Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Soviet Idol Not Allowed!

A lot of my friends have been asking me both jokingly and seriously over and over again: "Why aren't you on American Idol?" Well, I have never tried it on this side of the ocean, but I did audition for the original Pop Idol show in the UK a few years ago... Without even knowing what Pop Idol was all about!

In autumn of 2002, as an aspiring 17-year-old singer, I finally decided to make the big move to the UK and really focus on my music career. With nothing to my name but "a voice", I embarked on a journey that would take me to some of the most exciting, thrilling, even somewhat scary places...

On my way to Sheremetyevo International Airport of Moscow, I got an email from DJ Neil "Doctor" Fox, a dear friend, great champion, adviser (you name it!) suggesting that since I was going to be in London anyway, I should pop over to the final off camera audition for an upcoming ITV show called "Pop Idol" - a new television contest that was about to hit primetime TV in the UK for the first time.

I had no idea what the show was all about, so I called Chris Neil, someone I have immense admiration for and really looked up to from day one (he later became my executive producer.) "Just do it, you never know, you have nothing to lose!" he encouraged me during the long-distance call.

As soon as I got off the plane, I literally rushed over to the ITV studios with my dad and a family friend of ours. I barely made it in time for the last call of auditions - and had to talk my way through the security, as I was already too late by then.

It was nothing like what we see on television - completely off camera, intimate, equally stressful but still somewhat relaxed... We made sure that by the time I showed up at the audition, Foxy was no longer there, so it wouldn't look like a set up or a name-dropping contest.

And there they were: Nicki Chapman from 19 management, Pete Waterman, the producer of Kylie Minogue, among others, and THE Simon Cowell from BMG. I have to admit, at the time, nobody outside of the tight circle of the music business in the UK knew anything about Simon, so to me, he was a complete stranger!

The three potential contestants lined up, I was the last one... Two other girls were sent home within minutes... I got a bit scared, I thought: "That's it, bye-bye, Tinatin!"

By the time it was my turn, I stood center stage in the spotlight and started chatting to the judges, the most charming of whom was Simon, in all honesty. I sang "The Power of Love" and I was amazed when they didn't stop me even when I got through the second verse!

The most critical of the three was definitely Nicki - she said I looked somewhat tired, so in response, I started recounting my flight details, but Simon quickly cut us off: "Come on, Nicki! She has a great voice. You're really good. Tell me more about yourself..."

I must have spent at least half-hour, if not more, just talking about music, who I was planning to work with in London, etc. and Simon and I really clicked. The best part of it was that because at the time Pop Idol was still completely unknown as a project, and so was Simon Cowell to the general public, I didn't feel the need to "please" him or gain his approval - I could be myself and let the rest take care of itself.

It was unanimously decided that I would enter the final selection of contestants before the TV show kicked off (at the time, it was done mostly off camera) - but then Simon verified my citizenship... Oops! "You have to be British in order to qualify, I think, but let me check..." So they looked into the rules and regulations and the contract confirmed his hears - no Soviet idols (nor any other nationality) allowed, gotta be a Brit :-(

I was slightly disappointed, especially because I had no clue about the show and who would have known back then that it was going to take over primetime TV!

Instead of worrying about the legalities, Simon immediately suggested that I get Chris Neil, whom he had known for years and who was also about to become my producer, to contact him and arrange an A&R meeting independently (at BMG) outside of the Pop Idol framework.

Before we knew it, Pop Idol took off within a month and Simon Cowell became the biggest TV star in England, so when the meeting was moved once again to January of the following year, Chris and I laughed and politely thanked Simon's assistant.

Although, I have to admit, Simon was the most charming, warm, gracious gentleman, so every time I see the really nasty Simon on American Idol, it makes me smile... He was far from it when I met him, and to be honest, I don't for a second believe he's changed that much - but it's a great TV personality that surely achieves its goal for what it is.

Fond memories, though, I always smile when I remember my Idol experience... Didn't regret it for a second, but on second thought, I don't think I would have signed up for it now, even though it was fun and exciting at the time - and adventurous, too!

So, my dear friends, I did American Idol before it was American Idol - in fact, before it was even on air :-) All the more to tell the grandchildren!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

We the Youth of the United Nations

A United Nations Correspondent reporting for the world media sounds like a very impressive position - and it can be an exciting opportunity and also a great deal of fun to get to know the UN inside out, particularly if you end up becoming one of the "in house" correspondents based at the headquarters.

I was very fortunate, thanks to my fellow colleagues at the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) to represent the Russian media (and later one of the NY radio stations run by Gary Null called Progressive Radio Network) at the UN HQ from late 2006 onwards.

In all sincerity, I became SO immensely interested and engrossed in the day-to-day life of the UN Secretariat, I literally spent my mornings on the press floor and the briefing room, afternoons at the cafeteria and the various "chambers" of sorts (Security Council, General Assembly... Almost as impressive when seen in real life as they look on TV!) and my evenings at the delegate's lounge (an even more bureaucratic version of a rather conservative bar.)

Apart from getting to know the basic UN Secretariat activities and daily tasks, the best part of the experience (at least the first 6 months or so) was making new friends... No, not your average bureaucrats (although some are genuinely fascinating and very friendly people, albeit slightly too obsessed with the UN paperwork) but UN interns from every part of the world. We had an absolute blast and quickly became known by our first names and the newly acquired nicknames: "The Elephant", "Pussycat", "Grey Hair", "Lola", etc. In a way, the experience proved to be as entertaining as my college and Uni years... Honestly!

The first month or two were intense and we really tried to work as much as possible - noon briefings, reports, deadlines and nothing else - work, work, work. However, as we really got to know each other and became more familiar and relaxed among our little company of the "UN Youth", it was clear that with all due respect to representing the world media in the morning hours, afternoons and evenings were THE TIME for some UN fun - and did we have fun!!!

While I was still reporting for one of the Russian newspapers from the UN HQ, one of the correspondents asked if I was interested in interviewing a well-known Russian political analyst, journalist and the grand-daughter of Nikita Kruschev for one of the broadcast services... And that's how I met two of my dear girlfriends (we were soon labeled by everyone as "Charlie's Angels"!)

The broadcast "side" job was, of course, the least productive of all... 0 viewership, 0 $, but we had so much fun during those few weeks I foolishly spent hours "debating" with my girlfriends on air... CRAZY!

The daily noon briefing was our regular get-together spot first thing in the morning. The Spokesperson of the Secretary-General, Michele Montas, is one of the most charming ladies you will ever meet, so she was certainly amused watching us across the room from her platform... And we did ask the daily diplomatic questions, as well! After all, we had to report afterwards, so there was a degree of hard work involved, too, particularly on those late nights when I transcribed my lengthy interviews recorded directly onto my iPod.

In the afternoons, we used to gather around our international youth-oriented table for a 2-hour lunch break - diverse topics from latest UN news to current crushes and new ice cream flavors filled every conversation and kept us "busy" throughout the day... Until we had to split for a bit to concentrate on work in our separate offices and work areas.

After spending a couple of hours genuinely researching and writing up our articles, we'd gather at the delegate's lounge for an early round of drinks and a bit of political catch-up, discussing the UN social circle in the DL area.

Every now and then, we had too many pressing deadlines and simply had to sacrifice our bonding evenings for a bit of work and effort. It wasn't always hunky dory, of course, but we did manage to make the most of even the dullest of conferences and diplomatic gatherings.

My song "We the Peoples" was recorded around this time, so it was all the more exciting for us when we got together to celebrating the final approval of the music and lyrics by the head of the Department of Public Information... We even saluted each other every morning by shouting out "We the Peoplessss!!!"

When the internship period was over and most of our friends had to go back to their native countries, Facebook and MySpace became our primary medium for keeping in touch, but so far so good - can't complain! We have managed to stay in contact throughout and those who are still in NY get together quite often to remember those good old times at the United Nations.

I am, as you may know, still at the United Nations reporting for a US radio station on weekly basis, but it is no longer about having fun and a good laugh - it's now work, work, work - every Tuesday.

Definitely worth an internship for young people, no doubt, particularly if you are into diplomacy and what the United Nations stands for as an international body, and last but not least - if you're lucky and you happen to be there along with a whole group of fun and adventurous fellow interns, it really doesn't get much better than this!

Yet with all the crazy adventures and excitement put aside, it really is a great place to be and I love every minute of it. Nothing compares to walking into the building every Tuesday morning and feeling every bit as proud and privileged to be there as I felt the very first time I went to my DPI meeting about my song project - a song that wasn't even written at the time and was a mere idea up in the air... but more on that later!

What a shame that once-in-a-lifetime fun always comes to an end at some point... Why don't good things ever last long enough?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Face on My Bedroom Wall....

"He's the face on the bedroom wall / The CD on the bedspread / When he meets her he's gonna fall / He just doesn't know it yet..."

"Idol Eyes" by Tinatin/Arnie Roman/Russ DeSalvo

Every one of us has had a teenage crush on either a pop icon/rock star or a Hollywood heartthrob at some point. I was never a big fan of gorgeous movie stars, such as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc. and instead of falling in love with an image on the screen, I fell for a husky voice of Bryan Adams singing the end credits of "The Mirror Has Two Faces" with my absolute obsession of a lifetime - Barbra Streisand.

Having been brought up on classical music, I rarely listened to pop/rock, so when my school friends told me about Streisand's upcoming duet with Bryan Adams, I decided to check it out and asked my dad to drive me to one of the rare foreign music stores on the outskirts of Moscow to "hunt" for my copy! Living in Russia, we were hardly exposed to singles, let alone on-time album releases (let's not forget, this was before the "internet boom"), so getting my impatient hands on a hot copy of the soundtrack was out of the question. Instead, I decided to buy Adams' latest release - "18 til I die"... That was IT!

I've always had a habit of listening or watching something I'm instantly hooked on 24/7, so this 13-track album became an immediate "Tinatin obsession". When I brought a copy of "The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You" (doesn't Bryan Adams have the longest song titles? But it works!) to school the following Monday, my friends could NOT believe that Tina, the easy-listening girl had all of a sudden become a fan of a rock star. Little did they know I'd be going on and on about this rock star for the remainder of my high school years and would soon be labeled as "Mrs. Adams"...

As soon as I heard that Bryan Adams would be visiting Russia during his '97 European tour, I ran to my dad and begged him to take me. Could he ever say no? He never has - through thick and thin - he has always granted my most surreal wishes, that is, without spoiling me too much :-) (for those of you wondering who my dad is - no, he's not an oil mogul - he's an architect and a painter, so take it easy :-)

I can still remember queuing up in front of the Kremlin Palace, desperately waiting to finally see and hear my new favorite artist LIVE. I had never been the "fanatic" type, could care less about autographs and "let's take a picture together" nonsense, but I did buy a bouquet of flowers... Cheesy, but let's face it, I had just turned 13!

A few weeks prior to the concert, I had invented a new technique for "faking" duets on my sound system, and had recorded a few of them with Bryan Adams in my bedroom... Sounds indecent but it was perfectly innocent, albeit the piracy, but who knew at the time...! So I thought, "what have I got to lose if I take the tape with me? Who knows..."

It was my first rock show and I had an absolute blast! I even managed to get to the very front of the crowd (I've always been a persistent young lady) and had my moment with Keith Scott, Adams' guitarist and an ultimate heartthrob - sooo charming!!!

So, who got the bouquet of red roses? Keith! And the tape? Bryan's sound engineer!!! Poor guy, he must have thought I was a sweet little Russianette who had recorded an audio love letter to her idol!

Years went by and my love for the Canadian charmer became bigger and stronger - his billboards, rare B-sides, photographs, etc. filled my room and every new album was a celebration in itself for me and a difficult period of a few intense weeks of loud listening pleasure for my folks!

In November of 1999, while having lunch with my mom and her friends, I overheard on the radio that was turned way down about Bryan Adams' upcoming show at the Kremlin Palace, and I literally FLIPPED!!! I knew I had to go, and this time I wanted to sing with him - bold or what?!?!

Guess who I went with? I couldn't even imagine going back without my DAD! And I even asked him for an additional favor - could he please draw up a nice poster for me? Not your average "I 'heart' U" either!

In the middle of the gig at the HUGE Kremlin venue, I pulled out the billboard that read "I WANT TO SING WITH YOU" and instead of holding it up, I gently placed it across the stage right in front of BA's mic stand... He couldn't miss it, and he didn't! Throughout the show, he kept asking me why I wasn't singing along - but that wasn't what I wanted!!!

If you've ever been to one of his gigs, you'll know that in the middle of the set, he asks one of the girls from the audience to sing "When You're Gone" on stage with him. Not being keen on this song and having my own BA "repertoire" under my belt long before, I decided not to volunteer and wait for the next round instead.

So when the horrible, out of tune "Russian" rendition of the song was over, I literally climbed up on the stage (for those of you who don't know me, this is SO unlike me, it's ridiculous!) sat down comfortably on the edge and "started chatting with Bryan. I'll never forget Keith's face, he didn't know what was going on and kept smiling with a blank question mark across his face! The security guard ran up to me and tried to get me to come down, but I very calmly carried on "chatting away" with Bryan who kept repeating "But we're not doing any more songs tonight, we'll do it another time..." Now that I look back, I cannot believe how bold and persistent I really was at such a tender age.

I was SO upset, imagine being 15-16 and feeling so "rejected" :-) Throughout the remainder of the show, Keith kept smiling his reassuring grin and it made me feel somewhat better. By the end of the night, Bryan kneeled down, shook my hand and said "Good luck with your career." (I just remembered, one of the organizers of his show had given him my little demo prior to the show, if I'm not mistaken, otherwise how would he have known...)

I couldn't get over this for days on end and I refused to listen to Bryan Adams' music for... A few days :-)

Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and working with some of his most devoted collaborators and musical partners and I have to admit, every single time I'm working with one of his co-writers, I remind myself of those teenage years of madness and don't for a second regret all the love, commitment and youthful devotion I had invested into my admiration, infatuation, whatever you may want to call this... Isn't this one of the reasons why I do what I do and why I love it so much?

And then I wonder if nowadays young teenagers still experience the same level of utter love and depth of admiration for current artists? Back when I was growing up, we didn't have the luxury of double-clicking an icon on the computer screen and diving into our favorite artists' entire libraries of iTunes, digital photographs, You Tube videos, latest online gossip, etc. Instead, I had to walk across the city of Moscow in the freezing cold of Russian winter to get a copy of a hush-hush foreign imported magazine with a 2-page spread interview with one of my idols - and the entire process was sheer ecstasy in itself. On the one hand, it is wonderful and fascinating that we are so "connected" to the world as a whole through the online web, but on the other hand, I do miss and also cherish the adventure behind getting every record, every magazine cover, every concert ticket... Nothing can replace the thrill - it only made my love and passion for music even deeper, stronger and all the more exciting!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We the Peoples EPK shoot - en bref

Unbelievable... I just woke up on the couch at 1.45 a.m. in front of the TV like a middle aged housewife and a mother of five!

Had a rather adventurous day filming the Talk Market video EPK for "We the Peoples", my UN song. I'm not allowed the report the venue where we shot the video (intriguing, but really - it was hush-hush!) but it was nice, cozy and very classy :-)

In-between singing a straight cappella, lip-syncing to the track and answering the questions of the interviewer, we also had a good laugh and even sang one of the top Russian cartoon songs from Crocodile Gena after it was all done, done... Hilarious!

I really loved singing for the cameras - we had two of them, instead of one, so it was double the fun! The most amusing part of the process was wiring myself with the mic through my complicated attire - and couldn't ask for any help, obviously, so it was somewhat DIY in that respect.

Didn't want it to end at all, kept asking for "another take', the crew must have thought I was a little on the crazy side, but they were so friendly and so warm.

Looking forward to more... And can't wait to see the final edit of the footage, should be interesting! I will, of course, post the video on myspace as soon as I get a copy, it shouldn't take too long.

I wish I could write more, but I have a long songwriting session tomorrow and it's gone well past 2 a.m. Although, having said that, I am a bit of an owl and usually don't go to sleep till early in the morning. But not this time.... Just really wanted to share a tad bit of today's experience - loved it, loved it, loved it.

"We the Peoples" !!!! My UN gang would have had a blast this afternoon.... I have to admit, those days at the UN with my intern friends were so much fun, I just wish I could write about it one day... Maybe I will.... But we might get arrested for having had too much fun while a lot of the bureaucrats were trying to get some work done :-)

So.... "WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.........."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Russkiy Amerikanskiy or Brighton Beach Foreva!

A day spent on the train to and from Brooklyn left quite an impression on me this afternoon. In search of “khinkali” (Georgian dumplings - well worth the schlep!) I also managed to dive into a Russian-American world yet again for several hours…

Every time I visit Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, I am constantly amazed by how un-American, let alone non-NYC it really feels being in the area.

Many years ago, Brighton Beach was dubbed “Little Odessa” by the locals, since many of its residents had come from Odessa, Ukraine. Largely populated by a huge community of Jewish immigrants who left the Former USSR 1970’s onwards, the locals are probably more culturally similar to Russians and Ukrainians than to the earlier Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn.

You will hardly ever hear an English-speaker in the street, and most of the stores and restaurants (if not all of them) are strictly Russian-oriented. I remember a couple of years ago I accidentally bumped into an elderly lady on Brighton and apologized to her in English (we are in America, after all, or are we not?) - she looked at me like I had just landed from Mars and told me to go get a life (in Russian, of course.)

Easter being one of the main Georgian family-gathering celebrations back in the former Soviet Union, I desperately tried to get real “red” Easter eggs this year and called one of the Georgian restaurants in Brooklyn, hoping I could get my dozen eggs for take out. Indeed, they did have the authentic Easter eggs, but because I asked the first question in English and not Georgian upon calling the restaurant, the owner immediately told me off and threatened that because of my non-Georgian attitude, he’d never sell me anything, including the Easter eggs! I took it as a joke initially, but as it later turned out, he meant it with all his heart and patriotic soul!

Although, there are times when I feel so nostalgic, it’s actually quite nice to be able to drop by, purchase a few Russian books and perhaps even some russkiy CDs and DVDs for “some good times”, accompanied by delicious snacks from one of the local stores - can’t go wrong with the food in the area, that’s for sure!

But to live there…. I don’t know. It seems pointless moving all the way to the US and A from USSR to create a local Russian Republic of Brighton Beach in New York. As a dear friend and a writer/journalist I have immense respect for, Ian Williams, once put it: “If you immigrate the country, you need to keep your language yet acquire the skill and knowledge of the culture in a country that you have moved to, yet you do have to maintain your own roots, as well.”

There is a healthy balance of course, but the question is: where does patriotism end and assimilation begin?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A voice on the radio

In a strange way, everything started when I was lying in bed one night with a mild brain concussion and listening to one of the Russian commercial radio stations - something I had never really done before. Madonna's "Frozen" had just premiered on a show called "Live from the West" hosted by Yegor Shishkovsky from the UK. I was fascinated by the show, the unusual format (not many stations back home were so up to date about foreign music and news live from the West in the late 90's) and its charming host who spoke the classiest Russian I had heard in years!

And so the 14-year-old girl with her earphones plugged into her ears in the middle of the night waiting for Shishkovsky's weekly program became a fan. I think I even emailed him one day, but of course, he never replied! Too many fans, too little time, I thought.

However, one day I heard that he was coming to his native Moscow and hosting a quick meet & greet for his fans at one of the primary expo centers near to my home in the city. Having the coolest father in the world, the moment I asked him if we could go, he didn't hesitate for a second. Why was I bothering? I have no idea! I'd never been a "fanatic" of any kind, I could care less about autographs and signed pictures no matter how much I love someone for their work. Even my mother raised an eyebrow when she saw us standing in the doorway at 9.30am on our way to meet the radio DJ. "You're both crazy," she mumbled and gave us a quick wave.

The amount of fans at the venue was quite overwhelming, I barely got to the front of the line, but was disappointed when all I got in return was a generic "hi, what's your name? Tina. OK, he's my photo with an autograph! Thanks for coming. Bye." Abrupt or what, I thought... I wasn't giving up so easily - no, not me!

So I approached Yegor once again and gave him a demo mini disc with two song: "Quand On N'A Que l"Amour" and "My Heart Will Go On" (oh come on, it was a HUGE hit at the time and I was only 14!!!) - he smirked and probably considered throwing it into the bin the moment I turned away, but as a result he hesitated...thankfully!

The next morning, I got a quick email from an unknown sender: "Tina, I heard your disc, call me asap. Yegor"

(I forgot to include my phone number!)

I will never forget that feeling of utter excitement, pride and anxiousness I experienced while I dialed the number... It was one of those moments when you know it's the start of something new, something you've been waiting for as long as you can remember yourself!

The rest is history... Yegor became my first manager, a dear friend and someone I still love to bits and have a great deal of respect for. He not only helped me to launch my career from the very early days but also inspired my journalistic endeavors in press and radio. A childish infatuation became a lifelong friendship and the beginning of my musical journey. I got an email from Yegor this afternoon, in fact, and he wrote "I am so proud of you"... I knew he meant it from the heart.

One of the most important encounters in my life? Definitely! In fact, thanks to my 2-week long concussion that left me stranded in bed next to my dad's FM radio, I was not only exposed to a great program and its host who became a very key figure in the very beginning of my career, but also got totally hooked on the medium itself - my current part-time radio job!

I have no idea how we got from the first paragraph of this piece to this very last one, but this is certainly one of those stories that I keep getting back to time and time again whenever I try to determine the starting point of a journey that has now become my life - not just a musical adventure but a path I have chosen to walk through thick and thin. The final destination will be truly blissful, I am sure, but the process - the journey itself is such a great adventure in itself, you can't replace that - no way!

My Soviet Correspondence

It was a cold winter’s day in Moscow in 1999. I still remember being wrapped up in a warm pullover with a cup of cocoa on my desk, as I surfed the internet on my brand new computer that my dad had just brought to me as a Christmas present.

I started searching the web very actively, looking at various “White Pages” for musicians, both well-known and completely unknown ones.

Some of those names rang a few bells here and there but one particular listing caught my eye almost instantly. I will let you, my readers, figure out who the legend was, but he is an amazing musician - truly. I was convinced that it was either a typo or perhaps a different musician with the same name…

As I kept on staring at the listing, I remembered my childhood when my father used to play X's records at home back to back. It was at the time when foreign music, especially Jazz was forbidden in the Soviet countries, and buying a Jazz record was close to committing a serious crime.

One day Dad showed me a newspaper article in one of the soviet papers when I was a little girl: “A certain well-known Georgian architect/painter is buying numerous Jazz records throughout the Soviet Union as well as high-end sound equipment (i.e. expensive speakers, valve amplifiers, etc.) - beware of the gentleman and anyone else who is hugely involved in promoting American music in the USSR, which, we believe, corrupts our nation as a whole - they are DANGEROUS." It was about my father, a rare music lover.

Carried away by those memories, I accidentally double-clicked the link on the webpage and ended up sending an empty email to "him". But thinking (and secretly hoping) that he would ignore the blank note from an unknown address, I decided not to worry about it too much; there was no way he would even consider replying to a completely unknown .ru email address, clearly located somewhere in distant Russia.

I somehow managed to quickly get over the accident and carried on surfing the internet for hours on end…

The accident seemed so passé by the end of the day, but something was prompting me deep inside to check my email “just in case.” I couldn't sleep, it was almost 2 am and let's not forget - I had to be up within a few hours to make it in time for an early lesson at school the following morning.

Yet, that gut feeling, or intuition, coming from nowhere eventually took over and I quietly got up on my tiptoes and walked over to my new electronic friend to check the incoming mail.

To my amazement, there was one unread message in my mailbox – a quick note from "X" in response to my “blank letter”. He politely apologized for his “low-tech” email and asked me to kindly resend the letter once more as he could not decode the characters the first time. Needless to say, I could hardly believe my eyes...

I was so excited and ecstatic: wearing nothing but my dad’s XL-size bathrobe and slippers, I immediately ran over to my parents, who, meanwhile, were enjoying some late night tea with my uncle and aunt in the kitchen.

Obviously they were furious to find their daughter so wide awake at first, but when I told them in great detail about the online accident, my dad, especially, was completely thrilled that his daughter had gotten through to one of his all-time favorite musicians, someone he’d admired for such a long time and regarded as a real out-of-this-world genius all of his life.

Clearly, going to sleep straight away so that I could more or less get up at 7 am as usual was well out of question by then – I absolutely HAD to reply to X's note - it was now or never.

Immediately after writing a full-blown letter, I anxiously awaited his response every day but nothing came through for what seemed like forever...

After weeks of waiting for the letter from X, I had almost given up my fantasy about hearing from him again, when to my great surprise, the great musician DID write back to his young fan.

I still remember how warmly and enthusiastically he congratulated me on "all the impressive accomplishments at such an early age" and also pointed out that my family sounded so extremely supportive, which can be such a vital point (I definitely agree!) X told me about his life at the moment and how he had slowed down in recent years but still continued to make music on regular basis. To my astonishment, X also asked me to send my music straight to his home address that he willingly provides in the same email. I could NOT believe it!

As soon as I got the email and read it to my folks, a quick concern crossed my mind... (And being a worrier by nature, it wasn't surprising at all!!!)

“What if he’s expecting something more from my singing than it really is and gets disappointed when he hears the cassette? He doesn’t know that I didn’t make any of these recordings in a professional studio – and that’s something he must be so used to by now…”

Nevertheless, I immediately puts a package together for X – five of the songs that I had recorded on my sound system along with several pictures taken with Mom and Dad.

In my hand-written letter, which I quietly drafted during a school class, I thanked him for taking the time to write to me and also for giving me the opportunity to send my tape directly to my musical inspiration. I think I even apologized for the quality of the demo tape and told X about the songs that I had recorded on my sound system, a couple of which had been his projects originally!!!

The next day my dad sent the parcel to the US via DHL (quite a rarity at the time!) and from then on, I started checking my mail every single evening after school (do you remember dial-up and not being able to "connect" some of the time??? Nightmare!), hoping and praying that one of these days I'd get a letter from him once more – and this time with his opinion about MY singing…

Several more weeks went and the long-awaited letter finally reached the Soviet destination - I anxiously opened the email. I was blown away, and in fact, I have kept that letter to this date... He described his young fan as “extremely musical with a wonderful voice and ‘great ears’ to be able to sing exactly along with the original singers”. As for the pictures, “my wife, and I loved your photos… very stylish! And your parents look terrific, you must be so proud of them! Maybe someday we will all be able to meet in person. But in the meantime, keep singing!!” I was speechless!!!

To my great joy and pride, we actively start to communicate via email on regular basis and engaged into a series of dialogues about music, art and the different lives in ex-Soviet Union and modern America. It was so fascinating and so unlike anything else I had ever encountered!

I actually had the guts to send my songs to this great legend on regular basis for his advice and guidance, always getting his feedback in return, thus developing a musical and also a human bond with this great man without us ever meeting each other face to face - even to this very day, almost 10 years later, we still haven't met.

Bearing in mind that all of this happened at the time when the internet was a brand new communication tool and spam, myspace, chatting were not yet known to the mass audience, it really was a very special discovery and a connection that I still value and cherish so close to my heart. Every time his new album hits the stores, I literally run to get my hands on a copy - not a digital one but an actual "tangible" CD... Can't beat a physical CD with liner notes, credits, etc. if you're a real fan - that's impossible!!!

It's so amazing when those you truly admire and look up to don't disappoint nor demystify your perception of their personality behind the great talent - I strongly believe that true talent isn't always accompanied by huge egos and other unpleasanteries.

Oh, and by the way, I wonder if any of you have guessed who this great man is? He is among my friends on myspace.... Quite a drag to try and figure it out, I am sure!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm Thinking of Someone Else...

I am completely over the moon - "Thinking of Someone Else" is 2 in the online Dance/Club charts on Our Stage! It is all the more exciting because a real club mix of the song is being crafted in Canada at the moment by Dr. Octavo ( who has remixed everyone who's anyone in today's pop world, including Beyonce, Britney, Janet Jackson, Usher, Justin Timberlake, etc. Needless to say, I am literally counting the days to hear the remix!

I have never been big on club music, but recently I started getting into the more "chilled out" remixes with an atmospheric edge. Who would have thought - I am the least "club-oriented" person you will ever meet! When most of my friends were out clubbing in Moscow (quite an exciting scene over there if you are into that sort of thing), I was fiddling with my Sony recorder "fabricating" homemade duets with Streisand, Bryan Adams, etc. and capturing my utter moments of naïve plagiarism on tape, while my parents were entertaining guests next door. It was my way of having the time of my life, never for a second lamenting all those disco nights I had missed out on.

Very early on, I had a very definite game plan for myself - singing was always at the very heart of it, never replaced by any sort of Plan B. I was blessed to have the perfect parents for this uneasy task: my number one fans and the most dedicated supporters to date, they never failed to go out of their way to facilitate the making of a dream. It wasn't going to be easy, although I have to admit, in the beginning it actually was unusually smooth!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Songwriting on a rainy day

What a miserable, grey day today. I spent the day at Billy Stein's working on our new song - we tried to come up with some lyrics but nothing seemed good enough for the melody that we had previously written (such a cool hook!) So ultimately, we decided to finish the song on a different day altogether, but I will have another crack at it over the weekend.

Writing is a much more "inspirational" process than I thought before - it's not easy to come up with something if it's not "there" at that particular moment. Some songs can take an absolute forever ("Innocence" took almost 8 months, on and off - honestly!) whereas, others write themselves so naturally, such as "Connected", my very first attempt at songwriting. It was inspired by Kate Bush's "Mutual Understanding" - I first heard the song whilst wondering around Holland Park in London, and had an odd "cyber" idea for a song but couldn't figure out exactly how to make it work. Peter Adams and Jane Ryall came up with a great hook (we initially called it "You and Me" but later decided to switch over to "Connected".)

I still remember desperately wanting to give songwriting a well-deserved shot, but couldn't find the right partner right away. The most obvious names popped into mind (they shall remain nameless here!) but the ego factor was certainly an issue - "has she ever written before?", "could I be bothered to experiment with her?", "I'd rather just writer her a song myself!" But Pete and Jane agreed to give it a try right away! It really turned out to be a musical match made in heaven - we very rarely come up with something that doesn't immediately fit me like a glove. Although, we've had our strange moments, such as our "Dracula" lyric idea for "I Pray"...! Chris Neil came to the studio to have a listen to our new idea and he said, "It's a great commercial hook, why are you making it so obscure with that horror theme?" We then decided to have a good think about the song and what we really wanted to say.... Et voila the final take!

It's a quiet Friday night here tonight: it's so wet outside (not particularly cold) you barely want to be out and about. Should really try and work on my monthly Billboard Russia column, but can't get myself to feel too inspired. Would rather have an unusually calm evening...for a change!

Next week should be fun: shooting a promotional video for "We the Peoples", UN radio show (haven't even started scripting it!) and also my producer, Chris Neil is in town most of the week so we'll try and do some writing in-between the meetings.

Just praying for the weather to get better and feel more inspired!

Billy, forgive me, I will be more "active" next time :-)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Welcome to Tinatin's New Blog.....

One's dream of making it in the entertainment industry has become a cliché over the years, and in many respects, it has gradually started to lose its "mystery" factor and has become so much more accessible through the internet and reality TV. People are more likely to respond with a certain degree of cynicism or at least skepticism when you tell them that you really are doing this for the love of music and not for the shine and glitter of fame and fortune.

Perhaps somewhat to my disadvantage, I was born and raised far from where it all happens and where, as the guidebook of industry states "dreams come true" - the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (country, not the state!) There was very little, if any, showbiz action back in the USSR in the 80's, but having had the luck of growing up in a very artistic family (my dad is an architect and a painter and my mother is a classical pianist), I was exposed to music and painting very early on. Eventually, my love for painting and drawing was conquered over by my passion for music.

When foreign music was forbidden in the Soviet Union, my father always managed to get hold of the very latest hit records from abroad and I was introduced to the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross - you name it! - from day one.

The day I saw the making of "We Are the World: USA for Africa", I must have been 2 years old or so, I was instantly hooked on it and my parents knew that was it - nurturing my love for music was worth a shot, they thought.

Years later, when I started traveling around the world and working with the people whose names and records I could only admire on the back covers of some of my most favorite artists' albums, I finally found myself amidst that very crowd of musicians I had only heard and read about back home.

We often admire big stars and their fame and fortune, but rarely stop to think how much effort, hard work and rejection they must have gone through to get to this stage. I think those in the industry often ignore the fact that people really must and in fact do want to know the creative process of making those dreams come true - the journey from A to B. It is far from 1, 2, 3 and you're a star. Luck being one of the strongest components, I often wonder why talent has become so much less of a winning factor...

When I started taking my very first steps in the music business, I was surprised to find out that my love for making music had to be often substituted with a certain degree of the knowledge of "ins and outs" of the showbiz and how it all works. Recording music and performing it in front of an audience is in many ways the moment of payoff. Selling the music and going with the flow of the bureaucratic "behind the scenes" process is the tougher nut to crack, but it's pointless complaining about it - there is a degree of creativity and fun in some of that, too!

I often hear people complain about the ever-changing music business, and yes, perhaps it is not what it used to be (and probably never will be), but we can't ignore the evolution period and have to try and make it work for us. People will never stop craving for music - demand for new music will always be there, I strongly believe in this, but the tough part is trying to make it in this evolving business of music.

The digital world is an exciting one, but at times I lament the gradually disappearing "old-school" way of the traditional format. I remember buying records and opening the sealed the package on the go, desperate to flip through the album sleeve and read the songwriting/production credits, the long "thank you's", etc. Getting my favorite artist's new CD was a sheer thrill in itself, yet nowadays, with a click of a button, you can get just about anything on the internet. Convenient - of course it is - but the adrenaline is not the same, or is it?

The one thing that hasn't changed - and probably never will, at least for those craving to create - is the excitement you experience while writing new material and seeing something new and fresh unfold right in front of you from literally NOTHING. Leaving the studio with a great new song under your belt that nobody else has heard outside of the control room - it's such a joy! That's one of those moments when you know it's so worth doing what you do. And when you share that offspring with your audience and they actually respond to it, all the politics and business issues become so meaningless and so much more trivial than the end result.

Reading generic press releases and recounting biographical facts has its advantages, of course, but sometimes we just want to read a personal journal of building one's career at an undoubtedly interesting time in the world of music and the digital revolution. So, to make a long story short, this is one artist's account of the journey - first hand, in real time... You've read the bio, so I can't surprise you with a straight-forward "I was born in 1984 in Tbilisi, Georgia" - you can read all of that on myspace, but instead, here's a more personal side of the story so far.....

Stick around, see how it all unfolds, ask questions of you've got specific ones, and let's just have some fun... Freedom of speech is a wonderful phenomenon - not something I'm too used to coming from Russia...with love!