Brooklyn is one of New York City’s fastest growing boroughs.
With over 2,600,000 people living in the borough, the City of Brooklyn has produced a diverse group of performing artists and musicians over the years. While luminaries Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Jimmy Fallon, Debbie Gibson, Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand have already made their mark on pop culture, rising singer-songwriter and Brooklyn transplant Janita (pronounced YA-nee-tuh) is hoping to follow in their successful footsteps.
2015 has been a great year for the Finnish singer-songwriter. Her studio album, Didn’t You, My Dear?, received praise from numerous publications such as AXS, The Deli Magazine, Marie Claire, PopMatters, The Telegraph (UK) and The Village Voice. Billboard Magazine also stated that “This woman’s got the goods. Stardom awaits!”
In addition to her countless performances, Janita volunteers her time for the #IRespectMusic campaign. Founded by her producer, Blake Morgan, #IRespectMusic hopes to provide artists with proper compensation when their music is played on the radio. So far, the campaign has received over 13,500 signatures and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Fair Play Fair Pay Act earlier this year.
In this edition of A Conversation, Janita opened up about how her musical influencers inspired her career and how she overcomes the challenges that many artists face in today’s music market.
Jacob Elyachar: How did you get interested in music?
Janita: Music has always been a part of my life. The first words that came out of my mouth were lyrics to an advertisement for Moulinex. (Laughs) My mind always gravitated toward melodies and music. The next thing I knew, I saw a piano and you could not take me off of it. I had my very first piano concert when I was 5. I started working professionally in the music industry when I was 10 and made my first record when I was 13. It is one of those stories, because I’ve been at it since I was a kid.
JE: Who are some of your musical influences? How did they play a role in shaping your career?
J: I have so many influences! The very first artist that I really connected to was when I was four-years-old: it was, surprisingly, Leonard Cohen. Michael Jackson was a humongous idol of mine when I was growing up. When I was 14, I discovered Meshell Ndegeocello. She has been a huge influence on me musically and I have followed her career for a very long time. When I am left to my own devices, I listen to artists that have some kind of gravitas and that scratch some kind of unnamable itch that is inside of me both emotionally and musically. It really does not matter what type of genre it is. I also gravitate to artists that not only have great music, but also what they represent and what they are about as human beings. There is something about them that inspires me.
JE: Earlier this year, you released your latest album: “Didn’t You, My Dear?” Could you share the recording process with my readers?
J: Your readers might be surprised by this, but there were only four musicians that worked on that entire album! (JE: Really?) The very small circle of musicians was comprised of my drummer, Jonathan Ellinghaus; my producer, Blake Morgan, myself and Andrea Longato, who served as the guitarist for “Clap Hands.” For Didn’t You, My Dear?, I wrote the majority of the songs on my guitar. I play the guitar in such a way that many of the production ideas are already in the musical part that I play. Blake Morgan and I took the time to really discover what was the right thing to do when it came to recording the material. Every part was composed and we made sure that the music was right for the individual song. We had to to be patient enough to listen for them. When you have the right part of a song, you can feel it in your gut and that is how I painstakingly made the album and how it became what it is.
JE: What are some of the challenges that you faced in the music industry? How did you overcome them?
J: One of the biggest challenges that artists face in today’s music industry is that artists are not paid for their work. It is a really hard obstacle to overcome. When artists used to sell records, we used to get money for our work. But, people do not buy records these days. A lot of our music is being streamed and they (the streaming services) do not pay us enough. That is a real obstacle for us. I’ve been working with a grassroots movement called I Respect Music, and I’m a very vocal supporter about this movement. We are fighting for artists to receive radio royalties in the United States. The USA is the only democratic country in the world where artists don’t get paid when their recordings are played on the radio. We’re trying to close this loophole. It is a really hard obstacle for any middle class artist to overcome. Not getting paid for our work makes it extremely hard to be able to sustain a career in music. That is the number one challenge that all middle class artists are facing right now.
JE: How did you get involved with the #IRespectMusic campaign?
J: I am originally from Finland, a country that pays artists royalties whenever their songs are on the radio. I was extremely unhappy when I found out that the United States joins Iran, North Korea and Rwanda on a very short list of countries that do not pay their artists! This is not a list that the United States should be on. It is a no brainer that we need to work on getting off this list and recognizing artists’ work. Last spring, The Fair Play Fair Pay Act was introduced by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to the House of Representatives, which is a great step forward for artists. However, there are many changes that need to happen in the music world. Radio royalties are one thing, but there are other areas of unfairness that artists are experiencing right now, too. We hope that the bill and the #IRespectMusic campaign raises people’s awareness about the challenges that musicians have to face in today’s music industry.
JE: Are there any artists or producers that you would love to collaborate with in the future?
J: I’d like to collaborate with Beck. I love his music and I think his production ideas are absolutely beautiful. He has a musical sensibility that really touches me and I think, in terms of the texture of our voices, it would not only be a cool combination, but also a fantastic collaboration.
JE: If you had the chance to meet with aspiring musicians who want a career in the music industry, what advice would you share with them?
J: With the music industry in the shape that it is right now, I would ask them: “Is this what you want to do?” (Laughs) Is there something else in your life that will keep you happy and fulfilled? If there is, then you should choose that path. Being a musician is (expletive) hard is what I am saying. As you are building your career as an artist, there are so many moments that you are questioning any (expletive) point whatsoever. But, if like me, it is what you have to do….and you are basically coming out of the womb singing, and music is what allows you to live a fulfilling life…then you have to go for it! As an artist, you get so much discouragement along the way, from so many naysayers that you cross paths with, and you’re handed so much criticism throughout your career…it’s hard! But, if this is the path you choose…you have to stay true to yourself and find out who you are as an artist! In the end, it is worth it!