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Talking to the Angel Diva - An Interview by Jan Linder-Koda
Jan Linder-Koda talks candidly about songwriting, performing, and helping singers achieve and attain new levels of success
By Brian Forest
(more articles from this author)
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There are no more loyal fans than the singers and songwriters who work with Jan Linder-Koda for her artist development services. "We love Jan!" they will tell you. Each one of them has a story of how Jan helped them achieve a new level of creative success. They now write more and better songs, perform with more style and power, and approach the music business with renewed vigor.

So what is the story behind all this activity at Angel Diva studios? Are there secrets to the songwriting process? Are there hidden techniques to singing and performing? We went to speak with the head of Angel Diva Music herself to get all the answers.

What is your first recollection of music?

When I was four years old, my mother took me to a dance rehearsal. She told me to sit with the piano player. While she was getting changed, I convinced the piano player to play a song for me. I got up on stage and sang "one...two...three...four...glasses every day." It was a song about milk.

Was there a lot of music in your house?

My mom always played music. She loved Della Reese and Nat King Cole. We liked to play "name that tune" at the dinner table. There was always music in my life. My dad came out to California to make his fortune as a guitar player. He told me stories when I was very small about California. He passed away when I was three but I never forgot the tales of California and came out here when I was 27 and have been here ever since.

Did you study music?

I started studying when I was about six. My mother wanted to be sure that I loved it and made me take accordion for two years before she realized that I was the real deal. She and my stepfather bought me a small piano and I began to study. I went to a conservatory in Philadelphia called Settlement Music School. All day every Saturday I studied voice, theory, choir, piano, and sight singing.

What about recitals or roles in musicals?

There was an audition in the school for "South Pacific." I was not planning on auditioning. I was an office monitor and had to deliver a message to the music teacher. I went up to him and he barked at me "Sit down and wait your turn." The singers were all auditioning with the song "If I Loved You" from the musical "Carousel." I listened to the song being sung many times and then the teacher said, "It's your turn." I had not known the song when I walked in but I sang it and got the part. The school used every opportunity to showcase me the next few years.

Were you in bands? Where you in the choir?

I auditioned for the choir when I was 11 years of age. I was in a choir of all the best singers in the city of Philadelphia called The All Philadelphia Junior High School Choir and later The All Philadelphia Senior High School Choir for all of my years in the school system. I was also in the even more select group from those choirs that did musicals. The first one I starred in was Maurice Ravel's "L'enfant et les sortileges." I won the lead role. I was also in my high school choir and was a soloist singing at different churches every week.

What about stage performances?

The one that still amazes me is the contest that I won when I was 16. I got the opportunity to sing with the great Eugene Ormandy who was the conductor of the leading orchestra in the world, the Philadelphia Orchestra. I got to sing "Ave Maria" by my piano teacher, Burle Marx. There were 2000 contestants and I got the honor of singing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. This was the most acoustically perfect concert hall in all of America at the time. I dedicated the performance to my dad who had passed away. I also remember one night singing in this beautiful church. The second I sang my first note you could have heard a pin drop. That is one of those take my breath away moments.

What are some of your notable recording sessions?

I got to record for Andrew Lloyd Weber for the backgrounds of the musical "Starlight Express." There were only five of us chosen in the whole city that could sight read and put down five parts the first time. I also got to sing a part on top. If you went to the production at the Hilton in Las Vegas you got to hear my voice. I also got to produce one time with the renowned engineer Bruce Sweiden and David Hasselhoff. That was one of the heights of my career.

How do you approach songwriting? Do you emphasize the importance of melody or lyrics, and which comes first for you?

I love the song first. I love the idea of telling a story. It's a 3-minute story from start to finish. I find that writing is the best way to know myself. Writing comes from an inside deep place in my soul. I love to express the experiences I have had and the ones that I wish I had. Usually melody comes first for me. I can change on a dime. Melodies hold a special place for me. I have been singing millions of melodies since I was a child. They burst out of me. Then I like to write the chorus to have the centerpiece of the song. Then the story lyric comes next. Lyrics are an extension of poetry for me. I have studied with many great teachers like John Braheny and K.A. Parker. But I learn more from actual songwriting than anything.

Do you like songwriting collaboration?

LOVE writing with partners. It keeps the ideas fresh. The energy transference is amazing!

Who do you admire as a songwriter?

Joni Mitchell is my favorite songwriter of all time. She has so many honors. Her lyrics are the most beautiful and emotional of any songwriter. I love the many stages of her life that are so brilliantly laid out from the early seventies until now. I met her once and stood there and stared. I couldn't say a word. Sting is the next favorite. Sooo sexy. His voice and music are so emotionally rich.

What are some of your favorite songs?

My favorite song of Sting's is "Fragile" I bought the record (that was when there were records) and nearly wore it out. I love Joni Mitchell's album "Hejira." I listened to that album the entire trip from Philly to Florida and still love it today.

When did you start Angel Diva Music?

I came up with the name about four years ago. It describes me perfectly. I'm sweet but with a devilish side. I moved from BMI to SESAC and needed to come up with the name of a publishing company. That name really fits me.

What do you like about working with singers?

I love singers! I love the artist heart. I am drawn to singers who are not all about the drama. I don't like singers who think their shit doesn't stink or that my whole purpose in life is to serve them. There, I'm glad I have that off my chest. I relate to the singer's talent. I know how they think and what they are trying to do. I know the reason why singers are so important to the song. I do find that some singers are not emotionally connected to the song. That is the biggest challenge for a singer.

Can you talk about some of your vocal techniques?

Vocal technique is number one if a singer wants to be able to do all of the ideas in her head. I believe for the health of the voice, a singer must take care of the vocal cords. If a singer wants longevity, be smart and learn the exercises that will stretch your voice, and keep it strong and loose. I learned all classical exercises that I still use today and teach those to anyone who will listen. They are designed to give the singer and the producer a language that the singer will need forever. The position of the tone, the way to do a vibrato, the power to get the gospel belt is like a kiss to the singer.

Are you also involved with providing vocal therapy?

Yes. Vocal therapy is used to heal the singer after nodes have developed or if the singer has experienced over-stretching or over-usage. When the vocal cords are not vibrating correctly together and cleanly, we can do exercises to relax the cords.

How would you describe the Acting for Singers workshop?

That is a performance workshop. Singing is a physical experience. We video the performance, which is the best teacher anyone can have. After the first performance, we do acting exercises to create a three dimensional world for the singer. We work with acting techniques that help the singer to connect to their body and become the storyteller of the song.

Songs go through many stages: idea, writing, production. Can you take us through a song from start to finish?

Here's an example of one song. Lauren Wood, (writer of the song "Fallen" from the movie "Pretty Woman") brought a set of chords into a writing session with me and Heather Bradley. Lauren played the chords and we all came up with a melody. Then the three of us wrote the lyrics. Next it was on to the recording process.

Jan Linder-Koda, Scott G and Marty Rifkin
Your collaboration depends on the needs of the song?

Right, a song can happen in many ways. With Scott G, he brought some lyrics and a basic melody to our writing session. I figured out the chords. Arash Haile laid down the drums. Scott and I completed the lyrics and we recorded the track at Marty Rifkin's studio. I sang the vocals. But every song is so totally different. That's the fun of the whole thing.

What about placing the finished songs?

I have had a few placements of my songs. One is in the independent film called "The Blue Tooth Virgin." My song "Just What I Needed" is a catchy tune that I sang with Earl Buffington. Then there was the song "Damaged" that I wrote with Lucy Sustar which is the theme utilized on Ralph Lauren Polo website.

Finally, there are mentions of a charity on your site. What is your involvement with that? My son Gregory has autism. I wanted a platform to speak out about autism. I donate all the profits from my "Sophisticated Lullabies" album to autistic organizations.

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