Tara Simon: “Don’t ever be afraid to do some dirty work”

Lead with grace, poise, strength and humility. Don’t ever be afraid to do some dirty work. When your employees see that you’re not afraid of doing anything for the good of the company (right down to scrubbing toilets), you will win their loyalty, respect and admiration. In turn, their passion working for such a leader […]

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Lead with grace, poise, strength and humility. Don’t ever be afraid to do some dirty work. When your employees see that you’re not afraid of doing anything for the good of the company (right down to scrubbing toilets), you will win their loyalty, respect and admiration. In turn, their passion working for such a leader will inspire them to go that extra mile as well.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Simon. Tara Simon is a professional singer, songwriter and celebrity vocal coach. She became widely recognized as a top finalist on the second season of the X Factor. Her determination and drive to succeed began early. She moved to New York City on her 18th birthday, her sights set firmly on Broadway. When the audition dates for Fame were announced, the creative community in the Big Apple was set on fire with excitement.

After waiting in line for ten hours, she sang from the heart, and landed the role of Serena Katz where she spent the next several months on an international tour with the show. After touring Europe, Tara attended Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she gained her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Performance.

Since then, Tara has performed at a wide array of notable venues, released several hit singles on iTunes and has performed for A-list celebrities and dignitaries such as Simon Cowell, Sugarland, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, L.A. Reid, President Trump and Governor Rick Scott. In 2012 Tara was selected as top 6 in her category on the X Factor Season 2. After her first audition, Simon Cowell said with a smile, “I believe we’ve only scratched the surface of what you’re capable of.”

To date, Tara’s YouTube reactions to vocalists’ performances have skyrocketed her into worldwide exposure once again. With hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of views overall, she is easily one of the most highly sought after vocal coaches in the world. Tara has rolled out multiple ground breaking digital courses based on her innovative vocal methodology “Sing Smarter Not Harder”, designed for singers at any level on their vocal journey.

America’s Got Talent star Angelica Hale and Broadway diva Loren Lott are just some examples of highly successful artists who study with Tara and rely upon her methodology for their vocal health and success.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you for having me. Music has been my heartbeat ever since I can remember. I remember specifically being in the car as a toddler, singing inside my carseat and hearing my mom praise me from the driver’s seat. I started singing on stage at 3 years old. My first ever performance was at my church, and I still remember to this day being up there singing…how it felt and how (even then) I knew music was going to be my life. I sang regularly for many high profile events locally growing up, attended a prestigious performing arts high school (Dreyfoos School of the Arts), won best vocalist in state as a sophmore, and moved to NYC the day I turned 18 to attend a performing arts college and audition for Broadway. Less than a year later I found myself as the lead role in the European tour of the Broadway musical “Fame”. Everything really started snowballing for me after that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of my fondest memories in the past decade has to be meeting one of my star students Loren Sharice Lott. I was asked to help assist in casting a new Disney musical TV show in Atlanta. It was basically like a “Hannah Montana meets High School Musical” type show. There were scores of girls there, and they all had to sing, act and dance. I remember seeing Loren dance first. She was a good dancer, but her facial expressions were so beyond what anyone else was doing I couldn’t help be drawn to her. Then it came time for her to sing. Out of all the hopefuls there that day, Loren was special to me. Her voice was very good and I saw so much potential in her that I knew even she didn’t see in herself at the time. My advice to Disney was to cast Loren as the lead in the show. They didn’t listen and the show didn’t end up getting picked up when all was said and done. I took Loren’s headshot that day and put it into my purse. I called the number on it and got her mother on the other line (Loren was 19 at the time and her mom was fielding the calls…go mom!). I told her mom Sharian, “Look, I met your daughter at the Disney audition. She is good, but I can make her great”. That next week Loren had her first vocal lesson with me. I rarely ever do this, but I made Loren a promise that day. I told her, “If you train with me, work hard and do the things I tell you to do I will get you to Broadway in 5 years or less. If I don’t I will give you back all of the money you have ever paid me for voice lessons.” She eagerly took the deal of course. I am proud and also very relieved to say that I watched Loren debut in her first Broadway show “Motown the Musical” a little over four years later. Shortly before her Broadway debut she appeared as a top 12 competitor on American Idol. To date, she has performed the lead role in the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Once On This Island, played the role of Ana in the television series The Young and the Restless, and played Ava DuVernay in Oprah’s new series Cherish the Day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When opening up my first brick and mortar for Tara Simon Studios, I experienced a lot of roadblocks and red tape from the city council of my town. I found this odd, particularly because I had purchased a complete eyesore on the corner of a very busy street walking distance from the city center with the intention to completely restore and rehab the entire property. Instead of seeing a young woman, driven and eager to plant roots for her new and thriving business while simultaneously beautifying one of the worst looking corners in the entire town, they placed ridiculous conditions and demands on me in order to approve my request to rezone the property (which I didn’t even need to do in the first place when it was all said and done). The process was so unbearably frustrating for me that when it came time for the next city council elections and I learned that the person running in my district was running unopposed, I threw down my gauntlet and decided to run against him. This gentleman happened to be a career politician (former state senator actually) and let’s just say politics was never a hot topic of conversation for me. But I did know that what happened to me was wrong, and it probably happened to many others that came before me. I wanted to make a change for anyone coming after me. So I went door to door every single day after spending a full workday at my newly opened business. I got to meet so many amazing folks in my community, and they all appreciated the quality time I spent with them. To my surprise, halfway through the race, I learned I was pregnant with my first baby. So on top of running my business full time and going door to door, I was doing it all while extremely sick and nauseous. Going door to door on a particular day, I got to the door and right after knocking I felt like I was going to vomit and right as I was about to lean into their bushes, they opened the door. I played it off like I was looking at their lovely landscape and continued with my pitch. By the end of the race, my opponent spent somewhere around 34,000 dollars from donations he collected. I spent 4,000 dollars of my own money. He beat me by 14 votes and it was so close they had to do a recount. Mind you, nobody knew I was 3 months pregnant at this point because I didn’t want my opponent to use it against me. So I showed up to the recount at city hall, so exhausted that I thought to myself, “At this point I honestly don’t know who I’m rooting for, him or me!” The count held true and he took the win by 14 votes. I can say with honesty now that I was so relieved! I also learned a huge lesson from that experience: Know your limits. I am always in hyper-performance mode. I am writing this at 12:30am on a Saturday night so apparently I am still learning this lesson. However, if I could have spoken to that young ambitious woman years ago, I would have told her to leave some bandwidth for the unknown. Filling up your days to the minute and cramming it all in with a jackhammer works when everything goes as planned. But when life introduces a surprise like a child or sickness, you will eventually find yourself like me…hoping to be relieved of the very thing you not only signed up for, but fought really hard to attain.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Nothing. No really, I never set out to lead a company and have employees under me. I always thought of CEO’s as an older overweight white man in a stuffy suit sitting behind a big heavy mahogany desk in an office overlooking a view of the city. I think the idea of “CEO” sounds sexy to most people…probably because they aren’t one themselves and are probably envisioning something similar to my former depiction. But if you are in fact a CEO yourself, you understand the immense weight that you wake up and shoulder everyday while keeping a smile on your face and a cool wit about you.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I can’t speak for other companies, but for Tara Simon Studios my role as CEO is to serve my people. I often joke that I work for them because that’s often how it feels. I think that’s a good place to be honestly. I believe that the strongest leaders go out even in front of the front lines. The CEO that leads humbly by example rather than taking advantage of being at the top of the corporate food chain has the respect and loyalty of the company. That is what I strive for everyday.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I love it when I receive an unexpected email or text from one of my employees telling me how much they love working at my company and how working here has made them grow. I feel in those moments that what we do is so much bigger than a business rendering services.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

There is no “off button” for me. I never get to punch out and leave my cares behind. The buck always stops with me, and I always have to have the answer…even if I don’t really know the answer myself. It can be a bit lonely on the mountain top, and there are times where the weight of it all is a heavy one to bear. I rely heavily on my faith and my family for the support I need to manage it all.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think a lot of what I have spoken about above rings familiar to answering this question. If you have never spearheaded something, you really should reserve judgement for those that do. I believe that there are those who are called to follow, to support those placed in leadership and execute their assignments for the good of the whole with excellence. I also believe there are those who are called to lead, to innovate and create something out of nothing, to employ amazing followers, and to build them up by leading in humility. Neither of the two should be looking over their shoulder at the others position in envy, rather, operate within their own sweet spot. It is when this symbiosis happens that a power company is formed.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I can’t speak for other industries intelligently because I have only worked as a woman in the music industry my entire career. In my industry, a woman’s biggest challenge is to rise to success without having to compromise their dignity, their integrity and their body. I know this sounds extreme and harsh, but it is the truth. I have experienced it first hand and not just once or twice or a handful of times. It is assumed. The music industry is a sexually charged industry, and male driven. I’m not saying a woman cannot attain success within it, as I consider myself and many other women I personally know to be sensational successes in our field. However, the problem is always there right beneath the surface.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Well, as I mentioned I never set out to be a vocal coach. I intended on becoming a career singer. So other than the fact that I use my voice to teach others to sing, pretty much everything else is different! I have to say though, I don’t mind at all and I am actually so very grateful. I can honestly say that I am operating in the center of my sweet spot, and the joy that brings my heart everyday is a true blessing.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

You must be a self starter — that is a non-negotiable. You must have an insatiable drive and ambition and when someone tells you “no” you must hear instead “try harder”. There is also a “sticktuitiveness” that I feel someone who leads possesses so that when tough times come and everyone else is abandoning ship, they stand their ground and fight the good fight. I also see someone who stands a good chance at becoming an executive as someone who is an optimist, seeing the glass as half full and not half empty. If you can’t function without 8 hours or more of sleep per night, if you need someone to give you a nudge to get motivated, if you start and do not finish things, if you don’t like problem solving, if you don’t thrive under pressure…run as fast as you can away from any position of leadership, especially that of a top dog.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Lead with grace, poise, strength and humility. Don’t ever be afraid to do some dirty work. When your employees see that you’re not afraid of doing anything for the good of the company right down to scrubbing toilets, you will win their loyalty, respect and admiration. In turn, their passion working for such a leader will inspire them to go that extra mile as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I must say that my entrepreneurial spirit comes directly from my mom and dad. They still currently own a successful small business doing Home Inspections. I watched my dad go out everyday to inspect houses, come home and diligently write up the reports to give the client a quick turn around. I watched my mom answer the phones, and that woman could sell ice to an eskimo! I remember there was a certain order of services that she would tell the prospective client. As she said them out loud, I would whisper them quietly in tandem with her, so proud of myself that I had memorized their long list of services. I carry them in my spirit in everything I do when it comes to my business. I am also super proud to say that to date, things have come a bit full circle and now my mom is my head sales executive for MY company…and she can STILL sell ice to an eskimo!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I sincerely hope that making the world a better place comes through in everything about the brand I have built. I hear from people all over the world on a daily basis writing to me to say how I have inspired them, how my coaches have been so encouraging, or how they had no self confidence but with our help now they do. It’s truly why we do what we do. I think as long as we don’t ever lose sight of that, we will continue to shine a light in the darkness.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Learn how to say “no”. This is really tough for any high performing individual because we always think we can do it all. Years can go by though and you stop for a moment and realize you haven’t had a vacation in who knows how long. You become a slave to all of your “yesses” inside of a cage.
  2. It’s ok to be wrong. This is a big one for any leader because there is an expectation for us to always have the answer. I have found though that some of the most impactful moments in my leadership have been when I was wrong about something, realized the mistake and then had courage to take immediate action to correct that mistake. Your people are always watching, for better or for worse.
  3. Stand for something and make it known. Recently with the Black Lives Matter movement, the polarization in the world seems to be reaching an all time high. The majority of individuals who work for me are ethnically diverse and I am very proud of that. I felt as the leader of my company, especially a white female leader, that it is my responsibility to not passively support those who are hurting due to racial injustice in the world. It is my duty to actively and vocally support them. So, I am speaking out boldly, that my company stands with the fight against racial injustice. My team has thanked me in many ways and I can see their gratitude translated also in their work ethic. They know that I have their backs, and in turn they have mine as well.
  4. Self care is not an option. It is so very easy to put all of your needs as a human on the back burner when there is always something screaming louder for your time. In my own life, the idea of having to somehow carve out time that you do not have for something “frivolous” like a massage, or getting your nails done, or a trip to the pool can seem like a source of anxiety. Like the overachiever that you probably are as a leader, you may think you need to “crush the self care game” and figure out a way to get it in every day at some point. If you can, great! But even something as simple as a once per week where you “do you” is a great place to start and may very well be all that you need to keep yourself balanced, sane, and ready to get back in the game.
  5. You have never arrived. I remember the early years in my business where I was so very hungry for growth that I would salivate at the thought. My every move, every breath was driven by this idea in my mind of what life would be like when “xy and z” fell into place. What happens when it finally DOES happen? Well, for me I can tell you I looked around, took a quick breath and then said to myself, “Ok, what’s next?!” A true entrepreneur has an insatiable hunger for “the next”, BUT… the art of enjoying the journey is true an art and something I am learning to keep in the forefront of my mind every single day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Love your neighbor. If we could do this one simple thing, we could literally change the entire world. It starts at home, loving your family, then loving your friends, then loving strangers in your local community and beyond. Loving your neighbor means loving when it’s hard, perhaps when it’s not reciprocated, and loving them as yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference” — Robert frost

I had this poem hanging in my room since the 8th grade when I discovered it in my English class. It truly symbolizes how I try to live my life. Taking the road that may not be the most popular or walked upon, but knowing in my heart it is the right one, I begin to walk. That road sometimes feels lonely, and sometimes a little scary. But it is blessed because it is the right one.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have a coffee with Rachel Hollis who wrote “Girl, Wash Your Face”. I resonate with her and feel we would be besties. She is very down to earth and real in the words she chooses to communicate with and I love how approachable that makes her to her audience. During the COVID Quarantine, she did this great thing called The Next 90 Days where she released a free video once per week on Monday’s. These videos really helped frame my attitude for the week and create a sense of normalcy where there was none. She has built a successful little empire for herself and I would love to talk shop with her.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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