CAPE MAY – While most people like music, it’s getting harder to sell these days – or so Jonatha Brooke has found in her 15-plus years as a working musician.
Brooke, who was born in Boston and has worked in New York City for the last 15 years before moving to Minneapolis at the end of November, knows the disappointment of having her music go for nothing. She actually wrote a song with Katy Perry that was on Perry’s last record.
“It had a half-million streams, and it netted me about $2.87,” Brooke said in an interview. “If someone buys the song from iTunes for 99 cents, I would have made 3 cents per download. Half a million times 3 cents…the math is pretty devastating.”
Brooke would have made about $14,987 more than she did had people bought her music via iTunes.
A singer-songwriter, Brooke will be speaking and performing at Singer-Songwriter of Cape May on Saturday, March 25. She said most working musicians have to depend on playing live gigs in order to make money.
“It is rough now. Music, for all intents and purposes, is free. People are streaming, and we are all out here touring our butts off. People will still pay to see live music,” she said.
But Brooke was born with a musical gene that prompted her to go into the arts, and finally music.
“I was always a musical kind,” she said, “I was always picking up instruments and playing by ear.”
Brooke said she started with piano, and then begged her dad for a guitar at age 13. She said she became enamored with women playing guitar after seeing her camp counselor play. She learned that she also had the ability to listen to her brother’s records and then play by ear.
Brooke said before she started playing music professionally, she was a very serious dancer.
“Music was a hobby and dance was what I thought I would do,” she said.
Brooke started taking dance lessons by age six, and was dancing professionally by 16. All the while she was in choirs and maintaining an interest in music.
In college she enrolled in a music composition course and was given the assignment to write a song using an e.e. cummings poem as lyrics.
“I got an A, and after that I started writing songs like I had a fever,” Brooke said. “That was my very first song and I still perform it. It was on my very first record, “Grace in Gravity.”
Brooke started playing concerts around Amherst College, where she was a student, and in the western Massachusetts area. She eventually graduated from Amherst with a degree in English Literature, and moved back to Boston, where she became a professional dancer and did musical gigs on the weekend.
“I joined the three best modern dance companies, and performed with my singing partner Jennifer,” Brooke said.
Brooke, who moved to Minneapolis last year with her husband and manager, Patrick Rains, will be attending the Singer-Songwriter Cape May conference for the first time, but she has plenty to talk about when it comes to songwriting.
“It really comes down to whether you have a singular way of saying what you want to say. You don’t need training, per se, and you don’t need to be an English major to write a good lyric. You do have to have a singular voice and something to say,” Brooke said. “Yes, being an English major means something, but it’s not just ripping pages out of your journal and synthesizing it.”
Brooke said she writes her songs on a whole range of topics, including what is happening in her life.
“I take great license with the truth because it is a song. I make up stories, I have characters I come back to, like a circuit carney girl I’ve written about over the years…things that inspire me,” she said.
Brooke said she is also inspired by great writing, saying literature can be the centerpiece of a song.
Describing her own music, Brooke said, “I’m intelligent pop rock. I use folk elements, because when touring I’m touring with an acoustic guitar. It’s a little more complex than a typical Americana folk song.”
Brooke said her CDs are available on her website, www.jonathabrooke.com, Amazon or iTunes.
She said her biggest influence as a singer is Elis Regina, a Brazilian vocalist, whose singing, timing, and phrasing is incredible and powerful. She said she was also influenced by Ricky Lee Jones, Stevie Wonder, and of course, The Beatles.
Brooke said she is looking forward to Singer-Songwriter of Cape May, and has been doing a lot of songwriting, recently, feeling she has got her “songwriting muscles honed.”
“I think I’m ready to speak about the tricks, and starts and pitfalls of what we do,” she said.
The Singer-Songwriter of Cape May Conference is Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25. Keynote speakers will be at Congress Hall. Performances by conference-goers will be at 13 different venues around Cape May on both nights. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.sscapemay.com/schedule/.