Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What To Expect From A Producer!

Artists want their problems solved. Producers are problem solvers. However most artist have a pretty steep learning curve about what a producer can and can't do! Lets talk about the different jobs a producer fills.

1) The “sound “ of the recording is usually shaped by the engineer BUT the producer can help put that in motion. I always recommend artist bring examples of the recordings that have the "sound" you are looking for!

2) A producer should be able to help shape the artistidirection of the recording..making sure that YOU get what you NEED at this point in your career...In terms of establishing your brand identity, making noise in the biz and with the public, achieving an authentic artist vibe etc And if the direction needs shaping and clarifying this is something you would be collaborating with your producer..keeping in mind that they "work for you" to help you achieve your next steps NOT the other way around!

3)  A producer can make sure the songs are helping you reach your goals…. Sometimes by collaborating on the writing, sometimes by helping you select which tunes are strongest and most likely to help you achieve your goals and sometimes by  sending an artist back to the “writing” part of the process!
SO, in choosing your producer you are choosing someone who should bug you with questions, help you clarify your goals and focus you on what you want to achieve with your music in the short.... and long run.

When considering a new recording project I always recommend starting by building relationships with a batch of different producers.
Conversations (by phone, e mail or in person)   will help you clarify
1)  what YOU want to achieve with this recording
2) What THEY will bring to the table to help you achieve your goals

 ....and ultimately help you decide who you want to work with at this time in your career! 
Have Career Strategy Questions you need answered?  I am available to work with you as a coach to help you achieve your goals in the music industry! Message me at micah@singersplayground.com and lets talk! 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Importance Of Routine

"Routine? But I'm a creative person!  Won't all that structure kill inspiration"? I hear you say!

Yes we Artists love chaos and drama!
Our biggest fears are all about not actualizing that radical creativity in the world.
But its usually emotionally driven fear and anxiety about it all that tangles us up and gets in our way!
We tend to resist the very thing we want in some invisible but powerful way.

You know those overwhelming goals that you can't seem to get started on? The best solution to all that resistance is a structured daily routine in which you work away  at climbing the"Big Mountain" every day... by taking tiny "manageable" steps.

Songwriting. Vocal technique, Mediation, Physical Fitness, there are all sorts of useful things you can be "doing" instead of worrying and stressing yourself and all those around you.

Daily specific work can keep our most self destructive patterns at bay.

                                                  PRODUCTIVITY BECOMES A HABIT!

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and stay focused on the task at hand for 3 or 4 days. You'll see how your habit of discipline can become the single most important factor in your sense of forward motion!

Questions about Career Strategy, Voice and Stage Technique?

Message me at micah@singersplayground.com.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

5 Career Tips For Aspiring Singers!


Hello Singers!
I get asked for career advice from up and coming artists all the time. Here are a few things every aspiring singer should be thinking about career wise:

1) Work your voice so you are getting the most out of your instrument! Raw talent is never enough. Keep working on your craft so your voice is always growing and becoming the best it can be. 

2) Make sure your live show is top notch. No-one is surviving in the music business these days without a fantastic live show. You want audiences talking about it and telling their friends. Otherwise you are going to have a hard time making a living!

3) Be who you are. Often it can take many years of experimentation to find out what really and truly works best for you in terms of material, production, direction etc. Dig in and make sure you are being authentic in what you are giving to us. Audiences can smell it when we are faking it. We crave authenticity and integrity more than anything else these days!  

4) Understand who the audience for your music is so you can figure out how best to market to them. If you are a Jazz artist like myself you are looking at a speciality market, (i.e.: people who like fine wine, are college educated, own their own homes and have grown children etc) Identifying your audience will make a whole bunch of decisions much easier, such as where to perform and how to best target the people who will be most interested in learning about you and your music!

5) Lastly don’t rush to build a team around you (managers, label, agents etc) Its always better to go slowly and build a team of true believers who really get what you do and want to be there for the long run rather than the low hanging fruit that are easy to attract! IF you aren't finding that higher level folks are attracted to working with you have a long hard look at your own development, thats generally where the problem lies!

OK there are a few things to be thinking about, hope you find that helpful! I'm always happy to consult and can be reached through micah@singersplayground.com 
Micah Barnes

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


 The one thing that everybody agrees on in the music industry is that there is no ONE publicity person who is good at everything.
A lot of established PR people only have relationships in the dying world of old school media where journalists are losing their jobs and print space is declining every day. Some PR folks have terrific relationships with media but can't write a proper press release to save their life. Some are fantastic at expanding your footprint on social media platforms but can't translate that story to TV, Radio and Print. Some are really believers and passionate about their clients but simply don't have the skills to find them coverage. 
ALL of these PR may have a place in your journey. It's all about defining what your current goals are and hiring the PR person who can help you reach them at this time. 

Where should you be spending your marketing dollars then? At the beginning of your career the smart money will be spent on the online content (pics, video's etc) that keep a growing audience engaged while YOU handle the day to day posting on your social media platforms. (When we pay marketing people to do our daily posts it usually means we sacrifice developing our own unique voice and our brand online and that can hurt us in the long run.) When you have a BIG event like a CD launch or a batch of tour dates then it makes sense to contract the services of a PR person who can take your online story and focus old school media on what you are doing. (Beware of ongoing PR contracts without an end date, that is usually of more benefit to the PR person or firm than to the artist or act.)
Our job as the artists hiring a PR person is to have a clear understanding of what our current needs are. If we are a local act then we want a PR person who can excite  local media to get turned on and become champions of  what we do. If we are looking to break nationally then we want a PR person who has the national contacts and relationships.  When meeting and interviewing possible PR folks that we are thinking about working with we want to be asking them a lot of questions such as what acts have you enjoyed working with etc. Get THEM talking about their world and listen carefully for what they tell you about their successes. An honest approach is always best, if you have concerns bring them up and see how the PR person reacts. If they admit their strengths and weaknesses you are in a good position to move forward knowing what area both of you are expecting to focus on!

Almost all PR people will warn their clients up front that hiring their services is no guarantee of coverage. Most clients will hear this as fair warning. BUT watch closely because any PR person worth the money will have trusted and true media relationships that should result in immediate coverage, (if only to impress the new client!)  If you don't get any coverage in the first round thats a sign that the relationship isn't going to work. I recommend moving on quickly with a simple polite conversation about it. (Keep in mind that the pool of resources in this industry is small and you may well be in a position to need that PR person again in the future, so no name calling and no sour grapes. It wasn't a good fit, simply move on!)

When are you ready to start paying a PR person? As soon as you have more than a few shows in one market your marketing could probably benefit from the assistance of a publicity person who knows local media and can help position your story for coverage. But this is assuming that you have already become adept at audience building through social media. Thats how you build your brand in the marketplace NOT by spending money on a PR person. The PR person you hire is there to translate an already existing story to the TV, Radio and Print mediums. The 1st key to building your success  is always going to be  how you focus your brand on the various social media platforms that best target your demographic…

Monday, October 24, 2016


Taking responsibility for our career is scary for artists. Most of us don't have the skill set, we only have the desire.  This business asks us to be the best singer we can be, the best writers the best live performers etc. And thats a LOT of stuff we have to get GREAT at before we are ready for the world stage. Most of us don't want to include business skills in that package. It just seems to hard, too daunting and too difficult.  So we get stuck looking for BIG DADDY (OR MOMMY) to save us..  a manager who will be the answer to all our dreams and make it all magically happen. THAT is mistake number ONE!!

You think that this new person on your team believes in you and will now take care of everything that you hate to do. Booking shows, making sure an audience is going to be there, finding musicians, arranging band rehearsals, finding the right producer for your project and basically making all the important decisions about what is coming next etc. The manager who signed on to do all of this "grunt" work is generally NOT the same person who has worked for many years successfully in this industry and is connected to the labels, agents, PR, publishers etc who can really help your career.  That doesn't mean that having someone who believes in your rolling up their sleeves and helping out is a bad thing. BUT before making any lasting ongoing agreements it is wise to consider whether their strengths will best serve you in the short term or the long term and make sure there is room for a new powerful manager to come on board once you've created more leverage for yourself!

Beware believing that any one manager can be responsible for everything "clicking" in your career. Almost all managers have strengths and weaknesses. It's good to know what they are before building up big expectations which will lead to terrible disappointment.
 Some managers are really good at getting you gigs..some never touch that part of your career and will leave that to you or an agent. Some managers have a special knack at putting together recording deals for artists. Some are excellent at designing a marketing approach. The truth is that most will not be good at everything and it's YOUR job as the defacto manager to see the holes and get proactive to fill them yourself or with other members of your team.

Successful artists always retain control of their forward motion. If you remain in a position of responsibility you will always be protected from the worst outcomes of someone else's bad decisions. YOU are the one watching the company store.  Your career and your future are no one else's responsibility but your own. A manager acts as a guide and as an advisor. Regardless of how powerful or well connected your manager may be your hand never leaves the steering wheel! Why?  You are the person who must ultimately live with the decisions you make as a partnership. 

I almost always suggest artists play the field for a while before signing anything with a manager.  Better to start with dating before any real "commitment" happens on either side. A lot of times the relationship starts when an artist is stuck and looking for a specific solution and reaches out to a manager that they may know and trust and have access to ask that all important question. "Can you give me some input about this decision I have to make"?  If things go well the artist may be invited to "call anytime with anything you need help with". If things progress and a certain amount of trust is built up then a relationship may start to get deeper. 

Seeking management is one of the main things artists feel they should be "doing". But thats not a useful goal to the working artist. How come? Interestingly enough most successful artists I know have had their managers seek them out. Why? Because as artists they were already doing the music and making the audience and creating the energy and buzz around their work and their career, enough so that a manager seeking a new act to work with would end up hearing about them through their network.
People in the music industry talk to each other. There are listening and watching for the truly "special" and "unique" artists that stand out.
Sometimes it's the combination of talent and looks and drive that clicks, sometimes it's because the artist has something really "fresh" in their approach. Sometimes it's simply dollar signs that get the manager interested... 
but it's always the manager who takes an interest first almost NEVER the other way around in my experience.

SO..if you are seeking a manager there's nothing wrong with starting a relationship with a couple of well placed folks where could bounce your challenges and ask questions.   Usually the manager is watching carefully to see what kind of a person the artist is. Will you make the managers life difficult? Do you follow through on suggestions? Are you taking responsibility for your own forward motion?

There are a million new acts trying to break into the publics consciousness each year. How do you get heard about the din? 
By doing what you do the best you can do it. Pretty simple really. 
Do what YOU do so well that you attract the team you need to bring it to the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Developing Our Own Material: (Being Willing To Suck!)

We're not all composers. But we all know a good song when we hear one. Maybe thats what stops us from taking those first awkward steps towards developing ourselves as songwriters? The first couple of songs we write can feel tentative, unformed and generally leave us feeling like we'll never become songwriters, with our first attempts unfinished and unheard.  Thats normal and a natural part of learning a new skill set, it's really challenging to compare our first attempts with our favourite songs. We're bound to come up short. However there are some ways that we can deepen our craft and get better at it, if we are willing to suck for a while.

                    No One Gets There Overnight!
The key is to know your emotional life well enough to be able to boil our feeling in a given situation down to a few simple lines.  Many a great song has been born when a singer trusts their collaborators enough to bring a few snatches of lyric to a musical composer, a producer, a band mate etc and allowed them to help finish it into an actual song. 
Sometimes we can stay in the process and help steer and shape the outcome, sometimes it's best if we get out of the way and let the more experienced "professional" finish the job. That doesn't matter, what matters is that the final product will have some of our emotional life in it's DNA. That will make the song feel closer to our emotional centre and much easier to perform!

               We Deepen Our Skill Set Over Time!
However if we are going to become composers there will be a drive to do better, to learn the craft, to co-write with more experienced composers, to learn the tricks etc.  

Practical Coaching Advice: Breaking the Negatives
Because we haven't "finished" songs that we feel proud of it stops us from investing in the journey. 
BUT in truth the only way we ever get there is to BEGIN! Those few tentative steps we take are the most important ones!  Here are a few suggestions to get you moving!!

*Keep a "lyric" journal by your bed. Fill it with your dreams and unfigured out feelings..grab a hold of any pieces of lyric that float in for you first thing in the morning. Write and DO NOT worry about how it might become useful as a song.

*Read poetry to discover the power of language separated out from music. Dive into the world of the word and discover your affinity to expressing through language.

*Learn to play some simple songs on the piano or guitar and get used to singing to an instrument that you are playing. That will go a long way towards allowing your first tentative composing efforts!

*If you can't seem to finish songs bring them to a more experienced collaborator and pay attention to the way that they help build the final song from simple building blocks!

Songwriting looks hard.. but is in fact very simple. Its ALL about trusting your instincts and following you heart. Of course the more experience you have at "problem solving" during the process the easier it gets! But you will never get to your destination unless you START YOUR JOURNEY!   

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

5 Things to Think About When Looking For A Vocal Coach

The singer’s relationship with a coach is a potentially life changing one. It’s not just about getting better at hitting your high notes. A good voice coach works with a singer on their most intimate fears and deepest challenges, digging down into the places we are scared to go to on our own, so it’s very important that we be able to put our absolute trust in our coach.  
Where Do I Find A Vocal Coach?
The best approach is to ask other singers who they have benefitted most from working with, keeping in mind that not all singers are looking for the same thing from a coach. Sometimes the most established or well-known coach isn’t necessarily the perfect coach for your needs. I would stay away from coaches who promise immediate results and start by reaching out to the coaches whose reputations are rock solid within the music industry.
How Will I Know If A Coach Is Right For Me?
Ask them a ton of questions! There are just as many different kinds of coaches as there are singers! I highly recommend “shopping” for the right coach for your needs. There are some coaches who teach a specific vocal technique, or who are more knowledgable about a certain style of music. Although reputable coaches can usually handle most issues that singers need support on, every coach has a speciality or two. You’ll want to know if it’s a good fit before booking a batch of sessions in advance!  It’s always best that you start by having a real conversation, either on the phone or in person, so you can get a feel for their personality and get a sense of what their focus is, and then I would recommend booking a single session and seeing how it goes.    
When Should I Actually Be Working with a Coach?
The answer is long before you think you need to! :) The challenging thing about being a voice coach is that we usually meet a new singer when they are crazily stressed about an upcoming performance or recording session, vocally exhausted from singing with bad technique, or under a lot of pressure from their manager, agent, label or financial backers to make some kind of change in their vocal approach. Any experienced coach worth the money should be able to make a noticeable difference in a short period of time, however the best coaching (and learning) happens slowly and over a stretch of time, so this kind of “emergency” is not the ideal circumstance to make a lasting change to a singer’s technique. In my experience it’s the singers who come to work with a coach many months in advance of a new tour or recording or showcase opportunity that are able to go the deepest and benefit the most. Besides most of us learn best when there is a little bit of breathing room in the schedule. 

What Should I Be Working On With A Coach?
If you are experiencing vocal exhaustion, then more than likely your technique is not supporting you properly. Working with a coach to bring your technique into sharper focus is usually the first order of business. Proper breathing, voice production, vocal placement, physical tension,  proper warm-up, there is no end to what we can be working on when it comes to deepening our singing technique. Sometimes we need support on our live performances and want to work on our material selection, finding the right keys and the songs that suit our voice best. Some coaches have more experience dealing with the issues of the “working professional singer” than others. The key is to be sure that your coach has a good grasp of the area of music that you are looking to specialize in. Many singing students end up trying to please the coach by working on material that is outside of their area of interest. Always keep your own instincts alive as you work towards a clearer understanding of what suits you and your style best!
What Do I Do If It’s Not Working Out?
Sometimes a singer and a coach don’t click personality wise, sometimes we don’t feel comfortable with a coach’s teaching methods, and sometimes we simply aren’t seeing the results that we were hoping for. Before automatically blaming the coach, I would suggest that every singer take a look at whether they have been actually following the suggestions and doing the daily work that it takes to change one’s vocal technique. Sometimes we just don’t have the time or ability to properly focus on the work we are being asked to do, but usually we end up procrastinating out of fear. (In my experience many singers who find they aren’t able to focus on daily exercises end up blaming the coach’s methods when they don’t see enough results.)   I recommend an honest conversation with your coach about “how it’s going” whenever possible. If you honestly don’t feel that things are working, find a way to gracefully move on and try working with someone new.  Keep in mind that coaches are used to singers moving on. It happens all the time and you don’t have to feel guilty or bad about it. Just make sure you don’t repeat the same work habits with the next one! :)
I hope these “5 Things to Think About” have helped you in terms of what to be thinking about when looking for a coach. The right coach is out there for every singer! Good Luck!  
–  Micah is the founder of Singers Playground (www.singersplayground.com) which has supported the next generation of artists with vocal, performance and career strategy in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto since 1996. Micah’s masterclass and private sessions have brought a deeper command of their craft to thousands of artists across all areas of the industry and genres of music. His special interest is in coaching singer-songwriters, having travelled the world as a member of A Capella act The Nylons and as a chart topping solo recording artist himself.
Micah Barnes Coaching Highlights:
  • Created and taught curriculum for the Seneca College “Performing Singer-Songwriter” program, Toronto 2015
  • Worked extensively as voice coach Golden Globe-nominated Tatiana Maslany on hit BBC America TV series “Orphan Black”, 2014-2016.
  • Vocal coach for cast members of the Tony Award winning Broadway productions of “Matilda”, Pippin”, and “Pricilla Queen Of The Desert” 2012-13, New York.
  • Vocal Coach for Universal Recording artist and “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” star Blake McGrath for his national tour, Toronto.
  • Created and taught curriculum as head of Voice Faculty for Aboriginal Voices Program at the Banff Centre for the Fine Arts, 2010-12, Banff, Canada.
  • Vocal and Performance Coach on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit CBC TV show “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” CBC. 2011, Canadian TV.
  • Assistant Vocal Coach at Elaine Overholt’s Big Voice Studio (Award-winning movie musicals “Chicago” and “Hairspray”). 2010-2011, Toronto 
  • Vocal Coach for Nina Dobrov ( NBC’s “Vampire Diaries”) for her work on the MTV Feature Film “American Mall” 2009, Los Angeles.
  • 2007-2010 Micah designed the  curriculum and served as Voice faculty at The Centre For Indigenous Theatre, Toronto
  • 1998-2006 Micah served as faculty for The Highways Performing Arts University developing and teaching performance workshops for musical and theatrical artists, Los Angeles.   
Micah travels between Toronto, New York and Los Angeles on a regular basis to work with clients as well as coaching private sessions online. His Singers Playground performance workshops which he developed at The Highways Performing Arts University in Santa Monica have helped thousands of artists deepen their skill set as performers on both sides of the border.