Artist of the Month: Rachel Norman
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Genre: I am a very proud pop artist! My version of pop falls most heavily within the pop/R&B realm. There’s so much room to define the genre within your own context, and create your own trends. I love the ability to incorporate all of my favorite influences, while still adding my own voice and message. Pop music is so extra, theatrical, and dramatic. There’s always a real story being told. And that story is larger than life.
Bio: RACHEL NORMAN: 24 year old, soulful pop vocalist and songwriter, Rachel Norman brings you on the world’s most harmonious house tour; introducing you to all of her favorite people and places she gets to call home, in her debut album and its cinematic title track, “Coming Home”. The NYFA City Artist Corps awardee is known for her powerhouse performances at New York’s most illustrious venues, such as Rockwood Music Hall and Arlene’s Grocery, in support of her debut EP, “Resist” which she released in 2019 to critical acclaim. She followed up in 2020 with a nostalgic summer bop titled “Fairway Drive” and has recently made her long awaited return to the stage at Queens of Pop w/ Rachel Norman at iconic Brooklyn venue House of Yes.
Norman caps off 2021 as the official composer and voice of Neiman Marcus’ national holiday campaign, immortalizing her musical prowess with a modern rendition of Frank Sinatra’s iconic “It Had To Be You”,alongside long time producer Mike Abiuso. Norman was entrusted with giving this classic hit record a contemporary spin; a natural feat as her style has been compared to the likes of Tori Kelly and Ariana Grande; pop hitmakers most notable for their ability to sonically blend the vintage gold with the new. When she’s not taking the pop world by storm, Norman is busy booking roles for the likes of Disney Plus and Nestle. Norman is proudly represented by Take 3 Talent Agency for her acting endeavors and managed by rising jack of all trades Destinee Aaliyah; founder of the dynamic entertainment firm Destinee Aaliyah Entertainment. Her debut album and sophomore release is set to premiere in the new year.
Year In Review:
Music releases are very exciting and they're very glamorous, but what is not represented is all of the quiet patient days leading up to the release. And that was really how my year was spent. A lot of foundational work for my music career, a lot of training on my skill sets so that I could be the best artist that I can be. And a lot of writing. I feel overall that there was significant personal growth. It was very reflective and helped reprioritize what was important. The fact that Coming Home isn’t even just a song, but an album, that is something I never thought I’d be able to say this soon. The title track is now available for streaming everywhere, and was premiered at House of Yes in Brooklyn for our “Queen of Pop w/ Rachel Norman” release concert. While writing and recording, I’ve also just finished working with Neiman Marcus! I had the amazing opportunity to compose and record an original cover of “It Had to Be You” for this year’s national holiday campaign! Look out for that on your favorite TV channels and all over the net this holiday season!
The business side of this industry is also one of my top priorities. I personally have a huge thanks to give to my number one business partner and manager, Destinee Aaliyah. We have grown so much together and I'm so grateful for the work we've been able to do. Working with her makes learning less glamorous things like sales tax kind of fun, expense report spreadsheets kind of exciting. When I first started out, I was like, well now I have to be a professional graphic designer, merch vendor, marketing executive, and the list goes on! I was like, this is crazy, I just like to sing! What I've learned is, instead of resenting the business, I have come to fully appreciate it and learn as much as I can. The more knowledge you have,
the more ownership and power you maintain. I am a businesswoman!
A little about your writing process? Where do you get inspiration from? Where do you start?
I’ll usually come up with the melody and lyrics first, so it's entirely a cappella. The voice is my number one instrument and I really write most of my songs from a vocal perspective. I also tend to get most of my ideas when I'm doing mundane tasks. For one of my latest releases, “Fairway Drive”, I wrote it while I was actually driving home from a doctor's appointment, passing through my hometown. I just started singing, and it was a very subconscious thing. The same thing happened with “Coming Home” too. A lot of my inspiration comes when I'm not trying to sit down and formally write a song. However, a lot of my work during lockdown was refining that skill and taking different approaches by writing on piano or with prompts. I’ll most commonly come into the studio with a demo that has very basic chords, lyrics, some harmonies and a general direction for tone/vibe. I work very closely with my producer, Mike Abiuso, who is my strongest collaborator and teammate. We’ll have long conversations about the context of the song and references it draws from, and then start to build the sonic world together. Mike’s ability to make what I’m hearing in my head come to life is so seamless. He almost acts as a music interpreter, in that he’ll start out by asking me what I hear for a specific part, in which I’ll either tap out the rhythm or sound out the instrument with my voice, and then he’ll go off and take it to soaring heights.
Artists You are inspired by? Who would be the dream to work with?
My most recent influences in the past year that I want to especially credit are Chloe x Halle. They are truly a legendary duo, and I'm such huge fans of them both. While growing up though, I worshipped all of the vocal legends that you could possibly think of. Every song was a vocal tutorial. From Christina Aguilera to Beyonce, Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streissand, to more recent artists like Demi Lovato and especially Ariana Grande. One of the first things that people tell me as soon as they hear my music is that they hear Ariana. However, when mentioning Ari, it’s important to credit that a lot of the songwriters and producers who make great contributions to her work, specifically Victoria Monet and Tayla Parx, also work with a lot of my other favorite artists, such as Chloe x Halle, JoJo, and others.
What do you want listeners to take away from your music? I want people to be able to dance and sing their hearts out, belt their faces off, but also feel something. My music confronts very personal experiences I’ve had, and navigates through a lot of conflict. Since I don’t want my shows to be a total drag, I always like to have a tonal balance that fills out the song’s perspective and provides nuance. The hardest bops always come from pain!!
What is your favorite release of the year? Oh my gosh, of THIS year...I feel like the past two years have been melded together. Honestly, between Lorde’s “Solar Power” and the title track off Billie Eilish’s “Happier than Ever”. Going back to an earlier question when you asked, what is pop music? These artists have really helped me break out of the mold of what I think music has to sound like to be popular. These albums tell you so much about them both, and really lead you through what they’re going through. Sonically, they’re so different from what both artists had been doing before, but it’s all still them. Sometimes it takes other people trying something new to really give yourself permission and be like, oh yeah, I'm just going to do whatever the fuck I want.
What's coming out next?
Well, I'm so excited because I got to secretly premiere it at my latest concert at House of Yes! My upcoming single for the New Year is called “Ready for Change”, and is all about reprioritizing and reinventing yourself.
I’m most excited though for you to hear my debut album, to be released soon after.
What are the challenges you face in the creative process?
Overcoming imposter syndrome always tends to ebb and flow throughout my career. I actively work to remind myself that I am enough. I also have to completely block out the branding and business side of things while writing. It's so easy to want to be signed to the coolest, dreamiest, most major label in the whole world, and write songs that I think will impress them. But that can really mess with my head and negatively impact the music. It always ends up coming out artificial sounding, and I have to ground myself and, like my manager says, just “write like my life depends on it”.
While working with Neiman Marcus, I learned a ton about how to make music for somebody else, let alone, a major company. I had never done that before, and it was very challenging but rewarding. Neiman usually works with a lot of young designers, but this was their first time working with a musician as well. I kind of learned in a way, how to translate similarly to how Mike does with me in the studio. We both learned a lot from the process, and I really valued the opportunity to sharpen that skill.
What is something unexpected that you learned during these projects?
I’ve really come to understand that right now, in my career, I have the most artistic freedom than I probably ever will have. It’s very rare for an artist to 100% decide on how they want to be represented. It's a blessing and a curse to “blow up” in this way, but I chose this path because wearing all the hats doesn’t feel like a job to me. It ensures unity and gets to honor the original vision, all the way down to the tiny details of how the set gets painted or what costumes people wear. Not even just for the sake of maintaining control, but assuring quality.
Quality work comes from a quality team of creatives. One of the most exciting things that I never anticipated getting to do, was hiring people. Casting from submissions of dancers and choreographers, selecting photographers and set designers, producers and videographers, we’ve definitely learned a ton about what to look for in a candidate. My team and I actively work to build a network of diverse creatives, and the truth is is that it takes a lot more time to find non straight, white cis male candidates. We want to bring people in early on in the process who will end up sticking around with us down the line, and take the extra time to find those who are in line with our mission driven work. We live by a fully inclusive definition of diversity that includes racial and gender diversity, diversity in sexual orientation, trans and non binary representation, and more. Being an independent artist grants the ability to really set the stage for what kind of community I’m going to build around this music for the long run, and that includes all of the integral collaborators on my team.