Candace Neal kickstarts a music career
By Katie Scarvey
When Candace Neal graduated from Catawba College in 2008 with a theatre degree, she was dead set on becoming a working actor.
And why not? During her years at Catawba, Candace appeared in — actually, stood out in — plenty of productions, including “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” “The Exonerated,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Trojan Women.”
You might also remember that Candace won herself an audition for the Broadway show “Rent” by being voted among the top three contestants in a popular online YouTube competition.
And now, her savvy about the potential to get herself out there via the Internet, including social networking sites, has led to the production of a CD, funded entirely by friends, family and even complete strangers.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight.
After graduation, Candace was “wide-eyed and penniless,”as she puts it, and dreaming of traveling the world with various theatre troupes, “covering the entire spectrum of black boxes and amphitheaters and auditoriums.”
After all, that’s what her friends were doing. It’s what her years at Catawba had prepared her for.
“It seemed right,” she said.
And in keeping with the plan, for the past three years she’s maintained a steady theatrical career, supplementing an actor’s meager paychecks with jobs like barista, freelance graphic designer, restaurant hostess, children’s theatre teaching artist, choreographer and a Disney “Merchantainer” — which is, in fact, Candace says, what the Walt Disney World folks call their merchandise employees.
At some point, the lure of continued auditioning with “one hundred tiny blondes in spiky stilettos” began to wane for Candace (who is, by the way, six feet tall).
It was then that something Candace did for fun — “uploading silly little videos to YouTube” — got her considering a different path.
“I suddenly realized, ‘Hey I could give this music thing a go,’” she said.
For years, she’d been noodling around on the piano, writing melodies with no clear goal of what would become of them beyond entertaining her legion of FaceBook friends.
Candace creates her videos with a tiny webcam attached to her Apple laptop, recording with “ a crappy little USB-powered microphone that I stole from my 15-year-old sister’s bedroom, “ she admits. She creates most of her percussion with forks and wooden spoons.
She does her own unique versions of songs like “Play that Funky Music” (yes, really) and Aerosmith’s “Pink.”
But she also writes her own songs, which convey her own unique worldview about love, mostly, in all its permutations.
She didn’t hold out a lot of hope for people being interested in what a 20-something had to say about love. Surely, she wondered, people have had enough of silly love songs?
Maybe not. Candace kept getting enthusiastic feedback. People loved her songs, loved her voice.
And that included a musician friend she had in Florida who told her if she was ever to find herself in Orlando, he’d love to record her music, free of charge.
She didn’t really envision moving to Orlando. As she notes, “it’s hot, sticky and “covered in tourists with Mickey Mouse ears on their heads.”
Still, two of her best friends had recently moved there to perform at Disney World and its magical counterpart — The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. Plus, they needed a roommate.
After getting some advice and support from her parents — who as artists themselves, understood their daughter’s need to make her creative mark — she packed up her Honda Element and headed south.
The first few months weren’t so much fun. Candace didn’t really know anyone, and handing out menus at Macaroni Grill wasn’t exactly her idea of a dream job.
One she started recording her album, however, everything changed.
“Suddenly, people wanted to know what this project was that I was working on. Friends would hear work-in-progress demos of songs and tell their friends, who would tell their friends, who would tell their friends.”
She was heartened and inspired by the duo called “Pomplamoose,” who found fame through YouTube alone and who were featured on Sears commercials over the holidays.
Candace’s friend Jameson Boyce, a keyboardist and band member of Walt Disney World’s own rock band “Mulch, Sweat and Shears,” recorded her album in a “fancy shmancy recording studio in his own home,” Candace says.
Jameson suggested that Candace try the website Kickstarter.com to raise money to make the album.
The site is used to fund arts projects through donations.
“You set a financial goal and a time period in which you hope to reach that goal,” Candace explains. “You then ask for donations and promise rewards for certain levels of donations (like a copy of the finished CD, for example). Only after you reach your goal do any of the donators actually have to pay. “
Candace set a goal of $1,000 in three weeks. Amazingly, it took only six hours for her to hit four figures— a testament to an already strong fan base.
At the end of the three-week period, she had nearly $3,500 committed by family, friends and fans.
With that money, she was able to have 1,000 copies of her album professionally manufactured by Discmakers.com, in addition to 300 posters, 100 buttons, 250 postcards, as well as media distribution to iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon. She was even able to purchase her first full-size electric piano without investing a dime of her own money.
“I recommend Kickstarter to any artist on any scale,” Candace says. “Whether you need a few bucks for a paint project or a few thousand bucks to make an independent film, with the right tools and a ton of trust and dedication, you can do whatever you want.”
And the end result, called “Music from a Can” is impressive — the furthest thing from amateurish.
The songs reflect the artist herself, of course. They’re quirky. Bubbly. Witty. Soulful. Entirely original.
Take the song “Stupid Boys,” for example, which is bound to strike a chord with any girl who’s ever been driven to distraction by a boy.
“Stupid, stupid boys are the reason that I cry
Stupid stupid boys keepin’ me up at night….
They’ll take you to the movies
They’ll give you cooties….”
But while boys can be the grape jelly to her peanut butter, Candace explores a slightly darker theme in ‘Bitter,” an anthem of unrequited love addressed to the one who has caused pain. “I’m busy,” she sings — being alone and bitter, that is.
With Candace, it’s not just about solid, original songwriting. The girl can sing. Her voice is strong and rich, controlled enough to weave a dreamlike and wistful song like “Unrequited” but big enough to belt out musical theatre.
And really, who knows what she’ll end up doing? Although music has taken on a bigger role in her life, she hasn’t given up acting.
She’s been working at the Winter Park Playhouse, which she describes as “a brilliant little professional theatre” in Winter Park, Fla.
She’s in “Shout! The Mod Musical,” a 60s revue about five girls in swinging London. Last fall she did “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and will be in the upcoming production of “Sugar Babies.”
This past winter, she performed in Universal Studio’s production of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” which is a 30- minute version of the Jim Carey movie.
“It was a very cool experience,” she says, waxing particularly enthusiastic about getting her makeup done each morning in a REAL makeup trailer. Still, she doesn’t miss the hour it took to have a prosthetic nose applied.
Although fame may be knocking, fortune hasn’t darkened the door just yet.
She remembers going to complimentary breakfasts in hotels she wasn’t actually staying in because she couldn’t afford food between paychecks.
“They say you have to hit rock bottom before you can make your way up,” she says. “Financially, that’s exactly where I was.”
She’s making it by pinching pennies, doing her own publicity, shopping at Goodwill and checking the Orlando Craigslist “free” page daily.
It’s a condition she mines musically in “Poor,” a song struggling artists everywhere will relate to.
“Whatcha gonna do when you ain’t got no funds
And suddenly you are living on hot dog buns?”
Somewhat reminiscent of the quirky style of Barenaked Ladies, “Poor” is like many of Candace’s songs —likely to wear a groove in your brain.
She’s happy with where she is now. In just a year, she’s not only made her first album but says she’s found the love of her life. No more “stupid boys.”
She’s not getting rich from her music but she is making money that helps alleviate the struggles of an independent artist in a tough economy. She performs when she can.
She’s happier than she’s ever been, she says, because she’s doing what she loves.
Candace offers some resources she’s used that she believes help other aspiring indie artists.
For more information about Candace — and to hear “Music from a Can” — go to candaceneal.com.