Jen Porter FAQ

If you are a fan and curious about Jen's life as a professional musician, how she started out, or why she sings those dirty songs, read on. These are the most common questions Jen is asked by reviewers and fans.
All Biography material written by Angie Gallop

How long have you been playing and singing?

My first memories of music are with my Mom, going to Girl Scout camp. She was a Girl Scout leader and would bring her guitar. We'd do songs like “The Rose Song,” which is sung in a round. My Mom would start it and I would start second. Or, she'd teach me harmonies and I would just sing. Girl Scout songs are at the root of my musical experience so that is why it was so incredible for me to perform with my Mom in front of 200,000+ people at the Washington D.C. Mall for the Girl Scouts' 95 th anniversary. It felt like I was coming full circle to have this chance as an adult to impress upon young girls and women how fun it is to sing, how important it is to have music, and how interacting with music can be such an incredible experience. That is an experience I'm so lucky to have had and will never forget. (To read more about this event, see Jen's blog, the June 2002 and June 2007 entries).

After the campfire singing, I started piano lessons when I was five years old. Of course, I hated it for years but my parents insisted I stick with it. I'm happy they did because once I started to play things that were recognizable, I came to enjoy it. When I went to college, my Mom gave me her 1959 Gibson guitar and taught me four chords: it was the Peter, Paul & Mary version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” From there, I taught myself and I'm now at the point where I write on guitar a lot because I can take it with me backpacking, hiking on the beach, or wherever.

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Are you making a living as a musician?

Yes, I'm proud to say that I quit my day-job in 2003 and now make more money than I did back then. I work a lot harder, but it's work that I love.

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What is a typical day-in your-life like?

For me, morning is about noon. I usually don't get to bed until 4 a.m. because I work at a couple of clubs in Chicago that are late-night clubs. I've definitely had to adjust my sleep schedule to do this job.

When I wake up, I make my tea. I love loose-bag herbal teas. Then I sit at the computer and deal with e-mails and make sure I know what is supposed to be happening that day. I always have to be doing some promotion work or I might be booking time for a recording project. In the late afternoon, I work out and eat lunch. My job is very physical so I try to take time to pay attention to my health and body. Often I try to work on songs or do something creative before going off to a gig at night and playing anywhere from 8 to 11 p.m. or midnight to 3:30 a.m. I often play five or six nights a week. Lately, I've been spending the winter months in the Caribbean, a great place to be when it is cold and people aren't going out as much in Chicago! I definitely have a tight schedule, but it's good work. Performing all the time hones my ability and keeps my game up.

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How do you handle that schedule? Is there any hope of balance in a musician's life?

I get to enjoy parts of the day that other people don't. For instance between 3 and 5 p.m., I can be outside working on the garden or out on the back deck enjoying the sunshine and reading a book for a few hours. Just a couple of weeks ago, I went out hiking for seven days by myself. Sometimes that is the best thing, to step out of everything and process what is going on in life. That's often where I'm able to write songs. I work a lot, but I enjoy it and I get a lot of fulfillment from connecting with fans. I feel lucky to have been given the gifts I have, on the other hand, I know that I have to work very hard to ensure I can continue to share them.

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Do you have a life-partner? What about being a musician and having a relationship?

This is definitely a theme on my album Closer to the Surface. I have some songs inspired by relationship bust-ups. I've definitely found, being a professional musician, that it is difficult to have a relationship. I'm married to my music to some degree. I laugh and joke that I gave up my social life for my social job, but it's true in that some of my personal relationships have suffered. Anyway, I'm starting to come back around to wanting to put those first in my life. It's important for me to have a rich personal life, so I'm working at making relationships a priority in my life alongside the music.

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What day jobs did you have before you became a musician?

I started out as an administrative assistant for a health care company. This experienced has helped me in my own business because I learned a lot about keeping track of expenses and booking travel. I also worked as a marketing coordinator for a machine tool company where I created brochures and wrote taglines. That experience prepared me to market myself as a musician. I didn't necessarily appreciate it when I was working those jobs, but they helped me develop some skills that have been important for me running my own business as a musician.

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What is the most difficult part about being a musician?

When you are starting out, you have to sell yourself and there is something very strange about that. It's hard to convince people of your humility when you are shouting your name in their face all the time. It's a real juxtaposition. Thank goodness I had parents who instilled strength and confidence in me and I'm lucky enough to be an outgoing person, so that has helped. It's nice, now, being a little farther in my career that I have a publicist and people who are booking me so they can be the ones to say, “Oh she's great and here are the reviews.” When I say it myself, it sounds egotistical and I hate to come off that way. So, the difficulty is in projecting the humility I truly feel on top of trying to continue to get more exposure for my music.

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What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Practice a lot, play as much as you can, and be prepared to be rejected over and over and over again. It's a constant in this industry and it can be very daunting. It's important to not let things like a bad review or a lukewarm audience hurt you.

I live in a big city where there are a lot of people who want to be musicians, but a lot of them want to get the free ride, to get somebody to put up all the money, the energy and the support work while they create. This industry is changing quickly and more and more musicians are people like me, independent and not backed by a major label. If you want to be a rock star, you've got to know that you will have to work hard and do a lot of stuff for yourself for a while. Then the right people will come along.

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How did you manage to record your albums while making a living?

I didn't spend much money on my first album, I spent about $4,000 on my second album and now I've spent about $20,000 on my fourth album. I can do that because I have solid gigs as an entertainer playing other people's work and getting paid for it. Gigs like Dueling Pianos and the Sopranos Piano Bar make me the money I need to turn around and make my next album. I wouldn't do these gigs if they weren't fun for me, but there is that other side of it where I play “Piano Man” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” every night of the week. This is what I now consider to be my “day job.” I know a lot of original artists here in the city who won't do that. So they have other kinds of jobs. But, I've always wanted my job to be music so when I entertain, I try to infuse those songs with some of my own personality; and when people enjoy them, I can feed off their energy.

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Your Dueling Pianos and Sopranos Bar shows can be pretty raunchy. You're a preacher's daughter and you were a Girl Scout. How do you feel about this? What is your philosophy on raunch?

Raunch is a part of life. Kind of like a fart in church, you can't really help it. It's embarrassing to some folks, but it gets people — it wakes them up and engages them.

I didn't start incorporating raunch into my show until I started doing Dueling Pianos. The concept with Dueling Pianos is we don't just take requests; we have skits and comedic bits with each other and the audience. They aren't scripted, but we have these dirty songs and tidbits we pass around and share with each other.

And, there are degrees of dirty; there's subtle dirty, then there's hinting at dirty, then there's full on disgusting. I've become pretty good at reading my audience to determine what they can handle. I love to see people who are maybe just a little uncomfortable with it, but who let me push their boundaries a little. And really, in the end, it's about taking the power away from those things.

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You are great at handling a crowd. What is your secret?

I run the room. That is what we say all the time as entertainers. I'm comfortable taking charge and taking responsibility for the material I present and the journey we are going to take together. I'm the engineer on the train, but it's your party, so direct me. I let people run the show, but I'm reading the room and taking responsibility for the material. I know I can't please everybody all of the time, but I'm sure going to try because that's my job as an entertainer. When everybody is on board and the energy is flowing, that's when we have a strong show.

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What happens if the energy isn't flowing during a show?

You fake it ‘til you make it. Sometimes I don't feel like being entertaining but the funny thing is, when you smile, even fakely, you are smiling. So even when I have to play music and I don't feel like it, I generally tend to feel better at the end of a set. That process of playing is cathartic for me. Even if the crowd doesn't have a high energy level, I'm pleased to say I can go out into the crowd and people still say nice things. So I'm constantly reminded that just because people aren't clapping and dancing doesn't mean they aren't enjoying the music.

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You made a Christmas CD and give away all the proceeds to charity. What inspired you to do this?

I'm a preacher's daughter so I certainly had that ingrained in me to some degree. We would always go around and do Christmas baskets for the church and often, that would fall on my birthday, Dec. 21.

So, as a musician, I've cut a simple Christmas CD of six songs I recorded in my home studio to sell for charity and have given money to the American Red Cross www.redcross.org and BeHIV www.behiv .org (Better Existence for People with HIV). I've also raised money for the Green Star Movement www.greenstarmovement.org , which initiates mural projects in inner-city schools. And, I've done a couple of fundraising shows to raise money for the food bank in a small Canadian town called Thessalon, where my father now preaches.

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What about the future? Where do you see yourself in five years?

I feel I'm already successful at this point because I get to do what I love for a living. I get to make enough money to put some away and help other people as well. I'm able to manage my time so I can take off and go hiking and I get to work in the Caribbean. I feel like I've really busted my butt to get to this point, so I'd like to enjoy it for a while. And, I always want to make new music, to further my own artistry and get better at it.

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All Biography material written by Angie Gallop

 

   

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