NYC Singer-Songwriter Jay Elle On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry

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You can only control what you do. That one is a tough one to accept. You control very little in your life. You can dream big, have great plans, and work out all the steps of your plans on paper. But life will throw all sorts of challenges at you. Focus on what is under your control. Learn about yourself, stay focused, be patient, pay attention to the details and don’t waste time trying to control things that are not controllable.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jay Elle.

Jay Elle is a pop, rock, alternative singer, songwriter and guitar player currently residing in New York City. He brings warmth and energy through “five star” guitar-driven melodic songs. His voice will uplift and soothe your spirits and his witty lyrics will provoke deeper thoughts about the world while sharing optimistic, positive, upbeat messages that will “have you carry on with your day with a smile”.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity. It is a wonderful series.

I was born in the French Alps, at the border between France and Switzerland near Geneva. I attended the Conservatory of Music of Geneva where I studied voice, guitar and composition. I played with rock and blues bands while in school. I came to New York City and dedicated myself to singing, songwriting and guitar playing. I worked with various bands and eventually started my own. I write and record songs and do everything I can to let the world know about them.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Music was always around as I was growing up. My parents had the radio on almost all the time, especially in the morning when everyone was getting ready to go to work and school. No one in my family played an instrument other than my cousin who had a couple of guitars and played for fun. Becoming a full-time musician was a bit frowned upon. Everyone knew it was a very difficult career path.

The more music I listened to, the more I discovered that I loved great songs. The songs that give you chills down your spine or goosebumps. I loved the energy I got from listening to great songs, the uplifting feeling of hope that came through for me. I gradually got more and more involved with music activities. Eventually, I decided to learn how to write songs to pass on that energy to others through my singing, playing and songwriting.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was attending the Conservatory of Music of Geneva, in Switzerland. One night I went to see this band, Shakin Street in a club in Geneva. There weren’t that many people in the club. But, I clearly remember the half a dozen rowdy young punks there to support a local punk band that opened up for Shakin Street. After the punk band finished its set, these guys stayed in front of the stage, monopolizing the dance floor, thrashing around to the music the DJ was spinning while Shakin Street‘s crew readied the stage. I was nowhere near the melee. Just standing on the side. I process music slightly less physically…

The DJ welcomed Shakin Street to the stage. The lead singer was a young woman. I don’t remember anything about the band except for what happened to her right after she came on stage. The minute she started singing, the rowdy punks rushed close to the stage and started spitting on her! Screaming their heads off. Was their animosity rooted in something she said in an interview about punk music? It might just have been a “punk” thing. In any case, the punks just wouldn’t let up. They were at it as if they were never going to run out of saliva…

Had the stage been slightly lower, the punks might have tried to get on it. It was a good five feet high. They were good “spitters”. The lead singer couldn’t take it. She stopped singing and walked out in the middle of the first song, returning backstage. A few seconds later, this stout roadie came out from behind the stage brandishing a microphone stand that he started waving at the posse of punks. He was serious… It wasn’t a warning. He was cursing at them. “I’m from the Bronx motherf…ers…, let’s do this!” He was taunting them to get closer. And when one of the punks did step closer, he would swing the stand even harder, aiming at clubbing the “spitter” on the head. Undeletable images in my head to this day. As far as I can remember, things settled down eventually. I don’t have any other memories from that evening.

Fast forward a few months. I decided then that it was time for me to visit one of these cities, homes of vibrant music scenes. Paris didn’t sound that vibrant for the kind of music I was into. For me, the latest and greatest always came from the United States or England. I didn’t have any connections in England. Chicago was an option because one of my father’s cousins had moved there, but she did not want to be responsible for me. I would be going out to clubs, etc. Not something she wanted to deal with. A high school friend was finishing his college degree at Wagner College on Staten Island, NY. I took him up on his offer to pay him a visit. Plus, I figured, if that “skull-crushing” roadie was an example of the values held by New Yorkers, coming to the defense of a lady in distress, I was good with that. Let’s face it… I didn’t step up to defend Shakin Street‘s lead singer. Should I have been more courageous?

So, New York City was the place to visit first. It was late spring. While enjoying hanging out in New York City and going to clubs, I decided to answer an ad in the Village Voice. A CBS recording band, Sorrows, was looking to replace one of their members with a new singer, guitar player. “What have I got to lose?” I thought.

The audition went well. It was fun. The drummer asked me where I was from. I told him I grew up outside of Geneva…

The drummer: “My brother was there a few months ago. He was the tour manager for Shakin Street.”

Me: “I saw that band in Geneva! These punks were spitting on the lead singer.”

The drummer: “Yes. My brother told me the story. He came out on stage and tried to whack these guys with a microphone stand.”

Me: “I saw him. That was your brother!?!”

And there you have it. Is that six degrees of separation? A few less? I was offered the job. I accepted. We recorded an album and then the drummer and I recorded another four albums and countless songs. It’s a small world…

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was a student at the Conservatory where I studied classical guitar. I had to learn a piece and perform it in front of an audience. It was my first time performing a classical piece. The music is written out from the first note to the last, including the dynamics (crescendos, etc.), all diligently worked out by the composer and supervised by my teacher. I was very nervous. I started playing the piece, okay, but my hands were shaking pretty badly. I rapidly lost control of my fingers and ended up improvising through most of the piece, landing back on the final chord eventually. Fortunately, it was a short piece. Of course, no one but my teacher noticed. I was playing in blues and rock bands while studying at the Conservatory. So, improvising was something I was used to. It made me realize that I might not be cut out for the rigor of interpreting a classical piece. I prefer having some leeway. That might be accepted in some classical circles at times, but more often than not you are expected to play the notes written out. I admire musicians who can play a piece note for note and render the same consistent interpretation every time they perform. But that’s not my forte. In fact, making mistakes is often how I come up with better ideas for the songs I write. It’s not unusual for me to rewrite a section of a song because I erred while practicing it. I much prefer being able to improvise. Though at some point, when a song is ready, you know that you have tried everything and you have to be true to what you believe is the best interpretation of the final version of the song.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My new album RIDE THE WAVE was released on August 27th. So all of my time and energy is spent doing everything possible to let people know the album is out. I also write songs regularly. It works best for me if I write often and on a steady schedule. The more songs I can write, the better.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

This is an important question and it covers a lot of grounds. I certainly spend a lot of time watching movies and television series. Many of the shows I watch are dramas and often the writers depict characters from various backgrounds, having them interact in challenging situations. From a moviegoer standpoint, I find that way more interesting and enriching.

As far as music, you grow up surrounded by music that is part of the cultural heritage of your region and country but also from all over the world. You could be listening and dancing to Cajun zydeco or Polish polka at a young age and have deep emotional associations with whatever music was played at parties and gatherings while growing up in your community. That may very well include heavy metal. You can learn how to associate music to cultures and geographical provenance. I listen to Tibetan throat singers on occasion. Way different an approach to operatic techniques developed in Western Europe. Neither of these genres was on the radio when I was growing up.

Ultimately, you can close your eyes and feel the music without thinking too much about where in the world it comes from and what it might represent to some folks because of its origins. A great piece of music may never appeal to everybody at all times, but it will move many people around the world because of the energy and emotions that it contains. If there is ever a case to be made for a universal language, besides love, music is a close contender.

Moods are universal. A piece of music that expresses joy wherever it was written will most likely trigger that emotion in people around the world. In the same way, an original recording of a song that makes its way around the world, will not always get the same response from audiences when performed by other performers. There is a certain magic that happens between a piece of music, a song, and the performance, live or recorded by a specific artist. That magic is difficult to explain and difficult to plan out. It just happens and it works, meaning that lots and lots of people agree that it’s great, wherever it comes from and whoever wrote it and performed it.

I believe that diverse musical influences connect people around the world because of the common emotions we experience in life. When you find yourself in need of comfort while mending a broken heart, you might not find it in the same old genre of music you favor, and you will benefit from something different, written on another continent, maybe in the Himalayas… That will also open up your mind to new people and places and all they have to offer on other levels. Maybe an idea for a vacation spot where you meet the real love of your life and live happily ever after.

Ultimately, whether its music, or films, or television shows, if we are moved and taken in emotionally by the writing and the performances, we might not spend much time thinking about anything else. Our culture benefits from us sharing great experiences and learning from them. Get me up on my feet dancing, with a waltz or a cool hip hop beat and let’s all dance together, wherever we live. We experience diversity all the time. And it’s a great thing.

As far as the business side of things, it’s another world altogether… fortunately changing, ever so slowly, for the better. Let’s hope and make it so.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

This is such a great question.

Now, let’s be fair. I probably heard these 5 things back when I started. But I did not listen. Or, I thought that I would get to them later… Looking back, I was given some pretty good advice but I had my head in the clouds.

1 — Learn to listen. Really listen. Listen to others and to yourself. What is your intuition telling you? What is your heart telling you? Learn everything there is to know about yourself and what makes you happy. I eventually got to read some great books like “Self-Defeating Behaviors: Free Yourself from the Habits, Compulsions, Feelings, and Attitudes That Hold You Back” (Milton Cudney and Robert Hardy), “Trading in the Zone” (Mark Douglas) and “The Disciplined Trader: Developing Winning Attitudes” (Mark Douglas). I believe we do react pretty consistently to the world around us because we adopt habits along the way and they become part of who we are. They work for us initially and then we rely on them to respond to challenges day in and day out. The trick is to take the time to uncover these habits and learn to control them. It’s not that easy… In some instances, you are better off doing something differently than you would normally. I am an introvert, without a doubt. I’d rather spend my time in a cool, dimly lit studio with my guitar than interact with folks. But that’s not how you get to meet people who can help you reach your goals. You have to get out to clubs and interact with people.

2 — Make sure you stay focused. I am very curious. I can get lost in pursuing one thing after the other. I set out to learn about Spotify promotion and before you know it I am at a website considering starting my own coffee brand and selling coffee online. Curiosity is great when I am writing new songs. I will try anything or just about. “What about that chord here, or that note, or this word… etc.” The permutations are endless when you are writing. Curiosity might kill the cat but it certainly helps me write unique songs. At other times though, when it’s time to practice and record and stick to a project to get it done on time, it’s important to be disciplined and to stay focused. Read Brian Tracy’s books like “Eat That Frog”. They are very helpful in practicing staying focused.

3 — You will have to be patient whether you like it or not. Patience with the world at large, with people you meet and with yourself. Some folks are born with outstanding natural abilities. Most of us have to practice, learn, and work to develop the skills we need to succeed. I do my best to be in a constant learning mode. I may not use everything I learn over time. I make choices, of course. I try to get better at what I do to write better songs and sing them and play them better. It’s dangerous to assume you know enough and certainly to assume you know it all. Make learning a fun game for yourself and play that game every day.

4 — Pay attention to the details. I tend to be a “big picture” kind of person. I see the end result pretty clearly in my mind. I have a vision of what I want to accomplish and because it’s clear to me I tend to think that I am done much sooner than I really am. The formula 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is about right in my case. I hear the song in my head. I grab the guitar. I record the melody and guitar chords. Done! Not quite. It takes hours, days, weeks and the help of very talented people such as Caleb “kbc” Sherman, the producer of my last album RIDE THE WAVE, to bring it all together so that it’s ready for an audience to enjoy. Sketch your vision and your ideas but don’t forget to get to the details and spend whatever time is necessary to fine-tune your work until it’s really done.

5 — You can only control what you do. That one is a tough one to accept. You control very little in your life. You can dream big, have great plans, and work out all the steps of your plans on paper. But life will throw all sorts of challenges at you. Focus on what is under your control. Learn about yourself, stay focused, be patient, pay attention to the details and don’t waste time trying to control things that are not controllable.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Make sure you do what you love. It might take you a while to figure out your style and it’s important to explore various genres and try out different sounds and approaches. Do your best to figure out what moves you musically. What makes you want to get up in the morning? What do you want to listen to when you need a boost? What really grabs you and expresses your personality best? What “music” would you wear on your first date with someone you really like? Once you figure that out, focus on it with all your energy. Do everything possible to get better at doing what you do and let the world know about what you do. You’ll experience ups and downs no matter what. You’ll get rejected and will burn out at times. There is no escape. But if you do what you love, and love what you do, you’ll deal with the ups and downs better.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Be nice. It’s that simple. Be nice.

You might get extremely frustrated, even angry at times. Being nice should be your first choice with everyone around you. Of course, stand up for yourself when it’s needed. Defend yourself if you have to. This is not about turning the other cheek if you run into bullies. But, start all situations and conversations in the nicest possible way. It’s a good way to get people to stick around and build a team of like-minded individuals. Make room for people having bad days and being stressed out by things in their personal lives that they don’t want to talk about. It happens. Criticizing is easy. We can all do it. Take a breath when you feel you are going down that path. Be nice.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

You are absolutely right. I could not agree more. And, in my case, not just one person but a village, a very large village at that. And everyone in the village played or plays a different part along the way. Putting together a great record and passing the word around is not something I could ever do by myself, let alone records after records.

My new album “RIDE THE WAVE” was produced by Caleb “kbc” Sherman. He is a brilliant producer. He did a magnificent job. Michael Stover from MTS Management has been working tirelessly to reach out to the press and setting up radio interviews. And we are so happy with the feedback. And now we have a team of radio promoters doing an amazing job, Powderfinger, Tinderbox Music, Loggins Promotion, Notorious Liz, and the Planetary Group.

So many of my friends have helped out along the way and my family of course. My parents, my aunt who bought me my first guitar, my high-school friend Philippe Blin who taught me a few chords. So many musicians and producers who have shared their crafts like Margaret Dorn, John Dubs, Warren Schatz, Byron Estep and my friend Jett Harris, a fantastic drummer with whom I recorded a few albums as I mentioned earlier. Teachers. Other artists like my friends Mariell and Vivienne V. Mariell is a novelist. Vivienne is a photographer and has taken a number of pictures for my album covers and website. Laura Patterson who promoted my EPs, RISING TIDE and EASE UP. Laura has a knack for picking up singles. My manager Donna Bodden who is always so supportive. There are way more folks in this village and I apologize if I cannot name them all right now.

A most colorful individual, who was a great mentor, was the late Bill Aucoin who managed the band Kiss for the first 10 years of their career and then managed Billy Idol, Billy Squier and many other bands and singers. Bill was a ball of energy. There was never a dull moment in his company. Jett’s brother whom I mentioned earlier was a roadie for the band Kiss. Jett thought that I should try to connect with Bill Aucoin. I sent my music to Bill’s office but that didn’t land a meeting nor a response for that matter. A few years later I was at a club in New York City hanging out with a band during their afternoon soundcheck. The lead guitarist from the band asked me if I wanted to meet Bill Aucoin. I said sure. There he was, watching the soundcheck sitting at the bar nursing a glass of water. Bill was very friendly. We became friends and worked on projects together. I learned everything I could possibly learn about the business from Bill. He was just brilliant. His instincts were spot on. He was super smart, a quick thinker. I was most impressed listening to him during negotiations with record company executives. All I had to do was be quiet and listen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Imagination rules the world” Napoleon Bonaparte. Combine that with “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm” Colette.

Letting your imagination run and approaching life with enthusiasm is a very powerful combination. Dream big and throw everything you’ve got behind making your dreams come true. In my case, I took a big leap across the Atlantic Ocean to pursue my dream of making music. I left all of my family and childhood friends behind, learned a new language, etc. I kept imagining the outcome I wanted and put as much energy and enthusiasm into making my dreams come true. Of course, there are no guarantees and most of the time you will need to readjust your plans. But from the moment you get up until you go back to sleep, keep thinking “Enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm…”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

That is wonderful. Congratulations. I am not surprised. Your interviews are so fun and instructive.

Actually, I would love to have lunch with Nina Dobrev (@nina). Ms. Dobrev is an amazing actress. She starred in The Vampire Diaries TV series. She is very versatile and precise in the way she portrays characters. I would love to discuss how she prepares for her roles. She also does great work in support of animal causes. I wrote a song about her in my new album RIDE THE WAVE. The song is titled “Tequila Kiss”. It’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek song. I describe how, as a fan, I watch her shows and follow her on Instagram as she goes on with her life, traveling around the world, swimming with sharks, hanging out with her beautiful dog, Mrs. Maverick and her best friend Julianne Hough. I was very impressed with Ms. Dobrev’s work and how she expanded her business and her personal brand to be a very influential personality while remaining true to her craft as an actress.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://jayellesongs.com/

Everything is on my website. The music, stories, news, links to social networks. It’s all there.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you and continued success to you as well.

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Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.