Don’t cry out loud for Melissa Manchester. The music industry changed, but the Grammy-winning ‘70s and ‘80s pop star has changed with it.
“It’s entirely different. The landscape is unrecognizable,” says Manchester, who’s just released her 20th album, You Gotta Love the Life, and performs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Jazziz in Boca Raton.
Manchester’s new album is her first in 10 years. These days she spends more time in the classroom than in a recording studio.
“I was invited by the Thornton School [of Music at University of Southern California] to teach a master class about four years ago. After I finished that lovely afternoon, they kept inviting me back. Now I teach individual students and teach them what I know,” says Manchester, 64, who got her first break in the early ‘70s after Barry Manilow and Bette Midler chose her as one of The Divine Miss M’s backup Harlettes.
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At Arista Records in 1975, Manchester had her first big solo hit, Midnight Blue, which she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager. Three years later came the smash Don’t Cry Out Loud, written by Sager and Australian pop star Peter Allen. Best known for these and other ballads, Manchester broke through in 1982 with a big dance hit, You Should Hear How She Talks About You, which won her the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Several years ago, Manchester decided she wanted to record another album. No longer with a big label, she had to figure how. Her young students taught her what to do.
“When my students presented me with the idea of crowdfunding, and they explained it to me —the reason that it took me 10 years to create another piece of work was that I just couldn’t sign on to the old paradigm,” she says. “Although I’ve had a lot of success and a lot of failure with wonderful record companies, the sticking point for me was when I would sign on with a record company, which essentially is the bank, and you make all their money back for them, hopefully, they still own your work. The ownership of the work part —that was the stumbling block for me.
“So, I decided to jump into the deep end of becoming an independent artist. It turned out to be an adventure I just didn’t want to miss,” she says. “The distribution is done through a company, also there is digital downloading, Amazon and iTunes, Barnes & Noble. You become the record company.”
In 2013, Manchester launched an Idiegogo campaign that raised more than $40,000 of her $70,000 goal and You Gotta Love the Life got made.
“The band, everybody got paid fairly,” she says. “There were always students coming through just to watch the process. Many had never seen the collaborative end of making music, because they all live in their garages with tracks. It was very touching to feel the energy going back and forth between me and students and the artists. It was extraordinary, really.”
The album features guest artists including Dave Koz, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Al Jarreau.
“It’s my brand-new album. I wrote nine of the 14 songs,” Manchester says. “Several of the songs are classic standards that I reimagined.” Among them: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Something Wonderful, Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance and Cole Porter’s From This Moment On, all Golden Age classics from Broadway and Hollywood.
“I consider myself what I call part of the bridge generation. Bridge meaning that music that I was raised in, popular music, came from the stages of Broadway, and also recording stars were written for by excellent writers. Because I grew up in that first crest of the singer-songwriter wave, where we started writing for ourselves —yet I have a sense of history,” says Manchester, the mother of a grown son and daughter. “Today, I don’t know so much that kids mostly have a sense of history. Of course there are the exceptions, for sure. And I certainly teach about musical history, popular musical history in my class. I want my kids to know what 20-year-olds were singing in the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s, as well.”
MTV and music videos changed the music world about the same time Manchester’s hot pop career began to cool. “That very thing changed the shape of what constituted an artist. It moved from listening medium to a visual medium,” she says. “That really just changed everything, really.
“What’s changed is that if you have a flashlight and a camera, you can post whatever you’ve got on YouTube and have a large career without ever being played on the radio. The complexion has changed, but that said, are you in it for the long run and do you love the life of it? That’s why I wrote the title song, You Gotta Love the Life. It came out of a discussion I was having with my daughter. I said, ‘Just ‘cause your talented, that’s only the focus of energy that creates the spark. If you really want to walk this walk, you have to love this version of normal.’ And I do.”