By David DeRocco No one paid a cover charge to get in. But there, in a dimly lit nightclub, in front of a weathered velvet stage curtain and an even more-weathered crowd of Sunday afternoon lunch special types, stood an artist clearly paying her dues.
Standing tall in her brilliant red dress, flashing colour like a provocative matador demanding the attention of a disinterested bull, fiery red-headed Mel Monaco strapped on her guitar, confidently straddled up to the mic, focused her alluring green eyes on the half-empty club, and did what every aspiring young performer strives to do: win over the crowd by singing her heart out. Mixing in songs from her new CD “These Are Just Suggestions” with classics from Cash and Croce, Wonder and Winehouse, Mel skillfully guided her audience across a sweeping landscape of diverse musical influences that showcased the immense vocal versatility of her unique alto. Bouncing between originals and a well-chosen collection of fan favourites that even included some Beatles and Stones, Mel gave a performance meant for a bigger and more appreciative crowd, one that might truly understand the degree of talent on display at Monty’s Gastro Pub this particular afternoon. But like any budding artist revelling in the joyfulness that comes with performing their music live, Mel simply used the three hour session as another step along the long path to the successful musical career she’s working toward.
“I am definitely on the path to what I want to accomplish, as you say paying your dues,” said the 25-year-old Muskoka-born singer/songwriter who now calls Niagara home. “We love doing this. We love playing. I love playing. There’s nothing I like more. That’s why I’m so happy where I am in this stage in my life. Because 10 years from now, I don’t know that I would have the energy – because you really do have to chop up your heart and put it on the table to do this.”
There was a time when following her heart may have led Mel to a different but equally demanding and emotionally-draining career. After graduating university as a drama major with a teaching degree, Mel came to the critical crossroad faced by many artists staring directly into an uncertain future: should she choose the stable teaching job and ride out life with her summers off and her teacher’s pension funding her retirement plans, or take a chance on a very unstable but personally fulfilling career in music? Thankfully, she had a friend who helped put things into proper perspective.
“When I was living in the U.K., a friend and I were discussing just that, and she asked me what I would regret more: would I regret not teaching for five years, or would I regret not pursuing my musical career. And it kind of put it in black and white for me, because at the time I would have 100 percent regretted not pursuing music. Not to say I don’t love teaching, which is a beautiful profession. But for me, my heart and soul is invested in music, and always has been since I was a little girl.”
Along with investing her heart and soul, Mel has also had to commit to the bigger investments each artist must make to advance their career – things like long hours of practise, hard work, dedicating herself to writing and recording and arduous travelling to tiny clubs to play endless gigs in promotion of her music. Thankfully, that drive has been hard-wired into her DNA by virtue of being part of a supportive family of artists and performers, so she is fully aware of the Herculean effort it takes to make it in the today’s music industry. She also understands the wisdom of taking a business-like approach to her career.
“Like every other business, musicians they need drive,” explains Mel, who is touring this summer in support of her recently released “These Are Just Suggestions” CD. “They need direction. They don’t know how they’re going to get there and why they even want to go there. And at the end of the day, you want to be happy with the results that you’re getting. For me, I’m working with different people in terms of management and the different aspects of what they can help me with. It’s also about developing your business plan and where you want to go as an artist. At the end of the day, it’s your career, it’s your brand. You need to be a part of every decision.”
Developing her “brand” as a talented singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist has included recording her own original songs, most recently at Hamilton’s Catherine North Studio with sessions that produced her new seven-track release. The songs on “These Are Just Reflections” – with titles like “Single Again,” “From The Mistakes I’ve Made,” “The Truth” and “Soul Survivor” – paint a rich tapestry of emotion as seen through the eyes of a young woman on a journey of self-discovery. Delivered with angst and sultry emotion, it’s admittedly a very personal collection of songs according to Mel.
“It’s really about growing and learning and developing as a person; that’s why I called it “These Are Just Suggestions,” because a lot of the songs – which I realized after the fact were all lessons – are all my personal suggestions about the particular lessons I’ve learned along the way.”
For a young female singer-songwriter trying to make it in a space crowded with singer/songwriters, the real hard lessons, however, are still to be learned. With a summer schedule packed with tour dates that will see her performing either acoustically or with a full band in clubs from Niagara to Gravenhurst, Mel Monaco hopes to win legions of new fans with her soulful yet powerful voice and contemporary blues pop rock sound. It’s the short term pain for long term gain every young artist must endure along the way to stardom – which if Mel had her way, would look very much like the career of another multi-talented woman she admires.
“I love Lady Gaga. She’s an amazing singer, an amazing musician. She’s an amazing performance artist. She just lays it out on the line. And to me she’s an artist that has honed down on what they want to do and why they’re doing what they’re doing, just trying to bring their art to this world. She’s not a one-hit wonder. She’s the whole package. But again, that comes with a lot of hard work and discipline and a lot of support. I have all that, so it’s all one day at a time – putting your heart into it every day.”
For more information, tour dates and music, visit www.melmonaco.com. Or purchase her new CD via iTunes or Amazon at the links below.