Managing Your Kids' Band - Pt 1
When my 15 year old daughter Christina announced she wanted to start a band, I never dreamed we would be touring the world a few years later. Getting from the dream to reality was not fulfilled overnight, and it took enormous persistence and hard work, but we proved that it was possible to start from nothing in a small town with no connections in the entertainment industry and make it.
Initially, Christina wanted to be in a band with her friends, but they had a hard time coordinating practices, none of them were particularly great at an instrument, and they didn't all sing in tune. Frustrated that she could rarely get them together to practice, she was ready to throw in the towel. I suggested she do something with her sisters, with whom she had been singing since she was a little kid. The advantages were clear: they all lived in the same house, so it's not like rehearsal would be hard to set up, they already sounded great when they sang together, and they had all been on stage performing many, many times. She wasn't too keen on that idea at first, but it was clear that the friend thing wasn't going to work, and her dream burned too bright to give it up so quickly.
So she asked her sisters. They didn't want anything to do with it at first, but she kept working at it until they came around. Christina started writing some songs, and by 2007 when she was 17, all of her sisters but Dani (who was only 7) were on board. They recruited their older brother Michael, who was an awesome lead guitarist, although he was more into metal at the time and wasn't too keen on playing for a girl group. They all had a lot of musical theater experience by this time, so they were no strangers to the stage. My husband Mike and I found a former record label head who was consulting with young artists and started working with him. He set us up with some young producers, and the girls recorded their first demo. Unfortunately, this guy was a bit of a con artist. He had a lot of great advice, but he painted himself as having all these great industry contacts (which he it became clear that he no longer had) and he charged a lot of money with the promise that he would get us where we wanted to be. The only good thing that came out of it was that the producers and studio he set us up with were legit, so the kids and I learned how to put together a demo.
I also started learning a bit about what a manager does. My job was to coordinate all the details of everything, whether it was a recording session or a gig, and leave the artists free to be artists. Also, in my case, all the artists were minors who couldn't sign their own contracts without parental signatures, so Mike and I had to dive into the world of performance and recording contracts and all that goes along with that.
During this time, Christina had been learning some video editing skills with the program Final Cut, and she started experimenting with making some music videos. She would write the concept and to the directing, doing some of the filming herself and recruiting either her younger brother Alex or me to film the rest. Her first music video was for a song she wrote called, "Delaney", which you can watch here. We uploaded it to YouTube, and maybe 40 people watched it (that would be the 40 who were in it in the concert scene at the end). I remember watching it over and over, partly because I liked it and partly to watch the view counter rise one view at a time. Pretty sad, I know.
Now that we were away from the con man, I thought that the next logical step would be to find some gigs. Unfortunately, most gigs are in bars, and not only is it not an appropriate place for a teen band to play, it's illegal. So I looked at every place I could think of, like schools, churches, community events, fairs, and even the little old lady groups like bridge clubs and senior centers. My girls could sing a variety of things from barbershop to pop, so we could make anything work, and at that time, it was more about learning how to play to an audience and make a set flow.
Instrumentally, several of the girls could play the piano somewhat, their brother could play the guitar, and they had all had a few drum lessons. Out of the blue, I got a call from a local church asking if the group would like to play a 45 min set at a purity conference 3 months from then. I said, "Of course!" That is how they got their first gig as a real band. Never mind that they weren't actually a band yet.
I had a Masters degree in Music and had played in a Christian rock band for a couple of years as a teenager, so I knew that it wasn't rocket science to learn some simple covers, especially since they already were quite skilled at singing in harmony, and they had a keyboard player in Christina and a guitar player in Michael. Lisa decided to be the drummer, Amy wanted to learn rhythm guitar, Katherine loved the band The Cars and saw herself as a female Ric Ocasek, so she took on the bass, and 9 year old Lauren decided to be the second keyboard player. They picked a set list of some 80's songs and some Christian songs as well as a few originals that Christina had written, and we got down to work putting together lead sheets and learning not only how to play the songs, but how to play the instruments!
In retrospect, it was probably a little crazy to agree to a gig like that when there wasn't actually a real band in place yet, but that's the funny thing about kids. If you don't tell them that something is completely crazy, and you voice your confidence in their ability to take on what secretly seems impossible, they will constantly surprise you by their ability to rise to the occasion. Also, the fact that I am a pianist and vocalist gave me the confidence that I could teach them whatever they needed to know to get ready for that gig.
After they had worked on that instrumental set for a few weeks and were starting to get the hang of it, I got a call from the California State Fair. The entertainment booker had heard that my three older daughters had sung the national anthem for a Sacramento Kings game, and they wondered if we would be interested in singing it at the Demolition Derby at the fair. Of course the answer was yes, and while I had her on the phone, I directed her to our "Delaney" video on YouTube, and the next thing you know, she offered us a 45 min set on one of the tiny stages at the State Fair, which was opening in two weeks time.
Christina, Katherine and Lisa singing the National Anthem in 3-part harmony at a Sacramento Kings game in 2008
This is where things got really crazy. I knew the kids couldn't possibly be ready for a full instrument set in two weeks time; even I wasn't that delusional. However, they had done so much song and dance in their musical theater company that I was pretty sure they could put together a simple song and dance act to pre-recorded instrumental tracks in that short amount of time (Michael wasn't interested in being part of this, so just the five girls took it on). This was also a very tall order, but my view is that when opportunities come along, you should do your best to take them, especially if they are challenging, and the girls were on fire to make this dream of theirs come true. I remember they looked at me and said, "Can we really pull that off?" I answered, "If you work really hard for 6-7 hours a day for the next two weeks, then yes, I believe you can."
To complicate things more, we had just gone into the recording studio to record their first EP of original songs (an EP is a shorter length album of usually 5 or 6 songs), so they really didn't have 6-7 hours a day where they were completely free to practice, as the recording sessions were booked for most of the entire two weeks, for 4-8 hours every day. We were recording one girl at a time though, so whoever wasn't recording was working out harmonies and making up simple choreography for the show.
Those two weeks were completely crazy, but when the fair opened, the girls were ready. Our 45 min set was on one of the first days of the fair, on a small stage under a shade pop-up that had about 50 chairs set up for the audience. The girls started singing while I worked with the sound man, and by the end of the 45 min, the entire shaded area was filled with people, and there were quite a few people standing alongside the chairs watching. The woman who had booked us came by to check how things were going, and when she saw the crowd that had gathered, she whipped out her calendar and said, "How many more times can you guys come and perform?" I said, "What have you got?" She started pencilling us in, and before you know it, we had 11 performances booked for the two week stretch of the fair! By the end of the fair, the girls were singing in the amphitheater that seated 1000 people. Each time, they would start performing, there would be about 5 people, and by the end of the 45 min, the whole amphitheater would fill up. I remember on the last couple of days of the fair, they started introducing the girls as "the darlings of this year's State Fair." It was an exhausting two weeks, but the audience reaction the girls got confirmed that we had something real there that was worth pursuing.
Cimorelli girls at the California State Fair 2008
When the fair was over, we got back to working on the instrumental set, as that performance was only a few weeks after the fair. As if things weren't stressful enough, two days before the performance, we were notified that they didn't have a sound system in place at the church because they had been doing some remodeling, so it was all out of commission. After having a mild panic attack, I called the only two sound people I knew, both from the musical theater company where I had been music director for many shows and had worked closely with the sound men. Fortunately, one of them had access to a portable sound system at his church that he was able to borrow for our event, and he literally saved the day. Without him, at that short of notice, I have no idea how we would have pulled off that event. (You can watch a video from this performance here.)
Cimorelli playing their first gig as a band at a teen conference at St John's in Folsom, CA
Over the course of the next year, I worked every contact I had and was able to book gigs for my kids at all sorts of church, school, and community events, the longest being a 2 hour set for a church dinner/dance. We bought our own basic sound system so that at a minimum, we would never again be at the mercy of a venue without a proper sound system.
We landed a gig as the opener for one of the local Concert in the Park shows, with an audience of 3000, and that led to being asked to play for an audience of 6000 Boy Scouts at the Raley Field baseball stadium in Sacramento.
Cimorelli at Concert in the Park in El Dorado Hills, CA in 2009
Cimorelli performing at Raley Field in Sacramento, CA in 2009
Right about the same time in the Fall of 2009, the girls decided to put up a very special YouTube video, which I will talk about in Part 2, as that particular video turned our world upside down and launched everything into a whole different direction....
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