As a musician, it’s very important that you find your artist identity or unique sound—something that makes your music truly you. You don’t have to copy the trendy things pop stars are doing now. It’s better to make it a choice rather than a default that you have to always do. If you want to learn more about artist identity, join your host Bree Noble and her guest Gemma Sugrue. Gemma is a voice and business coach. She also runs Pro Vocal Artist, a program where vocal artists release their own music. Learn how to find your unique sound and how you can use social media as a creative outlet. Also, learn how to find a routine so that you can manage your time correctly, which is something most artists struggle with. Discover your identity today!
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Finding Your Unique Artist Identity Both In Your Sound And Online With Gemma Sugrue
I’m excited to be here with Gemma Sugrue of Pro Vocal Artist. I met Gemma through the program that we’re both in and through a mutual friend. I have loved getting to know her. I wanted to get you guys to get to know her because she’s got so much experience as a voice teacher and is now training artists on how to have a unique sound and work with their artists’ identity and branding.
Also, she is trained in Tiny Habits, which I’m excited to talk about, too, because that’s something that I’m interested in helping musicians with as far as becoming more productive. We’ve got a lot to talk about. Before we get into all that, I would love to know a little bit about your background, Gemma. Let us know your story and how you ended up where you are now.
I started singing in school. I was told it was something I was good at. I was like, “I’m good at something. Let’s do that more.” When you’re looking for your thing, when you’re younger, I was like, “That’s going to be my thing.” I did. I adored my first singing teacher. I thought she was amazing. I would do anything she’d say. She thought I was going to be a famous opera singer. I was like, “Yes, I agree. Let’s do that.” I went off and studied classical. I trained. For seven years, I sang opera. I ended up coming out of that. I set up a business with my friend called Voiceworks Studio.
We ran that for ten years. It was a singing school in Ireland. We had a couple of locations and singers coming in and lots of teachers. It put on big outdoor events and shows and it was great fun, but a lot of those singers were coming to me to learn pop music. I was like, “I’ve only ever sung in this way.” I had to go and figure that out for myself. I started traveling to different conferences around the world, trying to figure out how I am going to convert my voice from classical to more of a contemporary style. I got interested in voice science. I went down that rabbit hole. I came back then to teach my students then I ended up getting picked up for gigs.
In Ireland, there was one particular gig where they needed a singer to work with an orchestra where everything was scored, but all of the songs were pop songs and they were like, “Gemma’s a classical. Now she’s a pop singer. She’s the perfect person for that.” In my degree, that was a dream to sing with a professional orchestra. Once I pivoted from classical, it’s like, “I’ll never get my dream” I was like, “I got my dream. It was just a different way.” I was doing that and then I got into vocal coaching and helping singers. A lot of the time, I’d worked with artists. With music teaching, you end up being more holistic than you probably anticipated you would be.
You’re their therapist, encouraging them and being their manager. I wasn’t pushing it on them, but we’d end up in those conversations. I’d end up helping them outside of the voice stuff. I ended up selling my business, my school, and I decided to set up an online program called Pro Vocal Artist that would help them in that holistic way. That’s where I am right now. That brought me to you.
I love how you said that we have to be their therapist and all that. I definitely remember. I have never taught voice outside of having to teach vocal techniques in class in college. I remember having to help the students I was working with that because there’s a lot of mindsets around voice as well as then getting into the, like how do you make money with this thing as an artist. When you were first working with voice students, were most of them wanting to become artists and make money from it or were a lot of them hobby singers?
It was my school. There were lots of other singing teachers. Anytime a singer came in who was serious and was going to turn this into a career, I was like, “That’s my one. I’ll have him. I’ll have her.” If I got a privilege, this is my privilege that I get from having the school. I got to work with all these committed, serious singers. I’ve always been good with personal brand and pushing myself on, not that I’m pushing myself, but I enjoy social media. I used to be on Snapchat all the time. I got into TikTok. I like all of that stuff. I loved helping them create their artist’s brand and helping them figure out, “Let’s turn this into a legit career.”
I’ve talked a parent around to her son not continuing his degree in Flute, which he had at the Royal Academy in London. He had a full scholarship. I sat down and I was like, “I knew he didn’t want to do it.” I’m good friends with his mom. It was okay. I was doing a program in LA called VocalizeU, which is amazing, which is an artist retreat. He went to that and he was like, “This is absolutely what I have to do.” He came back to London and dropped out of his degree. He ended up couch surfing for a while. He was hell-bent on it. I was very much like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” His two songs are on the charts right now. He’s on Jimmy Fallon. Everything is flying high for him.
Who is this? Is this someone we’ve heard of?
His name is Cian Ducrot. He’s fantastic on TikTok. He’s brilliant at promoting himself on TikTok. He’s doing well at the moment.
I have started following you on TikTok. I love how you put your personality out there. I know for me, that’s a little bit of where I’m struggling or a little uncomfortable with fully putting my personality out there. Is that natural to you or is that something that you’ve developed on social media?
I was lucky because I started on Snapchat years ago. Most of my students were either teens or kids in the school. They were all using Snapchat at the time. I knew that nobody was watching me on that app other than the kids and the teens. I would be that person that I would be with them and we were using filters and having a laugh.
I didn’t have that pressure of it going out to serious people. When it came around that Instagram took on Stories, I was already well-practiced. The stakes weren’t high for me on Snapchat. It became natural. By the time Stories came around, I was on the phone and totally fine. I also think it’s probably a little part of my performer. There is something in me as well that likes showing off.
You’re good at being like flippant and silly and stuff like that. That doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me. I’ve been watching you going, “How can I add a little bit of this to what I’m doing?”As a performer, you have to be self-validated because your job is to get on stage and give the audience a good time. Click To Tweet
I like to think about it like on a mixing desk, you have all these different dials on your personality and you’re going to turn one of those dials off. You’re amplifying one part of you. I know some people are like, “I don’t want to be phony. That’s not me.” I’m like, “There are aspects of you that are silly and that are a bit wacky or whatever you may want to be on that platform that you can start dialing up a little bit.”
I know that this does also relate to branding and artist identity and stuff. How do you help artists to dial up the right dials for them when they are on social platforms?
The reason why I love doing Pro Vocal Artist is because of the holistic approach. I know that you take this approach as well with your students. How does everything come together with one vision? How can we get behind that with the why’s and the values and the vision for everything and have a strong perspective and feel integrious with all of that? That social media then feels like an extension of that core vision that you have. It’s an extension of your creativity. It’s not a chore that you have to push out to the world. Also, get them to flip the mindset on it. The big resistance with social media is that you feel like you’re just taking. You’re like, “Please listen to my song. Please watch my thing. Please buy my course.”
Nobody feels good doing that. I get people to think like, “You’re sharing excitement.” For me, I have to offload excitement. I get too excited. I have to put it on this camera right now. Otherwise, I can’t relax. I have to put my enthusiasm for this gig. I have to put my enthusiasm out for this thing that I’m doing. I like communicating about it. I’m hopefully inspiring or making other people uplifted with what I’m talking about. You’re always feeling like you’re adding and giving and you’re adding value and those little mindsets we switch with that alongside the bigger picture of the whole brand and the why and the main message.
Artists do have a hard time. Not that they’re not excited about their stuff, but they have a hard time showing that excitement because they’re worried that that’s somehow going to be too self-promoting or something like that.
Another idea that I try to get them to take on board is the importance of self-validation that we have to be self-validated first because our job is to serve. As performers, our job is to get on stage and give the audience a good time. If I’m busy going, “I hope you get that high note. Do you know the lyrics? I hope they like this,” then I’m not in a position to be able to serve everybody. They have to put on their own oxygen masks first and always think about them as a service. It takes a bit of time to get around that mindset.
If you are preoccupied with, “Am I going to hit this? Have I practiced enough? Do I know the words?” or whatever it is, it will take away from the performance and the way you come across. It’s going to not get the audience as excited as you want them to be as well. I wanted to ask about that thing that everybody has. We have these different things that are inherent in our own voice. How do you identify that in an artist and then help them amplify that?
I’ve had this conversation with other vocal teachers, especially those that teach in the classical world. Another guest that I had was talking about how we’re trying to make people more uniform in the classical world. We’re trying to help them to sound a certain way. Whereas then, when we get into the pop world, we’re trying to amplify that thing that’s different and unique about the person’s voice. Some of that may be actually using some techniques that would be very much frowned upon in the classical world, like vocal fry and stuff like that.
One idea is to think about it on a spectrum. Let’s say 10 is perfect vocal health, this perfect vocal technique. Nailed it. One is outrageously artistic and probably going to put your voice into jeopardy if you only sing in that way all of the time. Artists have to find their place throughout a song on the spectrum. There are little choices that they’d make. If you always do a sound, “I see you drive around town,” if you’re always onsetting with the sound, that’s like the vocal folds going like that. If you’re habitual about doing that, you will fatigue the voice quicker than if you sang without the glottal onset. That’s one example.
That’s one thing, but finding that place and choosing your moments where you’re like, “I am going to dial things up a little bit here. I am going to lean into the sound a bit more. I’m going to belt it a bit more.” The second thing is how I like to help singers find their signature sound, one of the ways is to opt for primal sounds rather than stylistic sounds. I’m like, “What’s the sound that you make if you were calling your friend and you would go, ‘Hey. Yeah. Woah?’” Where does your voice sit in the most natural impulse of like, “It’s so exciting?”
What does it do when you say that? They’re very emotion direct to voice sound rather than I have this cool voice and I’m going to be in the style of whatever pop artists are doing right now. Even though that’s a unique-ish-sounding thing, it’s a trendy thing. We’ve got to find what’s normal and natural for you, firstly. Secondly, I think that if there are limitations in the voice, we have a decision to make about whether or not we iron it out. You can argue it out for sure, but we always want to make sure that we create it as an option.
Anytime I’m adding something or changing something in a voice, I always say, “I’m adding another lane to your voice. I don’t expect you to always drive in this lane, but this is a new lane that you have as an option. Also, know that your limitations are like the flaws are the beauty because the flaws also encourage you to be creative and find a creative workaround. If you can’t perfectly blend through the bridge of your voice, you’re going to come up with some cool flip thing that happens every time there. That’s interesting to hear. Know that that’s going to give birth to something creative.”
It is important to amplify that thing that flips sometimes. There’s a difference between that. You’re having trouble negotiating to go from your chest voice to your head voice. How do you determine whether it’s struggling or it’s a natural thing that happens and you want to amplify that because that’s unique?
There’s a basic functionality of the voice we need to establish. There are different vibratory patterns that occur in the voice. There are four vibratory patterns. The two that we’re most familiar with are mode one and mode two. Mode one is what I’m speaking in right now. If I was to say, “Hey,” it would be like my picker sound. Mode two is a falsetto sound.
We need to access pure functionality in both of those modes to be able to sing anything. It comes to transitioning the voice or bridging the voice and making sure that those two don’t sound like there’s an abrupt change between them. How far you dive into that is up to you because there are singers who have blended themselves into no return.
It’s completely ironed out. It’s hard for them to do anything that’s quite like a yodel or anything contrasting like that. As a classical singer, they will train their head voice all the way down. It’s hard for them to access the chest register. That muscle almost atrophies. The other one is much more agile and available.
The more you do something, the more you’re going to be doing that or wired to do that. You have to make choices with that. To simply answer your question, you always want to make sure that something that’s cool and quirky feels much more like a choice rather than a crutch or a default that sounds a little bit unstable. We want to find stability in those things we’re accessing.
When I was training as a classical singer in the early 90s, I would hear someone on the radio and when they’d go into their head voice, they would be breathy. They never trained their head voice, but now I’m thinking, “Maybe they did that on purpose. Maybe that was their style that they wanted to go from their chest voice to being breathy, but maybe not. Maybe that was just their voice and they hadn’t trained that part of their range.”
The head voice is produced or well-trained falsetto. I’m often trying to train back the falsetto because the falsetto is the basic function of that sound. Sometimes singers have gone so far into their training that they can’t access the falsetto’s raw or functional sound anymore.
I love what you said about having this bag of things that you can do, or lanes or whatever that you can drive in with your voice and that you can make those choices. The point is you can make a choice. If you haven’t trained your voice, you’re going to do whatever your voice does and you aren’t making a choice about it. What you’re helping them say is like, “Here are some unique things that you do with your voice, but you don’t want to do these all the time because they’re not necessarily good for your voice. You also don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into sounding this way constantly.”
I saw your TikTok where you were doing an example of Britney Spears and how she does a little bit of vocal fry and stuff like that. That’s her unique style. It irritates me. I don’t necessarily love the way that she sings, but it’s very much her style. My question was always, “Is she making those choices or is that how she sings all the time?” I don’t know.
I feel like that was encouraged in production. Maybe they could they heard it and they’re like, “That is a thing. Keep doing more of that.” They ramped it up a lot more. A lot of people would think that vocal fry is quite bad for you. I equate it because I use it as a technical thing and speech therapists use it as a technical thing because it habituates the vocal folds in a certain way that’s helpful for certain techniques or to help us create certain air pressure under the vocal folds. If you were to do it all the time, so if I was always talking like Kim Kardashian, then it’s like having two legs to walk with, but you decide to limp. You’re not actually using the voice that it’s typically meant to be used and that it can be used.
How do you help artists tie in their special, unique vocal abilities and sound to their overall brand?
I see this as four categories that we can think about. The first category would be charisma and understanding what your charisma is. Are you the funny person? Are you that connecting, look into your eyes, ask you like, because your mother felt made you feel like this when you were a child, like the Oprah Winfrey’s? Do you come in big, high energy? Are you somebody who’s like, “I want to know more about them? The mysterious?” Identifying what’s your inner power, your charisma. What’s your perspective? What do you stand for? I do psychometric tests with them. I get them to do a psychometric test like the Myers-Briggs.
That could be interesting. We do some questions to take that data and then use it for the art history. I let them know that those tests, especially something like Myers-Briggs, it’s essentially a preference test rather than a personality test. It’s letting you know what you think who you think you are. It’s bringing it back to you in words that maybe you couldn’t articulate, and they can start pulling together a story with that. Also, looking at their taste.
Going back in time and looking at what was the song you couldn’t stop singing when you first learned to sing. What’s the one you saying over and over again? Analyze what it was about that song and then find other artists that they aspire to sound like because they’re the formative years when you have the most neuroplasticity up until you are 25. A lot of that is getting wired into the vocal tract for the sound of the artist.As an artist, there is beauty in your flaws and limitations. Click To Tweet
It could be quite subconscious to them. Analyzing that, finding the commonalities between those different artists. Some other exercises we do are like figuring out who you are as a private person, who you are as a public person, and who you are and your music. I know that I figured out I was hiding in my music. I wanted to sing jazz and hard stuff. I was a bit more metaphorical in my lyric. I’m like, “That’s not me. I’m actually straightforward. I’m direct. Why am I being so indirect in my music? This doesn’t line up.”
Those exercises can be super helpful for tying it all together. Charisma, the musical tastes, musical direction, and like your taste and everything like my taste and sound design, my arrangement, and vocal aesthetic, everything like that, your vocal identity and then your image. What visuals are you drawn to? What visuals are going to paint the picture and tell the story?
This is what happened to me. I had certain vocal tastes or interests. I was interested in Lilith Fair style artists and singer-songwriters and all of that. I found that when I would go to write and come up with something that was from myself as an artist, I would write more like an immigrant or something like that because that’s what I grew up with. I wanted to be this particular artist, this particular style that I loved and admired and enjoyed listening to, but what came out of me was not that. What do you do when the thing that you want to be is not what’s happening for you?
What is it that you didn’t like about what was coming out?
It wasn’t the direction that I wanted to go. It was a little more in the past versus what I wanted to do that I felt was a little more current, but I think because I grew up in that era and that’s what I listened to for so long. That was what came out.
I’m taking this from my experience of helping a singer with creative covers. I usually direct them to go like, “What’s shiny about that song specifically for you? How can we rewrite or remake this song to make sure that everybody knows what’s what you think is shiny about it?” Whether that’s the way the harmony works, a particular lyric or a particular point in the melodic structure. I suppose my suggestion with that would be to be specific about what it was that was standing out to you as shiny. Were you already aware of that specifically?
Yeah, I think so. For whatever reason, when I went to write, that’s not what came out. I could have decided, “I’m going to do these kinds of songs anyway. I’m going to do them as covers.” I did do that, actually, but it always frustrated me that when I went to write as an artist as not what came out, even though that’s what I loved.
What do you always start with? Do you change it off? Do you always start with chords?
That was a part of the problem too. I haven’t had time to write a lot lately, but I was probably stuck in writing from chords. I’ve always started most songs with writing from chords and then piano-based and stuff. A lot of the people that I looked up to were writing from the guitar.
Sometimes the interrupting, the pattern of how you always do it, creating a lot of limitations around the composition. If the style you’re going for always uses this change in the chord structure, you have to use that change or you have to pull some limitation or boundary or exercise. Starting with drums or vocals can be the pattern interrupt that you need.
Let’s switch gears and talk about habits and time management. First of all, what is a Tiny Habits coach?
A Tiny Habits coach is somebody who took Zoom calls with BJ Fogg’s sister, Linda, in 2020 and thought it was great.
What made you want to go into that?
I suppose it was like lockdown fever. I got into Andrew Huberman. He’s got a podcast. He’s an ophthalmologist, but he’s into helping people who productivity and hacking their circadian rhythm and all of that. I started getting routined about everything I was doing. I wanted to make the most out of my time. It pains me, and like everything in my life, I’m always looking for the double benefit.
The thing that keeps me up at night is always, “I don’t know if I’ve helped the singer enough and if I’m a good enough coach.” If they think, I thought that would be better. I used to always fall down as a one-on-one coach because we’d circle back a little bit every week. There wasn’t that much traction. I taught there would be way more traction.
That’s actually one reason that I don’t do a lot of one-on-one coaching because it’s frustrating as a coach.
It’s hard not to think that it’s you. It’s hard for both of you to have the exact same conversation that like, “This week, it flew by.” I’m like, “No judgment. I totally get it. Life is busy. How do I help here? How do I make this better? What way can I assist? If I actually was trained in habits, this is how I can make this problem go away.” I started getting into it. It was cool. I would get micro then with the singers I was working with. I would give them a heads up. Anyone coming into work with me was like, “This is the way I work.”
We started doing it as part of my Pro Vocal Artist program. They would have been aware that that was the whole foundation of it. I need to set up the foundation of your life to support what we’re going to do. You’re like a startup CEO if you’re doing this artistry thing. There are going to be some sacrifices that need to be made because you’re going to have a family, a life, and a job. We have to do this artistry thing as well. The only way this is going to do is to win this game by consistency, not the urgency or the intensity. We have to have a lockdown routine for this. That was motivating.
I have found the artists that I work with. That’s one of the biggest things that make a difference for them. They come back to me and I’ve given them all these great ideas for this and that and booking and fans and all. I have, but what stuck with me is getting my life in order and setting up habits, time management skills, etc. It’s true because if you don’t have that stuff, you can’t utilize what you’re learning in the other areas because you’re all over the place and get overwhelmed so easily.
Everything will flow, all the good cascades from that solid routine and ritual. One of the many important things I learned from BJ Fogg and his teachings was that focus on the habit set up rather than the habit itself. Don’t worry too much at the beginning about the actual action you’re trying to take. Be preoccupied with the design of the habit. Once you’ve designed the habit properly, then the action within it is going to grow and thrive.
Can you give an example of that?
He has a formula, which he calls a recipe. You want an anchor, which is an action that already exists in your life, something that you already do. Maybe you always have a cup of coffee in the morning. You will say, “After I have a cup of coffee, I will,” and then he gets you to be specific about what you’re going to do next. Is there going to be a starter step? Do you need to turn on the keyboard? Do you need to map out all of the details? There’s little friction to doing the thing. You could be just about to do it and then you can’t find the lead and somebody is going to get off now and maybe this isn’t the right time and you haven’t planned it out properly.
Getting quite micro about the detail. After I have a cup of coffee, I will switch on the keyboard and do ten minutes of vocal warmups. Finally, prior to the recipe, he was like, “Most habits are formed through emotion. It doesn’t take you long to have an Instagram scrolling habit because plenty of dopamine is kicked off in the brain that makes you want to open it again. You need to help yourself have that pleasurable experience with the habit that you’re trying to create, so you celebrate it. You can do something like an outward in a thing where you do something physical.” What action would you take if you were to throw a teabag across the room and it landed in the cup? What would you do as a response?
I would drink tea.
How would you celebrate it? It was far away now. The cop was ages away and you threw it and landed in. What would you be like?
I would be giving myself high-fives, totally.You can only be an artist by consistently practicing your routine. Click To Tweet
There’s something that you might do physically. You might do a little dance or there’s something you would do physically that would celebrate that little moment. If you did that physically, even without feeling it directly after you’ve done the practice, it starts to wire in this positive association with what you’re doing. Another thing that I borrowed from Marisa Peer is self-praise and being your own coach and your own cheerleader and your mind reminding yourself why you’re doing this, why this is good. Well done. Keep going. All of that can be helpful.
What I would advise for somebody who’s starting off trying to build up a habit is, let’s say they’re sitting down to play piano for ten minutes, don’t actually play the piano for ten minutes or play the piano for one minute and make yourself stop. I want you to get hungry for it. I want you to be like, “I want to keep going.” No. Stop. The next day you do one minute and you do one minute for the whole week and then you build it up to five, you build it up to seven so that you’re focused on developing the habit rather than the habit itself.
I’ve utilized this in relation to trying to get myself to write music. You do five minutes a day or whatever, or ten minutes a day. You’re not allowed to be going beyond that, even though you get excited and get into it. I always thought, “Why are they making me stop?” I like that idea that you get hungry for it.
That routine is getting established. Soon you’ll drink the coffee and you’re craving the next step, which is to go over and turn it on. It’s almost like a zombie walking.
I like to attach a habit that I know I should do to something I want to do. For example, if I enjoy listening to podcasts, I only allow myself to listen to the podcast when I’m out on my walk, so then I’ll be like, “I want to go on my walk,” because I want to hear my podcast. I don’t allow myself to be like, “I’m in the kitchen making breakfast. I’m going to listen to it.” No. I can’t have it because then I won’t want to go on my walk.
I get Brené Brown for the bathroom cleaning.
I used to have one podcast that I listened to while I did the laundry because then it would be like, “I only get to listen to this if I’m folding laundry.”
I was doing the laundry and I had a podcast on. My boyfriend came over to help me. I’m like, “No. This is lovely. I’m having a lovely time.”
How do you work with them practically around time management? Do you encourage them to use a calendar or a to-do list or anything like that?
There are a couple of strategies I like to use. I like to use the plan tomorrow today. On their check-in form, they take a box to say, “I have planned tomorrow today for how many days a week.” Let me know how that’s going. That’s important if you go to bed knowing what you’re doing the next day. It’s powerful. Also, get excited about the plan that’s in place for you. Have this real reason for waking up on time, getting out of bed, and getting onto that plan.
I like the practice of getting them to track 1 or 2 days every half hour. Set the alarm on your watch that goes off every 30 minutes and write down what you’re doing so you have an idea of where your time goes and then we can reasonably see how we’re going to schedule for it. I get them to block everything on the Google Calendar. They block out, “This is the writing time, this is the social media time. I have to culture. I have to do some work time. This is my bedtime.” The alarm for going to bed is more important than the alarm for waking up.
I have that on my iPhone.
I live for my evening routine now. It’s so precious to me. Getting them into the habit of what you’re seeing and getting them up early in the morning, getting things when it has your freshest energy is when you should be doing the thing that matters the most to you. Understanding what’s important and what’s urgent, the reason things are urgent is because you haven’t planned for what’s important.
Always, weekly reviewing. Time process is important, reflecting on things and seeing how things went and iterating all the time. The Google Calendar is an intense blocking system. I don’t expect them to get it right. I don’t assume them to get it 100%, but I’m like, “This is the ideal week that we’re always aiming for. Let’s see how we do and tweak it.”
We have similar ways of doing this for sure. I’m all about Google Calendar because it’s easy to manipulate. You can always see it wherever you are. I’m a big fan of that for sure. I love encouraging them to have a meeting with themselves once a week. On Sunday night or whatever, or Friday at the end of the week, how did they do and not beat yourself up, but you’ve got to be honest with yourself.
I liked the way you phrased it, having a meeting with yourself for the end of the week.
It’s super useful. As far as the planning, do you encourage them to use Asana or Trello or anything, in particular, to help them keep track of the micro things that they need to do?
All of the systems that I build for them are on Notion. For anyone who doesn’t know about it, it’s like a software that was developed with med students in mind who will be taking a lot of notes within notes. It’s flexible. For somebody getting into it at first, it’s like, “It’s a bit too flexible.” It has allowed me as a course creator or program creator to create these products within it so that I can get my students to duplicate.
I’ve created content calendars and time management tools, lots of different spreadsheets and tools and boards and cool things that are all linking together. They use it throughout the whole process for the year with me. They get quite acquainted with it, but it’s definitely a bit of resistance initially. I make them go on Discord, on Notion, and then my portal and they’re like, “There are so many things,” but they’re okay after a week or two.
You keep in touch with them over Discord.
I like Discord. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m predicting the future. I’m invested in Discord. I feel like it’s going to be an important forum platform for artists, a place where they will build a fan forum. It’s a good idea now for them to get acquainted with this software. There’s an EDM band here in the UK that is quite big called Disclosure. Their use of Discord is absolutely another level. As we move into like Web3 and NFTs, Discord is a cool space to be in and to get used to.
I definitely have some artists that I work with that have done that. Most of them are more like streamers and they’re used to that world. They’re Twitch streamers. That goes side by side with that. At least a lot of Discord people are gamers and streamers and stuff.
That’s another world. It’s on my to-do list.
I know you said that Twitch was on your to-do list. We need to keep up with so many things as people who are helping artists and wanting to make sure that they stay up to date on all this technology stuff.
It’s finding that balance of shiny object syndrome because I love a new thing but also trying to go, “What do we need? What’s essential? Where do we need to continue attention rather than jump attention?”
As far as social media, do you think that one place is the best for artists right now, or do you think they should try to be on multiple platforms?Use disruptive platforms like Instagram and TikTok to introduce yourself if you're a starting musician. Click To Tweet
It’s like horses for courses. I would use the disruptive platforms to introduce themselves so they can disrupt Instagram Reels and TikTok, meaning that somebody opens the app to have relief from their day and they pop on their screen. You’re not going to get that with other types of posts on Instagram other than Reels. You’re going to get a great opportunity to do that on TikTok.
If you want to introduce yourself to people, get them to know about you. That’s the introduction, then nurture them by letting them into your world, on your stories on Instagram. Maybe you want to do some long-form content or maybe you want to go live. Lives are fantastic from my perspective because it takes a long time for somebody to get to like, know, and trust you.
I find that that relationship amplified so quickly that we go from the first date to getting married on a live. It’s nice. Especially, there might be a bit of silence or am I stumbling over my words. People love that. People like to see you being a human being. I strongly recommend artists to leverage live streaming on Instagram or TikTok. I know you’re doing that as well, aren’t you?
I haven’t done it a lot lately, but I had a whole period where I did it. I went live every week. I told my artists that was the best thing I ever did because, number one, it got me comfortable with going live all the time. The first ones were much more raw and hard, but also forced me to show up every week. I would be like, “I am doing this every Monday at noon Eastern. I’m going live.” People were actually expecting that to happen, so I had to show up.
That’s why I encourage artists to do some live stream show that has some frequency to it where people are expecting you to show up. It’s like a podcast. People are expecting me to release an episode every week on Tuesday. If I don’t, they’re going to be like, “What’s up? What happened?” They’re going to be looking for it.
They’re like your brilliant accountability buddies, getting you to do this and meet new people. I hope to follow in your footsteps. I have a minor podcast that I haven’t put a lot of work into, but I admire your consistency and your commitment to it. It’s brilliant.
You’ve got to love the medium. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy podcasting. If you’re doing a live show, you’ve got to organize it so that you’re going to enjoy and not make it feel like it’s drudgery or something that you have to do every week. Make it theme-based and fun. Bring in cover songs. There are many cool things that you can do with a live show.
What you were saying about you have to show up. Sometimes I think artists can be perfectionistic about the content that they put out. I feel like live takes that out. With the time that they put into conceptualizing filming, refilming and retaking, I feel like those artists can benefit from one live show up or they have to show up. What goes down, goes down and they can walk away again. That wouldn’t take up their whole week. What puts artists off a lot is that, “Content creation takes so long.” I’m like, “No, you’re taking so long.”
Honestly, I got addicted to that. It was after I was doing the live stream every week. I tried to go into creating YouTube videos and I’m like, “This takes way too long. I don’t have the patience for this. I want to come up with what I’m going to say, have some points and then go out there and do it.” It’s freeing, you still know you’re providing value, but you’re not being all consumed by it and it’s taking up so much time. You do it and it’s done. You can’t change it. Whatever happens, happens.
People connect with the less produced stuff. The stuff that’s honest and off the cuff.
I’m sticking with that because I record this show and I don’t edit it at all because, number one, it would make me not want to record because then I’m like, “There’s a whole another slew of things I’d have to do after I was done.” I would be dragging my feet. I know that this is going to be valuable, even if I’m not in there hyper-editing it. I do it because that’s how I’m going to be able to produce.
That’s such a brilliant thing for artists to take note of. The things that you have in your mind about certain content have to fit the wall’s aesthetic. Look at the has to bes and see if that entry point is you’ve made it off and it doesn’t have to be that. What has to bes can you take away from making that content?
Let’s bring this full circle then and say if you’re doing something like a live stream, how can you still make sure that it is on-brand for you as an artist without being a total perfectionist about it? What elements can you add to make sure that it’s still on brand for you and that it’s helping you show up the way you want to show up without having to be perfect?
The only struggle with the live thing is the worry about the replay. People need to remember that there’s so much content in the world to call a mistake that they saw in a live stream. They’re not going to remember one. People aren’t taking in that information and definitely not remembering that information. Raw is good. There are clips online of mobile phones at concerts that we absolutely love. There’s a lot of forgiveness around that stuff.
Sometimes, there’s an uncanny valley when you set it up to be this ultimate professional select thing. Uncanny they call it when a robot looks a little bit too much like a human, but there’s a point where it gets to this tipping place where if it’s dry and perfect, but there are a few slips. It doesn’t fly as well. Sometimes the much the more natural, like your phone and the amp and the room might be all you need.
I know that people would prefer something maybe a bit more high-tech. That mindset of people are not going to remember if there was a mistake and all you’re doing is catering to the people who are live on that call on that call right there, that live stream. The final thing is it’s all about energy exchange. I know myself. If I put energy into what I’m saying and what I’m doing and its intention, I never go wrong. If your energy and your intention, or with what you’re doing, not too woo-woo, but people feel that energy and they recognize and acknowledge it and they will resonate with it.
That is a way to make sure that you are still coming across as the artist you want to come across on a live stream. Making sure that you’re coming with the energy that you want to put across and that you would do in a live performance that you were in person.
Be truthful. If something goes wrong, if you’re like, “That went wrong there. I didn’t think that was going to go that way,” people love that. “Can I start that again?” You can start that again. People love to see that you’re a human being. The stress and anxiety happen when we start creating all these filters, like, “I’m perfect. I have this thing planned to do. I will say only this. I look this way. Nobody will know that I have a spot on my face.” Drop the filters and you will feel more relaxed.
This has been such a great conversation. We’ve covered lots of ground. Can you let everybody know how they can find you online and connect with you?
Thank you so much. I know that artists who are reading have picked up so many great tips, whether it’s around vocal stuff or branding or habits. We covered so many things. I know artists are going to benefit from reading this.
Thanks, Bree. It’s been a pleasure.
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About Gemma Sugrue
GEMMA SUGRUE is a voice and business coach with a masters in performance and runs Pro Vocal Artist, an online mentoring programme helping vocal artists perform and release their own music. She also ran the singing school Voiceworks Studio from 2011-2021.
Gemma is a retired singer and her work includes; soloist with the RTE Concert Orchestra at venues including The Three Arena, TV shows including Dancing with the Stars, The Late Late Show and many more. Gemma has worked as a background vocalist for artists including Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Maverick Sabre, James Vincent McMorrow and many more.