Meet a Musician
Nina Storey is a singer and pianist who has performed professionally since she was fifteen years old. She released her first CD in 1993, and over the next ten years she released three more. Throughout her career she has had many exciting opportunities, such as singing backup vocals for the rock group INXS. She has also performed twice in Europe and has toured with blues guitarist and singer Jonny Lang. She has been featured at such major events as the Sundance Film Festival, Lilith Fair, Woodstock ’99, and the Monterey Bay Blues Festival. In addition, she has often performed the national anthem for such sports teams as the Chicago Bulls, the Denver Broncos, and the Colorado Avalanche.
Storey says that she has loved music since she was a little girl. “I grew up in a musical family where music was very important. My mom was a songwriter and producer, and my father was a sound engineer. For as long as I can remember, my parents inspired and encouraged me in any musical path I chose to follow.”15 Storey’s first experience with a musical instrument was a bit unusual, as she explains: “When I was about six or seven years old, I read a book about a little girl who played the violin. She didn’t have an instrument so she made one out of wood. That had such an impression on me—whatever she did, I wanted to do, too. So I mounted pencils on a piece of cardboard, strung rubber bands across the pencils, and then sat there plucking my little homemade violin.”16
The Road to Success
Storey cannot remember a time when she did not sing:
Singing has always come naturally to me. I sang around the house all the time, I sang in the glee club in junior high, and when I was in high school I had the awesome chance to do a music video with INXS. Yet no matter how many opportunities I had early on, I really believe the biggest factor in my success was my parents’ constant encouragement. They told me I was talented, so I believed I was talented —and if kids are told that at an early age, they are set up to succeed. That was certainly the case with me.
After Storey graduated from high school, she attended college at the University of Colorado at Boulder. During her freshman year, she regularly performed at parties and clubs around the Boulder area. Then she received an exciting offer:
I had relatives who worked for the USO [United Service Organizations], and they signed me to do a one-month tour in Europe. My sister went along to to play guitar and sing backup, and our first gig was performing at the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain. Then they asked me to perform for U.S. soldiers on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which was anchored in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. They actually had to fly us in on fighter jets, and we landed right on the ship! I performed for five thousand U.S. troops. I still remember the thrill of looking around and seeing guys everywhere—even hanging off the towers, taking photos. It was an amazing, incredible experience.
When Storey’s European tour was over, she returned to Boulder and went back to school. She continued writing music and performing, and eventually she left college to pursue her musical career full-time.
Like all professional musicians, Storey has interesting stories to tell:
One of my most memorable gigs was when I was asked to open for [blues singer] Etta James. It was at a big venue in Denver, and I didn’t have a car at the time. So, I packed a long, black satin dress in my backpack and hopped on a bus. I was very nervous because I was the opening act for a singer who has been my idol forever. I performed in front of several thousand people and got a standing ovation at the end, which was thrilling. After I got off stage, I had a terrible stomachache and it kept getting worse. I wanted to meet Etta James so bad, but I had to go backstage and lie down, and the only place available was a smelly room where all the beer kegs were kept. There I was in my black dress, lying on the floor, feeling sick. And I never did get to meet her!
Another of Storey’s memorable experiences happened during a different Colorado performance:
We were shooting a video, and there was some equipment on the stage that I didn’t know was there. The venue was packed completely full, and during my show, I fell over a monitor and ended up upside down with my feet in the air. I couldn’t get up—I was just stuck there, wedged in tight. The videotape was rolling, and I heard this gasp from the crowd. Somehow I managed to get myself unstuck, stood up, cracked some jokes, and got back into my performance. What else can you do in a situation like that? You just have to laugh it off.
A Musician’s Life
Storey says she loves being a professional musician:
It is really exciting. Whenever I create music, I have this urge to share it with other people. I feel like it’s my purpose in life—to share what’s inside of me. I think that’s natural for anyone, really. When you create something you love, you want to share it with others. And when I’m onstage, and I hear people clapping and cheering for me—well, there’s no way to even describe what that feels like.
The amount of time Storey spends touring can vary. She is especially busy during the summer months because she performs at festivals and events all over the United States. She also spends time in recording sessions and working on publicity with her agent, Jan Storey, who also happens to be her mother.
As for how she spends her time when not onstage, Storey says she sticks to a pretty regular routine. “I spend a lot of time practicing every day. That is an absolute necessity. If I don’t sing every day, my muscles remind me. I do vocal exercises, practice sounds and scales. Plus, I play the piano and guitar, so I practice those instruments as well.”22
Another activity that takes up quite a bit of Storey’s time is composing music:
I usually write several songs a week. Sometimes I get an idea for a song, but for one reason or another, it’s just not the right time to finish it. So, I just file the idea away, and I might not think about it again for quite a while. This actually happened to me recently. About a year ago, I had an idea for a song about giving people a chance. I wrote the lyrics, but the music wouldn’t come together, so I filed the idea away. Then one day I was driving along the road in Los Angeles, and I saw a homeless man holding a sign. I stopped and talked to him—and suddenly the music came to me. I finished writing the song, and now I’m performing it.
Storey says that human issues such as homelessness often inspire her: “The songs I write help me remember what kind of person I want to be and how I want to live my life. When I perform them, if I can help other people connect too—well, that’s awesome.”24
When Storey is scheduled to perform, she does vocal warm-ups for thirty minutes beforehand. She also does vocal exercises after each performance because, as she says, “It’s kind of like doing stretching exercises after running in a race.” Storey does not talk after she performs—even when she is signing autographs. In fact, she is always conscious of protecting her voice, as she explains: “Even when I’m on a roller coaster, I don’t yell! People may not realize that singing is a very physical endeavor. I’m careful with my voice so I don’t wear it out.”25
Message for Aspiring Musicians
Storey says she once heard something at a music conference that inspired her and has helped her throughout her career:
The speaker said that if you work hard and you love what you do, you may not get to the top of every mountain—but you will reach the top of your own mountain. I have never forgotten that. And that is what I want to pass along to kids. Being a professional musician is wonderful and rewarding and fun. But please keep in mind that it also involves a lot of time, energy, and work. You have to set goals, and you have to stick with them. Learn everything you can about music, and develop your craft. Practice and then practice some more. And most of all, remember to be true to yourself, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who believe in you. After all, the only real measure of success is if you are truly happy and fulfilled and feel good about yourself and what you do. With that as your goal, you can’t go wrong.
All quotes in “Meet a Musician”: Nina Storey, interview by author, June 30, 2003.