Tracey Arbon is a singer, songwriter, and founder of the renowned indie music platform Music Talks. She’s crafted a long and colurful career in music, creating her own releases and helping out numerous other artists along the way. It was an honour to be able to chat with her about her experiences and I’m happy to be able to share her expertise with you guys. Here’s the interview in full.
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Hi Tracey – thank you so much for your time, it’s great to connect with you! How long have you been making music, and who or what first inspired you to start?
I began singing approximately 35 years ago, competing in eisteddfods and talent shows, trained at the conservatorium and left my hometown of Adelaide in South Australia to compete in a nationwide TV show called Star Search. I didn’t plan on staying for long, but I ended up performing in the show and competing week after week which led to the finals, which I was runner up. After this, I never went back to Adelaide and have lived in Sydney ever since. This led to a a great deal of work with established artists and musicians, a recording contract with (the now defunct) largest independent record company.
My mother first introduced me to music when I distinctly remember the day I came home from school, and she said, “you have to hear this girl sing, shes incredible”…..her name; Whitney Houston. From there I fell in love with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Brand New Heavy’s, Al Jarreau, Black Box, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige and of course so many more including George Michael. However, I love so many other artists & genres of music which range from Michael Buble to Pink.
How do you get started when writing songs, and how do you know when a song is finished and ready to be shared?
Interesting question. I firmly believe that the song IS the most important aspect of music. I mean, you can have an incredible production, but the song it self has to sing. Generally, I begin with the music, sometimes they flow together at the same time, and the idea is born. Other times I come up with chord progressions and work out a melody around that, however, if its not flowing and is not happening, I get up and leave it. Song writing is a creative process, so quite often I cant just say, “OK, I’m going to lock in Friday at 2pm to write a song”.
Song ideas come when I’m relaxed, so a glass of wine does wonders. Ha ha. (btw, I’m not encouraging drinking) In fact, I came up with a song in a dream many many years ago, the exact chords, lyric and melody. I recorded it on my, then, Sony walkman and only a few weeks later I heard the song I had dreamt on the radio being sung by an artist by the name of Desree; the song was, You Gotta Be. It was the weirdest feeling. My friends who knew and heard my rough copy all looked at me weirdly and took a step back. No-one could actually believe it. So when you get a song in your dream, hurry up and record it, because, they’re the hits. 🙂
Lyrics are generally the second aspect for me, as when a person (generally speaking) hears music, it might be in a fleeting moment, or in the car on low volume, and the first thing which captures the attention is the music, the melody the beat, followed by the lyrics. The KISS principal is one I firmly believe in. Think of writing a nursery rhyme, or an anthem if you’re looking for a hit.
You have a really beautiful and powerful singing voice. Were you vocally trained, and is there any advice you can offer to singers who want to improve their range or their strength when performing?
I think that I am lucky in the fact that my voice is powerful, but sometimes my family don’t think so. Ha. But yes, I was trained by many teachers, and was awarded a Vocal Scholarship at the Conservatorium of Music. However, as one ages, there are certainly things you learn about yourself, which has changed my belief on how singers should sing and in turn, my latest music, which hasn’t been released, is quite different. It’s much quieter, less roaring, and more relaxed. Hey, maybe aging is a good thing??
The thing that singers are missing is that every person can have a great singing voice, but it still doesn’t mean anything without a great song. I’ve heard so many singers that feel this need to show off, and to try and see how many turns and adlibs they can do, almost like it’s a competition to impress. Instead, they need to be looking at and developing their unique style. I see so many videos on Instagram and Facebook, and honestly, I flick past them in about 10 secs. Similar to a lot of other music that’s out in the commercial world, its all sounds the same, its become‘Faceless Music’. This is easier said than done admittedly, I mean it takes a while to find yourself, and that’s if you’re lucky.
What makes the perfect vocal take when recording?
A reasonable mic is always handy, however, it comes back to your performance. Emotion is the trigger for people. In fact, one of my songs I recorded was at home in my lounge room with a crappy live mic (SM58) instead of a professional recording mic. I didn’t redo the vocals, because it had the performance I wanted. This song is ‘Life Goes On’.
But when recording, lets say you have a huge chorus to sing, but softer verses. My suggestion to this would be to record all your verses first because after you have had your voice soaring through choruses and fade-outs with wild adlibs, your vocal tone can change and won’t necessarily match other verses. A classic example of this was when I recorded a track which cost the record company $10K. Now this was a sacred song; a combination of a Beatles/ Jimi Hendrix song. The focus from the producers were a perfect vocal, but there was no spark, no emotion, something was missing, so the track was never released. We couldn’t release it. Yet if you can sing a vocal in one performance and pull out all the emotion, then do it. Record that vocal 4 or 5 times on separate tracks, take a break, listen, come back a little while later and do it again. These have been some of my best vocal takes.
The other thing is to watch what you eat when your recording, no chocolate, milky products, juice, wine, or soft drink. These cause phlegm, and really uncomfortable wind which doesn’t help your diaphragm work to well either. Try and record your lead vocal on the same day; your vocal tone changes from day to day depending on sleep and tiredness etc.
What have been some of the best decisions you’ve made with regard to creating music and reaching a wider audience?
Well, years ago you couldn’t beat radio and television. Yes, my songs have been played on commercial radio, but things have changed dramatically. I’ve taken a big break in the middle of my music career, and researched a great deal before setting up Music Talks. I’ve learned a lot in marketing, and it changes almost on a daily basis. In the past three years social media has changed dramatically, so I would say of late, learning about marketing is the best thing I’ve learnt and continue to learn.
The thing with blog sites and radio is that finding your target audience is more of an elimination of people who just don’t like music, don’t listen to music and are not fans of anyone. Considering blog sites and independent radio cover all genres (mainly), the targeting is so huge, it often takes quite a bit longer to get to your audience. Whereas with an artist, even though I hear, and yes I agree to a point, we all don’t like to placed in a box and given a ‘Genre’, an artist needs to get outside their head and realize, the average person who likes music will often like something when they hear it, and if they are fans of an established artist, then you really need to think about a similar established artist to yourself and target that same audience, regardless of weather you have this ‘Don’t place me in a box’ attitude.
You need to find your audience, and let them decide if they like you or not. It’s not up to the artist, and that’s where a lot are missing the point. If independent musicians want to keep being creative and do what they want to do, they have to at least give the audience a chance to find you, so target appropriately, whether or not you like that established mainstream artist or not.
What mistakes have you made, if any, and what did you learn from those experiences?
Oh, I’ve made heaps of mistakes. I guess pushing for more from the record company I was signed with. I had ideas then, and I think they thought I was crazy. Had we pursued my idea then, who know where It would have ended up, but lets just say, I was working part-time way back then as a telemarketer trying to sell businesses; the idea of this brand new concept called ‘The Internet’. Maybe I shouldn’t say much more, but I wished I had jumped on board of the whole idea when it first started and when I knew about it before most people. Damn.
My advice to anyone, is don’t be afraid of pursuing an idea. Its what changes things and moves the world and us. What’s there to be afraid of? Really. I was much younger then and back in the day, you listened to the experienced people and if they said no, then you don’t do it. The up coming and current generation don’t really worry to much and do things as they please. However they are not listening….or not DOING enough. So it’s kind of happening in reverse.
Listen, but continue to learn and explore. Mistakes are a good thing; it’s the best way to learn.
If people only have time to listen to one song of yours, which should it be, and why?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. They are nothing like the new songs. My personal favourites are Better Late Than Never, the remixes of Love is Here To Stay and probably the big power ballad I wrote about my mother called Life Goes On.
For those who don’t know, what is Music Talks, and what inspired you to set it up?
Music Talks is my independent music site, which features independent artists. There are featured artists each month, where they write their own story. So it’s not taken from their bio or a press release. They write specifically for the site. I then promote them a lot within the month they feature. I also help them by creating some content into video and change content frequently. I am very aware of banner blindness and people getting bored.
Music Talks has grown in the last two years with the addition of the ‘Video of the week’, ‘New Music Fridays’, ‘Music News’, ‘Music Reviews, ‘Music Tips’and introducing courses and tutorials now to help artists get their head around various things including marketing. These marketing ideas are used throughout other businesses, but I don’t see musicians doing it. This was the primary reason I decided to create Music Talks…yes another idea, but this one I am pursuing.
I was thinking of how to release my own music, and I felt this overwhelming confusion. I mean, I didn’t want to just release it, so when I though about my strategy, I thought that it wasn’t going to work. So I created this site to help other artists to get their ideas out there. And to incorporate my idea in the hope the artists can catch on and see what it is about and realize the importance of the people being able to relate to you. When you think about music and how its been for so many years with the introduction of ‘Video Clips’, this is now not the way it goes to capture the attention of the average person. To me, its like banner blindness. So artists need to do more, they need to publish video, but not just of their music.
So much of it comes with marketing, when you understand how marketing works, and keep up to date with it, what people want, what are they listening too, you are then able to adapt your marketing as an artist. However, this takes so much time, and I understand that. Music Talks also have ebooks with a lot of information on various aspects of music and marketing. I’m currently trying to get the personable aspect across via the site.
What are the three main tips you’d offer to someone who has a passion for writing songs and wants to reach a wider audience?
Learn Marketing, and make sure your song is better than great! Oh, and work, work, work. Interact with people online, and if they have an article on any site, station or wherever, use it to your advantage and share, re-tweet, blog about it etc. What ever you have going on, get it out there, its more content for you, it’s there to help you, and get involved with conversations. Keep thinking outside the box to be unique and put on a show, people want to be entertained, hence the funny or really sad content seen on video or stories on Facebook. Social media is not about constant pushing yourself out there to advertise but to be social. People want to connect both emotionally and socially.
Learning your audience is one of the biggest things you can do to step up to a huge audience. This takes time, and yes there is certainly a way to do it despite some may not believe. When you think about it, there are billions of people online, and I guarantee your audience is out there. This is something I actually show how to do in one of my courses, which is quite in depth and show step by step with video, showing exactly how its done.
How important do you think performing live is for upcoming artists and bands?
I think performing live is great, if there are gigs to perform at. I do think it’s important for artists to perform and show themselves practicing on YouTube as well; make the most of it. Performing live, gives the artist some real experience. If you don’t have a following as yet, just try and get some gigs and use that as rehearsal to perfect your craft. From that point, if you do have an audience, it’s a great way to test your songs. Get it all on video and get out there. It also a great way to see which songs go down well should you be thinking about recording and then being able to choose what songs should make the cut on your album or EP.
Who are some of your favourite under-the-mainstream-radar artists or bands at the moment?
I really can’t believe how much great talent there really is. To name a few; Fly Never Dies, Katie Brianna, Oli Kersey, (band name is Salt Valley), Slightly Left Of Centre, Mike Elrington….OMG…theres quite a few that have really blown me away, or that I can happily listen to and get into their music.
How often do you collaborate with other artists, and what have been some of your most interesting collaborations to date?
I have collaborated with a few artists in Australia, but the ones other people may have heard of would be Hamish Stuart (from The Average White Band, and the Paul McCartney Band) , Louis Shelton (recorded guitar and made the famous guitar lick from The Monkeys, played the solo guitar on Lionel Richies song, ‘Hello, worked with Elvis Presley, The Jackson Five, Barbara Striesand…..oh so many) but Louis produced my album ‘Colours’.
I’ve also worked with Paul Barry and Graham Stack in England, (producers and writers of Cher, Sheryl Crow, Rozalla.) James Wirrick in L.A. (worked with and written for En Vogue, Celine Dione, Whitney Housten) and wrote that classic hit, ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’.
In what way has networking helped you as an artist?
Honestly, I don’t network all that much as an artist, I wont play or show any of my music via Music Talks. Sometimes I will just post up some old songs, and just tweet and share from my Tracey Arbon account, but I’m currently networking more as Tracey from Music Talks. I know it sounds weird, but I need to keep them separate I think. Besides, Tracey Arbon isn’t doing much to promote herself with, however I do show what I’m up to most days on my Snapchat.
Tracey Arbon will get active soon I hope. Time permitting. Having said that, networking with other businesses is vital. Working it as a business and separating myself ‘the artist’ majority of the time is how I prefer to do it. However, I do realize, that there are a lot of people will wonder, what in the hell do I know about music, so at times, I have to just let them know that I am an artist, but also an entrepreneur, so I’m combining them. Artists seem to feel comfortable with other artists I guess, so I think in a sense its important just to let them know, and the ideas, the craziness I have and the edge I would like to create.
What’s been your greatest achievement in music so far?
Honestly cant say…..life is short, but life is long, there are quite a few I but I never really look back. I’m always pushing forward. What I did yesterday has now past, and this is just how I am. I never dwell or think about the past all that much until someone asks me, then I have to remember. Lol.
What makes a great song?
Great Melody and Great Lyrics. A great song should be able to be played by either piano and voice or guitar and voice.
If you had to choose one song from throughout time that you wish you could have written, which would it be, and why?
Now that’s a really hard one….mmm…..Song written by Carol King, Boz Scaggs (We’re All Alone), I really like some country and jazz songs too. The song, Home I think is beautiful, written by Blake Shelton, then there’s the music from the likes of Massive Attack with their awesome bass lines. Tough one to answer. But I’m sure Ill think of them after this interview. Ha ha.
What are your plans for 2018, and what’s the bigger picture?
I would love to grow Music Talks and have it in a position where I could employ or contract talent to help me. I know I need to do more tips via video, but trying to keep up with emails, create content, read artists articles, marketing and promoting and running the whole thing, weeks just fly by. I am thinking about a sponsor or some JVs. Working more on video content and if I had the stuff that makes the world go ‘round, I would put some into marketing on a larger scale. Hence why it’s been a bit slower than I would like it to be, but in a sense, it’s probably a good thing as well. I’m scaling up slowly as per my capacity in both, financial, time and family needs.
I have only just created a sister site to musictalks.xyz called musictalks.services which I hope to grow further. Infact I’m about to add another massive 34 video course on this site in the next week. I do have some bigger ideas, but lets say, perhaps Ill leave it as a surprise. But it does all come down to finance at the moment.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
HAVE FUN! And realize that the people who run these sites to place artists on, also need support, so if artists can get their heads around the whole concept on voluntary collaboration and sharing and supporting each other, the whole indie scene could be massive, but trying to get this message through and out strong and clear for some reason has been a difficult task. As I said earlier, if a blog or radio station has mentioned you, sharing that extra content will help everyone. Try not to assume either. It’s the toughest business there is.
You can do this, don’t complain and enjoy what you do. I think if you enjoy it, it radiates out and other people are more likely to know more about you. You attract what you give out.
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