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Sarah Tracey

Photo of Sarah TraceyDavey Wilson

How would you describe your music?

"My music draws from sultry blues, jazz, classic Great American Songbook-era pop, french chanson, Berlin cabaret and the Tango. It feels like black orchids, dark chocolate spiked with chili peppers, August thunderstorms. It's music you would hear if you were to slip through a trick-bookcase door into a hidden absinthe den; what you would want to listen to on a midnight ride on the Orient Express, traveling from Istabul to Vienna. It's music for seducing a lost love and then exacting revenge on them. It's like a single malt scotch- rich, smooth, smoky, sophisticated, and complex, with a slight burn and a little sweetness in the finish. "

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

"I am the primary songwriter, and collaborate on arrangements with my producers and the musical director of my band. In performance I definitely try to command the stage and own the spotlight but I owe so much to the contributions of my backing musicians. In the studio, I really try to be as open as possible and give the musicians I am recording with room to put their own stamp on their performances. I definitely trust my producers as architects of the sound. Although I write alone, the recording process is all about collaboration for me! The songs don't fully come to life until we're in the studio. I'm deeply involved in the business and marketing decisions. I understand that marketing can be just as important (if not more) than the actual music-making. I'm very aware of my target audience and constantly brainstorming ways to reach them. I personally choose the photographers, stlylists, designers, etc that I want to work with in creating the visual component of my art. I'm contributing to all my social networks every day. I do many of my own bookings. In time the 'team' behind me has certainly grown, but I still retain heavy involvement in pretty much every aspect of what we do. As much as I can with the day jobs, etc."

Describe your gear.

I have a Korg keyboard that I bring to gigs but I prefer to write on my slightly out-of-tune old upright Lester spinet piano in my apartment. I also like to sit in my garden and play my acoustic guitar (an Olympia), armed with a stack of notebooks filled with lyrics and an old 8-track recorder to capture song ideas. I'm not really a digital girl- you won't find me creating loops on a laptop or anything like that. I guess my 'gear' also includes some very handsome guys with a proclivity for the technical and digital to help execute my recording ideas! Are fishnet stockings and stiletto heels considered 'gear'? Because I don't perform without them.

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"I think being a woman in this industry is entirely different. I feel like there is a LOT more pressure for women in terms of maintaining an 'image' that's attractive. It's been more of a growing realization than a singular moment of awareness. I would cite the fact that pretty much every review or item of press that I've ever gotten mentions my appearance in some way, and I often feel if I were a guy the focus would be much more on the music that I'm creating. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I've sadly learned that you have to be constantly on your guard against men that try to take advantage sexually. It's terrible that this still happens in this day and age. It can be hard to be taken seriously as a musician, and there have been moments when I've been trying to forge a professional relationship with certain men and on their end there's an unwelcome sexual undercurrent. I've been better able to navigate this treacherous ground as I've gained more industry experience but I'd guess men rarely have to deal with this. It's hard having to constantly look out and be on your guard! On the flip side, musically my songs have become much more about using sexuality and femininity as empowerment, just owning it. Many of the women who are successful in the industry (obviously Madonna being the Godmother of this) have been able to control the way their sexuality is represented and use it to their advantage. My sexuality is very much a part of my music and I'm not going to hide that."

Related Themes: Onstage Cashing In

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

Our young generation is faced with a lot of challenges obviously, being the first to come up in the era of technology, blogs, myspace, twitter, youtube, and all of that. It's daunting trying to navigate it all! We won't be making most of our income from record sales, and have to constantly come up with ways to court the new media, keep it fresh for audiences that have almost unlimited access to music. The days of a record company controlling all the press on their artists are gone. Sometimes it seems like the music alone isn't enough- fans want more and more access via video blogs, social networks, etc. It's hard to imagine what Carly Simon or Joni Mitchell or Billie Holiday or Nina Simone would have done with Twitter at the beginning of their careers. I sometimes wish I was of the generation when a little mystery was an asset.

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"It can be extremely overwhelming when starting out in music- trying to get your band together, creating your music, hustling for gigs, trying to create a following, doing all the internet marketing, etc- so great advice I have gotten is: choose just 3 music-related goals each day and do them. And don't forget to make some time to live your life and have experiences and adventures, this is the soul that you will bring to your art.

I've been lucky to meet a few successful female musicians that I look up to (Renee Fleming, Roberta Flack, among others) and the universal advice has always been a simple 'keep going and don't give up on your dreams'. I hold that advice very close especially now that I'm at the point where I've been developing my artistry for a few years in New York and I'm gaining ground and at a certain 'breaking point' where I'm ready to launch it on a bigger level. It's difficult to take the 'starving artist' path of building from the ground up, rather than going on a reality show chasing the overnight success. So amidst my bartending and cocktail waitressing and random vocal session work and being a professional Doo-Wop Girl and all the other things I do to feed the dream and pay the rent- I often tell myself, 'just keep going'. Hopefully persistence will be rewarded in the end! That's what I would tell aspiring female musicians- keep your head up despite setbacks, celebrate every small victory- and just keep going."

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

My primary instrument being vocals--- I really give all the credit to Judy Garland. My earliest memories of singing and the magic that the human voice can create were from watching The Wizard Of Oz as a very young girl. I would sing along to 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' over and over and over... I think of my voice honestly as a gift that I didn't necessarily choose; but Judy was probably what opened me up to using that voice for my own artistic expression.

Related Themes: The First Time