Becoming a solo musician doesn’t just happen overnight—it takes time, practice, patience, and a solid education in the discipline. On today’s show, singer-songwriter Judith Hill talks with host Bree Noble about her journey on how she became a solo musician and how her strong foundation for music has led her to step into the spotlight and presently has hundreds of adoring fans. She also lets us in on how she is navigating the current pandemic and then gives some advice to those who want to get started on their music career. Judith‘s third album, “Baby, I’m Hollywood!” is scheduled for release in February 2021. Tune in and discover more about how to up your game in music composition and tips on how to pursue a solo music career.
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From Backup Singer And Into The Spotlight: Music Career Journey With Judith Hill
I am excited to be here with Judith Hill. I have followed her for quite a bit. She has a very cool and interesting career story that I want to share with you. Before we get into more specifics, I’d love for you to tell them about your background, some of the highlights of your career in case they don’t know already, and then we can get into some more specific questions.
This is Judith Hill. I’m born and raised in North Hollywood, LA girl. I grew up in a musical family, both my parents are musicians, and they met in a band. I was surrounded early on with music, particularly funk, soul music. I went on to study classical music in school and got a degree in Music Composition as a composer. Out of college, I traveled around the world as a background singer for a bunch of incredible people. I also went on to The Voice as a contestant. My story was featured as one of the stories in the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. I create my own debut album. On my third album, which is going to be released in February 2021, and since then I’ve been traveling, doing the circles around the globe with my band touring as a touring artist. It’s been an incredible ride.
How are you navigating with the pandemic as far as the touring? Have you been doing live streaming?
Yeah. All my tours got canceled in 2020. It’s a big adjustment because I made most of my money from touring. It was a real shock and scary in the beginning, but I’ve pivoted in 2020, focused more on film and TV, have done a bunch of different live–stream concerts, and as much as you can do as an artist in this environment. It’s been a definite adjustment, challenging, and I’m finding ways to connect with fans more via social media. I prefer being out in the real world, but you know, we got to make these changes for now.Artists should get different streams of income that will help them during different times. Click To Tweet
We don’t have a choice. Do you prefer to do ticketed live streaming? Do you do a live stream and take donations? Which way do your fans like to support you best?
I’ve done mainly platforms not ticketed, but we are going to do a ticketed show. I have my reservations about a live show in the sense of being on a stage with no audience. I like it to feel more intimate. I’ve been doing more types of performances that are in studios, in the home, and things like that. That’s the type of live–streaming I’ve been doing.
Let’s go back to way back. I experienced this as someone that came out of college with a Music degree and I know a lot of other people do as well. How did you transition from college and having this amazing music background into “the real world” and finding a career? Did you immediately go into singing and backup singing? Was there a transition period? How did you find that as your thing out of school?
I didn’t study singing at all in college. I wanted that degree because I was passionate about music and I wanted to have the ability to create anything I want to create musically. As a singer, I had all these influences within me growing up and I wanted to be able to write masterpieces. That’s why I did that degree, but I knew out the gate coming out of college, that it was up to me to make of it what I was going to make of it because I was singing professionally as a kid throughout my life. I always knew I was going to land in that world. I wanted that education for myself.
The goal wasn’t to become a film composer or work behind the scenes. It was to be able to have that for myself. Straight out of college, it was more of figuring out, “What do I do now? What’s my first thing?” It was a random thing, but I got a call for an audition for this French pop star, Michel Polnareff who was doing his big comeback tour. He’s like the Elton John of France. I auditioned for it and I got the gig. I was one of his background singers. That was my real big, first rodeo out of college.
I’m assuming you had been singing throughout college even though you didn’t get a degree in that?
I was singing throughout college. Not as much because it was such an intensive degree and I lived in the dorms and I didn’t leave it. Every once in a while, I would jump out for a session, but it was very much like I was living there, I was in the practice rooms and I was writing. College wasn’t something where I was doing a lot of singing, but I did do it in high school. Back then I knew some of the vocal contractors that would contract me as a kid singer for the holiday shows and things like that. I have done a little bit of work in high school and junior high.
That’s valuable because you saw it at a young age that there are jobs out there and this is how you need to connect with people to get them. A lot of people don’t have that experience so then they wonder, “These jobs seem elusive. Could I ever get a job as a backup singer?”
I had grown up around all of the background singers. As a kid, I was mentored by many people. I knew what that looked like as a kid.
Was it like starting to go off, be on the road, and performing as a background singer at a young age? Was that exciting? Did you feel like you made a lot of great connections that then moved you into other parts of your career because of that?
The French gig which I was living in France for a year on that tour. It was a long tour. It was a chance for me to be outside of America because it was my first time living in another country like that, experiencing life and figuring out what it is that I want to do and get my feet wet. I did a lot of soul searching during that time and when I got off that tour, I came back. I immediately started writing my own music and preparing to release my own songs, and get into that. That was a very good inspiration time for me.
As you were doing a lot of other background singing, I know you sang backups for Michael Jackson on the This Is It tour. Many famous people that you’ve sung backups for. Did you ever feel like that was keeping you from doing your own music? Did you have to start saying no to those jobs so you could focus on your own music?
It’s quite interesting because I didn’t spend a lot of time doing background singing. It’s weird because the stuff I did do was high profile, but short–lived. We were rehearsing for 1.5-months with Michael Jackson before he tragically died. It wasn’t like I was out here hustling all the years as a background singer. It was these short periods and they ended up being like this big thing that people knew about. I mainly spent a lot of my time as an artist. After Michael, I spent a year writing in the studio for my own solo projects.
I became a background singer for Stevie Wonder and I was in his band for about a year until I decided that, “This was going to take up. I would enjoy this so much. I wouldn’t pursue a solo career if I kept going like this.” I decided to go on The Voice. I left his band for The Voice. Since then, I never looked back on the background singing scene, but I did have to make a decision. That was a tough one because I was obsessed with Stevie and I loved his show so much. It was hard to leave. I did not want to, but at the same time, I knew that it was either now or never if I was going to make that transition.Don't be closed-minded. Be open to everything and keep being in people's ears because sometimes they forget. Click To Tweet
Sometimes you have to make the leap, otherwise, we get into this comfort zone and we like that thing. I remember watching you on that season. The internet says, “It’s one of the most controversial people that got voted off at the wrong time,” and things like that. I agree with that. Were you able to capitalize on the fame that you got from The Voice?
It opened up a lot of doors. A lot of people watch that show. In coming out of that show, I got a lot more work. My feet raised exponentially. A lot of stuff came out of it. I do recommend that type of show. It’s cheesy, but at the same time, it opens up doors and allows people to get to see you in your element doing your stuff. I did enjoy that and a lot came from it.
The fans that you got on The Voice, do you feel like they’re still with you now? Have they continued to follow you?
My journey is unique because fans are coming from different chapters of my life, but I do find that there are still a lot of people after my show, they come up to me and be like, “I loved you from The Voice. I remember you.” A lot of people are still coming to see me because of that show, which I find amazing because it was a while ago.
I don’t think that could happen if you didn’t continue to nurture them along the way. You’re keeping a tight relationship with your fans. Do you have a newsletter? Do you send out emails to your fans? Do you have certain things that you do with them on social media?
I’m starting to do that a lot more. There was a 4 to 5-year season that I’m coming out of where I took some time and I didn’t have a management team. I was doing my artist thing, but now that I have a team again, I’m doing newsletters and I’m a lot more active.
I know you have gotten some licensing opportunities for your music. How did you get into that arena?
That all came from my publisher. I’m signed to Concord Music Publishing and they have a kick-ass sync team. That same team is the way that saved me from 2020. They’ve been pitching on and get a lot of stuff. It was a Maugham before, and then Concord bought a Maugham and a bunch of other publishing companies. It turned into a great team.
Those sync royalties have helped prop you up during the pandemic?
Yeah. It’s a good license. When they take your song and depending on what the fee is per side, sometimes it’s a real blessing.
I always love to ask artists about their streams of income. I like to encourage artists to get different streams of income that will help you during different times. Especially what we said about the licensing helping you during the pandemic. Let’s say we’re not in a pandemic. What are your streams of income look like? What would you say the percentage of your income comes from live performing or merge or sync?
Before 2020, 60% to 70% came from touring and 20% came from sync. There are merchants in digital stream platforms and stuff that too. In 2020, it’s all sync a little bit from the streaming and digital. Also, from requests. I have other things that I worked on like projects for other companies, branding companies, and things like that that are different kinds of income.
Have you seen this year that your streaming income has gone up significantly or at least have you seen a lot more people streaming your music because they’re home?
Yeah, they have because I’ve done some television shows in 2020 where a few songs I have done well that they brought traffic to my whole catalog, like little fires everywhere. I did a cover for the Phil Collins, In The Air and then I did a thing with Gerard Way for The Umbrella Academy. Those were the things that people were able to look at because they loved those songs. Once they did that, they listened to the rest of my catalog on Spotify. It helps with everything else.
That’s one thing I love about Spotify is if people listen to anything of yours, they’re going to start serving your stuff up to them. They discover weekly and the album comes out. They’re going to send out things to them about your new songs. That’s an important point of why we need to be building our Spotify streams because of the fact that we can utilize that. I would love to know if you have any advice especially for young women coming up in the industry? Do you have any advice for them on how they can get started building the relationships that they need to get their career off the ground?
It’s figuring out what it is that you want to do and focus on. For me, I knew I wanted to perform, which is why I’ve been focused on that and then getting some good booking agencies that will make sure I stay on stages but then making the discovery that there’s money to be made in the sync world in other ways was eye–opening to me. It comes with first the passion, but then also being open to other things and trying out all the avenues.
Don’t be closed–minded but be open to everything. Keep building, staying in people’s ears that sometimes people forget and you have to follow–up with them and send a couple of more emails. It takes persistence to network, getting into people’s minds, following up, and trying out something. There are many different ways now. It’s not just one track. There are many things flying at us in this new world. Being open to all of it and constantly learning. I’m learning every day and there’s this new information that’s coming out about everything.
Always be learning is important. One thing I do like to ask everybody is, was there ever a time that you felt like quitting as an artist? What made you stick with it? Was there anything that you learned through that difficult time?
I get that a lot. What I always remember for me is I never jumped into music because of commerce. It was something that was this spiritual calling that I knew I had in my life and something as a human being that while we’re here on this planet, we’re the storytellers, we’re the ones that give voice to the human experience. When you look at it from a higher calling, then it can give you the strength to get you through the highs and the lows of it because there are going to be some times where you don’t know where the next check is coming in. You’re like, “This month.” In some days where you’re grateful like things are rolling in, but all of that’s sobering because it’s not a business that is stable as much as other places. You got to have that real conviction within you like, “I know what I’m doing this and the money isn’t going to stop me from not doing it.”
Most people that I ask that question too are like, “Every day I thought about quitting.”
It’s tough. It’s not for the faint of heart.
It is a roller coaster sometimes. You have the highs and the lows hopefully even out and you have to remember the highs when you’re in the lows. I loved hearing about your career. Everything that you’ve talked about has been super inspirational for up and coming artists and artists that are already out there. How can they connect with you on social media?
You could follow me on Instagram @JudithGloryHill, on Twitter @Judith_Hill, My website is up, Facebook, and I’m constantly doing stuff. I’m doing weekly live events on Instagram and giving away stuff for free. Check it out. I love to connect with everybody.
When is your album dropping?
In the second week of February 2021.
What’s the name of the album?
The name of the album is Baby, I’m Hollywood.
I love it especially since you were born in Hollywood. Thank you so much for hanging out with me, sharing all your wisdom, and experience with our readers.
Thanks for having me.
- @JudithGloryHill – Instagram
- @Judith_Hill – Twitter
- Facebook – Judith Hill
About Judith Hill
Judith Hill is a singer-songwriter who was featured in Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” and the Oscar-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom”. She has released two solo albums including “Back In Time”, which was produced by Prince. Her third album, “Baby, I’m Hollywood!” is scheduled for release in February 2021. Her music has been featured in many films and tv shows and her touring band has performed all over the world.