Chanteuse Vanessa Daou Shares Life in Music Business With MCCC Students

4/1/09


According to internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Vanessa Daou, it's not who you know; it's how good you are. "In the end it's the quality and intrinsic value of your work that matters," she told students in a Q&A session at MCCC's Studio Theatre March 27. In a wide ranging discussion moderated by adjunct faculty member Alex DeFazio, Daou discussed her experiences in the music business and her unique musical style that blends jazz, blues, rock, folk and electronica with poetry.

The packed crowd included MCCC students majoring in theatre, dance, visual arts, and entertainment technology. In a unique collaboration with choreographer and MCCC dance instructor Janell Byrne, the Mercer Dance Ensemble will perform to selections from Daou's new album, "Joe Sent Me," May 16-17.

Addressing questions about her influences, Daou advised students to branch out intellectually. "Explore art and science. Appreciate things that have nothing to do with you. I listen to singers I'm not at all like," she said. She has been significantly influenced by French music, but considers poetry to have the greatest impact on her sound. Known for her signature breathy vocal style, Daou was a visual arts and art history major at Barnard College who approaches her art as a synthesis of sight, sound, written word and song.

Vanessa Daou with moderator Alex DeFazio
A packed house at the Studio Theatre listened
intently and asked numerous questions.

Daou encouraged students to leave some things unfinished. "In an effort to perfect a piece, you can completely destroy it. It can lose its raw quality and what's left is a lifeless thing," she said. She advised them to present music in their own way. "It's about standing out and rising above what everyone else is doing. Don't surrender your creative or intellectual ownership."

Daou noted her use of the Internet for both networking and marketing. DeFazio told students that the process has already begun for them. "You are meeting the right people, right now, right here on this campus. Grow together."

As a woman in the music industry, Daou believes that feminism has gotten a bad rap. "People think it's not an issue anymore. That's a fallicy," she maintained as she recalled her experiences as a woman taking charge of her own career. Signed in the mid-1990s to MCA Records, under which she released two albums, she now has her own label, Daou Records. "With my own label I have more control," she said. "Joe Sent Me" is her premiere release on the new imprint. This latest work has been warmly received, with one critic noting: "Poet, chanteuse, painter. Vanessa Daou is one artist who thrives on not being pigeonholed… Continuing to morph her artistic approach with minimalism and spoken word, 'Joe Sent Me' is a comeback for Daou that ought to be celebrated."

While on campus Daou was also interviewed by Rachel Katz, host of "Views & Voices" on WWFM, Mercer's classical radio station, and MCCC Communications professor Alvyn Haywood for WWFM's Jazz on 2. She was
deeply impressed by her Mercer experience. In her blog, she wrote, "The students who attended the Q&A were some of the most interesting, inquisitive and insightful that I've come across anywhere…We discussed the importance of smartly navigating the sometimes treacherous music business waters, the current state of flux and chaos in the industry, the various ways of keeping one's inspiration alive and vital, and the importance of discipline as an artist." Daou will keep fans posted on her blog as the dance performance of "Joe Sent Me" approaches. (See www.vanessadaou/blogspot.com.)

DeFazio was equally pleased. "I can't express how enthusiastically and completely Vanessa has invested herself in our students by giving of her time and music to make our May dance concert possible. She sees intelligence and creativity in everyone she meets. Our students, particularly the Theatre majors, know how accomplished she is, and I think it was genuinely empowering for them to meet and talk with an established artist who believes in them as much as we do."

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