In this interview Nora Germain, a seasoned violinist and veteran of the stage, shares her extensive DIY knowledge, particularly when it comes to the running a PledgeMusic campaign, as well as advice on cultivating a successful career in music in general.
Guest post from PledgeMusic News
Nora Germain is no stranger to the stage. The 25-year old jazz violinist has been performing publicly for the last decade, alongside some of the world’s great musical talents including John Altman, Alison Burns, Jacob Collier, and Jon Batiste, just to name a few. The seasoned vet is also a D.I.Y. pro, and has a lot of knowledge to share with artists who are looking to get the most out of their PledgeMusic campaigns, and ultimately, their entire musical careers. Check out our interview with Nora below.
How do you prepare mentally when you play in different jazz environments (for example from playing with a virtuoso soloist like Tommy Emmanuel, or a more jazz/ funk genre style like Jon Batiste)? What are some of the work environments you have had to adapt your working style to fit?
Every artist is different and every show calls for a different type of delivery. Some performers I work with are very active on stage, always cracking jokes, smiling, adding little details. Some really keep to themselves and just play the music the best they can without giving too much of their personality. I like to be more active and playful myself, but it depends on the performance.
Tony Bennett said that there’s no such thing as a bad audience -- just a bad performance. What that means to me is that as performers we must feel the audience’s energy, know what they want us to deliver and what they’re looking for in a show, and deliver that. If we don’t reach them that’s on us, not on them.
I mentally prepare by taking a deep breath, always staying hydrated and calm, and remembering that if you do your best and you smile that the audience will always love you for it.
Tommy likes to play really fast, right on the edge of what he’s capable of. It’s thrilling and exciting. So when I’m playing with someone like that who really likes to push you (the bassist for Postmodern Jukebox Casey Abrams is like that as well, and the London guitarist Nigel Price, and others) I try to stay very alert and to be ready for anything. It’s very important to not become tense. You want to be loose and play very light, so you can walk the tight rope, or run it!
With Jon Batiste or some other musicians that are much more groove based, the key is really the attitude when you’re playing. Some other musicians that come to mind in that sense are Marshall Hawkins (who was a bassist with Miles Davis) and Jacob Collier. For those people it’s more about the attitude of each note, and really being in the right kind of mind to freely express yourself. You want to be open, and you have to practice a lot of self love so that you can emote without judging yourself.
Sometimes you want to be a bit more in the background. When I played with Sam Smith I was just in a string section. That can be a great exercise because you want to support the artist without getting in the way at all. It’s the same way when I record with the soul singer JMSN. I’m really in a supporting roll.
Every day requires something a little different than the last, but as long as you’re open to adapting, you can absolutely play with anyone.
You are a successful DIY musician, and have written a book about your experiences that you are selling through your PledgeMusic campaign. Can you share what you think is the most vital online tactic for being successful? Are there pitfalls musicians should avoid to have a successful online/ social media campaign?
Here are a few of my best tips.
First you want to make sure that when you post about your campaign, you’re making a short but concrete ask and that people know when the deadline is. Don’t write a paragraph about what you’re doing. Put the details in a video. Make short posts that include the deadline and the link and then more people will know about what you’re doing because all they need to do is glance to see the information.
Celebrate the small successes along the way. Let people know (on Facebook or in your pledger updates, or via your email list, etc.) when you’ve reached another percent on your goal. Let them know when exclusives are running out and when something inspiring happens with the project. Each success builds confidence in your project in the eyes of potential pledgers.
Get your friends to help. Make a list of people who follow your music and who believe in you and ask them to share your campaign for you and maybe say a little something about why they support you or the last time they saw you play live, etc. Getting a message from more than one source is always more persuasive than getting it only once.
Take the spotlight off of the pity party when you talk about your campaign. Don’t mention that it’s so hard to get people to pledge and that you’re worried about reaching your deadline and things like that. This is PledgeMusic, not GoFundMe. Now there’s nothing wrong with GoFundMe, but PledgeMusic is not a charity website. It’s a place for people to pre-order albums and exclusive experiences. They’re purchasing an artistic product from you -- not giving their money away. Talk about your campaign in that way, so that you’re highlighting people pre-ordering your music, not giving money for charity. Be dignified and confident.
If anybody needs any help with their campaign, my website has a form that you can fill out if you have any questions or need some quick advice. It’s www.noragermain.com
How about in the day to day performing – the audition/job acquirement aspects. Can jazz violinists be DIY musicians easily without the number of showcases available to rock clubs? Do you need to be careful of picking your living locale? Some musicians are overwhelmed once they move away from the safety of their music school environment. Do you have any words of encouragement for expanding the musical horizon? How successful can a musician be on their own – are there good venues once you find the right audience?
Anyone can be a DIY musician. I wouldn’t say that my plan is to run my whole career alone forever, but it’s certainly possible if you’re willing to put the work in. Most of the jobs I book with other artists are jobs that I emailed them about. I find people whose work I like and then I tell those people, “Hey. I’d like to work with you if you need a violinist.” People call you when they know that you’re qualified and interested.
In terms of showcases, yeah -- it’s a different world. The jazz world isn’t as organized or productive or as big of a machine in any respect compared to the other music genres. But that’s ok. It just comes back to doing live shows and getting people to connect with seeing you play on stage. There is one thing that jazz musicians have that a lot of others don’t -- and that’s our improvisation. That aspect is different person to person, so you have to really work on your craft and improvising in your own unique way. Also, it’s good to write or cover other music that’s maybe played in a jazz way but isn’t necessarily instrumental or in the swing rhythm so that young people can relate to the music as well. I like to bring the best of the past into the now, and create some new stuff too, so it’s a variety of moments. My current campaign is to fund an entire album of original songs by me that I’ll be singing, so I’m adding more of that stuff to the show too.
I love living in Los Angeles and think it’s a great city for music. There are always improvements that can be made. I think Los Angeles needs more dedicated jazz venues so that more people, especially young ones, will have a place to go and hear great tap dancers and pianists, singers, and even jazz violinists play every night. Swing dancing is on the uptake in LA, and that’s employing a lot of jazz bands. But these days, with the internet, and especially if you plan to tour a lot, you can live anywhere. People just have to see the music to know how much they love it, and without enough dedicated (and affordable) venues that’s tricky.
Regarding music school, no. I wasn’t afraid to get away from that environment. I’ve always wanted to be out there, on stage, and trying things live in front of people. I enjoyed my institutionalized musical training a very small percentage of the time, and all through college I was already playing a lot of gigs. I fell asleep in my classes sometimes because I was playing late the night before. I’d say just get out there. You have to test your ideas in front of people, and the sooner you start the easier it becomes. You get better at it every time you try. That’s for sure.
How successful can you be? Anywhere from homeless to Michael Jackson. It’s about how you connect with people. Create the right media and everything will come from that, I think. But in this dystopian music industry, even Aretha Franklin may hot have been signed if she were young today. It’s hard to say what’s possible. There’s a lot to fear and a lot to be inspired by. But none of that matters if you try hard and believe in yourself. That’s the real stuff, and I think that musicians can rise above any political environment, economic circumstance or generational lapse in taste.
Your book “Go for It …Surviving the Challenges of Becoming an Artist” is meant to inspire. Can you describe what you touch on there? How much do musicians need something to stay tethered to their goals and desires to further their career? How would you convince an artist to stay encouraged?
My book was designed to inspire my young colleagues, people who are professional artists or are working to become professional. It starts with background on my life, but quickly expands to a number of chapters (30 or so) that include topics like stage fright, education, practicing, being a woman in the music world, the appeal of jazz, how to be authentic, overcoming failure and desires to quit, and lots of other subjects as well. I wanted to help other people to believe in themselves, and to write about my career as I’m in the trenches trying to create it, not 50 years from now when I can’t even remember what this period in my life was like. So it’s really an inspirational book for young people, and I wrote it in such a way (or I hope I did) that people who are in other careers or walks of life will enjoy it as well.
Without concrete goals, or at the very least, creative ethics and morals, it’s hard to live a satisfying creative life whether you’re working on your own projects or someone else’s. You have to know what you want to do, what you’re willing to do, and what you’re not willing to do. It’s art after all. It’s supposed to be uplifting, so choose wisely. It’s said in one of the Star Wars films that your focus determines your reality. Watch where you focus your energy, because that’s what your life will become. My book available in Paperback or ebook formats on my PledgeMusic store.