We had the good fortune of connecting with Elise Solberg and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elise, how does your business help the community?
Turn Up Her Mic is a non-profit that I founded to raise awareness of gender inequity in the music industry. We primarily focus on careers that work behind the scenes. Throughout the first few years of my career, I realized that there really isn’t a collective platform in which womxn working behind the scenes in music can speak out and share their stories. We’ve had many womxn join our virtual panels to speak on their experiences and the gender issues they see in the industry. Their careers have ranged from music direction, tour managing, and touring musicians, and they’ve worked with some of the biggest artists (Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Lizzo, Bon Iver, Ariana Grande, and more). Many womxn that tuned in to our panels felt more validated and seen in their own struggles and experiences, and that’s the reason I founded Turn Up Her Mic! We function as a space to discuss these issues to create a supportive community and raise awareness. So far, there have been a few panelists and attendees who have started their own unique initiatives to highlight different angles of gender equity in the industry. We also just completed our first Summer Mentorship Program! Although it was just a pilot program, we matched about a dozen pre-professional women looking to work in the music industry with vetted industry professionals. Mentors within the program have worked with artists such as Beyoncé, Keith Urban, Ms. Lauryn Hill, P!nk, Stevie Wonder, M83, Camila Cabello, and more. Our mentees were able to learn from their experiences, and also work on their own projects under the guidance of their mentors!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I work professionally as a keyboardist, songwriter and composer. I believe what sets me apart is 1. my ability to adapt quickly to any situation/learn on the spot and 2. my willingness to take risks, and jump into the deep end without hesitation. These traits helped me to land my first gig playing pop keyboards. Before my first official gig, I had only played popular styles of music for a year. Popular music is a lot more nuanced and vast than is often given credit for. So, as a side musician playing for artists, you need to know as many styles as possible. Trying to fit that in one year was a big undertaking. Fast forward a year later, I’m playing keyboards for Chloe x Halle at the MTV Movie & TV awards. That was a huge jump; in summer 2017 I was playing Ravel Concerto in G in piano competitions, and in summer 2018 playing for a pop artist with thousands in the live audience and millions more watching on television. But what helped me in this gig (and subsequent ones) was my mindset of doing whatever it took to deliver! It’s not easy, and there are definitely moments of panic. I just kept pushing and showing up. I’ve learned that although you must do everything to prepare for your work, you need to let go a little at some point. You need to take a breath and have a few laughs. As long as you do all the work you can, you just need to trust and let God take it from there.
I want people to know through my story that nothing of excellence is built overnight. For instance, for the Chloe x Halle Tiny Desk Concert I played keys in, we had just two days of rehearsal. Only two days of rehearsal for a dynamic, amazing performance seems like an overnight success story. But an excellent performance can’t be achieved in two days unless those involved were committed to excellence YEARS in advance. As my colleague once said, “you aren’t just paying us for the time we spend in rehearsal, it’s also for the tens of thousands of hours we practiced to even be here.” I’d also add that our families sacrificed much for us to play at a professional level. It takes a village!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If my best friend was visiting me in Los Angeles, I would first drive her to Torrance where all the big Japanese grocery stores are. We would buy all of our favorite Japanese food and snacks. Then, we would eat at a quaint udon restaurant in Gardena called Kotohira. Their udon reminds me of our home (Japan). They also play jazzy versions of classic Ghibli songs, which makes my heart so happy. I would then take her to Sakuraya in Gardena (a mochi spot), serving traditional mochi. Their mochi with kinako is to die for! There’s an amazing museum called the Chen Art Gallery in Torrance. It houses some of the most important art collections in the United States. What’s really great about this museum (besides free admission) is that every visit is accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. I love learning about what I’m looking at, so it’s perfect for history lovers.
Then, I would take her to Santa Monica pier, where we’d go on the rides, eat food and walk around. If it was a nice day out, we’d go swimming in the ocean.
If we were feeling particularly fancy, we would eat brunch at the Casa del Mar – perched right on the Santa Monica beach. Nothing really beats great food with a great view!
Since my best friend and I are art lovers, we would go to yet another museum- The Getty. We could spend an entire day admiring all the great art pieces there.
What’s a trip to Los Angeles without seeing a good live show? Since my best friend wasn’t able to see BTS at the Rosebowl due to COVID-19, I would make sure we saw them in concert to make up for it. While we’re still in Pasadena, I’d also take her to the beautiful Norton Simon museum. We really do like museums that much!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have many different people in my life support me. However, I want to shoutout my family first and foremost. Without the support from my mom (Yoshiko Solberg, née Arino), dad (Tait Solberg), brother (Eirik Solberg), and grandmother (Lois Solberg), I would be absolutely nowhere in life. They have been with me through everything- from my first music lesson to my most recent projects. They have supported me in every way possible, especially with music. My parents have driven me to all my music lessons growing up. They listened to me practice incessantly for hours on end. Not many people have a family that even supports their child’s career in music. My family never questioned my desire to pursue music, and they’ve all dedicated so much effort into my journey. I really lucked out because both of my parents are musicians. My father is a professional musician (saxophone and reed instruments), who has played in Air Force bands. He toured the world, played for many dignitaries (four US presidents, prime ministers, and more), and has played with the likes of Frank Sinatra. My mother is a vocalist and pianist who graduated from Kunitachi College of Music, an excellent conservatory in Japan. She now has a full piano studio with students winning local competitions.
I also would like to give recognition to all of my amazing music teachers and mentors I’ve studied with at different points in my life. In my pre-college days in Colorado, I studied classical piano with Dr. Fifi Hut, Dr. Richard Holbrook, and Larry Graham. I also studied flute with Fran Piazza. I would like to shoutout my band teachers at ThunderRidge High School, Mike Snell and Adam Terry, for supporting me musically. At the Thornton School of Music at USC, I studied classical piano with Dr. Stewart Gordon, jazz piano with Russell Ferrante, and popular music with Patrice Rushen. I’ve never taken any official “lessons” with him, but I also would like to add Derek Dixie (Music Director for Beyoncé/Chloe x Halle). I’ve learned so much from him on the job, and he took a chance on me to learn and grow. I didn’t come into the Chloe x Halle gig with prior experience, but he believed in me to deliver at the performances.