My Feature Friday for this week is vocalist and performer Susan Marshall! Susan has over 100 albums to her credit and has performed with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, North Mississippi Allstars, and Lucinda Williams – just to name a few. She also was the songwriter for one of the songs on Katharine McPhee’s debut album. I imagine that when I die and go to heaven they will sound like Susan singing. She’s a huge advocate for artists’ rights and the advocacy efforts associated with The Recording Academy. In addition, she is a truly lovely person both inside and out. I am so honored for her to be one of my soul sisters and mentors in the music business. Once you have read this blog post you must IMMEDIATELY go and check out her music. You will thank me.
Meet Susan Marshall!
How did you get started in this crazy business? I started off enjoying 7th and 8th grade choir. My teacher encouraged me to audition for the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera’s production of “Oklahoma” which I was eventually cast in. That’s when the theatre bug bit me. Later that year, my folks and I moved to Germantown, TN (just outside Memphis) because their High School had a notable Fine Arts Department. That is where I really started to hone my singing skills. I eventually went to college out in San Diego but was told by one of my instructors (after only attending 1 year) that I should go to NYC. So…I went and ended up performing with The Light Opera of Manhattan (an Off-Broadway repertoire company) for 5 years. I felt I needed a change but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I came back to Memphis to regroup. After being back home for less than a year, I met up with guitarist/songwriter Gwin Spencer and her co-writing partner Jo Beth Dunn (Duck Dunn’s niece) to form the rock-soul band MOTHER STATION which was eventually signed to EAST/WEST RECORDS (Atlantic) in the mid 90’s. I’ve been a recording artist singing lead and background vocals ever since.
How long have you been in the business? 28 years total (5 years performing Off-Broadway and the rest in the music biz performing, recording, writing and being a vocal coach).
Who are your major musical influences? TOO many to name…or…EVERYONE. In my early years, I was heavily influenced by EVERYTHING that was played on FM radio. Back then, you would hear everything from Olivia Newton John to Led Zeplin, Jackson 5 to Bob Dylan, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin to Alice Cooper, etc. I listened to everything from opera and musicals to jazz, blues, rock and soul.
What aspect is the most challenging part of what you do? Trying to strike a balance between creativity and administrative work. I can’t live without being creative, but I don’t care of the administrative “money” side of things (like contracts and bookings), I can’t afford to be creative. It can be REALLY challenging at times.
How important is it to you to protect your creative work? VERY!!! That’s one of the reasons I am a member of The Recording Academy. We are VERY active with our Advocacy initiatives (Grammy’s on The Hill for example).
*Side note from Ryanne, if you are serious about being a musician you MUST join The Recording Academy. There are so many benefits from networking that comes from this organization. Message me on my contact page, and I can put you in touch with the office that can help with this.*
What one piece of advice do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started out? 1. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING and make SURE you SAVE ALL your emails even when you’re in the beginning stages of negotiating something. 2. When it comes to songwriting…record your entire session and talk about how you’ll be doing the song splits. There is MUSIC and then there is the MUSIC BUSINESS. Don’t go into the MUSIC BUSINESS simply because you want to be “famous” or because you’re “talented.” Go into it because you can’t live without being in it becuase it CAN be a difficult existence (even for those who are lucky enough to be naturally talented). The market is saturated with fame seeking people who have nothing to say except “look at me, look at me!!!”
Any books or websites or resources you would recommend? Donald S. Passman writes a very comprehensive book titled “ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS” that I believe to be in its 8th revision. This book is (in my opinion) the best book out there on this vast and ever-changing subject. However, one should understand that the outside world in which you will be conducting business in may not care to adhere to it. While gaining knowledge by reading these type books is, of course, a SMART thing to do, you should also join and/or attend as many on-going educational/networking industry events as possible (be a GRAMMY member of your local chapter, be a member of ASCAP, be a member of the AUDIO ENGINEERING SOCIETY, etc).
Charitable organizations that you support? MusiCares: They provide a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares’ services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community. http://www.grammy.org/musicares
Favorite candy? CHOCOLATE!
I appreciate Susan for taking part in the Feature Friday. The book she mentioned above by Donald Passman was also recommended in an earlier Feature Friday with the Grits and Soul band in this post. Susan performs regularly and is completely connected via social media you can find her through the following sites:
Your homework for this holiday weekend is to find her music, kick back and then, thank me later. Thank you for reading and Stay Tuned In!