Jennifer Haase: Singer/Songwriter

20 Feb

“This choice has been bubbling up in my bloodstream for a long time. I didn’t just wake up one day and suddenly want to be a songwriter, though I fully support anyone who does if you’ve got the talent and tenacity to do it. The good news is that talent and tenacity can be developed, to a certain degree, and that’s where I’m at right now. Developing and earning my place.” Jennifer Haase

Jennifer Haase (rhymes with classy) used social networking to raise $15,000 to make her upcoming folk-pop album, her second CD. She’s also writing custom songs for weddings and lullabies and writing freelance.

I met Jennifer in 2000 at a sales conference for Random House, where she worked with me at the time. A few years ago, Jennifer left our company to go in a very different direction: from sales rep to singer/songwriter. I think a lot of people dream about leaving less-than-creative careers like this to follow a creative passion and hers is a great example of taking a risk, breaking out on your own, and not passively waiting to be discovered. It was a brave decision. In fact, her story of jumping the corporate ship to follow her passion is so inspiring, it bubbled to the top every time I thought about creating this site. I sent her a long list of questions for my first interview. Jennifer tells me about leaving corporate America, what it takes to make an album, and supporting yourself as an artist.

When Jennifer left Random House, she did so with grace, leaving a positive impression with all of us who worked with her. We knew she was a musician and her career was building, that it was time to devote herself to that part of her life. Jennifer tells me that she felt like her old job deserved a “fresh, enthusiastic someone else” in her place. That attitude is probably why, although she maybe felt burnt out, she didn’t burn any bridges on the way out. Still, she sees her time in bookselling and publishing as part of her background, training for her future career as an author (in addition to all the music she’s making!) She’ll have an insider’s perspective on writing and marketing her own books.

When asked what resources prepared her for the big change, she recommends “the book, This Time I Dance! by Tama J. Kieves to anyone who has a burning desire to leap from Corporate America into a creative life. I read her book months after I took my own leap. Tama hits the nail on the head about what you’ll experience and what you should strongly believe about your ability to make it work.” It seems Jennifer was always preparing for this: she’d studied songwriting with Grammy Award-winner Rosanne Cash & Emmy winner Hugh Prestwood and continually attended workshops to hone her skills.

Jennifer’s most noticeable effort during her creative career change was to get her second album made. She wanted to get her second album, No More Invitations, made and distributed, but needed more funding after spending $10,000 of her own money. She turned to friends and contacts via social networking to raise enough money to finish it. I asked a lot of probing questions about this because I think it’s really important and a stumbling block for many. How do we fund our goals outside of the usual ways? Some of Jennifer’s callouts were for an angel investor, which is someone who is willing to provide the cash for start-ups or business ventures. But she also offered levels of rewards for donating to make the album, like copies of the CD, your name in the CD notes, t-shirts, and more. I wasn’t familiar with this strategy. Jennifer tells me a songwriter friend Anne Carley led her to an article about Jill Sobule’s successful fundraiser for her album “California Years.” Jennifer launched a fund raising campaign on Facebook, her website, and Twitter.

“About half of my album donors were family and friends, the other half were music-lovin’ strangers I ‘met’ on the web. It took a full year to raise about $8,000 of my $15,000 fundraiser goal. Then a former custom song client of mine found me on Facebook and blew my mind by donating the final $7,000 I needed to reach my goal.” Not being afraid to ask for help and sharing a dream with everyone she met paid off for Jennifer.

I felt so excited to be part of Jennifer’s dream by simply donating $15. I wasn’t the only one. Jennifer writes, “I didn’t expect how much people would want to be part of this project and how hard they would work to help me spread the word.”

Jennifer was working on the CD the whole time she was also fundraising. There’s so much involved in making a new album. I asked Jennifer how long the project took and about the nitty-gritty to recording an album and making it ready for all of us to hear:

“This spring marks five full years since my producer, Mike Leslie, and I shook hands and said ‘Let’s make this thing.’ We had loads of stops and starts due to lack of funds and personal life distractions. We didn’t just make this album, we survived it. I know that Mike agrees with me that we’re really glad we did. We love this album and can’t wait to finally share it.

We started this album with about 12 songs and then I started writing new songs in the middle of the process. We folded in some of those new songs and sidelined others, which felt really right to my producer and me. In a way, this album kept writing itself during the whole journey. I love that. We ended up with 11 songs total for “No More Invitations” which has more to do with how many songs I could afford.

“Actually, we’re right now still finishing up vocal tracks as we edit the ‘finished’ songs. The final work is all about listening. Play these songs at home, in the car, on crappy equipment, on great equipment. Do they still work? Do they still please? Do they need more? Less? You balance the tracks via the mixing process, like bring the guitar sound forward or tuck it behind the mandolin. I have an incredible recording engineer, Robert L. Smith, who makes this edit process much easier on us all. We listen carefully, we change things, we giggle and argue and play these songs back a hundred times. If we can still stand it after that many listens, we’re good to go.”

When it came time for Jennifer to leave her job at Random House, she had to find a new way to support herself financially.

“As for how I’m surviving, I basically jumped off the corporate ladder and landed at the creative life starting gate with nothing in my pockets but faith and desire. The first 6-months of this leap were euphoric, life-affirming and fun. Then it all got really hard. I’d been living very simply on the money I drew from my 401K and the handful of wonderful custom song commissions I was receiving. I was playing some shows, but they weren’t paying gigs so my bank account was taking a hit from those expenses. When autumn settled in, the custom song work dried up, my 401K funds ran out and I had to turn to family for help to keep me afloat.

That was humbling and deeply frightening and still is, but that struggle has turned me into a fighter. It also turned me toward freelance writing for websites, which is something I’ve always wanted to do but never made the effort until I was starving. Now I’m starting to make money at it, in addition to the really important pursuit of a singer/songwriter career happening now, too.”

Jennifer says she needs to do more paying performances to support herself. She’s taken non-paying gigs in the past, and will continue to do some for exposure. She tells me it’s hard for an independent artist to find paying gigs and enough to add up. I was under the impression that most musicians were paid, even if not much, for live performances and just doing a lot of them could support one. Practice and preparation are still part of her daily life: she feels like she has a “tremendous amount of work to do to hone my guitar-playing chops.” Besides writing, practicing, recording, Jennifer makes time for research and networking every day. To help pay her bills, Jennifer has been writing custom songs, taking commissions for weddings and lullabies she writes.

“Songwriting for other people, in addition to my own albums, is very much part of my grand plan. I love the custom song work. Even when I become more successful with my own albums and song licensing deals, I will want to continue offering custom songs. I recently wrote a lullaby for a woman who had trouble conceiving her son who’s now a year old. The song I wrote about her son means the world to her and her deeply grateful reaction to it means the world to me. I don’t know how to describe how it feels to connect with someone this way. To take their story and turn it into a song that moves them is by far my favorite work to do.

As for my other plans, it all leads back to writing and songwriting. I want to be a successful writer, in various ways. Right now I’m focusing on the release of my album, as well as getting my songs in films and TV.”

Jennifer stresses that she was advised by her mentors like Rosanne Cash to establish a support team. A singer and song needs a manager and booking agent. It’s a goal to have a manager once the album releases. She follows up her practical advice by writing:

“What I’d advise others, at this early stage in my journey, is don’t you dare give up when the going gets tough. Breathe deeply, get creative, ask for help, move on through. What you learn during the hard times is essential to your overall happiness, it really is.

I think it’s really important to love your daily life in some way. I think we all deserve that. Not all of us are lucky enough to have jobs we love, but we have to find ways to love our day. I suggest mediation and a gratitude journal and lots of inspiring reading. If you don’t love your life, your work or your situation, some quiet contemplation might help you see the joy you already experience and will help lead you to more. It does for me.

Be someone who works hard and thinks positively and surround yourself with people who do the same. You will hear many doubts and fears from naysayers and it’s true that you will suffer some of the things they predict you will suffer. But, girlfriends, you can’t live an extraordinary life without falling hard on your ass now and then. That’s part of the path, part of the gift of doing what you most love to do. Be brave, love yourself, ask for help and be someone who helps others, too. Building someone else’s dream as you build your own is the sweetest adventure. Like the gift of writing a song that makes someone cry tears of joy. Or like the gift of writing a blog piece about a songwriter who’s still growing her wings.”

I can’t thank Jennifer enough for her positive response to this interview project. I sent her so very many questions and she has been so patient with me and generous with her time.

You can find Jennifer on twitter (@jenniferhaase), Facebook, and check out her websites at No More Invitations and Rhymes with Classy.

6 Responses to “Jennifer Haase: Singer/Songwriter”

  1. Rachael McLeod February 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Thanks for writing this piece. Jennifer is a wonderful musician and songwriter, but it’s because she’s a fighter that her music will be heard and adored far beyond her current, already impressive fan base. There is something to be said for dreams and the power of the mind. If a person wants to learn something about those two things, they need to keep an eye on Jennifer.

  2. Amanda February 22, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    Thanks, Rachael! I agree ~ Jennifer’s story is powerful and I hope even one person who reads this finds it inspiring. I’m glad you took the time to comment.

  3. Patti February 22, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Great article 🙂
    My good friend Jennifer has entrusted to me the design of her long-awaited 2nd CD. People donated $15k to fund the recording becasue the songs are really, really good!

    She is a pleasure and a treasure.


  4. Amanda February 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Patti, I’m so excited to get my own copy of the CD and now I “know” the designer. How cool! I love your point that this worked for Jennifer because she is talented and a joy to support. It was so exciting to watch her fund raising because I really believed in her. Thanks for coming & commenting.


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