I was recently looking through the list of artists I have interviewed and was very surprised to see that the last interview I did with Michele McLaughlin was in 2010. At that point, her music career was just starting to really take off and it is truly amazing how much she has accomplished in those nine years. Michele will be performing here in Florence, OR on August 4, 2019 with Steve Rivera as part of their Pacific Northwest Tour, so this seemed like the perfect time to catch up. Enjoy!
KP: Hey Michele! I just read through our 2010 interview and am blown away by how much has changed in the past nine years. At that point, you had released ten albums and had performed in concert three times. You recently released your nineteenth solo album (not counting compilations), have performed concerts regularly and were featured in Rolling Stone Magazine. Actually, over the past several years you have become something of the superstar of the solo piano world. How does that feel?
MM: It's been such an incredible journey these last nine years. In all that time, I've started my own house concert series, have performed in over 200 concerts, done 9 full length concert tours (one of which was epic and covered most of the United States), I started a marketing and promotion workshop for colleagues, I've grown my social media and streaming presence by a huge number, I was featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, I have charted on Billboard three times with three separate albums, I was interviewed by Pandora Radio which went viral on multiple music news websites, I won Album of the Year at Whisperings in 2013, and just so many cool and amazing things. It's been exciting, and surreal, and exhilarating, and unbelievable. I am so grateful, and thankful, and honored by all of it. I never imagined all these things would have happened over the last decade, and I'm in awe of it, and just extremely grateful for all of it.
KP: Another mind-blower is that you have surpassed one billion streams on Pandora Radio. A BILLION! It’s hard to even imagine! Not too shabby for the young woman who borrowed a Clavinova to record her first tape for her mother in 2000!
A billion streams is pretty cool. They even sent me a digital plaque that I could use to promote and a little email welcoming me to the "Billion Club." That's just so fantastic and makes me so happy. If you had told me back in 2000 that I'd be where I am today, I would never have believed you. The fact that so many people listen to my music on Pandora, and Spotify, and all these streaming platforms, is so incredible, and I'm just so very grateful.
Click on the album covers to go to
KP: You were one of the original artists on the Whisperings Solo Piano broadcast. How has Whisperings affected your career?
MM: Whisperings has been the most instrumental part of my growth because of the friendships, and the connections, and the opportunities I've had from them. Some of my best friends are people I've met because of Whisperings. All of my concert tours, with Scott D. Davis, and Doug Hammer, Ryan Stewart, and Joseph Akins, and all the individual concerts I've done with various Whisperings artists around the country, and at my house concert series, it's all the Whisperings community. I've met some of the most amazing, wonderful, and insanely talented people because of Whisperings, and that has enriched my life beyond measure. People I admire and look up to, people who have inspired me for years, for longer than I've been a pianist releasing albums, are now part of my friendships and family. There isn't a way to express my depth of gratitude for Whisperings and David Nevue, and people like Joe Bongiorno, and Chad Lawson, and Gary Girourard, and just so so many.
KP: One of the things that has always impressed me is your business acumen and intuitiveness. What was your job before you were able to become a full-time musician and did that help you to develop some of your marketing skills?
MM: My first job when I was a teenager was a receptionist for an auto insurance company, answering phones, helping walk-ins, filing quotes and claims, etc. After that I worked the lead customer service station at drug store doing cashiering, managing employee scheduling, handling returns and customer issues, and stocking shelves, etc. After that I worked for several years for health insurance companies doing claims processing and customer service. I had a strong background in customer service when I changed directions and moved into project management, which I did for a long time before I decided to pursue music full time in 2007. So I definitely come from an analytical, project-oriented background which helps me to be overly organized and structured in the way I do things. Sometimes I feel like it's lucky that I have both an analytical mind and a creative mind, and sometimes I wonder if that makes me a freak of nature. LOL
KP: I’m kind of that way, too!
I think it’s fantastic that you are doing workshops to help some of the newer and younger artists learn the ropes.
I love being able to help others, especially new musicians who are just starting out and trying to navigate this ever-changing music world. I've spent almost 20 years with my own journey, and a lot of trial and error, learning what works and what doesn't, and if I can share some of that knowledge with others to help give them a clear path to follow, I mean, I would have loved something like that when I was starting out. I had David Nevue's book about marketing your music online and some blogs I read, but the music industry is so different now than it was 20 years ago when I was starting, and it's so much easier to get your music out there, and find an audience than it was then. But, the information I'm sharing is a lot... like many hours worth of time to share, and I really want to revamp it to make it better. So, I'm taking a short break from doing the workshops right now because I want to find a way to streamline the information and make it not so overwhelming. When I've done the workshops, it's about six hours of dedicated time with an individual (either in person or over Skype), and it's so much information that I can literally watch them glaze over or become overwhelmed as I'm teaching. If I can break it down into shorter sessions, or have some sort of group class over a period of days, or just figure out a better way to share this information, I think that would be so helpful. Plus, the information has changed in just the few years I've been teaching them and I need to update the information. So, for right now, I'm on hold with the workshops, and as soon as I have them revamped, I'll announce it and start working with people again.
KP: The music industry keeps changing so quickly that it has to be hard to stay a jump ahead!
MM: It certainly does! When you get proficient with a certain thing, something new comes along, or something changes, and you have to adapt. You have to be willing to go with the flow, and put yourself out there on all available platforms, and change with it as it evolves. You have to be willing to spend money to make money, and try things that might seem risky. And most of all, you have to be super patient. Something you promote and market now, might not have any results until 5 years from now, and in the meantime, you're working on other things, and it just takes a lot of time to develop and let things grow. And with the way the music industry keeps changing and evolving, sometimes you just have to sit back and watch and see what happens. And sometimes it doesn't work out. If there's one thing I've learned is that there's nothing guaranteed in this business, and it takes an extraordinary amount of work and patience to grow your presence and name and brand.
KP: Let’s talk about your new album, Memoirs, a bit. What inspired it?
I wanted to start releasing singles in an effort to have something new and fresh on a more consistent and regular basis for my fans to listen to, and so for all of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I released singles almost every month. I promoted each single with its own story and "album cover,” and most of them have an official video to go with them as well. All of the music is inspired by things that have been happening in my life, as most of my music does, but a lot of it is overly happy because of the joy I have been experiencing in my life for the last couple of years. So, it has been a really fun way to release music, and I have really enjoyed the concept of sharing a "story" once a month. But, I started receiving a lot of comments asking if I was ever going to release an album again, because some people don't like the singles approach, they want a whole album. So I took the 12 singles I'd released and I compiled them into an album, and promoted that album like a new release, even though the individual songs had already been released over a period of time. I was worried that the album wouldn't have as much interest for that very reason, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that wasn't the case. So, moving forward, I'm planning to continue to release singles, and then when I have 12 of them, I'll release another album with those singles, much like this latest release. I think it's a really fun and interesting and challenging way to release music.
KP: It’s kind of an interesting coincidence that in our last interview, we were talking about Out of the Darkness, which had a lot to do with the experience of your divorce and the healing process from that. Memoirs is more of a celebration of finding love and your soulmate.
MM: I've definitely found love again, and I'm the happiest I've ever been. Matt is my best friend, and we were already best friends when we started dating, which makes it even more wonderful. It's been 10 years too, since my divorce, and my life is so drastically different than it was when I went through that experience. I'm just grateful, for all the blessings and how my life has evolved and grown since that experience.
KP: Is Memoirs a digital-only release or do you have CDs, too?
MM: I have a standard edition album and a deluxe edition version of the album, too, which includes a DVD with all the videos and special content. I marketed that as a special pre-sale and sold a lot of those. I'll probably put that on my website later on, but the standard edition album is available as both a digital and physical product.
KP: What about a companion songbook?
MM: The songbook is available too, in both printed format and digital format, as well as all the individual songs.
KP: So you’re working on more singles now?
MM: Yes, I have 5 singles I'm working on right now and as soon as I can get my recording gear out of storage, I'll start releasing them. We were in the process of buying a new house, so we packed up everything, and then ended up not buying. Right now I'm sort of in limbo while we figure out what we're doing which makes it a bit challenging where recording is concerned.
KP: Another change over the past several years is your piano. Tell us a bit about “The Faz.”
MM: Well, I originally had a 7' Fazioli F212 for several years, and then my piano tech showed me a 9' Fazioli F278 he had on the floor that he recommended I upgrade to. After playing it, I decided an upgrade would be good, so I bought the 9' a year ago in July. It's been a great piano, and I love how clear and crisp it is. The richness of the tones in the mid section is great too, and it's got serious boomy bass. I love it, and it records really nicely. And, it's signed by Herbie Hancock, which concert goers really love to see and talk about.
Wow! I didn’t know about the autograph! I sure wish I had started having my piano autographed when I started doing the house concerts many years ago. Oh well…
Tell us a bit about the cruise you were on with several other musicians like Scott D. Davis, Josie Quick and Tom Carleno, and Lynn Tredeau.
MM: Audiosyncracy at Sea is run by Jamey and Stacey Osborne. Jamey runs Audiosyncracy radio and podcast and four years ago he started this music cruise. I was the first performer, that first year, and it was such an incredible experience. That first cruise, I performed in 3 concerts and had about 30 people join me on the cruise. It was so much fun. The next couple of years I attended just as a guest to support the cruise and enjoy the fun with everyone. Elijah Bossenbroek and Matteo Palmer performed the second year, and the third year, Joseph Akins was the featured performer, but because Cory Lavigne, Gina Linee, and myself were also guests on the cruise, Joseph and Jamey invited us to have a concert slot, which was a lot of fun. That opened up the next year to have a festival of performers!! This last cruise had myself, Lynn Tredeau, Rachel LaFond, Gina Linee, Scott D. Davis, Sherry Finzer & Monica Williams, and Tom Carleno & Josie Quick of Perpetual Motion. We had two full shows in the coffee lounge where we each performed 8 songs and one show in the main ship theater where we each performed one song. These cruises are a lot of fun. Imagine, a Whisperings hang, or a ZMR hang, on a cruise ship with other fun activities and excursions. I'm not sure what destination they're planning next year, but I'll be there as a guest just to hang out!
KP: You have a tour coming up with Steve Rivera that will be making a stop in Florence, OR on August 4th, 2019 (at my house!). Where else will the two of you be playing?
MM: We start in Seattle, at Northwest Pianos. Then Gig Harbor at Rhonda Mackert's house. Then Portland at Classic Pianos. And we finish up at your house in Florence. It's short and sweet, and will be tons of fun!! This is the first tour I've done in a while, and it'll be nice to get back on the road again.
KP: I think this will be your third time playing here, but it’s been quite a while. I think you were here first with Joe Bongiorno and Aymee Janelle, and then again a few years later with Scott D. Davis. What will you be playing here, or is it a surprise?
I haven't decided 100% on my setlist yet, but I'm feeling like showcasing my new album, so it'll probably be mostly Memoirs
songs. Do you have anything in particular you'd like to hear??
KP: Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you! Are you still doing your house concert series in Salt Lake City, too?
MM: Yes! I actually have a concert coming up this weekend, with Josie Quick and Tom Carleno of Perpetual Motion. They play guitar and violin, so it'll be fun to have a concert with additional instruments than just piano. After that, I'm sort of in limbo while we try and figure out what we're doing with our house, but the house concerts will definitely continue. This is my ninth year running my house concert series, and it's been so much fun!! I love having the chance to perform with others, and have a weekend to just hang out and have fun.
KP: I really enjoy it, too! What’s up next for you?
MM: Musically, I'm working on singles, and also an improvisational album called Sketches. It'll be released in the Fall. I'm also working on a collaboration album with other artists which I hope to release in 2020. And, since 2020 is the 20th anniversary of my musical career, I'm planning a special 20th anniversary release. I'll be releasing more videos and content as well, and just staying busy.
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
MM: Just a big thanks for this interview opportunity and the chance to share my music with your readers again. For the listeners, any support through streaming on Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music is always appreciated. Subscribe to my YouTube channel since I put videos out regularly. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram. As independent musicians, these are the best ways we can reach fans, so it's good to sign up for all of them! But mostly, I just want to say thanks for listening, thanks for supporting my music, and thanks for following me!! I am super grateful and thankful for all of it!!
To learn more about Michele and her music, be sure to visit her website
and her Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.