t’s time for another Grantee Highlight! Our Grantee Highlight series is our monthly initiative to get to know our current Individual Arts Partnership and Jade Presents Arts Partnership grantees. This month’s featured grantee is musician Jake Ingamar!
Jake Ingamar is a 26 year-old indie artist and singer-songwriter from Fargo, ND. He got his initial start in the scene by playing in local jam bands and accompanying local artists playing pedal steel guitar when he was in his late teens. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to open for Parker Millsap, Sawyer Fredericks, Dead Horses, and soon will be opening for the sold out Band of Horses show come this July.
Jake received a $2,500 Jade Presents Arts Partnership grant toward costs to record new songs for his first studio album.
Enjoy our Q&A with the musician below!
Beyond other other singer/songwriters (insert your genre – for example, other painters, other singer/songwriters, other poets), what sources inspire your work?
Life experiences. I used to (and still do from time to time but less and less now) write music that didn’t really have any superior meaning or message. I just wanted to write songs with as many chords or hooks I could come up with, with little focus on the actual message. Thankfully (you could say, from a songwriter’s standpoint), a lot of terrible stuff happened to a dear friend of mine in the last year and it really has seeped into my songwriting lately. It had such an impact on me that it’s been difficult to write about anything else sometimes. When you know someone who’s had the worst of luck in their life, you want stand up for the truth and what’s right and express it in some kind of way.
I wrote a song called “Learn From The Girls” a few years ago, which I wrote before everything happened with my friend. It’s essentially a pop song but I wrote it in an attempt as a women’s empowerment song against abuse. That’s something I strongly aim to stand up for in my songwriting.
What is your daily creative work schedule?
My creative routine keeps changing and adapting, which doesn’t sound great. But normally I try to get whatever words are in my head as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, and as fast as possible. I may pick up the guitar and write something too. But usually it’s just random thoughts and words because I can’t sing at all in the morning. Getting creative immediately in the morning helps warm myself up to write better ideas later in the day. Or work on those early morning ideas. But normally, I have to write a bunch of generic ideas first quickly so I can amp myself up for writing better and (hopefully) useable material to my standards (ha).
Recently I’ve been retreating to my dad’s half converted 1963 greyhound bus as my writing office. It’s got a writing table, a drum set and pedal steel guitar (so I can easily record over my demos), a couch to sleep on, a fridge and a coffee maker! Oh, and an air conditioner, thankfully. It really helps me focus when I’m there. Otherwise my writing desk is in my bedroom and it can get extremely difficult to focus when I’m there. Probably because it’s the same place that I sleep…
How do you approach the beginning of a project?
I go into new projects with full focus, visualize what my exact goal is, and plan out how I am going to achieve it. The main enemy is my inner perfectionism, however. I often struggle with looking at things more objectively, so I don’t get too attached or “too close” to it. I’ve been trying to make sure I ask the close friends and family around me for advice or just to hear their perspective on it. The ones that really understand and believe in what I am doing.
What is your greatest fear/challenge when facing a new project?
Not living up to my own expectations. Another form of my own inner perfectionist, I suppose. Also the fear that my work won’t matter much or won’t be received well by my audience. I get picky about editing especially when it comes to lyrics and I want it to be the best I can get it. I’ve worked so hard on getting my lyrics right that I completely lose sight of the entire song. I can slave on the lyrics for so long and get them so they sound detailed and make the most sense as possible. But then when I sing it with the actual melody and music, it can sound extremely forced and it just sounds contrived. I’ve learned now to not be so over the top with my self criticism when it comes to the editing process. I’ve learned especially recently to be more reasonable with myself.
I have learned the hard way through all of this. I sometimes think I have wasted so much time by working so hard on a song that in the end I can’t even finish it anymore because I get so wildly burnt out. Especially now to be going into a project this important like recording brand new songs for my first studio album. I just have to remember to not put so much pressure on myself and remember to have some serious fun with it all. So that’s exactly what I am telling myself to do now!
What do you do when you get stuck?
If it’s short term…take a good break and find something else to do like read or step outside. If it’s a song or a mix that I have spent days or weeks on trying to perfect and can’t get it right…then I put it away and don’t listen to it for a couple days, weeks or sometimes months. Even sometimes a whole year or two (!). All of these scenarios have happened and when I have revisited an old song or idea after a period of time and I usually hear it differently and find the missing element to that song. Almost every song I have written and performed regularly has evolved and changed drastically in some kind of way. It rarely will be the same as when I first mustered up that initial fragment of the song idea.
How does having a community of artists benefit your work?
I actually do my best to try keep up with a lot of the talent in this area. There are so many great musicians and artists and there are some that just truly blow me away around here. I’ve met so many great friends who are in the local scene and it’s almost kind of like a family. I go to a lot of open mics and I will see a lot of the regular musicians that attend them. They are very inspiring to play with and learn from and it really motivates me to keep writing songs and to keep getting better by just watching and hearing them perform. But also even just from their positive support alone. Most are just so nice and generous. I can’t say enough about the great folks that have influenced me in the area.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field?
Listen and be open to as much music as possible. Feed your mind with great songs, so you develop your own uniquely good taste in songs and music. Being a songwriter also has a lot to do with a sense of good taste (not to say that I actually do have good taste but just to believe that the music you like is literally THE music and you’d stand your ground on that). If you want to be a great songwriter, research and listen to all of the greatest songwriters that ever lived (The Beatles, Bob Dylan etc.) and branch out and add your own unique flavor from there. Read as many songwriting books as you can to learn the tools and gain wisdom to what makes a great song so magical.
I own around a dozen books on songwriting, not counting the many other one I have on my Kindle app (currently reading the recently released book “Song Journey” by Mark Cawley and it is the best one I’ve actually read on songwriting so far). And once you get some songs written, record them and start playing them at open mics. I’ve learned also recently that playing a brand new “work in progress” song can really help understand it and pinpoint what needs work and what doesn’t. If there’s a part that doesn’t feel right when you’re performing it, that’s probably a sign you should fix it.
If you had a chance to do it all over again, how would you do things differently?
Finish all of the half written songs I had written from high school through college. I would pick up an idea and then think it’s trash and leave it half written. Then to go back now and listen to those ideas, they’re actually not even nearly as bad as I thought at the time. I wouldn’t ever do 500 takes on a vocal track when actually every take would sound literally the exact same. And nothing actually beat the first or second vocal take I did in the first place, because it was the most raw, honest and I wasn’t even trying! Even if my vocal was slightly out of tune, it can still work given the context of the performance if you really mean it. Man, I’ve nearly lost my mind a few times in the past!
What is the one question you have never been asked regarding your creative process?
“How many bad ideas do you need to write until you actually find a good one?” I have to write a lot of bad/average songs until I finally can come up with something unique — at least to my ears. I need some sort of unique melody especially, some kind of hook. I can write the best lyrics I’ve ever written but if I can’t get a stand out melody for it, the lyrics are almost worthless to me until I can get that melody to fit them.
There are many great songwriters who write powerful lyrics but I notice that many completely miss incorporating any kind of hook in their song and that’ll bother me. I want to be able to sing along or walk away having something stuck in my head and me wanting to listen to it again. That’s why artists like The Beatles, The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson), and Elliott Smith are some of my all-time biggest influences. All masterful melody writers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate great lyrics at all either. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are also equally as influential, but little do people really acknowledge that they wrote timeless melodies to their perfect poetry as well!
What was the most discouraging feedback you ever got?
“Keep practicing.” Ha! Got this from a few years ago. It didn’t really discourage me too much but it was a super nice way of saying “you’re not quite there.”
What was the most encouraging feedback you ever got?
“Your music helped heal me.” A friendly dude at Dempsey’s said this to me after he saw me perform a few weeks back. I wish I could remember everything he said because I was just completely taken aback by it, but he said some incredibly nice things to me and that was the feedback that really stood out. I don’t think there’s much better feedback than that to me because it really gives a sense of purpose when I sometimes struggle with self doubt.
What would you be if you couldn’t be an artist?
Sound engineer and producer. I am also a geek when it comes to mixing and audio production!
Thanks, Jake! Keep an eye out for upcoming shows from Jake Ingamar by liking his Facebook page. He’s also playing at the Downtown Fargo Street Fair on Friday, July 19! More information on the artist is available on jakeingamar.com.
Featured photo courtesy of the artist.