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Exclusive Artist Diary with ... SHARA - Sep 7, 2009

“The good thing was he had the connections. The bad thing was his songwriting skills were severely limited … Rather than showcase my voice, his songs left my prize asset sorely undervalued.”

picture To make it in the music biz you either need to wait patiently for luck to strike or rely on your own talent and unflagging determination to carve out your own fortune. New York’s pop soul powerhouse Shara has opted for the latter route to stardom, and it seems to be working well so far.

In this exclusive Artist Diary, HitQuarters Artist of the Week Shara Strand reveals how her vocal prowess and ferocious drive are finally reaping their rewards, recounting how they helped secure both a crucial meeting with a talent agency and a spot on the legendary ‘Showtime At the Apollo’, and were unable to let a fortuitous encounter with major label boss Avery Lipman pass by untapped. Now on the verge of releasing her first single, she counts hit Leona Lewis songwriter Andrea Martin and manager and all round industry bigwig Michael Michel amongst her close contacts. The future is certainly looking bright for Shara but the hard work doesn’t stop there.

By Shara Strand

August 25th

8:30 AM: I wake up, make coffee, check emails, get annoyed about not hearing back from various people, and then I call my mom and complain!

10:30 AM: The phone rings. It's Andrea Martin, the amazing songwriter, artist, and producer. She shakes me out of the annoyed state that I am in simply by just her being her.

10:40 AM: An email arrives from the Grammy award winning producer Russ Titelman, prompted by his having heard me sing at Elaine's in New York last week. He says he will be attending my performance at Comix on September 13th. This makes me very happy. At the same time I get an email from music manager Michael Michel, who has been hard at work with breaking a new artist for Universal. He is crazy busy these days, so it's good to touch base finally.

* * *

This is a typical Monday morning in my world. In just over two hours, I’ve experienced contentment, peace, annoyance, elation, excitement, and relief. Experiencing this regular rollercoaster of emotions has taught me the importance of patience. Wait for what is meant for you, because if you are patient, you will get there.

I have wanted to be a singer all my life, but didn't get my shot in the music biz until about 5 years ago.

I was raised on the stage, performing professionally on some of the best stages New York has to offer. I started specialist vocal training when I was 8 years old – that was the age at which I began to recognise that singing was my special gift. That learning process ultimately led me to New York’s Tisch [School of the Arts], and it was on a day soon after graduating that I went to an audition that would change my life forever.

I got an email from someone I didn't know asking me to attend an audition directed at singers. It turned out to be a call back to be a backup singer for a new artist that was due to be an opening act for the upcoming Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera ‘Justified’ tour. I landed the gig after proving I was able to sing with the necessary ‘soul’. All of a sudden it became clear - this was a new world for me. The doors of the music industry had swung open, revealing a whole new reality ready and waiting to be explored.
The artist/songwriter soon began taking an active interest in me to extent where they began producing me with the aim of developing me as a solo pop artist. The good thing about this guy was that he had the connections. The bad thing was that his songwriting skills were severely limited, and this proved debilitating as it was his ‘half songs’ that I performed on my first professional demo. Rather than showcase my voice to its full potential, his songs left my prize asset sorely undervalued.

Shortly after I performed a showcase that attracted interest from the boys at Universal Motown. While they showed me love, they were less enamoured by the songwriter artist. Upset at this snub, he ended all communication with me, and since then I’ve never had any further contact or help from him.

Instead, I took the demo and mailed it to lots of management companies I’d found in the trade publication Pollstar. This resulted in a meeting with Mark Green, the owner of Celebrity Talent Agency. We began a working relationship that in years to come would lead to me securing a spot opening for Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo at the concert venue Mark later set up. It was a friend of Mark’s, Jesse Boseman of Sunsong Productions, who was able to get me a competing spot on ‘Showtime at the Apollo’, which would become one of the greatest experiences of my life.

This began a productive period where I began writing, recording, and performing all over New York. I entered an online competition, and got the chance to fly to Austin and compete in a live show, which I won, receiving the title of ‘Pop Fenom, Season 2’.

And then, on one very random evening, I was lucky enough to meet the co-president of Universal Republic, Avery Lipman (read the HitQuarters interview with Avery here), at a social function. I followed it up by sending a complete press kit and managed to find his email. I checked in with him once every 2 weeks, and then one day, I got a phone call.

He explained to me where the state of the business was in his experience. I told him what I was doing and asked him to think about anyone that I would be compatible with to further my artist development. His response was to introduce me to Michael Michel.

Said to possess “amazing instincts”, Michael Michel started out as an A&R for Universal Motown before he moved on to his present role running a production company and managing artists and producers. "Amazing instincts" certainly did define him.
Our first meeting was in a boardroom at Universal. He immediately assessed who I was and what I was about. Then he played me a song by a writer he had begun to manage, one Andrea Martin. It was such an exciting meeting because I instantly fell in love with the song and knew it was what I had been looking for all along.

I was able to secure a meeting with Andrea, who was at the time basking in the glow of having her song ‘Better In Time’, as performed by Leona Lewis, blast out of every radio across the land. She could quite easily have let such phenomenal success go to her head, so it was a relief when I found her to be reassuringly down to earth. She is a very cool person, who also happens to be amazingly gifted and creative. Every song she played me that night I felt I needed to sing. It was an amazing evening and I left her company on top of the world.

This very promising first meeting led to me working with Andrea the whole of last summer on a five-song demo. It was the biggest growing experience of my life. When we were happy with the results, we took the finished product to Avery Lipman, who asked me if I'd be comfortable performing a few of the songs live. Naturally I was ecstatic at the suggestion.

Although the rehearsal process was intense and lasted months, I did get a ton of invaluable direction. What’s more, looking back at the actual live show, I’d say it was one of the best performances of my career. It felt amazing.

Three months later, the decision was made to put me on hold until I could get my own movement going. Ever since that day, I have been on an amazing journey. I am now entertaining interest from an indie label with upstream major distribution, and a contract from a radio and online distribution company, connected to Universal in Canada. I am also headlining a full show September 13th at the Cutting Room at New York’s Comix, and will have everyone I have worked with this far attend, in addition to new players and potential investors.

I have done a ton of PR, and appeared on CBS talk radio in New York, I started coaching with Andrea Martin, I became a HitQuarters Artist of the Week, and won a top 5 artist of the week. I am now getting ready to be able to release my first single ‘Can and Cannot Do’ one way or another.

Andrea gave me some advice that will always stay with me, "Someone's hit is another person's miss." I will always try to be understanding of the process and will continue to have faith in what's meant for me.

Photo Credit: Tim Herzog

Next week: Hit musician and songwriter Martin Carr talks about going it alone in the music industry

Read On ...

* Sofia Talvik, Swedish singer-songwriter and artist diarist, on cracking the USA
* Artist Diarist Mike G on a journey to the top of the charts fraught with frustrations, rivalries and setbacks
* Hotly Sheffield hopefuls Dead Like Harry on being self-managed