Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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Marcia Ramirez: Inspiration On and Off the Road

Marcia Ramirez

Marcia Ramirez one of the most experienced and sought after demo-singers in Nashville. She’s one of the funniest, brightest, and thought-provoking people I know. Music is the backdrop of her life: Not only with her own singer-songwriter projects, her family’s (her husband, Mike Waldron is one of the most sought after musicians and session players in Nashville), her spiritual home’s, the artists’ she goes out on the road with, as well as all those songwriters’, whose demos she breathes life into with her lead and background vocals.

In May, my eyes were drawn to a quote by songwriter Liz Rose (Little Big Town’s Girl Crush, Taylor Swift’s White Horse) in a Forbes magazine article about songwriting. Liz Rose said, “The lifeblood of Nashville was built on songwriters and studio musicians and artists. How are we going to grow the next Derek Wells if there’s no studio and there’s no songwriters doing demos to play on?”

Of course, I emailed the quote to Marcia. Not because of what Liz was saying, although she makes a good point, but because of the mention of Derek Wells – Marcia’s son – who, in 2016, was the youngest person in history to win The Academy of Country Music’s Guitar Player of the Year award, as well as the youngest person to have been nominated for the CMA Musician of the Year award. Marcia, quite literally, “grew a Derek Wells.” (Her joke, not mine.) I’ll brag for my #proudmama friend and mention that Marcia’s youngest son, Sam, is a fine musician as well.

I’m happy to have a chance to ask her a few questions about her career for “Notes on Napkins.”

Marcia, I have to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?

Schitt’s Creek!  I’m obsessed.

Hah! Great answer. I love that show too. As a song feedback mentor and coach at SongU, you inspire so many writers. What inspires you? 

People brave enough to be their authentic selves – no matter what. And I mean on all levels – personally, spiritually, relationally, and especially creatively! Fight for your unique voice and perspective.

You’ve been touring as a musician and backup singer with major artists for over 20 years, most recently with pop legend Christopher Cross. What’s been the most surprising thing you learned being on the road? 

Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s not nearly as glamorous most of the time as you might think! 4 AM lobby calls to fly to the next town can be brutal, or sleeping in a bunk on the bus every night that’s about the size of a coffin, or washing your hair in the dressing room sink because soundcheck ran long and you don’t have time to go back to the hotel before the show…road life can be difficult some days. And you can really get homesick too when you are gone for long periods of time. All that being said, I have LOVED my time on the road and made some truly strong friendships by traveling around the world with great groups of folks. I’ve been super blessed to have loved my road families!

Marcia Ramirez and Christopher Cross

Can you tell us the story behind the song you co-wrote called “God and My Girlfriends,” recorded by Reba McEntire on her Grammy Winning album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope?

My friends, Lisa Hentrich and Patricia Conroy, wrote that song with me one day during a writing session on Music Row several years ago. As soon as we wrote it, we just KNEW it would be perfect for Reba, so we pitched it to her as soon as we got the demo done, and she put it on “hold” right away for the album she was about to record. She ended up not recording it on that album, and we were super bummed. BUT…. almost 9 years later, she actually tracked the song down herself and recorded it for her first faith-based album. I guess she remembered the song and was at a point in her life where the words felt very real to her. She had just gone through a divorce, so she was truly relying on God and her girlfriends to get her through a difficult time. It just goes to show you that artists record songs that they really relate to.

That’s one of my favorite “songwriter stories,” Marcia. It shows that you can have a great song that the artist loves, but if it’s not exactly the right song at the right time, it may not get cut…but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten. It’s a tribute to this song’s strength that Reba remembered it so many years later to give it the perfect home on her album.

Marcia Ramirez in Studio

You’re an in-demand demo singer in Nashville. What’s the best tip you can give songwriters about working with a professional demo singer to get the best vocal on their song?

I think being as specific as you can about how close you want them to sing the song like the worktape. Some writers tell me to just use the worktape as a reference, but “Just do your thing” — meaning, they trust me to use my own instincts with the phrasing and melody. Other writers want it EXACTLY like they have phrased it on the worktape, and they don’t want you to vary the melody one single note. That really helps me prepare for the session if I know that ahead of time so that I can make much more specific notes. ALSO, always let the vocalist pick the key ahead of time that works best for their voice. That is SUPER important.

Marcia, Thanks for taking the time out of your multi-tasking and busy day to answer my questions. I enjoy and appreciate you, as always!

Find links to hear Marcia’s music, book her for gigs, read her blog, and learn about her God and My Girlfriends ministry by visiting her website at marciaramirez.com.