that improve my life, so I decided to start doing occasional giveaways to share some of my favorite things. The winner has opted for a Walker & Williams guitar/ukulele strap like the one I use on gigs. I’m looking forward to doing another giveaway, hopefully in October!

  • I’ve been growing my community on Patreon. Patreon is a website that allows ‘creators’ like me to connect with ‘patrons’, or folks who have opted to financially back me in exchange for exclusive content. Right now, I’m using Patreon to handle tutorial requests. I give my patrons access to live performance videos, my baritone ukulele chord diagram library, and other exclusive content. For $5 a month, patrons get priority when it comes to online lessons/tutorials. I’d love for you to check out my site at patreon.com/abigailflowersmusic.

  • I’ve been booking new shows! I have a handful of performances in Nashville in September, but I also have performances in Chattanooga, Huntsville, and Hamtramck, MI! I just updated my “shows” page so you can see a list of upcoming performances. Please share with friends if you know anyone in the cities listed!

  • I was accepted to a house concert network! It’s a really fantastic private community of musicians and listeners that I applied to 2 years ago, though I wasn’t accepted then. I remember feeling very discouraged at that time, so I’m proud that I worked up the courage to try again. I’m very excited for the possibilities that this network will bring.

That’s the news for now. I’m always planning and hoping and dreaming, so I hope to have more news to share very soon. Thank you so much for following along and supporting me on my way!

Teaching, tutorials, and patreon

Hello, friends! Over the past two years, I’ve been using Instagram and YouTube more frequently. I post videos of original music, jazz standards, and the occasional tutorial. I love how social media allows us to connect with people all over the world!

Recently, I’ve gotten an increased number of questions along the lines of “do you teach ukulele lessons?” and “how do you play this particular song?” I am passionate about making people feel included. I don’t think information (especially about music) should be unnecessarily exclusive or hidden. So by all means, I want to share what I know!

When I’m honest with myself, however, I know that if I were to add something to my schedule (teaching private lessons, for example), I would disappoint myself and others by not being able to follow through. And though I would like to share info about all songs I’ve learned, my musicianship is the result of years of hard work and study (and an expensive music degree I’ll be paying off for a long time). I don’t think it would be respectful of that effort to simply give away every lesson I’ve learned.

The solution I’ve settled on, at least for now, is Patreon! Patreon is a website that connects “creators” with “patrons”. Jacob Collier famously used it for his “I harmonize U” videos. The idea is that creators can share exclusive content with “patrons”, or people who choose to support them financially. Every Patreon page is different, but mine is set up with 2 options. You can pay either $5/month and have access to everything I publish, or you can pay $1 per creation. Based on how frequently I post, either option tends to cost about the same.

Right now, I typically share performance videos with my Patrons. They gain access to clips of live shows that no one else sees. But I also respond quickly to requests from patrons. If someone has chosen to support me financially, you bet I’m answering their questions as quickly as possible.

So this is what I’m going to try moving forward: I will be using Patreon to accommodate tutorial or teaching requests. If a Patron requests a tutorial for a particular song I’ve played, I will make a tutorial! If a Patron has questions about a musical concept that might be covered in private lessons, I will answer that questions for all my patrons. This is the best way I can think of to balance my desire to share knowledge and my desire not to overcommit or disrespect my own time and effort.

If joining my Patreon is not a viable option for you, I completely understand! It’s always awkward to put a price on creative endeavors, but I appreciate your patience and understanding as I try out this new approach!

You can check out my Patreon at www.patreon.com/abigailflowersmusic

The One Thing I Know About Chickens

A few months ago, a friend of mine shared a funny, slightly embarrassing story that ended up affecting me deeply. I would like to share that story with you.

My friend (we’ll call her Ann) was at a party with a group of girls she really hoped to befriend. Despite her nervousness, Ann went out of her social comfort zone and made a heartfelt effort to engage in conversation and connect with these young women. Things were going well but Ann hadn’t really made a splash—she was more of a friendly observer of the conversation than a driving force. That’s when chickens came up. The rest of the girls LOVE chickens. How cute chickens are! How quirky to love chickens! DING DING DING Ann’s brain says. I KNOW A THING ABOUT CHICKENS. LET US DAZZLE THEM WITH OUR CHICKEN FACT. So she blurts out the one thing she knows about chickens. That one thing just happens to be a rather disturbing feature of chicken mating rituals. As you can imagine, the girls Ann had so badly wanted to connect with were horrified. The topic of conversation changed abruptly and Ann didn’t see too much of the girls after that night.

As we laughed about her story, Ann said, “that’s just the one thing I know about chickens.” And I think about that story every day. Every time someone says something strange or potentially insulting to me, I imagine their brain librarian frantically searching for relevant content and accidentally spitting out an alarming factoid. “That’s the only thing he knows about chickens,” I told myself when a musician who had hired me for a gig started telling me all about his favorite jazz singer in town (spoiler alert: it’s not me). I’ve done it a thousand times: a statement that gets the green light from my brain comes out of my mouth with fabulously awkward results. It was just the one thing I knew about chickens. I related to Ann’s story profoundly. How many times have I gone to bed replaying a moment when my brain betrayed me and let me say something bizarre in public? How often have I wished I could retract a comment that sounded rude once it left my mouth?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m an intensely sensitive person and I will not waste my energy making excuses for offensive or harmful remarks. But I’m learning to sort between true ugliness and klutzy chicken facts. I’m learning to give others and myself grace for awkward moments. I have saved myself many hours and volumes of mental storage space by simply saying, “it was the one thing she knew about chickens.” Not only does the chicken fact come without bad intentions; it was actually born out of a desire to connect. It’s often not a meaningless moment, but rather a sincere attempt to relate. This story helped me translate confusing interactions and see how they might have been a humble offering of friendship.

So remember this story the next time someone nervously shouts a chicken fact at you at a party, and be sure to read this so you can become best friends.

Dream A Little Dream Of Me

I am excited to share this video of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” that I recorded the other week! I wanted to celebrate the 1st birthday of our little vocal trio by re-recording the first song I arranged for us. This time, we included two fabulous Nashville musicians: Sissy Dinkle on the upright bass and Jack Bird on fiddle! I am so in love with the sound of this video and I hope you’ll enjoy as well :)

Support Local Venues!

Alternate title: “I Get By With A Little Yelp From My Friends”

Last night, I played a show at a small restaurant about an hour south of Nashville called Puckett’s of Lieper’s Fork. It’s far enough out that I had nearly no name recognition, yet we started the show with a full house! Not only did we have a kind, attentive audience, but we also received TIPS! Glorious tips! This brought to mind something that has popped up a lot over the past few years—a great way to support independent musicians is to support local venues.

Playing music and booking shows in Nashville (and trying to earn a fair wage doing it) is a lot like playing whack-a-mole. You always have to be prepared for your steady, paying gig to get cancelled with little to no notice. You have to be prepared for your favorite venue to shut down unexpectedly. The bittersweet part of this is watching new establishments spring up—there’s always a chance that the next iteration of your favorite spot could be even better for your scene. And then if it’s not, hey… start the timer. Within 2 years, it’ll probably be under new management.

If that sounds sad, it’s because IT IS. A restaurant pops up with great plans for hosting live music. They pay musicians well. Then a few months later, the pay structure changes because opening a restaurant in Nashville is HARD. Within a year or two, there’s a good chance this restaurant will be sold or change management. A hotel starts hosting live music in their lobby and offering fair pay. 6 months later, they’ve cancelled this programming because it’s not as cost efficient as playing the radio and offering cute drink specials to bachelorette parties.

So let’s talk about Rudy’s. Rudy’s Jazz Room opened almost 2 years ago just south of downtown Nashville on a street with lots of visibility and potential foot traffic. It’s certainly not Nashville’s first jazz club, but to my knowledge it’s currently the only place in town with live jazz seven nights a week. During their construction, Rudy’s managed to raise almost FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS of community support to buy a Steinway piano. I share that to say: there was massive excitement and hope around this venue before it even existed. You can imagine how important it is to a jazz musician to know there’s a place that’s booking local jazz bands EVERY DAY in a spot with great visibility to locals and tourists alike!

Here’s the heart of what I want to say: as an independent musician, I love and need your direct support. I need people to buy my albums, attend my shows, and follow my social media channels. But when you support me, it only benefits (you guessed it!) me. When you support a local venue, you support its entire musical community. It’s one thing for people to go to a show because they recognize my name and know they’re going to enjoy it. That would be a beautiful thing. But what’s arguably even better is playing in a town where no one knows my name but the community has learned to trust the venue and knows they’ll receive quality entertainment and service any night of the week. In other words, I want good venues to get more popular because it benefits all the musicians who play there.

So what do you want me to do about that? I’m so glad you asked.

For us musicians, it’s important to share about which venues we love playing. During nearly every performance, I ask the audience to go online and leave a positive review for the venue. This helps new people find the place. We need to promote venues as much as we need to promote ourselves.

For listeners, it’s incredibly helpful for you to leave glowing reviews of establishments that have live music and pay their musicians. How do you know if the venue pays fairly? You honestly can’t know unless someone tells you. So either err on the side of caution and leave a good review (mentioning how much you love that they have live music) OR if you know a local musician well enough, ask for their opinions on local venues!

What if I don’t actually love the place? Amazing question. To this I would say: leave the glowing review on a public forum like Yelp, Google, or Facebook. Then e-mail the place directly and say, “Hi! I went to a show at your establishment and loved the music so much. I left a positive review on Yelp to help new people find the spot. I have some feedback on my experience, but wanted to communicate it privately rather than on a review site, as I really want others to have a great experience and continue to enjoy excellent live music!”

While we’re talking about direct feedback: it would also be fabulous for you to e-mail “non-venues” that host live music. Many coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants have occasional live music but it’s not a central aspect of their business and they are usually not ticketed events. These places are less likely to pay musicians (meaning the musicians rely on tips) OR if they do pay, the programming is likely to be cancelled within a few months. Let these places know that you enjoyed the live music! Or be honest with your feedback (‘the music was a little loud for my taste but I was delighted that there was live music’) so that they can adapt and avoid complaints. A large hotel chain has no way to measure the value of live music in their lobby or restaurant unless you tell them! Or if they receive lots of positive feedback on music, that might be leverage for the musician to ask for fair payment.

So which venues do you love and want us to support, Abi? You are on fire with the great questions today!! The top 3 places I recommend writing reviews for, based only on my personal experience, are the Nashville Jazz Workshop, Rudy’s Jazz Room, and Plaza Mariachi. I would now add Puckett’s of Lieper’s Fork to that list, but I know that fewer folks reading this have probably been out there. Again, I CRAVE direct support from listeners and I’m so grateful for those who support me. But when you support places like NJW, Rudy’s, and Plaza, you help provide job security for hundreds of musicians who are being treated fairly in a town where it’s very easy to take advantage of musicians. I strongly suggest attending shows, sending direct feedback, and leaving positive reviews for establishments in your own town if you don’t live in Nashville! Reach out to a local musician and ask where they’re treated well. And please reach out in the comments and let me know of other venues that deserve support and recognition!

Ice Cream Wisdom

Band leaders, artists, contractors, etc: we’re small business owners. The business of music can be so informal, social, and familiar that we lose sight of that fact. But I see so many small business owners (musicians) accidentally sabotaging themselves that I want to share a few tips I learned during my year managing an ice cream shop.

Disclaimer: of course, none of this is “necessary”. I know most of y’all are out here in the wild west doing business willy nilly and somehow it works for you. I don’t understand how, but you do you! Just sharing because there’s no reason that small business owning musicians shouldn’t have the knowledge and opportunity to steal these ideas.

COMMUNICATE EXPECTATIONS

When I hired someone at the ice cream shop, their first three shifts were spent in training. There was a handbook. There was one-on-one teaching. There were quizzes. There was a dress code. Papers were signed.

I firmly believe that one of the most powerful things you can do in any relationship is communicate expectations. In a professional setting, those expectations should be in writing and be in a place where they can be easily accessed.

On the more formal side, you might be a church worship leader or corporate band leader. In either case, you probably have a roster of musicians who participate on a rotating schedule. In such cases, it’s a great idea to provide everyone on your team with a document that expresses your values, priorities, and expectations. This might be in the form of an e-mail, private webpage, or printed paper. Things you might include in such a document:

  • leadership structure: who should your team talk to if they have a question or concern? Is there a procedure for reporting sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior?

  • dress code

  • timing: does your team keep to a strict schedule and need to be 15 minutes early for everything? Or is it relaxed? Make it clear if you’re a stickler for timing.

  • privacy: do you have set lists or arrangements that are expected to be kept private? Do you have a policy about sharing about gigs on social media?

  • alcohol (probably doesn’t apply for the worship team example but hey, I don’t know your life): what is your policy on alcohol consumption during gigs? Even if you don’t have strong feelings about this one, making a statement up front will allow you to take action more easily if a band member ever behaves inappropriately as a result of alcohol consumption. You don’t have to enforce a strict alcohol policy, but communicating one could save you a lot of trouble down the line.

On the less formal side, you might just be hiring folks on a gig-by-gig basis. It still doesn’t hurt to include some expectations in an e-mail when you’re sending information. Example:

  • “Hey, thanks for agreeing to play on 6/23! The event will take place at (location). We will play from (start time) to (end time). We need to be set up by (time) so please arrive by (time) sharp. Charts and reference recordings are attached in a Google Drive link. Pay is ($$$) each. The theme is “roaring 20s” so please dress accordingly and feel free to ask for more specifics if you’re not sure. FYI, there is a $100 band tab. However, I ask that band members not have more than 1 drink during the performance window. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.”

MAKE FEEDBACK PART OF YOUR ROUTINE

Giving feedback, especially “negative” feedback or constructive criticism, can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. One thing that makes it easier to give feedback is to make it part of your routine. That way your team can expect it and not feel put on the spot.

Let’s return to the worship leader or corporate band leader example. Here are some ideas of how you might incorporate feedback into your routine:

  • quarterly reviews: if you have consistent band members, you could provide reviews every 3-6 months. This could be in person, in writing, or both (as was the case in my ice cream job). Include how they’re excelling and include opportunities for growth. Example: John, you’ve done a fantastic job learning a ton of music over the past few months. You’re always on top of the new music and it sets a great example for the rest of the team. Over the next 3 months, I’d ask you to focus on arriving on time more consistently. We’d like to use you on more gigs, but need to see more consistency in this area before that happens.

  • peer praise: consider implementing a way for band members to give each other a shout out when they see someone doing a great job. Maybe you send out monthly e-mails to your team. Include peer shout-outs at the end.

In a less formal setting, I don’t know of an easy (or even particularly appropriate) way to give constructive criticism. If someone doesn’t meet expectations on a gig, I usually just ask for something specific in the moment (if applicable) and don’t hire them again. But you can ALWAYS give positive feedback! For example, I might send an e-mail after the gig is over to tell everyone when to expect their payment, then include, “Special thanks to Rachel for showing up early and going above and beyond with setup!” or, “the client mentioned how much they loved the horn section. Thanks for making me look good!”

Special scenario: one of my favorite things I observed at Ice Cream was performance agreements. If there was a significant issue with an employee (typically a pattern of behavior, not just a one-time mistake or infraction), we would sit down and sign a performance agreement. This was a sheet of paper that included 1) what went wrong, 2) what the expectation is, and 3) what success looks like for the employee. This might sound ridiculous, but just think about the beauty of the concept: you’re going out of your comfort zone to give someone else a clear chance at success. Real example—I caught an employee playing Pokemon Go on her phone while there was a long line of people being ignored. So her performance agreement said “*Sarah (not her real name) was playing on her phone while customers were waiting to be helped on (date). The expectation is that phones are not to be used while an employee is on the clock. Going forward, success looks like Sarah demonstrating focus on customers while on the clock and not using her phone except during breaks.” Then we both sign the agreement. AGREEMENT! What a beautiful word. That means we were both on the same page. From that point forward, “Sarah” had clear instructions on how to be successful—no guessing on how to please her employer.

Now, of course this could look different on a worship team or corporate band. But the fact remains: regardless of how awkward it might feel to give someone direct, constructive feedback, it is the most respectful thing you could do if their job security is at stake.

PROVIDE INCENTIVES

This definitely applies more the formal side, where you have a roster of band members. There are a lot of ways to provide incentives.

  • give raises: remember that quarterly review thing I mentioned? You could also provide small raises for folks who have stayed with your band long term. Someone who knows your music and has been performing it consistently for 6 months deserves more pay than someone who just started. Maybe it’s just $25 more per gig for anyone who’s been with your band for more than 6 months. Maybe you agree to always cover parking for folks in that category.

  • give scheduling priority: make a clear policy that top performers will have their choice of gigs. If you do this, you should articulate what constitutes being a “top performer” (showing up on time, having new music learned, maintaining a positive attitude on the job, etc.) but this is totally fair in my opinion. Example: “Beth, you’ve been so consistent and professional and we appreciate you so much. Take a look at the schedule for July and have your pick of dates, then I’ll fill in the dates you’re not available for.”

  • give bonuses or gift cards: make room in your budget for one-off bonuses. Maybe one month there’s a clear stand out on your worship team. Give them a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. Or someone in your corporate band suffers a personal loss yet still shows up to the gig and does their job well. Give them the tip from your client to show your appreciation. Giving bonuses or gifts is a way to honor those on your team who go above and beyond, but it also shows other team members what type of behavior is rewarded in your business.

There you go. There are a few ideas for how to apply regular-job management concepts to your creative ventures. Please let me know what ideas you have for me to add!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; baritone uke with its 4 lovely strings; these are a few of my favorite things!

Okay, I don’t care about copper kettles but I do love kittens. I wanted to share some of my favorite things today! I’ll start with music stuff but at the end I’m going to add books and shampoo because I love them :)

FIRST UP: UKULELES!

1) Lanikai Spruce Top Baritone: https://amzn.to/2JOgs53

This is what I use in many of my videos! It is not electric. I don’t think the electric ones are available on Amazon, but you can search for a dealer at https://lanikaiukuleles.com/product/flame-maple-baritone-ukulele-with-kula-preamp-a-e-ukulele/. That’s the page for the electric baritone I play.

2) Lanikai concert uke in the LOVELIEST BLUE: https://amzn.to/2VPamsq

I don’t play this one but I think it’s gorgeous and if you’re looking for a classic ukulele sound, concert is a good size to get.

Next up: STANDS!

These are all Hercules stands that I use for various things. I use this guitar stand (or a close variation) for my baritones at home, while the small stand is portable for performances.

Hercules Guitar Stand: https://amzn.to/2YxY9VG

Hercules Uke Stand: https://amzn.to/2VOnJsL

Hercules Mic Stand: https://amzn.to/2Hr3LeY

Hercules Music Stand: https://amzn.to/2YzDO2l

And now for… MY AMP!

I use a Fishman Loudbox Mini. It has a quarter inch input and an XLR, ie. instrument and microphone input. It’s small, super portable, durable, and has worked for all my solo performances, regardless of room size. I have a heavy, old set of speakers I use if a room is HUGE and I need speakers to face two directions, but I use my Fishman amp 10 times more often than I use those.

1) Fishman Loudbox Mini (w/ tuner + cover): https://amzn.to/2LTuV2g

This is what I actually use and highly recommend for solo performances.

2) Fishman Loudbox Black +XLR: https://amzn.to/2VU9AdO

This is something I saw when searching for the one I actually use. This one is black and looks awesome. Just for fun.

WANT TO LEARN SOME SONGS?

A huge number of the jazz standards I learn are ones I’ve read out of the Vocal Real Books (low voice edition). No, I don’t have a low voice, but the keys in these books are much better for me than the “high voice edition”.

Vocal Real Book 1: https://amzn.to/2Qbfktr

Vocal Real Book 2: https://amzn.to/2Qba88O

Vocal Real Book 3: https://amzn.to/2Hrf1Ys

Disclaimer: The chords in these books are not always 100% “accurate”. There are some songs that I don’t agree with their changes BUT these books are incredibly useful and mostly have solid changes. I highly recommend them without hesitation. Just keep an open ear for chord changes you might disagree with.

FOR MY VIDEOS

I use this light. The first link is the light I actually use. The second link is for a set of two similar lights. I often wish I had just gone for two lights, but I have no personally used the lights in the second link.

Softbox Light (1): https://amzn.to/2EiQS4K

Softbox Light (2): https://amzn.to/2YEbr37  

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

Here is a link to my EP “Forgettable” (which I like to think is pretty good): https://amzn.to/2QfcdAO

HERE ARE A FEW BOOKS I LOVE

CS Lewis Space Trilogy: https://amzn.to/2YCtvdQ (did you know CS Lewis had a space trilogy?! It’s WEIRD and AMAZING!)

Lord of the Rings: https://amzn.to/2Q9Qg60 (fun fact: my second tattoo was the Tree of Gondor)

Scary Close: https://amzn.to/2HrmBlV (Donald Miller talks about being bad at relationships and getting better. I love it)

AS PROMISED, SHAMPOO

I know you don’t care how I wash my hair, but I started using this brand a few months ago and I love it and I think often about telling my friends and then I forget.

Conditioner: https://amzn.to/2YDc25e (it says Hair Mask but I use it as conditioner and my hair doesn’t get greasy)

Shampoo: https://amzn.to/30sGMaK

African black soap: https://amzn.to/2HqNpCR (smells like cherry candy)

Why do I need an online presence?

The short answer: TO GET PAID.

So I’m a poor, young jazz vocalist living in a city with limited performance opportunities for poor, young jazz vocalists. So I decide that traveling to play music in less musically-saturated cities might be nice. But I can’t necessarily afford to bring a band with me. Instead, I’d like to hire folks who are local to the area I’m visiting. How will I find players?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations

-I can’t think of any other ways. Just the 2.

Let’s say I’m a talented indie artist from Nashville looking to book a tour. I want to play in Washington, DC but I’ll need to split the bill with a local artist or two in order to increase draw. How will I find bands to play with?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations (followed by a quick Google search to vet the recommendations)

I’m a songwriter in Hong Kong and I want to find someone to record my music so I can put it in my friend’s YouTube animation videos (this is a real life story). How will I choose who should record my songs?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations

I’m a choral contractor and one of my sopranos has lost her voice last minute. I need another soprano for a vocal session in 18 hours. How will I find someone to replace my fallen diva?

YOU KNOW WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS.

The most terrible and wonderful thing about the internet is that people can find you. But if they look for you, what are they going to see? Are they going to find an article about your high school science fair project, or are they going to find an amazing video of you showcasing your skills? Are they going to find a decaying Soundcloud page with mid-2000s emo ballads or will they find a professional looking webpage that earns their trust? Or will they be able to find you at all? Will their search only yield results about someone else in North Dakota who makes artisan toilet seat covers?

Here are my recommendations:

-If you are a musician, there needs to be a decent video available that displays your skills. Create a YouTube (it’s free) and upload your best video. Make sure the title, description, and tags are relevant and thorough. This will help people find you in a search. I always include “Abigail Flowers”, “Nashville”, “jazz singer”, and “baritone ukulele”.

-Think about a website. If that’s too expensive, do a landing page through Squarespace—I think it’s only $5/month and is still quite effective. If that’s too much, perhaps just purchase the domain name you want.

-If a website is too involved, you can create free profiles on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Yeah, the whole social media empire is corrupt but why not use it for your benefit while you can? Again, make sure your page(s) include relevant information (name, location, instrument, accomplishments).

-Have a bio! Ask a friend to help if it’s too hard. Heck, hire me to write your bio.

-Professional photos are a big plus. They don’t have to be expensive. They just ought to be decent and not have an outrageous filter on them.

-INCLUDE. YOUR. LOCATION. PLEASE. FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. ALL. THAT. IS. HOLY.

If you are living your dream career and getting tons of gigs off of recommendations alone, then I offer you a virtual standing ovation. But if you’ve read this far, that’s probably not the case. I want you to get hired, but you can’t get hired if you’re hard to find. Make it easy for someone to decide you’re right for their gig. Do your best to quickly convey (through a website or social media profile):

-your name

-your general location

-your instrument (and other skills you offer, like arranging)

-what you actually sound like (video or recording)

-your credits (brag in a bio about what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with)

-contact information (email address or contact form on website)

That’s all I’ve got for now—share your thoughts and recommendations with me!

My first "published" arrangement!

Okay, I am SUPER excited because my arrangement of “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is available for purchase on Sheet Music Plus! They have a service that now takes care of licensing for tons of songs so you (I) can post arrangements easily. I’m hoping to get all my trio arrangements on there eventually, but I’m super excited to offer this one for now :) Check it out and send to a high school choir teacher! <3 https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/21201674

What is Blossom?

I have spent a lot of my life feeling like a musical outsider. When I was in school, I was always in the ensemble of the musical. In college, I felt like “jazz” was for a certain type of person, and this certain type of person was smarter than me. After my tonsillectomy at age 20, I had to start from scratch and re-learn what my singing voice would sound like. It turns out that my new voice couldn’t belt as high or do as many runs. I tended to hang out in the shadow of “stronger” vocalists. As an adult, I’ve been rejected American Idol, The Voice, local wedding bands, and local every-other-kind-of bands.

But 3 and a half years ago, things changed. I got hired to sing jazz standards at a hotel in Michigan with a group of amazing musicians. Getting introduced to the Great American Songbook changed my life. And so did the time I spent with musicians who were confident enough in their own abilities to encourage me in mine. I came back from that experience with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. Despite being told “no” a fair amount in my career, I realized that I have unique skills that are worth pursuing. So I quit my full time job 18 months ago and have been a freelance musician ever since.

At first, I thought that other jazz musicians would look down on me for playing ukulele. And to be honest, they probably do. And to be more honest, I don’t give a crap anymore. Baritone ukulele is my favorite instrument to play. I think the ukulele is special because it’s so accessible. ANYONE can play ukulele. But there’s always more to learn; it’s not too small of an instrument for great musicians. It’s truly a fantastic instrument for any skill level. And I think music is an essential part of life. Anyone with an interest in music should be able to feel confident in their abilities, even if it’s just a hobby.

So Blossom is a place where I want to share my knowledge and encourage you on your musical journey. I want to share the ups and downs of my creative pursuits and help you feel fearless in yours. Everyone can be a musician. And everyone has room to grow. Let’s blossom together.