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Interview: Jen McPherson – Singing Contest Runner-up

Singer, Pianist, Ukeleleist and Teacher - Jen McPherson
Our chosen wildcard and runner-up, Jen McPherson, shares her experience and challenges in entering the music industry.

She started a YouTube channel at the end of 2014 to connect with music-lovers and other musicians. She has since received over 60,000 video views and growing.

She has been featured on Ray Hadley: Undiscovered voice from the bush in Australia, where the host described her voice as ‘haunting’, ‘pure’ and is ‘captivated by her voice’.

You were our wildcard choice – and you made it all the way to second place in our contest! What made you choose Safe and Sound?
Firstly, I can’t believe I won second place. Thank you! I chose Safe and Sound because I don’t think it is an easy song to sing well, and I worked hard to try to sing it as perfectly I could. Overall I just love the song and hope I did a good job of it.

Watch the video that made Jen McPherson a finalist

One influential singer, and what it is that makes them stand out to you?
Tina Arena from Australia, because she’s an incredible singer who performs every song to perfection.

Biggest challenge to breaking out and sharing your music with new people?
Getting over insecurities and developing enough self confidence to actually put my singing out there in public.

Jen performing a cover of Dixie Chicks' song 'Travelin' soldier' which got her noticed by Australian radio

Something that’s worked for you in reaching a larger audience?
YouTube. While I don’t have a huge number of subscribers, the subscribers I do have are nearly all strangers to me, so they’ve found my music on there.

A performance FAIL?
Forgetting the words!

A performance SUCCESS? (And why…)
Anytime I get through a whole song without making a mistake, because I have a terrible memory and often play or sing the wrong part.

Favorite vocal gear & why?
I actually don’t have favorite vocal gear. I record my videos with only a DSLR camera, no external microphone.

A musical lesson you’ve learned the hard way?
You need to do the boring technical work (e.g. scales) if you want to play or sing to the best of your ability.

A vocal-singing lesson you’ve learned the hard way?
I can’t please everyone; some people won’t like my voice, and that’s okay.

A few ingredients of a memorable vocal performance?
It needs to be as perfect as you can possibly sing it, but a few mistakes are okay as long as you are telling a story and connecting with people emotionally.

Personally I’ve learnt that just because I’m capable of belting doesn’t mean I should

Most important lesson you have learned about social media?
Some social media companies aren’t very compatible! Without sponsored posts it’s hard to get my YouTube videos seen on Facebook because they want you to post them directly to Facebook.

Most important lesson you have learned about vocal health?
Take care of your voice as much as you can! Personally I’ve learnt that just because I’m capable of belting doesn’t mean I should.

Favorite music to listen to?
My all-time favourites are Carole King, Billy Joel, The Beatles, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Crowded House.

Lots of people would love to be able to play piano and sing at the same time – do you have any tips for getting started?
For starters, you need to be confident with both the singing part and the piano part before you try to put them together. The piano accompaniment doesn’t need to be complicated, but you do need to know it really well. Then you need to practise over and over! It’s very different from just singing or just playing, it seems to take up all of my brain power. When I first started I found it quite difficult but now I am getting better.

Jen's latest upload 'Baby Now That I've Found You'

You’re also skilled on the ukulele (we enjoyed your cover of Baby Now That I’ve Found You). What makes you choose one instrument over the other for a given song?
I’ve realised that people love the ukulele, perhaps because many are teaching themselves to play. For that reason I try to use ukulele for most songs, but sometimes a ukulele just doesn’t suit the song or doesn’t create the right mood (in my opinion) so I will play the piano instead. Or sometimes the piano accompaniment for a song is just too beautiful to not be played!

You’re stranded on a desert island. Which of the instruments do you take with you?
I suppose a ukulele is more practical since it’s light and small, but I’d take a piano because I could spend the long days on the desert island learning lots of new classical music! I love classical piano music but need to practise more often as I make too many mistakes!

What is an area of your singing work/career that is a little (or a lot) unique or different that you could elaborate on?
I spent my entire childhood and teenage years singing but I gave it up when I finished school. My family assumed I would pursue music, but I really felt very uncomfortable performing and overly concerned about what other people thought of me – I couldn’t handle criticism. Many of my colleagues and even friends I’ve met as an adult didn’t know I could sing or play instruments. I finally got over that a couple of years ago and am so happy to be singing again, though I still struggle with performing for people! I think there are lots of talented people out there who are too shy or insecure to put themselves out  there, but it feels very liberating to stop caring and just do it!I think there are lots of talented people out there who are too shy or insecure to put themselves out  there

Finally, what question do you wish we asked you? And what would your answer be?
What’s your day job? – I recently became a teacher. I lead a few choirs and love teaching young children how to sing. I spent my school years singing in choirs and it was a fantastic music education and a great way to make friends and enjoy music. I hope I am inspiring a lifelong love of music for them!

Jen McPherson Bio

Jen McPherson is a 27-year-old singer from a small rural town in Australia. She plays the piano and ukulele and started singing when she was 6-years-old. Her covers can be found on YouTube or Facebook.