Welcome to the twenty ninth instalment of Monday #MusicMatters as part of the JAMS Canada PRO Series – “Here’s What I Know”.
We caught up with Miss Emily for her insight on Taking it to the Next Level
What was your early musical life like growing up in Prince Edward County? How were you nurtured as a performer?
My early musical life growing up in very rural Prince Edward County (much different than the touristy rural land it is now!) was less limited than one might expect, given my circumstances at the time. My Mom is a very high energy person. She’s a problem solver. She knew I needed performance opportunities in order to hone my craft as a singer and musician and she helped organize many performances for me at local churches and Rotary events.
The local fairs, nursing homes and UCW events were also a way for me to gain more experience in front of an audience. I sang the National Anthem at hockey games in the area and would sometimes be invited to guest with local area full-time musicians who had bar gigs or concert performances. My family is quite musical and although we didn’t make music in my household as a family very often, our large Christmas dinners with the extended family meant lots of carol singing around the piano and three-part harmony between my Mom and her two sisters.
How important is it to have mentors and supportive musicians around you?
I am fortunate to have had many of my early influences as a singer-songwriter in the small rural community I was from. The scene of gigging and writing artists was quite rich in talent and versatility for a small community and several musicians 20 or 30 years my senior would take me under their wing and teach me what they knew about performing, writing and self-producing shows. Much of what I learned from this community of artists has helped me develop into the artist and business woman I am now. Education I received from these mentors is still relevant to this day in my career and still beneficial.
What can you share about taking it to the next level? From performing locally, regionally to performing nationally & internationally?
I was introduced to the national singing competition circuit when I was 12 by The Wilkinson family whom I met on the set of Home Grown Cafe, a regional talent show that aired weekly on CJOH TV in Ottawa. These singing competitions judged a performer on both stage presence and singing ability and the feedback I received from each judge and each competition helped me to improve my skills and work my way up the standings until I was winning the regional, provincial and national titles. I played a small bar circuit for several years in Southern Ontario but started venturing out more in 2009 with a West Coast tour with my bar band and eventually national and international touring with the help of my manager Gord Hunter from 2015 onward. Definitely developing a small team of people to help me get to this ‘next level’ of my career has been key. Just recently we teamed up with a booking agent so Gord and I don’t have to handle all of the bookings ourselves. This will open more doors, I have no doubt, once the performance opportunities start again. Teaming up with the Light Of Day organization (who Gord also is involved with) has been a key part of getting my overseas touring opportunities. The charity raises money for Parkinson’s Disease research through the celebration of music in performances by artists from all over the world.
What are some tips you can share with other musicians who want to take their career to the next level?
My tips to artists trying to reach a ‘next level’ status would be to work harder. I often joke that I’m always working. My brain doesn’t turn off easily and even just listening to music leisurely is an opportunity to study what’s happening in the production and the chord progressions and reflect on how I can improve the music I make. I always want to learn how to be better at my business. I’m not a big practiser, per say, but I am always trying to improve my online skills so I can network more with other artists and festivals/venues as well as reach a larger number of online music listeners. I am my own worst critic, but it keeps me challenged and working harder each day to achieve more from myself and my career. Motivation is key and being able to take criticism and learn from it (and weed out what is useful and what isn’t) are other important skills.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
The worldwide pandemic has thrown the music industry a curveball. But quite honestly, I’ve been challenged many times in my career by this ever-changing business and the pandemic just feels like one more large challenge. It won’t end the career I’ve invested in. It has forced me to look at the things I’m still able to control in my career and focus on them. Although I lost a LOT of opportunities this year, I was able to spend more time developing my career in different ways. For that, I am grateful. I love my job and the rewards still far outweigh the downsides.
In February of 2020 at the Maple Blues Awards in Toronto, Miss Emily walked away with Female Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and the Sapphire Canadian Blues Music Video Award. This national recognition hearkened back to her early days of county fair singing competitions. In 1993 a then 12 year- old Emily Fennell was winning accolades not by emulating Whitney Houston or Celine Dion like her peers but by channeling Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; belting out song choices that belied her age. Those traditional influences would be the foundation of a career characterized by fearless honesty and a constant connection to the roots of popular music.
Along the way, she acquired an unparalleled work ethic by playing night after night in bars along Ontario’s 401 corridor while refining her songwriting and gaining a loyal following. This approach paid off as she grew her audience and advanced to theatre and festival appearances with performances at Montreal Jazz Fest, Harvest Jazz and Blues, Ottawa Bluesfest, and Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto.
Miss Emily has captivated fans across Canada, the US, the UK and Western Europe with her unique combination of impassioned performances and incomparable vocals that soar to emotional heights and span the genres from soul and classic Motown, to jazz, gospel and blues.
Today, in her adopted hometown of Kingston, she holds the record for sellouts at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and has gained the respect of Canadian music industry veterans like The Tragically Hip and the Downchild Blues Band as well as the recent national recognition by the Maple Blues Awards.
Despite two decades of electrifying audiences in ten different countries, Miss Emily is just beginning to flourish. With two new albums slated for release in 2020 and in 2021, we’re excited to see what the future holds.
Find out more about Miss Emily on her website Miss Emily and on Facebook, Instagram, Linked In: @MissEmily
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