The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Recording Artist and Singer, Kacee Clanton
By Pauline France
Only a handful of artists worldwide can boast working with renowned acts like Luis Miguel, Joe Cocker, and Beth Hart.
That's the case for Kacee Clanton, an immensely talented recording artist, arranger, producer, stage actor, vocal coach, live performer and commercial singer originally from Northern California.
Clanton's journey has taken her many places, including Broadway where she's performed on A Night With Janis Joplin.
Her latest endeavor has been a blues-rock collaboration with guitarist Adrian Galysh, where Clanton lends her sultry vocals on Galysh's latest release, Into The Blue.
Read about Clanton's experience while on the road, her biggest tips for success, what she considers some of the biggest challenges for women in music are, and more in our interview below.
Visit her website here for more information.
WiMN: You’ve shared the stage with huge acts, played the lead in Love, Janis, and have performed on Broadway in A Night With Janis Joplin. Aside from your extraordinary talent, what did it take for you to get these high-level gigs?
KC: I have been incredibly blessed! It’s kind of crazy. I’ve always felt like it was a combination of talent, hard work, peers, reputation, and a little bit of luck. I’ve been a teacher for many years and I always tell my students to work hard to stay on top of their game and work with as many people as possible, because their peers are the most likely source of further work.
In my experience, if I step into multiple circles of artists and industry people, when those circles connect, I get a call. It’s not something I can force; it just happens when it’s supposed to happen. Reputation is everything. When people know you have a strong work ethic, you come prepared and on time, and you’re easy to work with, they’re more likely to hire you than the other 497 singers or actors in the building.
WiMN: Culturally, what was it like to tour with Latin music juggernaut Luis Miguel? How was it any different from touring with, say, a U.S. artist, if any different?
KC: It was an incredible experience on so many levels. He is an extraordinary singer and his catalog was full of gems, many written by legendary Latin composers. And touring with his band was a blast. They were not only gifted players, but really nice human beings who became family. I’ve never laughed so much on a tour! I didn’t know much about Luis Miguel when I started working with him, but I quickly fell madly in love with his voice and the music, not to mention the long-time fans who embraced me and made me feel welcome in that world.
I think the main difference between touring in the States - as opposed to touring in Central/South America or Europe - are the audiences. Speaking generally, Americans tend to be more reserved with their praise. I think the American market is so saturated with tours, events, artists, press, etc., the audiences often take an “I’m going to sit back and see if you impress me” approach to concert going. In most other countries, it can be storming and the traffic can be at a stand-still, and people will still slog through the mud, show up, and sing at the top their lungs with passion in their hearts. This is of course not true everywhere, but it has been my general impression as I’ve toured all over the world.
WiMN: Tell us about your most recent collaboration with Adrian Galysh in Into The Blue. How did that come to fruition?
KC: I’ve known Adrian for years, but have never actually worked with him. I was reading an interview he did the other day, and he said until he saw me sing at a local club in L.A. last fall, he had never heard me sing before. I didn’t know that! Ha.
Anyway, he approached me after hearing me and asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a blues record. I just so happened to have a window of time where I wasn’t in a show or on the road and thought it would be great to get back to the grounding, “rootsy” feel of writing and singing blues.
WiMN: Aside from performing, what other opportunities in the music industry are there for singers?
KC: I make what I like to call a “patchwork living.” My career has never been one solid canvas. It’s a collection of interests woven together. I tour as a background singer, lead vocalist, and a stage/theater singer; I am a vocal and performance coach, working with label artists, theatrical casts, and other private clients; I do session work for labels, film, TV, publishing catalogues, and jingles; I am a recording artists and I produce other artists; I write with various publishing teams for commercial placement in film, TV, etc.; and I teach.
Many singers would rather focus on one path: becoming a recording artist or a published writer, for example. But my interests are pretty widespread and I find that I can make a better living as a singer if I’m open to walking multiple paths. I would rather be really good at a lot of things than the best at one thing. It’s just who I am as a human being.
WiMN: Which singers or bands have had the most impact in your career?
KC: I believe I was about 4 or 5 years old the first time I heard Nat King Cole sing. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a singer. Without really understanding it, I knew I wanted to move people the way he moved me.
I grew up in church and in a household where there was always music playing or someone practicing. I think black gospel had the most profound effect on me as both a singer and even today, as a vocal arranger. Andrae Crouch & the Disciples and the Edwin Hawkins Singers were a huge part of the soundtrack of my childhood. And once I heard Karen Carpenter, I knew what kind of voice and tone I wanted.
When I hit junior high, I started getting into funkier stuff, like Earth, Wind & Fire and Mother’s Finest (Joyce Kennedy of Mother’s Finest is still one of my favorite singers on the planet.) That’s when “groove” became one of the most important things to me as a singer and performer. I got more into rock in high school and college, and since I was studying classical voice, I got really into technique singers like Ann Wilson of Heart and Ronnie James Dio.
I think singer/songwriters, however, were the constant thread through it all. When I’m out walking, or taking a long drive, or cleaning my house, it’s safe to assume I’m listening to some singer/songwriter. That is a very long list: from old-school writers like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jime Croce, and The Beatles, to the newer stuff from Patty Griffin, John Mayer, Rob Thomas, Jonatha Brooke, James Bay, Adele, The Fray, Gavin DeGraw, India Arie, Imogen Heap, Jason Mraz, Marc Broussard, KT Tunstal, Ray LaMontagne, and Alanis Morissette.
And I haven’t even talked about the Motown sounds and people like Etta James and Big Mama Thornton, or the newer rock sounds of bands like Evanescense, Soundgarden, Radiohead, and Linkin Park, or the amazing soundtracks of so many Broadway shows. GAH! There are so many writers and performers woven into the fabric of my life and artistry, it’s sorta mind-blowing.
WiMN: What sort of prejudice do you think there is toward female vocalists? Feel free to share a personal experience you’ve had, if any.
KC: Oh boy…how much time do you have? Ha. As with all forms of prejudice, some are more subtle than others.
I started dipping my toes in the industry back in the '80s, when things were pretty rough for women. I negotiated and ended up turning down multiple record and production deals because I was being told to just record the vocals, shake my booty, and look sexy. No one would let me write or have an opinion, and since the industry was run almost entirely by men, I was reduced to a number on some sex appeal scale set up by bean counters and pimps who cared about the bottom line and not about the art.
I was once chased around the top floor of a major label by a VP who would have raped me had another employer not made a surprise visit to that floor. And that wasn’t even the crazy part. It was the look of shock on his face when I told him in no uncertain terms, NO. He said he couldn’t fathom why a no-name artist like me wouldn’t want his “help.” I have other stories, but the theme is the same. I am thrilled that labels no longer have the god-like power they once had and every time I see a woman calling the shots as an industry exec, I throw a little party in my heart.
But the blatant forms of prejudice have taken a backseat to the more subtle forms. Women as a whole still make less money than men, and that virus still lingers in all areas of labor and commerce, including the music industry. There is also still the underlying suggestion that you must be thin and beautiful and young to be a successful female singer. This of course does not apply to men to nearly the same degree as women. And to be fair, many female artists don’t help our cause much when they don’t know the difference between being sexy and being sexual, and when they buy into the industry hype that you can’t sell units unless you sell your body, or that fame is the end game. It’s all a B.S. machine built by men from back in the day, and when women don’t know who they are and what their real worth is, their fear and desperation fuel that machine.
There are many other forms of subtle prejudice against female singers. All you have to do is talk to a room full of male musicians to hear the jokes and innuendo about “chick singers” being high maintenance and difficult to work with. Because we all know if you’re a man and you’re a focused, tough, no nonsense music director, you’re a genius. But if you’re a focused, tough, no nonsense woman running the show, you’re a cold-hearted bitch. I continue to hear this ridiculous innuendo all the time. And I grant you, I’ve worked with some difficult, high-maintenance women, and it annoys me just as much as the next person, but I’ve worked with just as many men who behave badly. Bad behavior in the entertainment industry is a widespread bacteria infecting all who don’t arm themselves against it, male or female.
WiMN: What’s the best professional advice you’d give to a young girl wishing to pursue a career in music.
KNOW THYSELF: Before you even think about diving into the business of making art, know who you are and who you are not. Understand the difference. Know that your worth lies in your gift and your character. Know that your happiness comes from within, not without.
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND GREAT: Practice your art. Be responsible. Do your homework. Be on time every time. Practice wisdom and compassion. There are thousands of good singers out there so decide now if you just want to be good or if you want to be great. It’s entirely up to you.
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START BUILDING A LEGACY OF ENCOURAGEMENT: While you may be competing against other women for tours, gigs, shows, etc., decide now that you will see competition as a healthy form of growth. See women as your sisters and not your enemy. Encourage them. Build them up and allow them to help you grow as well. Celebrate with them and understand if you do not get the gig, you were not meant to, not because life is unfair but because life knows what it’s doing. If you are prepared and you do your best and someone else gets the job, that job was always hers. So celebrate all of it because it means you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
NEVER BELIEVE YOUR OWN PRESS: Keep your head down and do the work. Do not be distracted by the opinions of others. You will never be as good or as bad as they say you are. Marcus Aurelius once said, "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
LEARN TO SAY NO: Not every opportunity is a good one. Not every door needs to be knocked on. Not every industry contact you make will be a fruitful one. Exercise wisdom at all times and surround yourself with people and work that will take you in a positive direction and help you grow as an artist and human. If your gut says no, believe it and have the courage to stand by it.
YOU ARE AN ISLAND: You have everything you need to be complete and at peace. Embrace those who love and support you but understand that when no one is around, you have everything you need. Fall in love but understand if it ends, you have everything you need. Pour yourself into your art but understand if your path doesn’t go in the direction you thought it would, you have everything you need.
"The bad news is you're falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there's no ground." -- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
WiMN: Are you working on new material or any new exciting projects we should know about?
KC: I’m coaching the cast of a local production of Spring Awakening, which will run in late June at the Malibu Playhouse, and I’m producing a young singer/songwriter, Michelle Ariane. Her debut release should be out by the end of the year. Hopefully, Adrian and I will be out doing some live work, supporting the new record throughout the year. I am also negotiating a contract for another run of “A Night With Janis Joplin,” which will happen this summer. But overall, I’m in a bit of a repackaging mode right now. I’ve played Janis on and off for the past 15 years so my agent and I are working on reinventing my image, particularly in the theater world. I’d like to dig into some other roles and see where else I can go as an actor and singer.
In the end, I never know where my path will take me one week to the next. That’s what I like most about my patchwork life. I have absolute faith that wherever I go, I’ll be exactly where I’m supposed to be.