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Artist Diary with ... ERIKA FATALE - Feb 28, 2011

“When my lawyer got hold of the recording contract, he put on the brakes and intervened on me making a very big and costly mistake.”

picture Having been championed for her remarkable singing abilities by none other than David Foster – the producer and composer who discovered Celine Dion, Josh Groban and Michael Buble amongst others – our artist diarist found herself faced with the very real prospect of a promising career as a ballad queen. But simply wowing audiences with her voice wasn’t enough for Erika Fatale, she wanted artistic fulfilment, and so chose a much harder road of establishing herself as a totally individual artist. It has proven to be a rough route fraught with devious collaborators, dodgy ‘record label executives’ and disappearing savings, but as this Artist Diary reveals, it’s ultimately a very rewarding one …

Erika Fataleby Erika Fatale

The greatest turning point for me in pursuing my goal of becoming a major pop recording artist came with the extraordinary opportunity of performing in concert with David Foster during his 2009 David Foster & Friends Tour., a new social media company that creates opportunities for fans to connect with celebrities, sponsored the opportunity. I submitted an audition video performing ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls acappella and a few weeks later received a phone call from CEO of the company, Ted Foxman, to say that I had been handpicked by David Foster himself to perform with him the next night at Chicago’s Rosemont Theatre. I would be performing alongside other artists such as Deborah Cox, Charice, Ruben Studdard, Richard Marx, and Peter Cetera in front of an audience of over four thousand.

David Foster is someone I always hoped to one day have the chance to work with and so it was an absolute dream come true, as well as an opportunity that led to immediate legitimacy within the music industry. The experience also made me realize that I could have a genuine chance of making it as a singer if I followed this path of being the ‘ballad queen', displaying my abilities by singing songs by David Foster and other artists.

But did I really want this or did I instead want to distinguish myself as an artist; write my own material, display who I am, my personality and tell my stories through my music? Ultimately the impact that I could potentially have on the public as an artist displaying who I really am and what I stand for seemed to me much greater than what I could achieve as simply as a vocalist.

It is thanks to the amazing David Foster experience that I was able to see my future in much greater clarity; able to see those obstacles that lay ahead, but with a firm end goal in mind.

Misadventures in Co-Writing

My first venture into co-writing and collaborating was a rocky one. Coming from Chicago, where there isn’t a great pop music scene, I began searching for Los Angeles-based pop music writers and collaborators. It proved extremely difficult to find someone willing to work with me who would not charge an exorbitant amount of money for the privilege.

“It is important to take your time to find a collaborator who understands you and your vision. Unfortunately I had to find that out the hard way.”

Eventually I did find someone, but it was not the collaborative working experience I had hoped for. It is extremely important to take your time to find a collaborator who understands you and your vision and builds upon it. Unfortunately I had to find that out the hard way. I worked with someone who tried to tear me down, who was not receptive to my ideas and who attempted to preach to me from an authoritative position of having worked with multi-platinum pop recording artists – something that turned out to be false.

After all the money spent flying back-and-forth between Chicago and L.A. and working with her, she also tried to enforce an excessive amount of rules and regulations over where and when I could use the songs that we had written and recorded together. This is where the importance of having a good entertainment lawyer comes in.

The Importance of a Good Entertainment Lawyer

I submitted a song I wrote with my previous collaborator (‘Perfect Imperfections’) to a New York City music artist showcase event called Pure Pop and as a result was chosen to be one of thirty performers to perform at the event at Webster Hall in NYC in November 2009.

The event invited representatives from such labels as Universal, Sony, Jive, and Atlantic, management companies like Nettwerk and TC Music Management, and also Disney, MTV, Fuse TV and Nickelodeon. It was wonderful to be able to perform with other young artists from all around the country for my first show in New York and for that first performance to be at such a well-known music venue.

After my performance I was approached by a ‘record label executive’ who expressed great interest in working with me and was keen to speak to me further. Upon returning home to Chicago, we had several phone conversations where he told me he was interested in signing me to his new independent label. He explained that he had been influential in the signings of Rihanna and Kat DeLuna and felt certain he could get me signed with major distribution - most likely Epic Records since he claimed to be very good friends with then president Amanda Ghost.

With very little information available on this ‘executive’ and investor, I was doubtful, but not wanting to pass up a possible opportunity, we met again in New York for a meeting and brief recording session at Quad Studios. What’s more, I did like him and with no other viable prospects at the time, I felt a sense of urgency in not passing up any opportunity that presented itself to me.

However, when my lawyer - William Archer of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith LLP in Los Angeles - got hold of the recording contract, he put on the brakes and stopped me from making a very big and costly mistake.

The experience made me realize that you cannot force an opportunity to be something that it is not; you cannot let your desire for success get the best of you so that it blinds you from making rational decisions.

As One Door Closes Another Opens

On the positive side, when one door closes, another door tend to open, and that’s precisely what happened to me. This circumstance luckily led me to my current collaborator and demo project.

My lawyer also represents pop/R&B artist Ashanti and Ashanti recorded a Diane Warren song for her last album, which was produced by Peter Stengaard, one of Warren’s main producers. William Archer met Peter in the studio during the recording of that song and was greatly impressed with Peter’s work and musicianship and thought he would be a great collaborator for me.

“Although the demo project meant having to use up all my savings and seek financial help from my parents, it was the best decision I’ve made.”

After meeting Peter during a trip to L.A., he agreed to do a 6-song demo project with me. Although demo recording would prove quite costly, I knew the importance of this one-shot opportunity and felt strongly that I’d finally met the right collaborator to make several standout songs with that would hopefully propel my career.

My boyfriend, James Auger, was working as a consultant in Chicago at the time. Faced with this incredible opportunity to work on material with Peter and in possession of the utmost belief in my talent, he decided to quit his job in Chicago and become my manager full-time. The two of us then made the decision to move to Los Angeles and drive cross-country to make our combined dreams a reality.

Although the demo project meant having to use up all my savings and seek financial help from my parents, it was the best decision I’ve made. What’s more the process has turned me into a true artist. Unlike my previous collaborator, Peter proved extremely receptive to my lyrics and melodies, and our ideas synched perfectly so that we were able to collaborate successfully in writing four songs that were very much me: dark and sultry with a modern, more aggressive, soulful edge.

James researched his new role as manager in the music business, reading such helpful books as Paul Allen’s ‘Artist Management for the Music Business’, Darren Wilsey’s ‘The Musician’s Guide to Music Licensing’, and Donald Passman’s ‘All You Need to Know About the Music Business’. Nevertheless, no amount of groundwork can truly prepare you for the music business – you just have to be thrust into its world. The pace at which it moves is either excruciatingly slow or exceptionally fast, with no happy medium - something we learned very quickly.

Erika Fatale 2Becoming Erika Fatale

Once the demo was complete, it was extremely important for me to have a name that truly personified the confident and empowering tone of the music, and the powerful tone of my voice. I wanted a strong name that showed I was in control and knew exactly what I wanted. Who better sums up these qualities than a femme fatale? Since ‘Femme Fatale’ is also the name of one of the songs I wrote for my demo, I decided to change my name from Erika Rodger to Erika Fatale. So it’s still me at the heart of it but, like my music, bolder and more aggressive.

As a mainstream pop artist, I also wanted to tell the stories of the music visually so that people could take one look at my photo and have a very good idea of who I was and the tone of my music. I was able to secure an amazing fashion photographer, Luke Duval, to shoot the promotional photos. I would encourage other artists to spend a bit more money on their photos so as to make a strong first impression on the public. I guess the phrase “you have to spend money to make money” rings true in regards to launching one’s career or starting any new business.

I didn’t waste money on hiring a stylist, but rather took on that role myself since I knew precisely what look I was going for. To best achieve your vision I would also encourage others to do as much of the work themselves as possible. A friend of Peter Stengaard’s, Thomas Hjorth - an amazing design whiz and photographer - tweaked the photos to better exemplify the femme fatale look and also created my new Myspace page.

Creating a Buzz

After a long six-month process, I finally had a completed demo package. Now the real hard work started with putting together the live show, booking shows, marketing and outreach. After spending a month and a half to two months working with amazing choreographer, Havic Gregory, at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood, we finally had a high-energy, sexy show together and ready to go.

As we began looking to book live performances we faced several dilemmas. First off, it was very difficult to find the right venues that booked similar artists as me but that also catered to a pop music loving audience.

Also, venues that were interested in booking me wanted me to perform as the opening act to test me out. As a new artist in Los Angeles attempting to build a following, this was extremely counter-productive as that meant performing for a very small crowd - sometimes as little as 10 people. Most venues also wanted a guarantee that I could sell at least thirty to forty tickets, which was next to impossible as I knew very few people in L.A. and not yet had chance to build a fanbase.

Wanting to start out with a bang for my premiere live performance, we booked my first gig at the famed Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood. I was the opening act for what was otherwise a hip-hop night. This was obviously not the best choice, since as the opening act I performed to a very small crowd that wasn’t particularly interested in pop music.

”Most venues also wanted a guarantee that I could sell at least thirty to forty tickets, which was next to impossible as I had not yet had chance to build a fanbase.”

As a new artist, you really need to avoid the ‘pay to play’ venues, which was the case with my first show. It is paramount that you play venues that will cater to your type of music, as well as have your manager push to have you perform later in the night when you can get the most exposure to potential fans.

The next big challenge was in reaching out to labels and larger management companies. Since labels and management receive such an abundance of demo packages (both mailed or emailed), it was frustrating when we failed to receive a response to the package, even when we’d followed that up with an additional email a few weeks later. My manager would follow that up with several phone calls and would receive either the response that they never received the emailed electronic demo package or that they had not yet had a chance to check the package out.

We did receive very positive responses from major management companies such as Azoff, Prospect Park, and The Collective, who all loved the package, but only work with established artists — not unsigned.

There are also challenges involved with labels, publishing and management that express major interest and want to come watch me perform live. We would have confirmation that they would attend a certain live show and then either they would never show up or arrive late after I had already finished performing. Such lack of professionalism can be frustrating in the music business, but it is important to be patient and know that the harder you work, the sooner the labels and management will start pursuing you rather than the other way around!

The Business of Music

It takes a certain personality to make it in the music business. You have to be an extremely confident person and have the utmost belief in your talent and your work. Inevitably the music industry will rip you to shreds so you have to have an extremely thick skin and immense passion for music that will carry you through.

To be able to take harsh, negative feedback and channel it in a positive way is very difficult. But it’s important to know that so much of a label’s feedback is circumstantial. I have been told by one label that my music is not current enough, only to be told by another that my music is so unbelievably current I need to release it immediately. People can radically transform their beliefs in the face of the right impetus, so the song that the label dismissed as not being “not current enough” all of a sudden grabs their attention once it receives one or two million hits on YouTube.

I met with Jive Records at the end of the year and received the feedback that my songs were not current enough, but he loved my voice. It’s important to have a certain impetus when you approach labels in order to help sway their opinion of your music in your favour. Many times, a label’s opinion is based upon YouTube hits or song downloads, and without that, they judge your music solely based on his or her individual tastes or what’s hot right now.

”I have been told by one label that my music is not current enough, only to be told by another that my music is so unbelievably current I need to release it immediately.”

For me, my impetus is a prospective deal with Lola Cosmetics, an international cosmetics company, where I would become the face of their upcoming campaigns. The company would promote and distribute my single along with their products. The ability to become a brand while still an unsigned artist would serve as the tipping point for me to become much more attractive to labels and the likelihood of signing a deal exponentially greater.

My advice to other artists would be to spread a wide net, not to bank on one possible opportunity, and know that you the artist are the only thing standing in your way between success and failure.

In addition to the cosmetics deal, my manager and I have reached out to pop music bloggers to secure interviews and features, music licensing opportunities in television and film, radio, and explored formats such as Sonicbids and ReverbNation for live performance, licensing, and publicity opportunities.

The road is long and difficult and it’s exceptionally hard when you’re going it almost entirely alone, but the fact that no one gave me anything and everything I have accomplished so far has been because I fought my way there will make success that much sweeter when it comes. The experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned have made me into the person and artist that I am today. There is a great quote from Theodore Hunger that says it best, “All true success depends at last upon yourself.” I hope this inspires others to walk confidently in the direction of their dreams. I know I am!

Next week: Tinie Tempah manager Dumi on how the pair created success on their own terms

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