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Music Coach Jeanne Merchant’s Advice to Budding Artists: ‘Don’t Be in a Hurry to Release Music’

The renowned pianist and vocal instructor recommends that young talent must focus on acquiring skills and knowledge first

Rolling Stone India Sep 11, 2020

"I feel right now there’s more of a focus on the ‘sound’ rather than songwriting," says Jeanne Merchant.

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The lockdown might have been a grim time for everyone but it has witnessed a big spurt in the release of independent music. Whether it is singles, EP, albums, or music videos, artists across India have been putting out material with renewed gusto, if the rapidly expanding indie playlists on a range of streaming apps are to go by. In the absence of gigs and tours, there is also a sense of urgency among artists to release music to keep fans engaged. While musicians continue to chase likes, views and subscribers on social media, a few things get rarely talked about within the scene, such as skill-building, music training and preparedness. We spoke with renowned music coach Jeanne Merchant who pointed out why artists must resist the temptation to release music till they’re adequately equipped in knowledge and skills.

How has the process of teaching changed for you as a coach during this lockdown? Given the limits of virtual coaching, what are the challenges and learnings you have had?
Vocal coaching has definitely changed for me where it’s mainly individual lessons rather than the groups I used to teach. The current technology doesn’t allow me to teach many students singing together due to the lag. But adapting is the key and you can have a pretty interesting and comprehensive class online even though you cannot meet physically.

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As a professional with over a decade of experience, what are the biggest changes you have seen in the music industry in recent years?
I feel like right now there’s more of a focus on the ‘sound’ rather than songwriting. There’s a lot of amalgamation of classic sound with the now-electronic sound creating a constant metamorphosis of genres. This has created a lot of interest in listeners. For example, Dirty Loops’ music has so much of a jazz influence in it but mixed with a pop electronica vibe.Also, some of the music of Salim-Sulaiman has this merged quality in it.

This lockdown has seen a lot of budding artists releasing their independent music. There is a certain rush and aspiration to want to become an overnight social media sensation. As a coach, what are your tips to budding artists, and even professional ones?
That’s true and it’s great to release music and put it out there for the world to hear but we need to simultaneously acquire enough knowledge and make sure all skills are in place before releasing stuff.

Could you tell us a little more about your students  — have they released any music you would like to share?
My students are very into making their own music, right from the composition to even programming and recording their material. They keep sending me stuff they’ve sung or created to listen to. It’s all good, and this is an on-going process with them. My advice to them is not to succumb to the temptation of being in a hurry to release their music, instead to focus on discovering their sound and music (as they are young and still studying ) so that when they finally release something it should show that they’ve spent hours of time and energy learning and mastering their craft.

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This year, a student of mine, under my guidance and training got admission into New York University (NYU Tisch School of the Arts)  for musical theatre where so many apply but only a handful get selected. I am truly proud of that.

What is on your playlist these days — any new bands/singers you have discovered that you really like, from India or around the globe?
My playlist keeps changing from jazz to blues to R&B to gospel. I listen to Chick Corea, SZA, Lady Antebellum, Billie Eilish,Dua Lipa, Bruno Mars,  A.R. Rahman, Salim-Sulaiman, Papon, Abida Parveen among others.



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