The art of music has evolved from having an emphasis on performance into more of a marketing rat-race. Artists are hyping music by trying to get views on YouTube, downloads on iTunes, shares on Facebook and hits on Bandcamp. In a music industry where the charts are dominated by “Call Me Maybe” and Justin Bieber lookalikes, social media gives opportunities for aspiring musicians to showcase their music. However, our savvy social networking generation is losing the essence of raw, honest, in-the-moment live music.
Saskatchewan-based guitarist and vocalist Jolene Higgins, known by her stage name Little Miss Higgins, challenges popular music by offering a refreshing contemporary sound infused with jazz, blues and a little country twang. Her sound can be described as “roots music with a Canadiana feel.” She grew up playing classical piano, which gave her a general appreciation for music.
Higgins was inspired by old show tunes, musicals and classic movies, which contributed to her musical development. One of her most influential moments was when she saw Billie Holiday perform. She identified with Holiday and aspired to recapture the structure, progressions and melody of her vocal approach.
The feeling she got from live performances resonated with Higgins, and she carried this into her involvement with theatre. Higgins, who studied theatre for three years, ended up with a full-time career in music.
“I always played music — it was always part of my life,” says Higgins. “The experience I got from doing theatre gives me the confidence I maybe didn’t have before as a musician.”
Because she is trained in theatre, Higgins appreciates the value of live performances, making them a large part of her life as a musician.
“The show is a whole component,” she says. “As soon as I walk on stage, something is going to happen between me and the audience. There is going to be an exchange of energy. I’m trying to engage the audience with not only my music, but with my personality as well and by telling stories. It is about reading the audience and reading the room.”
Interaction with the audience makes for a great live experience, but there’s more to it than just that, says Higgins.
“When television and film came, theatre was challenged by that and still is to this day,” Higgins explains. “But there is nothing like live theatre. Sure, there is fantastic film and television out there as well. But going and seeing actors in the moment is a completely different experience. And I think that is the same for music. When you go watch someone perform, it is a completely different experience than listening to it online or on a CD or even watching it on a YouTube clip — you’re only as good as your last show.”
Even though Higgins’s theatre background equipped her with a strong stage presence, she stresses that charisma is far from all that is needed to be a quality musician. For Higgins, the best advice she can give an aspiring musician is to focus on “keeping it in the moment, being true to oneself, believing in oneself and practice, practice, practice.”
“And when it comes to writing, write from your own experiences instead of trying to think about what is popular or what is going to sell,” says Higgins. “I think more interesting things come from writing from one’s own experiences.”
Higgins is determined to bring back the glory days of music, and will do it one city at a time. For her upcoming Calgary show she urges people to “come out, have fun and look good.”