Odette Albani has decided to restart her music career after having two children. She says being a mother has given her the courage to face the highs and lows of a notoriously difficult industry.
Odette Albani is not your typical pop singer. In a music business which is very much biased towards youth, she is a 30-something mother of two. But this is not her first experience in the music business and she has come back to it wiser and more able to deal with its sometimes vertiginous ups and depressive downs.
Odette grew up in Italy and the US and starting writing poems at age 8. She also played piano and was a soprano soloist in the choir at her international Catholic school in Italy. Her Italian high school was not much focused on the arts, but she continued with her burgeoning passion, writing music from the age of 14. “For me it was an escape from reality,” she says. “When you are a teenager you feel all sorts of insecurities. I had a little electric piano in my room and every evening I wrote music.”
At the age of 16, she joined a Pink Floyd tribute band. She was the youngest member and the only girl. “They were all older and good musicians. They took me on because I could write and sing and I could pronounce the English well,” she says.
She finished high school and was recruited over the summer for a girl band as keyboard player and co-singer. “It was a totally different experience,” she says. The group had a manager and played across Italy. It was the early 1990s, just before the Spice Girls, and the band were perhaps ahead of their time, particularly in the smaller towns. “The audience were sometimes quite macho with people just looking up our skirts. We wore mini-skirts and leather and some of the towns were very austere, with the typical woman knitting in the doorway. We were like five strange animals,” says Odette.
One of the group’s songs about whether women as prostitutes or Madonnas was censored. “We had a certain image as a bad girl band,” she says.
Nevertheless, the group were offered a record deal both by EMI and by an Italian broadcast company. They opted for the broadcast company as they thought they would get better promotion, but nothing happened. Odette thinks, looking back, that the reason was the company did not have the money to spend on the kind of big launch they would have needed.
Their contract was for five years, but the group’s management company took Odette to the US as a solo artist. Once again, her hopes were raised. She was told she had really great potential, that she was “a blank cheque”, that she was about to become a big star. All of this was filtered through her manager and she had no real say in anything. Again nothing happened. “I felt I was not in control and got very depressed,” she says. “I got scared. When what you are selling is you it is hard not to take rejection personally. I put away my keyboard and didn’t want to hear music.”
She headed for Columbia Business School and did an MBA. “If I was just a musician that would have been all I would have done, but I was always pretty good academically,” she says, “so I had a choice.” After Business School, she moved to London and got a job at a management consultancy, before moving to MTV where she rose to Head of Business Development and Strategy and eventually to Vice President.
She said it was “a very satisfying career”, but it was also frustrating. She could be fun and creative in a business sense, but she was so close to what she was really passionate about. She spent her weekends in a private music studio recording her songs, just for her. She still lacked confidence to send any demos off. “I did not want to admit to myself that I wanted to go back into the business,” she says. She was also worried about disrupting the status quo and giving up a job she was good at only to fall flat on her face again.
Then six years ago she went on maternity leave and had her daughter. She was sure at the time she would just take six months off and be back, but she started to question what she really wanted to do. “If I was going to spend time away from my daughter, I wanted to be following my passion,” she says. “I made the decision not to go back.”
She was lucky, she says, because the family were not dependent on her salary right away and her husband was very supportive and believed in her. “I felt stronger after having a child and that if it didn’t work out I could take it,” she states. “Plus I didn’t want to be looking back on my deathbed thinking I had not given it another try.”
At first she thought she should be a songwriter for others because she was too old to perform. “There’s a lot of ageism in the music industry,” she says. But enough people encouraged her and a former member of the Pink Floyd tribute band who was a music producer said he would produce her for free. “People really seemed to believe in me,” she says. This gave her the courage to start arranging her songs in early 2008. Over the summer she recorded and by February 2009 her album was ready.
She is not as naïve, she says, as before, but she has had a hard time finding someone to manage her because she wanted someone who could be complementary as she already knew a lot about the music business.
She will be showcasing the new album in a big music festival at Cannes in January with session musicians who have played with Annie Lennox.
She says her songs are mainly about relationship issues. She doesn’t think they have changed that much since her early songs, although they are more sophisticated. “Most are pretty sad,” she says. “I tend to write when I am sad.” Some are influenced by her feelings as a mother and she says her life experience is richer so that she is more able to understand things like the value of friendship than in the past.
She thinks it is interesting that music is the one arts industry that doesn’t value mature emotions. It tends to write anyone over 30 off as has-beens who have nothing much to say, although the opposite is in fact the case. “It’s all about fame now,” she says, adding: “How can we have someone like the Beatles or Annie Lennox now who reinvent themselves constantly? People are only given one album to make it and they are not allowed to make mistakes or evolve. Music is really becoming a fast food industry.”
Odette’s working week varies tremendously according to whether she is recording or writing. Her daughter goes to school on the school bus, but she takes her out after school at least once a week to do something special with her. She spends more time in the morning with her son and has paid help while she is working. When she is recording she does 14-hour days in the studio, but she has tried not to do all the recording in one block.
She also tries to schedule meetings and other events within school hours as much as possible. She says she spends all her free time with the children and they love music and think her career is fun. “It’s a balancing thing,” she says. “I think I’ve got the right balance.”