First let me clarify that this is an interview with
Queen Elizabeth, the hip hop artist. Although an interview with Queen Elizabeth (the Head of State in the UK) would have been great, I think you will find this interview much cooler. I had the pleasure of connecting with her on Twitter and then meeting her in person at the 2011
ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO in Los Angeles.
I love hearing other musicians stories and I learned so much reading hers. Most importantly her interview is candid and honest. She is an artist that I look forward to hearing more from.
MV: What inspired you to pursue a music career?
QE: Well when I was about 4 years old, I saw the Van Halen music video for “Jump” and I knew then I wanted to play an instrument. Eddie Van Halen keyboard solo? Hello!! Shut up!! It also helped that my father and well his side of the family anyway, were all musicians. You can say it’s in my genes. They play Banda music back in Mexico and so I was always surrounded by music. All types too. My dad played timbales, but loved classic rock like The Beatles, Creedence and The Doors. My mother was a singer, and was a disco funk child. James Brown, Funkadelic/Parliament and Earth, Wind and Fire were on heavy rotation. Growing up in the 80’s, I gravitated towards Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Hall and Oates and Thomas Dolby. And as a teenager in the 90’s, my hip hop plate was full and listening to femcees like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Roxanne Shante who planted the seed of lyrical prowess. As time went on, I discovered new artists that would eventually help me mold my sound. My first instrument was a Casio keyboard and then I picked up the violin at 10. By 13 I was cutting up tapes in my room and trying to mix them together. I was writing poetry and songs soon after. I would literally lock myself up in my room and just create. My mother thought I was depressed and tried hauling me off to church. She was relieved when she heard me playing. With each genre of music I encountered, I cemented the foundation to what became to be Queen Elizabeth.
MV: I had the pleasure of meeting you at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO in 2011. What did you get out of that experience?
QE: That many believe in the old system of getting a record to a recording company and getting discovered. The artist must also look at the business aspect of their art, because it is a business!! What was repeated time and time again was that each and every artist is in charge of their own destiny and that networking and collaboration are essential to your growth as an artist and entrepreneur. While being discovered is what we all hope and wish for, WE need to do the leg work. That is, until you can afford to pay someone to do that for you and all you would have to do is concentrate on making music. Alas, we have to be everywhere at the same time. We are the marketing, sales, and artist development department, AND the artist working hard to perfect our craft. In other words, sleep is out of the question and to think that people just “get lucky” is preposterous. Artists do really work hard and fight harder to win their coveted spot!!
Collaboration before the EXPO was a dirty word to me. I didn’t want anybody coming in and trying to change my sound. My perception of what a collaboration was, was essentially flawed. I soon learned that collaboration was like making a tasty dish. The more ingredients to cook with, the better! Two heads are definitely better than one! Insert generic comment here!
I also learned that what we hear on the radio, isn’t necessarily what the music industry is looking for and that we all need constructive criticism reach our full potential. After speaking with Kevin Randolph during our ASCAP EXPO one-on-one session, he was surprised to hear the classical and experimental hip hop fusion on “Small Dosages” (Nice to Meet You). Still, he was very honest with me and told me I had my work cut out for me but to keep doing what I was doing because he hadn’t heard it being done in music and that I would definitely have an edge over other artists. What your friends and family thinks is great, versus the opinion of someone who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys can definitely center you and help you focus on what your goal is. The opportunity to have someone of that caliber evaluate my work, is something I did not dismiss. Instead, I took the advice and worked on ways to better myself as a whole and evolve. So in a nutshell what I took from my experience at the EXPO was to always explore new opportunities, work hard, stay original and be prepared to handle criticism. Oh one more, stay humble!!
MV: What are some of the challenges you face in your career?
QE: Exposure, exposure, exposure! Did I mention exposure? I am a one woman operation and as stated, I have to be the marketing, sales department, the producer and audio engineer, ON TOP of being an artist; because, exposure gets you the gigs and sells your music in the long run. So what have I been doing to change that? Being everywhere I can possibly be!! I started by going out and seeing other bands play and artists perform. Then, I enrolled in two Berklee College of Music workshops. One took me to Boston, and the other one brought me to Los Angeles. Just a few weeks ago, I attended the San Diego Music Thing, where I met more local artists that otherwise would have been lost in the sea of Reverb Nation profiles. Aside from the S.D.M.T., I’ll be attending the EXPO again and the NAMM show in 2012. NAMM (The National Association of Music Merchants) was something I hadn’t heard of, but thanks to Audrey Montoya aka Miss AMSTAR whom I met at the EXPO, I know what it is now. This semester, I also took on the role of Campus Representative for the GRAMMY U program through The Recording Academy. In one meeting alone, I met a group of talented music professionals. A group that now knows who Queen Elizabeth is. Through the program I’ll have the opportunity to help students find their way and help them find their missing puzzle piece. Perhaps even help take the music industry jitters away. What a better way to network! You will never know what is out there until you go out and explore. They (the industry) has to know that this Latina means business.
MV: How did you learn to make money off your music?
QE: I learned how to make money off my music by being informed of what my options for selling my music were. I had the pleasure of having Rick Shaw as my Music Business professor at Riverside City College and meeting Don Gorder in Long Beach at the Berklee in L.A.: Songwriting and Performance Workshop. Through them I learned so much and was given the tools to maximize my invested time and money, which in turned helped me make money from my music. Rick has such a vast knowledge of things. While some of my classmates dreaded the reading material, I wanted more. And then it was like opening Pandora’s box. I just kept wanting to learn as much as possible. I have a nice collection of books that I am always referring to. Additionally, I’m always looking for the newest thing and how it can help me get more fans, get more music to more people and of course sell my music through different channels. I always have a free download available because I want people to listen to my music and of course eventually purchase it. Giving too much of your music away, can give the impression that it is not worth buying. I like to balance things out.
MV: If you could start your career all over again, what would you differently?
QE: I would have collaborated more and would have gone to many of these conferences sooner. I probably would have taken more business classes alongside my music classes, also. Just as with any business, you really have to do your homework. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Take calculated risks. The keyword is: calculated. So more planning and less heartache, headaches and top ramen.
MV: What was your greatest accomplishment in music?
QE: I’m still waiting!! In all seriousness, I think that what I have done to date is an accomplishment. It’s amazing what someone can do with limited resources. I’m not your run-of-the-mill rapper. Actually, I prefer the term “hip-hop artist”. Carving my own niche, and going against the grain musically is my greatest accomplishment thus far. Having people respect the chick rocking the mic wearing an accountant’s uniform, yes. Nobody expects it, I’m like a secret weapon.
MV: How do you feel about the future of the music business?
QE: It is always changing, so the best thing to do is adapt. Considering I grew up during the time where the only way to get your music heard was to know somebody, who knew somebody else, who might know the guy, who is the cousin of, the person with a studio, who might let you record a song, but you might have do something strange. Yeah. Nowadays, it’s upload here, there’s a link for it there. All I can say that it is going to get better and easier for people to manage themselves. However, I also think that it will oversaturate the stage much more than it is now. You take the good with the bad I guess.