Full name: Mia Verdoorn Shammas
Current title/company: Singer-songwriter and Radio Personality
Educational background: Summa Cum Laude BMus in Vocal Performance and Music Business/Management (Double Major), Berklee College of Music
Current city: Beirut, Lebanon
Establishing a career in music may often be met with great difficulty, more so outside your home country! Below, we speak to Berklee College of Music graduate, Mia Verdoorn Shammas – a South African born, Lebanon-based singer-songwriter and radio personality about the business of music, the importance of hard work and establishing herself as an artist…
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
Lead Singer of “the D2 Band” in Boston, MA. The manager of the band saw my performance at the Berklee College of Music Commencement concert where I sang with Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers amongst other notable alumni, and made contact via my website after the show to offer me the position.
The year 2008 was the year you attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in the USA. It is of course no easy feat to get acceptance into this Academy, yet you graduated with Distinction and were given recognition by making it onto the Dean’s list! Give us a glimpse into the relationship between talent and hard work – do you think one can survive without the other?
Definitely not. Music colleges such as Berklee and Juliard have an exceptionally high standard of expectation from their students, yet at the same time, they understand that most of their students are also working musicians at the same time. Therefore, you really got out what you put in. Cultivating relationships with fellow students and teachers/professors for your future network was just at important as pulling an “all-nighter” to finish a composition assignment or practicing for a Vocal final performance. Those fellow students and teachers would one day become your manager/agent/bandmate…
The Music industry is notoriously difficult to break into. Could you describe the business acumen and knowledge one needs to combine with their music talent?
The music industry has changed so much in the last 20 years, making it all the more difficult but at the same time super exciting! These days, you can’t only be a singer. You have to have more behind your name that sets you apart from the crowd, otherwise you are a “dime a dozen”. For an artist to make real money doing what they love today, you have to have as many live performances as possible. Selling tickets to shows and merchandise at the door is where we make the most money in today’s music world. Our recorded material (such as albums, singles, EP’s etc.) are considered our business cards that we give away for free, since it can be so easily downloaded illegally anyway. This is one of the most negative things about the industry today. Having said that though, 20 years ago, people didn’t have Soundcloud or Facebook or Twitter or any of those platforms to push their original music. They always had to be “discovered” by a huge record company. The internet has made musicians’ lives a lot easier and faster in that they don’t need the big muscle power behind them anymore, they can do a lot of it themselves.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about?
As cliché as this sounds, I went with my gut. People’s instincts are very undervalued and extremely underappreciated. In many ways, it also found me. I never said “no” to an opportunity, because they are all building blocks that lead to something else. I never accept a situation just for what it is, I always ask “What’s Next?” to keep the momentum going.
You have recently moved to Lebanon and landed the role of Radio Personality for local Lebanese radio station, Light FM. What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your transition from Musician to Radio Personality, particularly in a foreign country, and how were you able to overcome them?
The biggest obstacle was getting used to having a “radio persona”. Being a singer on stage with a live audience is what I trained to do. You learn to gauge the audience’s reaction to your music and singing, and are then able to alter your set list according to what the audience feels. Being on the radio however, is the complete opposite. You are alone in a glass box with a microphone, and have to sound entertaining and upbeat without knowing the effect it has on your audience. In many ways, you need a lot more self-confidence and trust in yourself to be a radio personality.
What is a typical work day like for you?
I’m very lucky to have quite a flexible schedule. Since my radio show is in the afternoons, I have the mornings free to work on admin, staying fit, writing music, having rehearsals, meetings, you name it.
Any aspirations to return to South Africa and establish your career at home?
Most definitely! If the opportunity arose, I would grab it with open arms!
What is most fulfilling about being a musician?
Not one day is the same. Not one show is similar to another. You never know what tomorrow will bring and your craft is mostly driven by emotion (song writing, performing etc.).
Advice for aspiring musicians?
Listen to your mothers when they tell you to practice piano! Learn as many things as you can. Never be content with the ordinary, always ask “What’s Next?”
Morning or night?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Sara Bareilles because she would be super inspiring and motivating. I’d probably be too nervous to eat and wouldn’t want to waste time so there can be more chatting
I wish I knew how to… learn a foreign language fluently in a week.
African women are… independent, strong, mind-numbingly stubborn but unwaveringly loving.
South Africa is… change, redemption, reconcilliation, freedom, acceptance… Home.
Worst money mistake… Impulsive and unneccesary shopping
Best investment… My education and love.
Motivation in 3 words… Get it done!