ASCAP Spotlight: Ali Isabella

Teenage Dream – p_0115Part 1

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.

Go Long, Final Go

Much remains to write about from my trip, my new vocational experiences as vocalist and researcher, and life in general, but until I may finally settle down (very possibly tomorrow, as I will fly home to Seattle for a week) I will share something personal that I have done since being back.

A year or so ago, a friend showed me this song by Joanna Newsom. It was the first thing I ever heard her do. Sometime shortly after, I fell in love with her and covered her myself on my little 2 track. It was suggested it was rather nice, and that I record it professionally. Here is the rough track from Dec 17, 2011. This song will never be mixed, or mastered. I will not cover her again, I’m finished now. But I couldn’t let her go without one last hoorah.

The following is my cover of one of the saddest and heartfelt songs I have ever heard. For the other two of hers that never fail to leave me completely wrecked and in awe, please go here and here. I hope you enjoy it.

Go Long (Vocal and Piano by Diana Hereld, originally recorded by Joanna Newsom)


Last night, again,
you were in my dreams
several expendable limbs were at stake
you were a prince, spinning rims
all sentiments indian-given
and half-baked
I was brought
in on a palanquin
made of the many bodies
of beautiful women
brought to this place to be examined,
swaying on an elephant:
a princess of india

We both want the very same thing.
We are praying
I am the one to save you
But you don’t even own,
your own violence
Run away from home-
your beard is still blue
with the loneliness of you mighty men,
with your jaws, and fists, and guitars
and pens, and your sugarlip,
but I’ve never been to the firepits with you mighty men

Who made you this way?
Who made you this way?
Who is going to bear your beautiful children?
Do you think you can just stop,
when you’re ready for a change?
Who will take care of you
when you’re old and dying?

You burn in the Mekong,
to prove your worth,
Go Long! Go Long!
Right over the edge of the earth!
You have been wronged,
tore up since birth.
You have done harm.
Others have done worse.

Will you tuck your shirt?
Will you leave it loose?
You are badly hurt.
You’re a silly goose.

You are caked in mud,
and in blood, and worse.
Chew your bitter cud,
Grope your little nurse.

Do you know why
my ankles are bound in gauze
(sickly dressage:
a princess of kentucky)?
In the middle of the woods
(which were the probable cause),
we danced in the lodge
like two panting monkeys.

I will give you a call, for one last hurrah.
If this tale is tall, forgive my scrambling.
But you keep palming along the wall,
moving at a blind crawl,
but always rambling.

Wolf-spider, crouch in your funnel nest,
If I knew you, once,
now I know you less,
In the sinking sand,
where we’ve come to rest,
have I had a hand in your loneliness?

When you leave me alone
in this old palace of yours,
it starts to get to me. I take to walking,
What a woman does is open doors.
And it is not a question of locking
or unlocking.

Well, I have never seen
such a terrible room-
gilded with the gold teeth
of the women who loved you!
Now, though I die,
Magpie, this I bequeath:
by any other name
a jay is still blue

with the loneliness
of you mighty men,
with your mighty kiss
that might never end,
while, so far away,
in the seat of the west,
burns the fount
of the heat
of that loneliness.

There’s a man
who only will speak in code,
backing slowly, slowly down the road.
May he master everything
that such men may know
about loving, and then letting go.

Sleep Gets Your Ghost

Since the commencement of this blog, I have attempted to somewhat remain on task (“task” being the broad field of music education, research and psychology), mainly because I have a prior blog where I’ve long expressed more personal content, including musical/artistic/poetic/academic recommendations. As The Spirit Wanes was created largely to facilitate informal research and stimulate preparation for grad school. However, I have consulted the gods, and now feel it’s okay-appropriate even-to share something of this caliber when I come across it.

The following was shown to me by an old friend a couple of weeks ago, and I must admit my initial impression was somewhat indifferent, at least as far as Dyer’s vocals were concerned. I’ve recently given it another go, and find I can now listen to little else. From intro forward, its syncopated melodies and play on a popular progression are undeniable. It is rare I find chromatically dissonant harmonies more intoxicating, creatively pleasing and yet somehow undemanding.  If that is not enough, the vocals, which I found initially unimpressive, are assertive and secure. It has reminded me of one of my greatest strengths and ultimate failures as a vocalist-I am far too harsh the critic. And for the lyrics? I’ve been slain. Beautiful.

Sleep Gets Your Ghost” – Buke and Gass

Who says i’m dying in the lack of luck and love
Convinced that seeing does a better job believe me
Feels so weak it starts to wear out at my feet
Don’t just whine about the way it works out now
You gave up, how sad
You gave up, how sad
How could you say to me I couldn’t wait for you?
I couldn’t wait for…

Ghost in my head when I dream
Ghost on my tongue in between sleep
I am afraid I’ll never wake up
I am afraid I’ll never wake up 

Wake up when the stars are high
Are you ready for the world? 

For our live-lovers, the entirety of their Tiny Desk Concert may be found here.

St. Vincent on her time at Berklee

“I think that with music school and art school, or school in any form, there has to be some system of grading and measurement. The things they can teach you are quantifiable. While all that is good and has its place, at some point you have to learn all you can and then forget everything that you learned in order to actually start making music.”

-St. Vincent on her time at Berklee College of Music

“Roslyn” – Bon Iver and St. Vincent


St. Vincent (Annie Erin Clark) has collaborated with Sufjan Stevens, The Polyphonic Spree, Bon Iver, and The New Pornographers.