If you’ve been reading along with me for the past month or so, you may have caught on to the fact that I’m tired of talking about myself. Today is no different. I snagged an interview with a friend of a friend who is hustling after her dream of being a full-time singer/songwriter.
I should probably back up just a bit and tell you my mom got me a Southern Living Magazine subscription for Christmas (great segway, right?) Anyway, in this month’s issue, they interviewed Trisha Yearwood about her favorite music venues in the South. The first venue featured is the Bluebird Cafe which seats 90 people and has been featured on the TV show Nashville. It’s also known for launching big name artists like Trisha and Taylor Swift.
So when I heard Laura Rabell had received an audition slot at the historic venue, I knew I had to hear the whole story.
You are a singer/songwriter in Charlotte, how would you describe your sound?
I’m still developing my sound and trying to find out where I land in the music industry matrix of artistry and marketability. I grew up listening to country music, but lately I’ve been inspired by the Americana genre and its earthy blend of blues, folk and bluegrass. If you catch me playing a cover gig at a local bar or restaurant, you’ll hear a mix of country favorites, old and new, with a smidge of Jewel, Adele, and anything else that’s a fun sing-along.
Who are your musical influences?
Sometimes I wish I had a more “cool” answer to this question, like, “I grew up listening to Bob Dylan in the womb, man…” But, that’s just not how it happened for me.
My parents were not big fans of music, so I grew up listening to whatever pop music was on the radio at the time, always gravitating toward the women artists I could sing along to. My first CDs were Mariah Carey, Jewel, and Ace of Base (don’t laugh)! Looking back, my older brother, Buddy, had a big influence on my musical choices. Meddling in his CD collection, I discovered a love of Weezer (the blue album). When Garth Brooks was on fire and introducing new fans to country music, Buddy was one of them. Eventually he gave me a copy of the first Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces, saying something to the effect of, “I know you don’t like country music, but I even like this and I’m not a chick, so I know you’ll like it.”
Not to be overly dramatic, but that changed my life forever. I discovered country music, a genre where I felt at home in the emotion, storytelling and soaring vocals. Singing along to Martina McBride’s greatest hits album pretty much got me through everything difficult about being a teenager. Delving into older country music, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn are my favorites, and the more recent artists who have really and truly shaped me, the way I sing, and the way I think about music are Martina, Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood. I have also been enjoying Kacey Musgraves’ breakaway success as of late. Of course there’s no way to list ALL of one’s musical influences, but these are definitely the ones that I have logged the most hours singing along to in the car. 🙂
Recently, I have also been endlessly inspired by the many talented songwriters in Nashville who are behind all of these successful artists. But that’s another topic for another day…
Are you musically trained or are you self-taught? What instruments do you play?
I took 10 years of piano lessons as a kid. I even gave the violin and the flute a try when I was much younger, and enjoyed making loud noises in the percussion section of my middle school’s band, electing the option of attending band daily instead of alternating band and recess every other day like most other kids.
Once I started dabbling in songwriting as an adult, I learned to play the guitar as a vehicle for bringing my songs into the world. I’m self-taught on the guitar, or more accurately, YouTube-taught.
The guitar gave me a really surprising and unexpected gift — the ability to take my show on the road to sing and play professionally. That realization led to pivotal shifts in my mindset and goals for my music career.
You’ve been performing at coffee shops and other venues for awhile. Are there any performances that were particularly fun? What are your favorite venues and why?
I will sing and play just about anywhere that they’ll have me! Recently, my husband E.J. has started acting as my manager and booking gigs, so that has led to many wonderful opportunities and venues, mostly coffee shops, wine bars and breweries. I really enjoy playing for wine bar crowds as they tend to be a great mix of fun-loving yet attentive.
No venue is the same two nights in a row, or even two hours in a row, because the crowd is always changing with ebbs and flows of audience members. But I’ve had two spectacular gigs recently with extremely engaged crowds at Summit Coffee in Davidson, a small town just north of Charlotte. One night at Summit Coffee (notably, after a winning Davidson College basketball game) the audience was so enthralled, multiple unrelated audience members offered large tips for me to play the Jewel song “Foolish Games” twice in a row as my encore. That crowd was full of shenanigans and back-and-forth banter. It was so magical yet ridiculous, I laughed about it for days.
Are you a full-time musician or do you have a day job as well? If so, how do you manage your time to make music?
My husband and I own a web design and digital marketing business, Rabell Creative. Although it can be a challenge to balance everything, it’s definitely a blessing, because it gives us complete control over our own schedule for travel purposes and allows me a lot of creative flexibility when deciding how and when to make time for music.
Right now, I have a rigid schedule that marks out time for billing hours, songwriting, practicing music, and other household chores. As a creative person, I hate structure, but I have learned that I need it to accomplish my goals. My husband E.J. is an enormous help with this. He is a very organized, structured person and helps keep me on track. We’ve also enlisted the help of a professional life coach, Laura Neff, to help us balance personal and professional goals while living a balanced life. It’s not easy, for sure, but we are making it work!
How long have you been singing?
I have been singing as long as I can remember. As a kid, I would pause Disney movies long enough to write down the song lyrics, then hit rewind, and sing the songs over and over. When my Dad brought home an MS-DOS Tandy, our first computer, I used it to type up my favorite song lyrics.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in Pensacola, FL, the home of the Pensacola Children’s Chorus. So from fourth grade onwards, I was engaged year-round, singing choral music and dancing along to Broadway tunes. This choir shaped my life more than any other experience growing up. Every year we put on two huge productions at the local theater, and every summer we went on tour (as far as British Columbia and Europe).
In college, my friends would say, “I saw you singing in your car at a stop light the other day… no, not just that… you were REALLY singing…” Yep, that was me. Probably trying to belt out the high notes like Martina McBride and giving it everything I had.
I just loved singing from an early age, there is no other explanation for it.
You snagged an audition at the Bluebird Cafe for their Sunday Night Writer’s night. Can you tell us a little about the Bluebird Cafe and the process for getting one of those spots?
Yes, the Bluebird Cafe is the most prominent songwriter’s performing venue in the country, probably the world. Because of that, it is extremely competitive and features only original music. To audition, you must live in Nashville or be a member of NSAI, the Nashville Songwriter’s Association (which I am).
It has taken me over a year, probably 2 years, of trying to finally snag an audition. Because it’s so popular, they use a randomized online queue process for signups. And each time I have tried to sign up, by the time I reach the front of the line, the audition slots (about 80-100 per quarter, I think) are gone. This time, with 3 people in the house on 4 devices and about 100 browser tabs all opened to the web page at the right moment, I finally snagged a spot!
Unfortunately, the audition coincided with “snowmaggedon” in Nashville, so it has been rescheduled. I am waiting on them to announce the day it will be rescheduled…
The songwriting industry takes a lot of patience, hard work, hustle and perseverance. This is just one of many examples of that.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
They say Nashville is a 10-year town. My husband and I live in Charlotte, but we have started traveling to Nashville regularly to meet other songwriters and musicians and learn about the music industry. I’m sure our plans will change and evolve as we learn about the industry, where I fit in, and how music fits into our overall family goals. But 10 years does seem to be a good measuring stick for goals in the music industry.
Right now, in 10 years, I would like to be a full-time traveling singer/songwriter artist, with a fan base and gig base large enough to support my family, so it can be my full-time profession. That’s the dream. But I’m open to seeing where the journey will take us.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your music that I haven’t asked?
I recently launched a new website at www.laurarabell.com. Lately, I have been posting all of my gigs on the app Bandsintown, but soon I will be launching a new mailing list full of detailed blog posts and videos to chronicle this journey. I would be thrilled if anyone wanted to join that mailing list at laurarabell.com and follow along! 🙂
I’m also flying to Philly to audition for NBC’s The Voice at the end of February. Open call auditions like that are always a long shot, but I try to be optimistic. Your chances are 0% if you don’t try, so why not?!
Thanks again Laura and good luck! Can’t wait to hear where the road takes you!