“Think of me / think of me fondly / when we’ve said goodbye…” sang the sweet, classically-trained voice of Rose Cora Perry at a local talent show, years ago. The goal of going to Broadway suddenly changed that night, when a schoolmate asked if she would join a rock band she wanted to start.
The group, called HER, became known in the city of London, Ontario, for filling local venues with high school students. Along the way, Rose threw herself into learning to play guitar: six hours a day for six months; blood on the strings being a common occurrence. This is when she wrote her ﬁrst record. She asked her dad for help with ﬁnding a business lawyer (both her parents are entrepreneurs) so she could found her own record label at age 15.
When she and her friends graduated and separated, Rose went off to college to study public relations. There, she formed the band Anti-Hero. “I had the band, work, and was in school full-time,” she remembers. “I sometimes would be doing bookings until three or four in the morning, and then have to get up for a seven o’clock class. If you love something, you’ll make time. The reality is that this is a business like any other. Don’t expect handouts. You have to work hard at it.”
Anti-Hero’s ﬁrst album, Unpretty, got them noticed by a major label in 2005, who re-released it. On being signed, Rose says that while the major label “status” helped as far as bookings and promotions, she didn’t have as much control over accounting, and the band lost steam as their second release was held back. After they broke up, Rose Cora Perry went solo and independent, where she is successful to this day.
Over the phone, she describes herself at home on a rainy day, reading the autobiography of Marilyn Monroe. The past weekend, she played an outdoor show in a winter coat, as it was unseasonably cold. We’re chatting about her fascinating life story so far, and the topic of her charity work comes up.
“Playing for charities does two things: it supports the community, and promotes you as a holistic person (ie: there’s more to you than just the music you play). It’s important for artists to understand what causes they want to be involved in/aligned with – knowing what you’re about as an artist. It’s a great way to reach people while donating your time and talents to worthy causes.”
For example, Rose is strongly involved in raising funds for mental health. She feels, “it’s important to break down the stigma of mental illness.” She also tells me that she is very upset by the recent suicide of singer Chris Cornell.
On the topic of rockstar deaths, she adds: “Please – I cannot emphasize this enough to my fellow musicians – do not do drugs. It doesn’t make you a better songwriter. In fact, it causes nothing but destruction for yourself and those that care about you. Please – if you’re struggling – reach out to others. There’s always another way.” she continues passionately, before stressing that it’s important to dedicate time to one’s craft and meet fans in person – make real connections – as opposed to just online.
One of the biggest changes in the music industry since she started has been, of course, the rise of social media. Especially, what booking agents are looking for. Number one being the artist’s horizontal and vertical engagement on social media; “a million social media followers is not the same thing as playing to a million people.” Number two, they want a live video. “Your EPK should be short and sweet. 1-1.5 minutes of kick-ass energy,” Rose explains. “You can have a nice music video, but that doesn’t tell an agent whether you can play live, or sing without autotune.”
Continuing on the topic of live performances, “working hard isn’t necessarily playing a lot of shows. It’s being strategic about the shows you play. Also, your time and talent at a pro level is worth something. Even if they say they have no budget, your mileage and a meal should at least be covered.” Rose even ran an advice column for musicians entitled, “So You Wanna be a Rockstar?”, where she taught them to look out for red ﬂags (“if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”) and helped dispel the myth of overnight success.
Rose is also a big fan of artists supporting other artists, “it’s the grease in the wheels. The music industry should be about collaboration, not competition. Musicians need to collectively fight to be treated professionally and fairly,” and in-ﬁghting will only lead to a race to the bottom, where unethical promoters proﬁt.
But in the end, it’s all about deﬁning your own success. A realization Rose had upon attending the 2011 Grammy Awards was that “99% of musicians winning don’t write their own material.” Rose describes herself as stubborn for composing songs herself. “If there’s something you want to do, just do it. The number one rule is persistence. That’s how I got a feature in Canadian Musician as representing the voice of the independent musician. You’ll be told no a million times, but keep it respectful and courteous, and keep going!”
Rose Cora Perry is also a vegan (“it changed my life”) and spends time shutting down sexism in the music industry by picking up her guitar (“I’m hopeful that things are changing”). You can listen to her latest album here.