By Diana Hereld | @christypaffgen
At the 8th annual ASCAP Expo, over 2,000 songwriters, composers and publishers gathered to take part in three days of lectures, workshops and live showcases specifically designed to promote knowledge and networking in their craft. Although all levels of accomplishment and success were represented, hallways and rooms bustled with people seeking their next break. The question at the front of everyone’s mind is constantly this: in an industry that’s progressively moving toward an age of D.I.Y. methods-how does one break through?
Throughout the Expo, many had the pleasure of meeting Ali Isabella, one of the events youngest guests-and headline artists. At just seventeen years old, Isabella has performed in many of the top clubs in New York as well as headlined two pre-Grammy parties-one honoring Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder celebrating the 54th and for St. Jude’s hospital the 55th annual Grammy awards. In 2012, she impressively became the youngest musician to ever perform in Wembley Arena in London, opening for country music superstars Reba McIntire and Lonestar. Isabella released her first album in 2012 “Say You’ll Be Mine” in the UK. In the US, her debut single, “New York City Country Girl” reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was #1 for four weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.
On Thursday evening, Isabella performed at the showcase in Loews Hollywood Hotel for the Women’s International Music Network (WiMN), an organization created to bring women together in the music industry. Upon hearing Isabella sing, one’s immediate reaction may in regard to the clarity and strength of her powerful voice. She has been dubbed “the next Taylor Swift,” and her performance did not disappoint. Watching Ali sing was the most natural thing on earth – in front of leading industry specialists, executive producers and composers, she was simply at home in her music.
Possibly the most refreshing element of Isabella’s identity stems from her humility. Found on the receiving end of bullying in high school, Isabella is quick to exhibit compassion and resilience regarding her experience without an ounce of smugness at her professional success. On being the youngest ever musician to perform at Wembley Arena, she spoke of being anxious, but in tradition to the sensation many singer-songwriters experience, once she was on stage, what she was born to do took over:
“When I go back to it and think about it, I don’t even really remember it because it was all so overwhelming…I mean, the stage is like my home because before I go on, I’m really nervous but once I go up there I’m just comfortable and I’m able to forget about it.”
On the journey to where she has come from, Isabella speaks highly of everyone involved. Initially discovered as a singer-songwriter via a chance meeting via her father in a New York Starbucks, Ali has come a long way. Her powerhouse team composed of her band, publicists and management function more as a familial unit than a management force. One thing is to be sure, however-they know exactly what they are doing. Armed up-front with publicist Andrea Pagano, manager John Velasco (Direction by Appointment, Inc.) has an impressive resume, including having represented Tina Turner, and having managed and/or published Marvin Gay, Hal David and John Denver.
A bit further down the line, not only is Isabella getting publicity via multiple live performances, an app well-designed to keep fans updated with everything they need, and a sponsorship with Casio, she is also pioneering ways to keep an active presence online. Her internet broadcast series will soon be released. She states: “We just go around and interview people in the entertainment industry-people that have helped me along the way, people that I’ve met-I just think it’s a great way to be informed about people behind the scenes because they’re the ones that make everything happen along the way.”
Ali Isabella’s fresh yet endearing catalogue will catch one’s attention from the beginning. Songs like “What If” and “Crazy Beautiful Life” written by Ali herself exhibit a fresh, raw honesty. The goal of releasing her much-anticipated new album is set for this summer. When Ali speaks of being an encouragement to those who once shared the shoes of being nothing but a singer-songwriter with a guitar and a dream, she shares a unique insight into her character.
“I think it’s really important to write your own songs and tell your own story,” she says. “I think it tells people much more about yourself than just singing songs that people wrote for you, and I think people just appreciate that when you tell your own story because that takes a lot of courage to get up there and be singing about pretty deep stuff.”
What does this say about success for singer-songwriters in the music industry today? In a world where business ventures of all kinds are turning increasingly to D.I.Y. methods for marketing and promotion, the “traditional” music business model (which many of ASCAP’s largest successes have stemmed from) is still one that continues to prevail. However, there is much to learn from young Isabella’s story-any initial break is only the beginning of the equation. An artist must possess the qualities to not only acquire but also maintain their fans-which is the precise moment the online and social media tactics of D.I.Y. come in.
Check out Ali Isabella here:
Diana Hereld (@christypaffgen) is a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter and music psychology/neuroscience researcher.