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Conversations with the Inspiring Melissa Harding

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Harding.

Melissa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Northern California and started studying voice privately at nine years old. At 11, I joined a children’s theatre program that did Broadway-style shows, and I fell in love with that right away. Although I was never a perfect student, my parents (who were very academic!) knew I was passionate and creatively driven. I practiced for hours, and I loved it. I was training classically with my voice teacher Lucia and doing countless shows by the time I got into high school. Singing was a language that made a lot of sense to me. I’m lucky I had parents that encouraged me to continue pursuing it, even if I took an unconventional path.

I think when I was graduating, I wanted to see what else was out there for me creatively. I didn’t go to a 4-year college, but instead moved to Los Angeles and started exploring songwriting and did a lot of session singing. I think I was trying to understand the role music could play in my life outside of theatre. It was a really different world than being on stage singing in a musical, and I loved the personal creativity I found during that time. I went to Santa Monica College and performed in a lot of shows there, and put myself through a BA in Journalism in Mass Communication in an online program. I have never technically used my journalism degree, but I love writing, and I was very proud that I finished that process while working full time. It taught me a lot of things about my ability to multi-task.

During that degree, I was becoming a teacher myself. I started vocal directing and training singers privately very soon after moving south, and I found that explaining the technique and the fundamentals of singing came very naturally to me. Talking about singing kept all the ideas fresh in my mind, and it has been inspiring over the years building my business watching students grow, go off to college and start careers of their own. I always thought at some point if I was performing more, I would teach less. However, teaching has become such a huge part of my identity, and I think it will always be something I continue to do.

Now, in my early 30’s, I’ve been singing and teaching professionally for over a decade. I have students all over the country that I see online and in-person when possible. I’ve traveled the world as a backup singer touring with rock band Sixx:A.M. (as well as coaching lead singer James Michael), and I’ve recently started a Cabaret series in Los Angeles which debuted my first one-woman show. When in Denver, I’m the lead female vocalist of an active band called “Rockslide,” and on my own time, I am writing my first original musical. It’s a constant balance of projects, but that’s what keeps me inspired and moving forward.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has definitely not been an easy road! With that being said, I know each struggle taught me something valuable about life in my industry. Before I saw any real success, I learned being a performer professionally wouldn’t be easy. You have to want to fight for it. You need a thick skin and an understanding of how to keep your soul-inspired during challenging times.

An example from my own life: it had always been a dream of mine to perform on Broadway someday. When I got my first job in professional theater in a new musical debuting in LA, I learned very quickly that this business is unpredictable and everyone is replaceable: I was fired a few weeks into rehearsals. I was working with inspiring and talented people: an incredible cast and a fierce creative team. I worked hard, was prepared every day when I showed up, so it was devastating to lose that job so quickly after getting it.

That made me question my talent and my ability to keep going. However, I also learned valuable lessons about holding my head high, not allowing that experience to change the trajectory of what could happen next in my career. Life guided me in a different direction which led to my time in the music business on the road with Sixx:A.M. I made two albums with the band and had experiences that were once in a lifetime, and I’m thankful for it. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened had my life in the theater industry taken off in a different way. Just continue to work hard and show up, and never forget that you have to contribute to creating new options for yourself.

Here’s my advice to all young women starting out: don’t ever wait for permission to get out and do what you love, even if you have to create the opportunity yourself. It doesn’t matter what other people think! That’s the hardest part to figure out, in my experience. You will get shut down and rejected. Sometimes, you will feel unworthy and unwanted. Here’s my two cents: there is room for all types of artists and people. YOU DO YOU. Go find yourself, and express yourself in whatever way feels organic and honest, and go after what matters to you.

Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of. What sets you apart from others?
First and foremost, I am a singer and a vocal coach and stylist. I’m currently the lead female vocalist for Rockslide based out of Denver, so I’m in Denver performing often, and it’s been a blast. What a great city!

As a singer/songwriter, I have two EP’s of my own original songs on iTunes: “Best of Me” and “Set Me Apart.” When in LA, I’m actively collaborating with artists and writing regularly, as well as continuing my Cabaret series, “Sing For Your Soul Cabaret” – We have two more shows before the end of the year! That’s been an incredibly fun project to work on, and we are excited to bring in other great performers to collaborate and share their stories.

I’m also an active performer with “The Beverly Belles” who are based out of Denver and Los Angeles – that is always a big part of my holiday season. I love singing a cappella, and I love the style of the Belles (a throwback to the Andrews Sister’s.) Info for both The Beverly Belles and Rockslide can be found at www.give5productions.com

I specialize in vocal style, whether it comes to my own singing or working with students. From a teaching perspective, I want my singers to understand the organic movement of their own voice – how to control it naturally and find an authentic way of speaking through song. As a singer myself, that has been a big part of my journey: exploring style, and really learning to understand how singers do what they do, and what sets them apart.

If I’m known for anything, I would say it’s versatility. When I sing with “Rockslide,” it’s quite a variety of songs – And I love working with two other lead vocalists: I am alongside Hunter Hall and Myke Charles, and they are both such pro’s. The whole band is comprised of really wonderful musicians, and they are a joy to work with.

As a recording artist, I am working on some jazz arrangements right now with pianist Charlie Dolph, as well as writing some original music. I haven’t released new original songs in a while, but I think that part of my life and brain has been in transition and growing on a soul level. My songwriting feels different now in style, but ultimately, it’s my own voice crossing over those changes, expressing myself in different ways. I’m trying not to rush it, but to see where the wind takes me.

I think I’m most proud of remaining true to myself, and not falling victim to the idea that I need to be a specific way, a specific shape, or a specific look or type to succeed. After working with the band for a few years and coming home from tour, it was hard to figure out my next steps and keep myself moving forward. I think in some ways, performers are always having to reinvent themselves based on whatever job comes their way. That can be really difficult sometimes, and it can be hard to keep your momentum with so many starts and stops. I focus as much as I can on continuing to redefine my passion for singing as the years go on. I want my love for what I do to always remain fresh, even when there’s downtime. There is always more to discover.

As a teacher, I think what sets me apart is that I’m an active performer myself. I can talk to my students from my own experience, my own rejections, my own confusions about this business and how to navigate it. I never try to pressure them into following a style or a specific direction I think they should go. I think voice lessons should be about self-discovery and what feels organic in your own body and your own voice. We are all different, and we all come from different experiences. Singing is vulnerable, and it’s emotional. I love talking about that with my students from the perspective of being an active singer who is learning more about myself every day. We can share that together and find a way to communicate and learn.

I also do a weekly “Free Voice Lesson” on my Facebook account every Wednesday at 5 pm, PST. I go live and talk about a concept related to voice – all of these lessons get uploaded onto my YouTube account!

For good reason, society often focuses more on the problems rather than the opportunities that exist, because the problems need to be solved. However, we’d probably also benefit from looking for and recognizing the opportunities that women are better positioned to capitalize on. Have you discovered such opportunities?
I think we are absolutely in need of more women in high places. Women make fantastic leaders. We need women to have a voice in every aspect of our society in order for there to be a valuable perspective from all sides. How could we possibly be informed and educated with a lack of women’s perspective? We are a fundamental part of this planet and the function of it. We need the perspective of all cultures, all races, all sexualities, and I truly hope that we keep encouraging those voices to speak out and share their stories.

I am proud that in the entertainment industry, there are some incredibly strong and outspoken women that are moving the narrative forward in a very positive way, creating an environment that really encourages our stories to be told more and more. It was incredibly empowering to be on a heavy metal rock tour as a young woman on stage: that was a world in which there were very few others around. On every tour we participated in with other bands, we were the only two women on a majority of those stages. It made me realize that it was an important opportunity to share that experience in a positive way with other young ladies who might be watching.

I think women can do anything: period. And even if opportunities don’t feel readily available, we have to continue to fight for our place, and fight to show how able women are to take on challenges and crush them.

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Image Credit:

Gary Friedman, Sixx:A.M Band Photo: By Dustin Jack Live performance photo by Jennifer Pinksavage Headshot by Ellis Allen Other photos by friends!

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