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Sunday, November 01, 2009 

GoGirls Interview with Davina Robinson

by Madalyn Sklar

What drives your music? When did you first know you had to do this thing called music or bust?

From a very young age, I've wanted to do music. I hardly watched TV; I listened to music instead, fantasizing being on stage, but I was extremely shy and had severe stage freight. I would write lyrics to future songs, sing them in my room or the shower, and just kept hoping I could be good enough and fearless enough to get on stage someday. Thanks to living in Japan and being dragged to karaoke bars, I got used to singing in front of people. I was a late bloomer. When I started my first band, there was no turning back.

Describe your music style and name three musicians you have been inspired by and why.

I tend to weave my genres; it's not a conscious thing, but I chalk it up to my multi-racial background, growing up on R&B and rock. I like to sing in a bluesy way, I like to write stuff I can dance to, and I love hard guitars, bass and drums that I can headbang to.

As for my songwriting style, I wrote journals for years, so that autobiographical style/viewpoint seems to be prevalent in my lyrics.

Three musicians... difficult to limit to three. But Living Colour was particularly inspirational because, for one, it was the first concert I'd ever been to. I didn't know who they were, a friend invited me, and I was blown away. Of course for their unbelievable power and musicianship, but also because I'd never known there were African-Americans like me who loved rock music. A big eye-opener, and very liberating.

I really love Pink for her songwriting, her resilience and humor, and I like the way she (and her producers) can do different genres on the same album and make the album sound totally cohesive.

I love Chaka Khan for her singing range, her attitude, you name it. She can sing any genre, she can sing any cover and make it her own. She's an R&B legend, but to me, she's a funky rock chick. I want her to do a rock album so badly.

There are so many more...

What's your ideal venue atmosphere?

I'm sure everyone says this, but a great sound system with competent people to run it! I did the bar band thing for years, and from that experience I've learned that I love a venue where people come to discover something new, and actually appreciate it. I don't mean silently listening, though. I like an active crowd, dancing, headbanging, responding in some way. And if they sing the hook back to you, ahhhh.....

Describe how your music career has evolved since you first started performing.

When I first started, I knew absolutely nothing about music (!) and had no idea who I was as an artist. I just basically got on stage and sang cover songs I liked. I let my band handle everything else, from the arrangement to setting up the PA for rehearsals. I certainly didn't know anything about the business/marketing/promotion end. Now, I know my voice, I know how I sing and what types of arrangements complement me. I do my homework, am prepared, keep up with the business/marketing/promotion, and let my existence known to various bookers, venues, and others in the industry. I'm my best and most enthusiastic cheerleader.

How would you describe the music scene in your area?

Like most cities, venue attendance is down, including in Osaka. But there is definitely a market for "niche" type artists. The Japanese like quirky stuff and are very group-oriented, so once you find a group of fans, word will spread quickly, and they'll be loyal to the end. The underground scene seems to rule right now. My music isn't particularly quirky, but I am unusual enough in that I'm a plus-size foreign woman with a huge afro doing rock in English, so I stand out, so I guess that puts me into a niche. I've been getting more attention lately, so I'm looking forward to the next several months to see where this new attention leads.

What was the inspiration for your latest release?

My latest (May 08) and only release (so far), "The Blazing Heart", represented my determination. I'd spent years trying to get my music together, but it always seemed like my music would never see the light of day. It took years to find someone who understood my vision and could arrange the songs the way I wanted, or even surpass my vision. Of the four songs on the EP, two are older songs I'd written years ago; the other two were new at the time. So I combined the old me and the new me, and gave it the title "The Blazing Heart" to remind myself of how far I've come, and to remind myself to keep going.

What do you think is number one for a musician to think about before preparing for a CD project and do you have any tips on saving time in the studio?

Fortunately, I hired a very organized producer, and I learned a lot from him. He had a time schedule, he knew exactly how he wanted the song to go, the exact drum pattern, the exact tone of the guitar, and he hired experienced session musicians who could take direction. He did a lot in pre-production. So this saved a lot of time.

As for preparation for a CD project, I think the number one thing is to know your song and how you want to play it and sing it. Any song you plan to record, you should really have it down pat, by playing it live as many times as possible, not just in band rehearsals. New ideas - lyrics, phrasing, melody, chords - will always come. In a live situation, friends can give honest feedback, and you can see how the crowd responds to certain songs. The more you perform a song, the tweaks get worked out, so the smoother the studio session will be. So it's best to go into the studio with a song that you're confident in; that you'll be satisfied with. Because once it's recorded, that's it.

What makes or breaks a musician just starting out in your opinion?

The ability to handle the fact that not everyone will like your music. Or the courage to venture out of your comfort zone and perform at a venue in a different state or somewhere far, in front of total strangers who aren't into you at all. You really need to be thick-skinned. It's cliche but true: Only the strong survive.

Describe your toughest moments in your quest for a music career and tell us how you overcame them.

A great opportunity that never came to be... Thanks to a GoGirls opp, I was to be featured in a print magazine called "Figure" earlier this year. But the magazine went bankrupt, so my feature/interview was never published. That kind of exposure meant so much to me. Really broke my heart.

Lots of money wasted/lost on a promoter who I realized didn't really promote me at all, during my acoustic tour of L.A. last November. That made me feel really stupid, totally violated and taken advantage of.

Both the good and (especially) the bad are learning tools. What you do with the new knowledge is the important thing. I know I won't make the same mistake next time.

These setbacks made me tougher, and made me change my strategy. So I decided to market myself where I live and perform (Osaka), even though I wasn't sure the Japanese audiences would dig me singing originals in English. But it turned out to be a very good decision, as things are really picking up, and I feel very confident and excited for the first time in a long time.

What advice would you offer up and coming artists that get discouraged other than don't give up?

You really have to do your homework, not just the performing side, but the business side. It takes patience, time and consistency. Do research. Read books. Read biographies of famous artists, to see what they went through before hitting the big time. Be prepared for the setbacks and enjoy the big opportunities, but with a grain of salt. When something doesn't go your way, you have to be able to say to yourself, "That opportunity wasn't right for me," instead of thinking "I'm not good enough." You can't sit back and wait someone to "discover" you and help you. You have to make it happen for yourself. Even when things look bleak, or don't turn out as you'd hoped, you have to keep your focus, keep believing in yourself, keep selling yourself and take control, of both your career and your emotions.

Tell us something you want the music world to know about you.

I am the Rock n' Roll Soul Chick!!

I'm working on material for my next CD project, and one of those songs will be used for my first music video. Hopefully I can shoot it by next Spring. The material this time will have simpler arrangements but with a harder feel, perhaps more blues-rock/hard rock, and the lyrics...hmmmmm....I'll need a "Parental Advisory" label for this one! LOL.

Would love to visit my hometown Philadelphia (go Phils!) next summer and be able to do a few shows.

What have you gotten out of being a member of the GoGirls community?

Though I live in Japan and as of yet there's no chapter here (I've been thinking of starting one, actually), and I can't really fly out to do showcases, I still think GoGirls is such a valuable resource. Members offered advice when I was planning my tour of L.A. last year, and I even met a few face-to-face while there. What a cool group of chicks! :-) There are always new opportunities to check out and new things to discover from the websites and group discussions. Even though I'm far away, I never feel alone. Sounds corny, but true. I always recommend GoGirls.

More on Davina Robinson at these sites:

WEBSITE http://www.davinarobinson.com/
FACEBK www.facebook.com/davinarobinsonmusic
YOUTUBE www.youtube.com/rocknrollsoulchick
CD BABY www.cdbaby.com/cd/davinarobinson
MYSPACE www.myspace.com/davinarobinson

Copyright © 2009 Madalyn Sklar

Madalyn Sklar is a music business coach & consultant, blogger, social networks expert and author. She has spent over 13 years helping independent musicians and music business professionals achieve greater success in the biz. Her motto is: working smarter not harder. She also founded GoGirlsMusic.com, the oldest + largest online community of indie women musicians.

Madalyn's Sites:
Social Networks for Musicians

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Great interview Davina. You are a joy to work with!

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    Madalyn Sklar is a music business coach & consultant, blogger, social networks expert and author. She has spent over 15 years helping independent musicians and music business professionals achieve greater success. Her motto is: working smarter not harder. She also founded GoGirlsMusic.com, the oldest + largest online community of indie women musicians.

    Madalyn's Sites:
    * GoGirlsMusic.com
    * Social Networks for Musicians
    contact: madalynsklar(at)gmail.com


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