Artist Profile with ... LEEANN AKERS - Oct 19, 2009
HitQuarters artist teams up with RedOne, Lady Gaga, Tricky Stewart and Jim Jonsin!
Since first becoming HitQuarters Artist of the Week back in 2005 as a talented unknown, Leeann Akers has gone on to sign with Motown Records, work with such famed producers as RedOne, Jim Jonsin and Tricky Stewart, and even co-write with dazzling pop diva Lady Gaga.
Big things are expected from this gifted rising star and so HitQuarters caught up with the Detroit-based singer to ask how it’s all coming together, as well as talk about her influences, writing technique, and ongoing search for the right manager.
How did your music career first begin?
I started singing in church when I was 11. From there I started to do local fairs and work with some local producers. I spent a lot of my time networking and building relationships with people locally.
Who have been the most influential people in your career so far?
The most influential people in my life have been my dad and my grandma.
I’m a big time daddy’s girl and he’s been so supportive throughout my career. He loves writing music too, so sometimes we sit down and write together. My grandma has also always been very supportive and she helps me network and takes care of all the little day-to-day things.
Musically I’d have to say Dolly Parton. I love her tone and the concepts behind her songs. When I write a song I usually keep her in mind.
The 90s ragga star Snow was someone that was influential in getting your career off the ground – how did come about?
When I was 15 I met and then worked with the mother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, and it was her that later introduced me to Snow.
When we met we just clicked instantly. He was really the first person to take me under his wing and teach me the ropes. He’s based in Toronto - which is only 4 hours from where I’m at in Detroit - so I'd take the train there and meet up with me to write and record. He taught me how to build a song and all about harmonies, crucial things like that.
Who’s part of your team at the moment?
I have relationships with some big writers and producers that are there when I need them. Right now I'm in the process of switching management teams, so when the time is right I'll make a few phone calls and get my team together to make music and be creative!
Good management is clearly very important to the development of any artist’s career. What exactly are you looking for?
Someone that gets me and my vision. I have yet to meet someone that gets my vision. They also have to have a lot of contacts and be the kind of person that can make things happen.
Who has been representing you so far?
Prior to signing with Motown I never really had any representation - it was always just me and my grandmother doing all the work. I have friends in the business that believe in my project that get me favours or involve me on things they are doing. I will have representation soon though.
I do have the entertainment lawyer Doug Davis – who’s the son of Clive Davis – looking after my interests though. He’s one of the best in the business and represents a lot of big name artists.
Who was it that helped set up the Universal/Motown deal and how did it come about?
That was the music attorney, Doug Davis. He played my songs to Motown’s A&R over dinner.
The first meeting went really well. He loved me right away and wanted to bring me back the next week to meet Sylvia Rhone (president of Motown Records).
What’s changed in your life since you signed the deal?
Well it’s given me the opportunity to meet and work with all the top people in the industry.
Has your social life not changed at all?
It hasn't really changed much. I've always been career driven – it’s a big part of me. I go out just as much as I did prior to the deal.
What do your friends think of your music career?
I don’t really know, to be honest - most of my friends are not actually aware of the extent of my career. Obviously they’re think it’s very cool that I travel and get to do what I love.
With regard to professional relationships, how do you work with songwriters and producers and how it is chosen who you actually work with?
What usually happens is that someone in my team makes a phone call to the songwriter or producer and schedules a time and place to meet for a session. I'll then fly to where ever they are for a few nights.
With regards to choosing professional partners, with Motown it’s been a give and take kind of relationship. I might ask to work with someone and they would say, “Okay, but we want you to work with these guys too!"
Who’s actually setting up these meetings and taking care of expenses?
When you’re in a major deal, your team around you usually talks to the label and they set something up together. It’s the label that pays for your travel expenses, studio time etc.
You recently worked with RedOne (read the HitQuarters interview with Red here) – did you have to pay him upfront for the production and who hooked you up together?
It was Motown that scheduled the session with both RedOne and Lady Gaga together.
As far as I’m aware he got paid if we liked the track and used it on the album.
What was it like working with RedOne? How does he work in the studio – does he have the tracks pre-prepared for you to sing over?
Red One is very cool guy. I think he had a couple tracks put together to write to and then I picked from them.
How did that compare to Christopher ‘Tricky’ Stewart , someone else you’ve worked with recently?
With Tricky, he already had an entire song written and ready for me to record.
So what did you and Lady Gaga work?
We wrote a track together called ‘Unbroken’ (which you can listen to here). Lady Gaga is a very outgoing person, and in a session she’s certainly very energetic.
So do you always have a idea of what song you are going to do when you go into a writing session?
Yes, for the most part. Sometimes I’ll know exactly how I want a track to sound and other times go in with a particular concept in mind.
Are there any producers or songwriters you would particularly like to work with?
Yes, Justin Timberlake! I have a track called ‘Cryin’ Time’ and I’d love to get him on the bridge. I’ve written his part already and its perfect for him!
I’d also love to write a song with Dolly Parton, and also there’s a writer in Nashville called Ashley Monroe that I’d love to work with. She’s a really good writer and her voice is amazing!
Do you find it hard to open up when you get in a session with a writer you’ve never met before?
Yes, it doesn’t always go as smooth as you'd like it to. Sometimes you meet someone that you mesh really well with, but then other times it can prove a little harder to be creative together. It’s certainly a hit and miss process.
What about you have writer’s block – how do you handle that?
I don’t. If it doesn’t come then I don’t force it basically. To be creative I need to be inspired by someone or something. Sometimes I’ll just stop the track I’m writing and start a whole new one.
When you’re looking for songs are you seeking full songs co-writes?
Right now, I’m doing both. If I get pitched a song I like then I’ll record it. The songs usually come from my writer friends or someone in my camp gets a song from someone they know that they like.
Other times I might call up a writer and schedule a date to write together.
What’s your technique for writing your own songs?
I keep a recorder in my purse so when I come up with lyrics or melodies I can tape them for later. Then I use my laptop and go to notepad and structure the lyrics into a song. And yes I play piano.
Is there anyone in the industry you see as a role model for your own career - someone, for example, who you believe has worked hard and made shrewd decisions?
Musically I think Taylor Swift has opened a lot of doors. I would say our music is like a hybrid of pop and country.
I also think Beyonce has done an awesome job of being a role model and having her head on straight whilst remaining humble at the same time.
As you say your songs are very country influenced but yet you are native of Detroit – do you have connections to the south or are you just particularly inspired by that kind of music?
My family are from the south and I was raised by southern bells. As far as professionally, I have some writers in Nashville that I sometimes work with and know people that work closely with Curb Records and Mercury.
Do you have any long-term aspirations to work on more roots-based country music – like your hero Dolly Parton - or are you inspired as much by pop and country and want to keep your music very modern?
I’d love to do an entire bluegrass album one day.
Detroit has its own rich musical heritage – a lot coming from your label Motown – are you inspired by any past and present local music?
Absolutely. Everyone from Jackson Five and Stevie Wonder to the Detroit natives like Madonna and Eminem.
How did you come across HitQuarters and how have you used our website?
Actually my grandmother introduced me to your site. I was on it everyday after that. It helped me find information out about people in the business - who works where and who represents who and contact info etc. The more knowledge and contacts you have the better!
What did you gain from the experience?
HitQuarters is another avenue that lets you explore other options and gives you the opportunity to have your music heard by the biggest names in the business.
What you think of HitQuarters as a resource for unsigned artists?
HitQuarters is an awesome resource for unsigned artists, and even signed artists because once you are signed it’s still only the beginning. You still have to hustle and contact people on your own - labels don’t do everything these days! So to have something you can go back to and have a reference of information is awesome!
Something else seemingly important these days are social sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – how active is your social networking life?
I know it’s very important but I don’t actually spend as much time networking on those sites as I should. I’m certainly going to start doing that more and also hiring people to help me network.
What’s the plan for the near future?
The plan right now is to take things one step at a time, focus on getting new material and securing my new management team and moving full force with marketing and branding.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully wherever I am I'm happy. I hope its somewhere writing music and doing more collaborations with other established artists, selling out tours, accepting awards, and watching fans sing along with me at my shows!
Interview by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Professional Demo Review returns with the focus this time on song-centric artists.
Read On ...
* Unsigned pop star Hashell speaks on the eve of her debut album release