Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Lyrical Life of Lara Part I

By Katharine W. Poole
For Women of Music Music of Women

Lara Johnston is performing her original music for Tin Pan South.   Accompanied by Dean Berner, she captivates her audience with a unique artistry.  The rest of her time in town is spent co-writing with some of Nashville’s finest as she is in the process of writing and producing her debut album.  As evidenced by her 30,000 plus followers on Facebook and 450,000 hits on YouTube, her understanding of fan connection coupled with talent prove Lara’s artistic capability. This accomplished young artist has a wide-reaching audience and experience beyond her years.

Lara currently lives in Los Angeles.  She tries to spend as much time in her native San Fransisco as possible.  “It’s nice because it’s not too far from LA.  I love The Bay Area.”  She sighs with a hint of nostalgia, but she moves with ease to add she may be ready to make a shift. “I’ve been really considering moving here [Nashville].  I was here a bunch last year, which made me kind of feel like I was starting to get ready for at least spending a part of my time here, because I really love it.”

The path for Lara may have been determined by fate and birth, but there is a lot more to her story.  “Definitely growing up in a musical family - I’m sure that led to me wanting to do this because it was there from the time I was born.  So it just seemed like this is my world and I couldn’t really think of doing anything else.” Lara and her family were lucky to have the opportunity to travel together during the summer months, with her father’s band, The Doobie Brothers. “When we weren’t in school - it was just such a great, inspiring thing to see how people were moved by the music my Dad was making - what a joy it was for him. It’s a lot of hard work. But there’s nothing like it - being able to live your joy like that every day - live your passion and create.”

In her own words Lara has been “Very fortunate” - that said - it is clear that she is deserving of the support and opportunity she has been given.  As to the release of her material she reflects - “It’s tricky there’s so much pressure when you’re an artist.  I never officially put anything out as a release. if you put something out people are going to judge you on [one particular song].  it can make you a little hesitant because it is so immediately construed as a statement of who you are as an artist.”  She thinks back and adds “I do kind of wish that when I had first recorded some of the songs, I just put them out and had not been so cautious about it, but I’m feeling really ready now.”  And ready she is.  Lara’s primary focus and passion is to be a performer.  “To be able to sing songs that I’ve written or cowritten, and tour.  Just be able to do this for the rest of my life and support myself.”

Lara has always gravitated toward the performing arts. She has known this from the time she was in first grade and saw Grease.  From that moment she was hooked.  Singing along with the soundtrack, dreaming of being on stage.  “As a kid I was very into acting and music; singing and acting were the two things that I just loved.  I took ballet for thirteen years, but I was not good at it.”  She giggles.  “It was kind of like something I just did and it was good for discipline and structure.  You know how dance is. Very strict, and it helps you to figure out how to balance a lot of different commitments.  But I remember,” she shifts back to music, “I think I was about 14 when I said to my parents: This is what I really want to pursue professionally.  I don’t just want to do it as a hobby.  Initially my dad was like: Well, are you sure?  Because there’s a lot of sharks and it’s a lot of disappointment.  It’s hard work and you’ve got to be careful who you trust.  He was very kind-cautionary, and when I insisted on it he said: OK, but you’ve got to know that if that’s what you want to do - first and foremost it’s about hard work.  You need to practice every day and make it your priority.”  Inspired by her dad’s words, Lara did just that.  “I had to make sure I practiced every day, and I enjoyed it.  His advice was really helpful to me in realizing…If you love something you do it all the time.   He also has an insane work ethic.  I’ve never seen him take a day off really.  So that was very helpful for me to have that example.  And - I have to say this about my mom - she is incredible - our family would literally -” she elongates the word as emphasis - “be a mess without her.  She’s such a strong woman.  She is also one of the hardest workers I know…she really keeps us together.  She does it with kindness and grace and patience.  She’s an amazing lady. I admire her.”

That work ethic has been passed on to Lara. In 2013 she won the Unsigned Artist Competition which opened her eyes to the business side of the Music Industry.  “That was a really interesting situation.  It was very cool to be recognized in that way.  The organization Unsigned Only is run by a lady named Candace Avery - she was really awesome, very supportive.” Candace coordinated phone calls with professionals in positions at A&R and Management to advise and educate Lara about her career path.  “I got to speak to people from major labels and get their advice, their wisdom. It was definitely a growing experience because they all kind of uniformly stressed the importance of Social Media, which was good to hear.  It also just made me aware, once again, of how competitive this business is - that was the gist of what they said.  If you are doing Pop you need to really raise the bar with your Pop songwriting and be aware of everything that’s on the radio.  It was eye opening, for sure.  It led to me working with an Independent Label for a while.”  It was during this time, she learned how to approach her career and become a strong self-promoter and advocate. She gained the knowledge of the tools and tactics vital to forge a successful career path.  Lara does not ride on the coat-tails of other’s fame or connections.  She has constructed her own.  Her attention to Social Media is not only effective but professional and poignant.  She does her due diligence daily - and it pays off.  

The importance of successful Social Media has changed the face of music marketing.  Lara is on board in the most conscientious of ways.  “It is important.  It’s how you connect with people.  It’s what labels look at.  It’s what management looks at - what booking agents look at - ‘cause it shows how influential you are.”  She understands the drive behind success.  “It’s something that I think I need to be more consistent with - my goal is once a day.  If there are weeks when I’m in LA just writing sometimes it’s hard to have content to post.  It’s a lot easier if I’m performing.  I just try to get back to everybody whenever possible.  It’s engaging which is actually my favorite part of it.  I just try to be aware.  Sometimes I think of things that I want to post that are funny in my head, but then I thank God I didn’t post that.”  As far as support in the social media forum, Lara currently does it all herself.  “I’ve worked with companies in the past and they certainly helped me stay more consistent. I found they would post stuff every day, but they would post stuff like a picture of nail polish with What color should I do my nails? - I would NEVER post that - are you kidding me?”  It was business based on statistics, not on music or artistry.  “They had some algorithm so it would get like 200 Likes and they’d say: See this is effective!”  

Lara realizes, even as a young artist, that women face unique challenges in this business.  “I know that for all the huge strides women have made - the business is still a man’s world.  I know there was that controversy that male Country Artists get played a lot more on the radio than females - and some guy called women Tomatoes…Like: What?  That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”  She laughs but with conviction.  Lara is referring to the comment made by radio consultant Keith Hill to a music trade publication: The tomatoes of our salad are females, in reference Country radio airplay.  Which in truth may have been a wonderful jumpstart for a new uprising of support for Female Artists both locally and globally.  “I think women standing up for themselves in all situations.  Sometimes, even in a town like Nashville, you can be caught off guard by someone who says something that seems incredibly antiquated and sexist.  Challenging those people, even if they seem to be more powerful than you, or it seems you would lose favor in a certain area of the business.  I think any time something is said that seems to have a sexist component to it you have to speak up.  All women have to not be afraid too speak up.”  She articulates this so poignantly and with a self confident and considerate conviction.  

Her debut album is a project that speaks to her experiences.  “Musically I’m going for a more soulful sound.  I grew up listening to a lot of great classic music - the voices that really captured my heart were singers like Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder!” She lights up.  “I just could not get enough of the tones of their voices - they’re just so sweet to me.  That was something that I really studied.  Wanting to be able to sing like them.  I think this project is [about] going back to what made me want to be a singer.  Not only just the voices, but the raw emotion and the way that the stories are told.”

There is so much more to the story of Lara.  Next Wednesday, WMMW will feature Lara Part II - highlighting her musical influences, touring experiences, songwriting and more - including her responses to The Nashville 7!

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*The material included in this article is the sole property of the writer, (Katharine W. Poole,) and the photographer and President/Founder of WMMW, (Cilene Bosch.)  All elements may be used in other publications as determined by the owners. Permission must be obtained for reproduction.

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