Interview: Jeanette Berry

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

This new song is actually a rendition of a jazz standard. While I didn’t write it, the arranging of a song to make it feel new and fresh is so much fun and what brought me into the jazz idiom to begin with. It feels like freedom. This particular arrangement was inspired by my wanting people to dance and groove through a message that may not always be comfortable: an amicable breakup, even though lyrically I seem fairly okay, I know it’s difficult so I wanted to bring some energy and movement to that moment, because I believe it to be sincere that they wish them love in the end, no matter what.

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

Oh, it always starts with love. Love of things, of people, love of self, love for freedom and justice, but always love. I like to explore my world, allow whatever is going to come through me to do so, and take the time to craft the message the way I would uniquely express it. I sometimes take moments to write; sometimes it just comes to me, sometimes it interrupts, sometimes it doesn’t come, sometimes it flows easily, and other times it’s stopped up. I’ve learned that it’s about the song, not me, so I go for the ride with grace and gratitude!

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

I don’t know if commercial appeal matters to me that much. I believe the good thing about the internet is that good music will find the people it’s for. I make music I want to hear and make it as best as I can at the moment, spread it, and hope the folks who will love it find it and love it, and those who weren’t looking for it may be touched, too.

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?
I find it most challenging that the industry only changes in good ways for the money players and not for the musicians and music workers making the money. I find it challenging to want more notoriety for who I am, but understand that the games the music industry plays go against most of what I believe in.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

Working in a band and with other artists is one of my most favorite things. As I said about songwriting, it’s about the song. When you find folks who love the work and not just themselves, you, in my opinion, are inviting in and welcoming magic in the room. There are times that I am intimidated by the folks that I work with, then I remember that I’m in this room working with them and belong here, and simply get to work! It’s fun, and challenging, but so deeply rewarding once you hear it back, in the case of the studio, and once the audience signals the end of the song with their applause. It’s a beautiful thing.

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

Social media and technology are brilliant tools to connect to your people. I don’t always do the best job of connecting, and the way my life has been set up, I’ve been focused elsewhere, but hoping to reach back out and whoever still rocks with me, I’m going to do my best to meet them where they’re at and bring them as much of me as I can give! Bandcamp has a great interface for keeping in touch with your fans and spreading the word, and I like that the most. IG and Threads are great, too.

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

Absolutely. I come from a musical household, so jazz, r&b, funk, blues, musical theater, MPB, bossa nova. Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, Ivan Lins, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Ms. Lauryn Hill are all huge influences of mine.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

Bandcamp and IG are my preferred platforms. I also have a website where folks can find news, music, lyrics, and other information. I need to build a more dedicated community for my music, and I look to engage more deeply now than ever.

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting impact on you and your music?

I was on a bill for women in music and it was a packed house. At the end of the set, I had the audience singing the chorus of two of my songs, and it was the first time that happened to me. I only saw it with other, more mainstream artists. That made me feel so good that something I wrote touched them enough to sing along. Really beautiful moment that sticks with me.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

I am also a teacher and talk about this with my students a lot. It’s something we are going to have to deal with, but not necessarily change how we do everything. Engagement is important, and sometimes we can change how we engage. Maybe we can use these algorithms to our advantage to be seen, but I don’t think we change the core of how we play, what we play, and for how long. The musician should have influence over how their music is consumed, and when used synergistically and not just spitefully, I think that’s where we find the sweet spot.