GoGirls Interview with Lisa Brigantino
What drives your music? When did you first know you had to do this thing called music or bust?
I've been singing and playing music since I'm a kid. I come from a very musical family and there was always ukulele playing and 4 part harmony singing at family get togethers. I learned to harmonize at a very early age and the first instrument I learned to play was ukulele at 4 (my Grandma taught my sister and I), then piano at 5, then violin, guitar, upright and electric bass, mandolin, etc. The last time I counted I think I was up to 14 instruments. I also started writing music as a kid. Except for a brief period of time when I thought I might want to be a doctor, I always knew I wanted to pursue music in some way, shape or form. It's simply who I am and what I do - I can't imagine any other life. I have a physical, mental and emotional need to make music.
Describe your music style and name three musicians you have been inspired by and why.
I take a very eclectic approach to composing and don't write in one particular musical style or genre. I listen to all kinds of music from medieval chant, baroque, classical, to ragtime, standards (all the great songwriters like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, etc.), hard rock to folk, blues, alt country, pop, punk, etc. and these influences find their way into my original music. My goal is to write good music with my own unique stamp on it, no matter the style. My upcoming CD release "Wonder Wheel" has songs ranging from folk and tex-mex to rock, pop, and more. I also have a Master of Music degree in composition and music theory from the School of Music at SUNY Fredonia and I compose for a variety of projects including TV, film, theatre, etc., so I have to be flexible and able to write in whatever musical style or genre the project calls for.
I've been inspired by many musicians and composers, but if I have to pick three, I'd have to say the late Felix Pappalardi, Johann Sebastian Bach and The Beatles/Joni Mitchell are tied for third! Felix Pappalardi was my cousin and produced Cream among many other bands and artists and later went on to produce and be the bass player of Mountain (folks might know them from their hit "Mississippi Queen"). Felix gave me my first electric bass when I was 14, an old Ampeg with a scroll top and I treasure it. He was classically trained like me and played a myriad of instruments so we had a lot in common. Bach is simply the master of composition. One of Brahms' students asked Brahms what he should study to become a great composer and Brahms said "Study Bach. There you will find eveyrthing." It doesn't matter what style you write in, you can learn so much about form, counterpoint, harmony, melody by studying and listening to the music of Bach. I find myself going back to The Beatles music and the writing of Lennon/McCartney over and over again. I'm never bored by their songs and I find great inspiration in their music and recordings. Just wonderful, well-crafted songs and performances and arrangements (with the help of George Martin) that are going to stand the test of time. As a singer/songwriter, I think Joni Mitchell is the ultimate role model - She has an amazing ability to combine lyrics, melody and harmony in a way that it totally unique and perfect to each song and what that song is trying to express.
What's your ideal venue atmosphere?
Really, any venue that has a good sound system and a good sound engineer is ideal! I'm happy in a small room with a handful of people, or a room like The Fillmore in NYC that fits about 1000 or playing in front of 20,000 people at The Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee which I got to do when I was with Lez Zeppelin (the all girl, all Led Zeppelin tribute band). As long as it sounds good out in the house and I can hear on stage, I'm comfortable anywhere.
Describe how your music career has evolved since you first started performing.
I've been performing since I'm a kid and have played in a variety of ensembles ranging from orchestras to choruses, jazz bands, rock bands, etc. I had been doing the singer/songwriter thing for a number of years in NYC after college and then I got involved with Lez Zeppelin. I was a founding member and the "John Paul Jones" of the band and played bass, bass pedals, keyboards and mandolin. Being in the band gave me the opportunity to play some of the most challenging rock and roll there is at A list venues and festivals all over the world, get amazing press (including appearing on CBS Sunday Morning) and it also opened the door for me to become a Kurzweil endorsed artist. Although it was a great ride with Lez Zeppelin, after being involved with the project for almost 6 years, it was time to move on and I left in early 2009. Now I'm back to focusing on my own original material, about to release my next CD and planning shows, working on "The Vickie & Nickie Show" (a wacky musical comedy act I do with my sister Lori) in addition to performing with other artists. I've sat in on accordion with my friend April Smith and her band The Great Picture Show and I also play fiddle and mandolin with my Nashville-based friends The Mulch Brothers, when they're in town. In addition, I played bass for NYC cabaret singer Gretchen Reinhagen's 2009 show "Almost Blue" and will be working with her again this spring on a new project. Because I play a number of different instruments, I'm lucky to have so many performance opportunities open to me. In addition to doing my own music, I really enjoy the challenge and diversity of playing with a variety of artists.
How would you describe the music scene in your area?
The music scene in NYC is coming around. It was pretty bleak for about 10 plus years, but it seems to be making a comeback. NYC offers many different performance opportunities and there are venues of all sizes for all levels and types of musicians and performers. There are many venues to play even if you're just starting out and trying to get some experience. That being said, a lot of these places that cater to new artists are like assembly lines, having too many acts a night and only giving people 30 minutes to perform. You really have to do your research and find the best venues where music is important to who owns and runs the place, not just how many drinks they're going to sell.
What was the inspiration for your latest release?
I'll be releasing a new CD within the next few months. The title of the CD is "Wonder Wheel" and it was inspired by a photograph that my sister Lori took of the Wonder Wheel (a ferris wheel) at Coney Island, Brooklyn and that's going to be the CD cover. It also inspired the title track for the album. "Wonder Wheel" to me is also a metaphor for life and that jives lyrically with the tunes on the album that include songs I wrote years ago to ones I just finished in 2009. I also wanted to create an album where I played most of the instruments. With the exception of some guest appearances by vocalists Lori Brigantino, Susan Haefner and Jerry Snee and my husband Tom Millioto playing electric guitar and doing drum programming, I'm doing everything else. That includes vocals, acoustic and electric lead and rhythm guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion, mandolin, ukulele and more.
What do you think is number one for a musician to think about before preparing for a CD project and do you have any tips on saving time in the studio?
Having a good producer is key. Even if you want to produce your own CD, you really need another set of ears, and very good ones at that. My husband and I co-produced my new CD, so even though I'm a producer on it, I had someone else working with me that I trusted to bounce ideas off of. In terms of saving time in the studio, making sure you do good pre-production can save many hours. I'm lucky in the fact that we've been able to take our time recording "Wonder Wheel" because we recorded it in our own project studio. If you don't have that luxury, you and any other musicians you bring in need to have your parts down and be well-rehearsed so you can go into the studio and knock out the tracks because of the time constraints you'll be under. Time is money.
What makes or breaks a musician just starting out in your opinion?
I believe that you have to follow your heart and write and play what you want and what you hear in your own head. You can't try to be someone else or latch on to the latest musical craze. Too many young songwriters and musicians get swept up in trying to copy someone else that they never develop their own "voice". Yes, music is an aural tradition and you have to listen and study to learn from those that came before, but then you have to incorporate that into your own unique vision. Plus, you have to be persistent. Just because you might have some bad experiences and disappointments, doesn't mean you should quit. Simply put - do not give up.
Describe your toughest moments in your quest for a music career and tell us how you overcame them.
My toughest moments came when I was working full time in the business end of the music industry (In addition to writing and performing, I also do music and talent supervision and intellectual property licensing and rights clearance) and was not finding the time I needed to work on my music. At the most difficult point, I was the Vice President of a licensing company, working up to 10 hours days at a very stressful job and was mentally and emotionally exhausted when I got home and didn't have it in me to even pick up my guitar. That was extremely frustrating. I did, however, force myself to get involved with Lez Zeppelin at that time to have an outlet. In 2005, gigs with Lez Zeppelin were starting to pick up and I quit my full time job. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Now, I do supervision and licensing through my own company Hidden Pond Productions and have plenty of time to do music because I'm managing my schedule and working for myself. I've also been able to combine my creative side with the business side of my company and supply custom music production, scoring and sound design to my clients. I recently scored my second film for filmmaker Jennifer Williams and also co-wrote the music for a national TV commercial for Plato's Closet (an apparel store chain) with my husband in 2007. The big lesson here is, don't be afraid. I know it sounds corny, but I love that line from the sci-fi book Dune: "Fear is the mind killer." I'm also big into the teachings of Joseph Campbell who said over and over: "Follow Your Bliss". Find a way to do what you love and it will work out.
What advice would you offer up and coming artists that get discouraged other than don't give up?
I think in addition to being passionate, tenacious and not giving up, you need to surround yourself with people that love and support you and are not dream-killers. If you do get discouraged, you just need to focus more on the things that can propel you forward. You need to practice and study and be the best musician/writer that you can be. You will always have more to learn - not only about the craft of music but about the business, itself. The more you can educate yourself about how the business of music works, the better off you'll be and the less chance you'll have of someone taking advantage of you. You also need to network like crazy and be confident about who you are and how you present yourself. Also, keep your ego in check. No one likes working with a diva. You may get that first job, but if you're difficult, you'll never be asked back and word spreads quickly in the industry about how easy or hard it is to work with someone. It sounds so simple, but be kind and say "please" and "thank you". Remember, kindness is not a sign of weakness. Most of the music opportunities and jobs that I've gotten through the years have come through referrals because people know my abilities, that I have a good sense of humor, I'm easy to work with and I'm a professional. That goes a very long way.
Tell us something you want the music world to know about you.
I'm an award-winning singer/songwriter/composer/multi-instrumentalist that loves writing music, making music and performing. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to do and continue to pursue what I love.
What have you gotten out of being a member of the GoGirls community?
Being a part of GoGirls has really opened up some cool opportunities, like being able to do this interview. There are great networking, educational and performance opportunities through GoGirls, as well. It's so important to be a part of organizations like this not only to further your own career, but to support, give back and mentor others doing the same thing. Plus, I think all of us could learn a lot from Madalyn Sklar. She's a great example of a woman who knows how to get stuff done!
Find out more about Lisa Brigantino:
Copyright © 2010 Madalyn Sklar
Madalyn Sklar is a music business coach & consultant, blogger, social networks expert and author. She has spent over 14 years helping independent musicians and music business professionals achieve greater success in the biz. Her motto is: working smarter not harder. She also founded GoGirlsMusic.com, the oldest + largest online community of indie women musicians.
You can reach Madalyn at MadalynSklar.com or madalynsklar AT gmail.com