Monika Ryan Jazz Singer Songwriter - IndieViews

Monika Ryan – IndieView #3

Today in this third episode of IndieViews we will be talking with Monika Ryan, born in New York, currently living in Chicago where she has produced a solo discography of 9 albums, including the latest release “NOW”. With a degree at “The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music” since 1997, she has taken part to two seasons of concerts at “Carnegie Hall”, in addition to performing at festivals such as “Montreal Jazz Festival”, “Big Apple in Nonoichi Jazz Festival” with following tour in Japan.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce:


Monika Ryan


1) Love – 2000:

2) Duo – 2001:

3) Involution – 2014:

4) Sketches – 2016:

5) Fly – 2016:

6) Merry – 2016:

7) Crash – 2016:

8) Windmills – 2017:

9) Now – 2018:


If we cast your mind back to when you were a kid and a teenager: what are your earliest musical memories?
I was always a musical person. My mother would keep me occupied at times as a baby by putting on my favorite albums and I would crawl to the speaker and sit by it and bounce until the record was over. She tells me that when she would give me a crayon and piece of paper I would use the crayon as a mallet to hit the paper or crumple it up and uncrumple it by my ear to hear it. As a child I watched a lot of movies from the 1930’s and the 1940’s and being concerned with music my entire life, I absorbed the sounds and harmonic structures of jazz, so that when I went to sing jazz at 14 years old I had an intuitive understanding of it. At 6 I did my first singing performance at school. I sang “There’s no business like show business” It’s funny. I designed a whole costume and everything. I took violin lessons from 7-13 years old. At 14 I started to sing in my school jazz band and by 15 I had my first paying performance and started my professional career.
Which was the first album you ever bought?

My first album? I don’t know. I can’t remember what I bought and what was bought for me or what was in my parent’s collection. The first jazz album that I bough was a double LP “Ella Fitzgerald’s Greatest Hits Volume II” It is still a favorite of mine.

Which musicians do you particularly admire and which one do you think influenced your music?
Everything I listen to influences my lens. If we are going back to formative years, and staying within genre, I would say that I had seasons where I absorbed all of these singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, Blossom Dearie, Abby Lincoln, Jon Hendricks, Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams, Mel Torme, Jo Stafford, Anita O’Day, Helen Merrill, Peggy Lee, Astrud Gilberto, Flora Purim, and so many more. Too many to name. I studied with Jackie Paris, and Sheila Jordan back in College. I have had the good fortune to work with many amazing and legendary jazz musicians over the years, and they have all left their mark on my work.
Which is the best concert that you have been to?
This is a hard one. I have been to too many great concerts to have a definitive “best” — It was a thrill for me to see Ella Fitzgerald live at Radio City Music Hall. Mel Torme gave a good show right up until the end. I have seen Nancy Wilson and Abby Lincoln many times and every-time I was enchanted. Shirley Horn was very special live.
What does music mean to you?
Music is the voice of the intangible. It is for me the biggest contribution that I can make to the world, besides having and raising wonderful children who will have their own contributions to make.
If I can serve the world by elevating someone’s day, or lifting them up, or helping them express their feelings, or understanding something or someone in a different way, or helping them have a rest at the end of the day, if I can inspire someone in a positive way, it brings me tremendous joy. I like to be of service.
When I am moved by art it is food for thoughts and feelings and all kinds of personal growth, understanding and reflection.
I offer up my work as a vehicle for others to reflect in, if it touches or serves another it, it’s purpose is served.
Are you still in love with your profession as musician? How do you keep your enthusiasm always live?
YES! Music is an act of love for me. How can I not love, love itself? Music is an expression of love.
There is no way to separate the two. Even angry music is coming from a place of love.
Love is powerful and sometimes love is hard truths, so love is in all of the music. Love is the recipe, love is the main ingredient and love is the motivation.

When did you decide to be a full time musician?
Right out of music school, I needed another job to pay the bills.
When I didn’t need another job anymore, I didn’t have one. Being a musician was always the goal.
How do you manage your music life with your “common” life? What is your typical day like?
I home-school my children.
So I work on music and music business interwoven with teaching them throughout the day.
Here is a typical day: 6:30am wake up, do some correspondence, have coffee with my husband before he goes to work. 8:00am home school begins.
I teach and during their independent work times I do music business stuff, PR, Booking, Correspondence, Phone Meetings. 2:00pm school is over – They play and I do some song writing.
Maybe work out a bit as well. 3:00pm-5:00pm – some practicing and project planning 6:00 I cook dinner and sometimes get ready for a show… and then do the out of the house music stuff. Performance, events etc.
Different days vary… touring is different… recording on projects is different… but this is the basic idea. I find my windows to get it all done.
Tell us more about your latest works (album, live tour, new projects).

I am about to release “Now” later this month. This is a reflection of this moment in time for me and how I see it. For me this project is like a timeline photograph. I am very excited to be returning to Europe for a tour in June and July. I am also working on some new writing with a wonderful Indian artist blending eastern and western music. This is a bigger musical exploration that is forming now as we speak. I’m excited to see where it leads. There are never any shortage of exciting projects to do, and I am always busy creating. Which I love.

(Ed.) In the main time “Now” has been released, check it out:


Are you self-taught or have you studied music? You think is important studying music to be a Pro?
Every artist is at least partially self taught, but I have a lot of music education in my history. I have been pretty consistently taking one music lesson or another since I was 7 years old. There were a couple of years when my children were babies when I was not studying, but I was still writing or when I just got out of college that I did not take lessons but other than that I have been studying music in one form or another my whole life. I have had about a 6 month break and am getting ready to start studying again. There is always more to learn.
Between different genres and styles within genres and folk musics and instruments there is a never ending font of study.
I love to learn and explore, so it is fun for me. I love music lessons.
I have a BFA in Vocal Jazz from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
I don’t think a degree is necessary at all, nor do I think formal study is necessary, I like lessons so I take them. If someone loves music and practices with their heart and mind, with consistency, motivation and attention to detail, they can attain every level of musical achievement on their own. A formal education helps speed some processes up sometimes, because most often a good teacher can reflect back to you and offer suggestions and point you in the right direction.
To be a pro you need to be able to deliver on what is expected of you as a musician and to be professional. That’s all.
For some settings that means a formal training, and for others it does not
As a jazz singer, I would not need one, but I am glad that I have it.
My education is part of me. We cannot separate ourselves from our ingredients. This is what makes each and every one of us unique.
Did you keep on studying?
I do. All of the time. I love it.
Speaking of culture, which is the last book that you read? 
I have been reading a lot of philosophy. I have enjoyed reading the Stoic Philosophers, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius.
I find it a nice reminder to keep perspective in check.
I like biographies and books about creativity also.
I was reading a book about Django Reinhardt which was fascinating, but so detailed that I could only take in bits of it at a time.
Called “Django” by Michel Dregni:

I really enjoyed “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield:

Ted Orland and “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp —

I got something from each of these books, take some info and leave the rest…
But I find books about creativity to offer great tools for overcoming creative obstacles.
There are no shortages of interesting books to read and re-read and interesting “rabbit holes” to go down.
While you are on the road did you find the time to improve your technical skills on your instrument? Do you think is it important?
I try to improve every time that I sit down to make music it being practicing or performing. My tours are usually “go go go” so I don’t often have much time to practice. But I write and I reflect and I learn and grow every time I perform. If there is an opportunity to work on music I do. Sometimes when I tour, I take some time to go to a museum or go on a walk, or to a park or a place of spiritual significance and that improves my instrument by expanding my internal dialog. I love seeing the City or Town that I am in when I travel, if there is time.


Can you describe the process you go through when you are writing a song? What inspires you to write?
I write very fluidly most of the time. I don’t force things if they are not taking shape, I move on and write something new and then return to the idea when I am fresh. Music is flowing or it’s not for me, it is not a matter of hammering something together, it is much more organic. I have never not recorded on a budget.
As a self-funded artist I am always on a tight budget.
Tight money = tight time. I record fast.
I like the energy most in the first and second take, I rarely push anything further.
I want to feel the freshness as a listener. “Now” was recorded entirely in one day. We did not have time for a rehearsal.
We went for it. I knew that the band was wonderful and I knew that we would move as one so we just dove in and recorded it in one day. There were more songs but we ran out of time/money…
I am satisfied with that day’s work, and I could always go for more and strive for better.
In 2016 there was a weekend where I had a concert of one catalog of music on Friday, I recorded a new album of totally different music on Saturday and another album of totally different music on Sunday.
I love to work and do so with intensity and joy. I never tire of making music.
I could do it around the clock without stopping. To me there is never a gig that is too long or a session that is too long.
But I respect that others feel differently.
I try to remain sensitive to the needs and comfort of those who I am working with.
It is important to me that everyone who works with me walks away feeling good about it. This is what I strive for.
Album/Ep/Singles any favorite way to release your music? and why?
Historically I have released albums in hard copy form, but this year I am doing a purely digital release with PR backing. I believe that this is the wave of the future.
How do you plan an album production and his release?
Sometimes I meet someone who I want to work with and that is the inspiration or sometimes it starts with the material or theme. Once I start to plan an album with the inspiration it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. Making sure the material is selected and that the band is assembled, the where and when is organized and if there is time a rehearsal, and then we go! I am usually working about a year out ahead of release.

When you release an album how much is important for you the tracklist? And the time between the tracks?
This is on an album by album basis. Sometimes there is a story and sometimes it’s about feel to feel of the music. Everything is customized to the project at hand.
Do you produce your records by yourself or do you prefer to have some extra ears or a producer to guide you?
I produce them myself, but I think working with a producer would be cool too. I love working with others, and I am also very happy to take the helm. I don’t usually have a budget for a producer. I do work with excellent musicians and engineers and between us we get the job done, and have fun doing it!
Did you record your music in a rented professional studio, home studio or in any other way?
Both! Home and At other studios. This depends on who and where the band is.
How did you choose the musicians for your album?
I know lots of amazing musicians! I try to go with group dynamic chemistry and project direction for style.
Did you mix and master your album/tracks in different ways for digital and physical releases?
No I do them the same for both.


Are your records only digital or also physically distributed?
Both, but going more Digital.
What types of promotion and marketing have you found to work best for an independent artist?
I have done many kids of promotion over the years, and with the times changing, I think that there is no set working answer. It seems that with every new project there is a whole new set of requirements to get the work out there.
There are some music industry analysts who argue that the CD is dying. What percentage of your sales are physical CDs and what percentage of your sales are in other forms (e.g. online)? Do you see that changing significantly in the future?
Most of my sales are digital. The CDs that I sell are more like souvenirs from a show, and most people would rather listen through streaming and downloads.
How do you normally promote your latest releases? Do you use only social networks or also other ways?
I promote in every way that I have a budget for. Social networking is huge, also I promote by word of mouth radio and traditional print.
Do you use Facebook/twitter/instagram sponsored post for promotion? You think could be they helpful?
Yes I do. Yes they are. 🙂
Have you a mailing list? I personally use MailChimp.You think is a “must have” as most people in music business said?
My mailing list is not the focal point of my promotion, but I have heard that, this is the way to go.
Have you a favorite way to distribute your album?
I like Symphonic and of course on my own website.
Do you think that, with all the digital alternatives, radio airplay still has an effect on the success of a release? And how does an independent artist get radio airplay?
Yes I do think that radio play is still a major player.
There are many ways to get it.
You can hire a radio promoter or send stuff to radio stations yourself.
It depends on your budget and your time constraints.
Like anything else, it’s a network that can be built.
What do you think about streaming services like Spotify and Pandora?
They worry me, but they are part of the present.
They only worry me because they are making it harder for musicians to make a living at making music.
They are wonderful resources for exchanging music and learning about music.
About discover music Follow our IndieViews Spotify Playlist :


Did you work with booking agencies or you manage your own gigs?
I manage my own gigs.

How do you promote a gig in a new town/country/region?
Locals, Social, Local radio and print
Organizing a tour could be really expensive especially if you travel with a band far away from your country, how do you manage everything to earn and don’t loose money?
I usually hire local musicians, and stay with friends or at a really inexpensive airbnb. I make it work. It’s not the same as the big stars but I make it work.
Did you sell your physical CDs, Merchandising and other?
I don’t have any other merchandise other than CDs. I usually spend my budget on making music and getting it out there, though I think it would be cool to have t-shirts 🙂
Somebody says that House Concert are the future of live music as many club are closing. What do you think about it? Have you organized any?
I love house concerts. I’m doing one on my next tour of Germany.
Being invited to make music in someone’s home is an honor and there is a warmth to it.
Do you have any suggestions for somebody who would host an house concert?
I have never organized one, but I have hired live music for parties at my house. These were all people who I knew in attendance.
Every time you play your music you are giving a big part of you to your crowd, do you feel tension before a concert? If yes how do you manage it?
I do not feel tension before performing. I feel a build of excited energy. I love to perform. It is my way of giving and it feels very fluid to me.
Which is the difference between a big audience or a small one?
Nothing! 1500 or 1 person it is exactly the same.
Give them every drop you’ve got. Make each person feel special, draw them in and give them a magical experience.
Connect to the music and the musicians that you are working with and give to the listener.
Each of us has some expectations before a show, which are yours? What would you love to “have back” during a concert or what you already receive? 
My expectations are that the sound reinforcement will work and that the audience will be reasonably well behaved.
My expectation is that the band will work with me and that I will work with the band and not against each other and that everyone on the stage will be present in the music.
I always appreciate it when the venue is a happy partner as well, though some venues have more or less warmth.


Have you a daily business routine? Checking/writing E-mail, phone calls, create new connections?
Yes, not a routine by way of set times, but I check email and socials several times per day.
I make sure that I respond as fast as possible.
I meet with my PR helper over the phone once per week and check in over the course of the week as needed.
Which percentage of your time is dedicated to: “Creating Music”, “Promotion”, “Organizing gigs/tour”, “Studying”, “Reading”, “Listening Music”
Oh there is no way to break this down for me. I am always working on all of the things.
This would be untangling a big woven structure that is always moving and changing.
I try to make as much progress every day, I rarely ever complete what I would like to complete because my daily lists are quite ambitious and I like to do what i do as well as I can, so I spend time to thoughtfully approach as much as I can.
Do you think that the Artist status is compatible with the entrepreneurship? Do you think that an Indie artist needs to be also an Entrepreneur?
I think that the indie artist needs to be an entrepreneur.
It would be near impossible to make progress in business without someone at the helm of the ship. If one is fortunate enough to have help it is easier, but it is still a huge undertaking to captain a career through the choppy waters of the music business.
As an artist, which are the biggest differences between being represented by a major label or being representing by yourself?
I have never had a major record contract but I have had 2 failed distribution deals. In both cases the distributer made promises that they did not fulfill. I know that I will work harder and more intensely than any one who sees me as just a number.
I will advocate and answer for the work and be available for the project in a way that I don’t imagine happening with a major label, unless you are a big star and there is a lot of money in the balance.
Which PRO (Performing Rights Organization) are you affiliate with and why did you choose that?
I am with ASCAP and I chose them at a very young age because I was very familiar with them.
Did you use any other service to collect your royalties?
I am working on getting my Sound Exchange catalog together
As a full time musician I immediately realized that I can’t only work as musician and I should extend my expertise in different fields. So, I became a Sound Engineer, composer, producer too. Did you also develop different fields? Which one? What do you like and do not like about each one?
I homeschool my two children, my husband’s job covers the cost of our household.
Between us we manage to run the household responsibilities well.


What’s your relationship with the social networks?
Facebook is community! Priceless!
I have an account. I almost never use it.
A great place to get videos out there, and to review the work of others.
A great place to connect with new fans.
Any other social or service you want to talk about?
I can’t think of any. Face to face! 🙂 Meeting people, shaking hands, sharing a laugh, this is a great way to make connections and friends 🙂
Do you have any suggestions for a young musician that is thinking to start with his carrer?
Art is personal. The more true to your own aesthetic that you are, the more original your work will be. Learn the techniques that you need to support your aesthetic and then use those techniques to create your best version of your vision confidently. The business is important, but that is never why the musician chose this difficult path.
Music first, business second. Remember that music is a service to others. Be kind and professional.
Hopefully we all live very long and connected lives and we cross paths with people over and over again. Musicians are social and a tribe/community is important. Be a team player even if you are a star.
Be a star among stars.
Lift those up around you. Don’t take rejection personally.
Rejection is part of the artists path, always. Know that it is not about you it is about coins and bills. This is OK. The venues have to keep the lights on too.
That relationship is rarely about quality, it is about the venue’s bottom line.
This is just how it is, and it is OK. Keep following your musical bliss. It will lead you somewhere wonderful.



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