Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Donahey.
Hi Lisa, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been singing. As a young teen, I was in a performance troupe called ‘Mickey Rooney’s Talent Towners.’ Mickey himself mentored us and performed with the group on occasion. That experience taught me so much about performing, be it on stage and off. Spending up to several days a week together rehearsing, studying music, in dance and acting classes, that group was like my second family and I was hooked on performing.
After I graduated from high school, I auditioned and was selected to become a member of an elite music program at Citrus College in Glendora, California. The group was called the ‘Citrus College Singers.’ It was a music program, much like that of a conservatory, where students were cross-trained in all things music and performance from music theory, dance and acting classes, and singing a variety of musical styles from classical literature to pop music, musical theatre to choral music. We toured the world performing and it was a formative experience for me, one that would shape me as a performer and solidify my decision to pursue a career in music.
After completing the Citrus Singers program, I applied to and earned a scholarship continuing my music education at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Going to Berklee was a pivotal and enlightening time for me. There, I was immersed in music 24/7 and part of a global community of talented, supportive young musicians. We all had talent, passion, a desire to hone our craft and expand on our personal musical goals. It was also the place where I would meet many of the music composers, songwriters, engineers and other music professionals that I continue to work with today.
After my studies at Berklee, I came back home to Los Angeles. I had big dreams of making music as my primary career and source of income. I also knew that it would take time to develop relationships in the music industry and prove my value and talent. I had to build trust and respect, so I would be called back for the next gig. It didn’t happen overnight. Like many creative types, I had to get a day job. That day job turned into 25 amazing years working at The Walt Disney Company in marketing. Having a regular paycheck payed the bills and alleviated a lot of stress about money. Working in the field of marketing at Disney taught me skills to apply to my own musical career and pursuits. I have always said that “I work a day job to fund my creative ventures.” It may not be not for everyone, but it worked for me. I’m a dreamer, but I’m practical and a realist, too.
My music career has been a slow and steady one. I’ve found great pleasure in exploring many different areas of the music industry and business. There are lots of different ways to sing and perform and make money at it. To this day, I try to anticipate where the areas of change and growth are happening in our industry, so I can adapt and be ready for anything. I have been lucky to perform in a variety of ways like industrials, stage shows and theatrical tours. I’ve also been able to work for several different songwriters, composers and vocal contractors by singing on demos and recording sessions for various film and television projects. I enjoy the variety of gigs and find it important to stay open to new opportunities and grow as an artist.
I am grateful I am able to utilize many of the other professional skills I’ve learned in my day job to support my musical ventures. All of those tools came in handy when I self-produced three albums. I continue to rely on these skills today when I produce shows and concerts also.
I have to say that when I began to treat my singing career as a business, a lot of things changed. I started my own production company called In Tempo Productions. The goal was to be able to take on creative projects and leverage the benefits of being a business owner. As the owner of a production company, I find myself being more focused on innovative and creative ways to develop projects, build and maintain key business relationships and generate work for myself and other musicians. It has also given me the opportunity to think about how I could be of value to the music community. I do this by hiring other musicians for events that I produce, by helping other musicians figure out their path and by making introductions that help connect people in the music industry. I’ve always felt that there’s enough for everyone and choose not to dwell in scarcity. I am grateful to the people who took a chance on me early in my career and want to pay it forward to other people who have that drive and talent.
We live in a world that is impulsive and we want things to happen now. I believe in patience, trust and putting in the work. I find that if I go to a gig prepared, maintain a positive attitude, over deliver on what the client wants and am kind and respectful to everyone I meet along the way, that it pays dividends down the road. Every once in a while, I get a call for a gig from someone who I had worked with years ago who remembers my talent and work ethic and hires me for those reasons alone.
As I look back on experiences in the music business, I want people to know that there are so many different ways to express and share your talent. I think that when a person is open-minded and adaptable, that it can open them up to other opportunities and new relationships they never expected.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Nothing you really want should be easy. Having to work for something and being proud of attaining it is the best feeling. Finally reaching a goal is something to be celebrated, but it’s also important to know when it’s time to change course. Many times in my life, I’ve reassessed my goals and made those changes. Certainly, during the pandemic many of us asked ourselves the question “what’s next?” Our community was one of the hardest hit, and it broke my heart to see artists suffer and not be able to express their talents and make a living. Thankfully, we all came together and rose to the challenge and found ways to sing, act and perform in new ways without a live audience.
The resilience and innovation was inspiring, and like many, I didn’t want to throw in the towel. I, too, found new ways to make music and perform. I just knew I would not be happy if I could not do what I love. I used this challenging time as an opportunity to diversify, look at how our industry was changing and where it was headed in this new normal. I took a class and learned ProTools and used those skills to record from home for session work that came my way. I also hosted virtual events and concerts online for businesses and organizations. I even started a weekly Facebook Live show called the “Feel Good 15”. Each week I had a different musical theme and it was 15 minutes of performing three songs with storytelling woven in between. It was meant to bring some levity and fun during a challenging time. I loved being able to basically produce a show every week… Being a person who thrives on routine, purpose and creating, these creative ventures really filled my soul.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My music career has not been one where I’ve taken a single path. It’s been one about saying “yes” to lots of different types of jobs in the music industry. Maybe I just like variety or I’ve found that I’ve had to adapt as the industry changes. Whether it’s on a recording session or a live gig or hosting a show, I do really love to do it all.
I’m most at home when I can perform live. I generally book a live show every three months with different show themes like my Jazzbaret show, Soul/Pop Shows, Songs in the Key of She, a show with all women singers being showcased, and my annual Holiday Show. My strategy is simple really. I set a date and then know I have to create something. Nothing like that pressure to force you to perform, create and get out there. The live gigs are so fun as I get to connect in the moment with an audience. My shows are like a conversation, honest and real and it’s like I am hosting a party at my house. The music I pick is key, also, as I want the songs to help tell the story of the show and move people in some way. A friend once said that I am a cross between Amy Poehler and Trisha Yearwood. I love that comparison and will take it!
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
One of my favorite sayings is “luck is what happens meets preparation meets opportunity.” I remember seeing it on the desk of one of my college professors when at Berklee and have seen it in action. Luck is not passive, crossing your fingers hoping something will happen. It takes courage, vision and action. It means you have to be an active participant and put in the work for what you want. Hone your craft so you can be the best you can be. Immerse yourself and be an active member in a creative community of supportive people who share the same interests. When opportunities come your way, you’ll be ready. It can be test of patience, but I find when I am positive, open and ready to go, I see opportunities more clearly and feel empowered to go for them when they present themselves.
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