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Arts-Lead-1546Penny Framstad lights the way for aspiring musicians

“Don’t date your guitar player,” says Penny Framstad. “Ever. Ever.” It’s just one snippet of hard-won advice the local singer/songwriter and artist development coach at Penny’s Pop Academy shares with me as we sit outside Lulu’s on a warm late-summer day.

“I mean, how hard is that, to perform with somebody on stage who you’ve broken up with, and there’s another girl there who wants to see him. And you can’t replace him because he knows all the songs. So many bands have done that. It’s heartbreaking,” says Framstad.

At 55, Framstad is a graceful presence, with high cheekbones, dark hair in a bun, and a certain realness to her personality that is refreshing. You see, there are many things about the road to musical success (besides not falling in love with your bandmates) that Framstad wishes she could have told her younger self.

For the past 12 years, the mission of her Penny’s Pop Academy, which she’s recently transplanted in local soil, has been to empower artists by illuminating the way to their personal best. If a shot at stardom is what they’re after, that means reaching a showcase level worthy of raising a record company executive’s eyebrows. In other words, “You’ve got a five-song EP, you’ve got a music video, you’ve played live about 20-30 shows, and you have an Internet presence with followers,” says Framstad.

“Usually it takes so many years of time and money just full-speed ahead in the wrong direction, thinking they need this or that,” says Framstad. For instance, you need “just a simple quirky music video. You know, something a student at UCSC is going to do for you for a trade or something, but it’s good enough, and it’s a great recording, and a song that really depicts you—you look like it, you sound like it, I totally get you, I want to hear more.”

What gives Framstad’s insight its edge, though, is that it’s born not only out of her early experience as a struggling artist with a dream, but also out of many years spent working in the music industry in L.A.

Framstad was a 19-year-old Soquel High graduate when she committed herself to the path of a singer/songwriter, playing local clubs—including Bocci’s Cellar, the Catalyst, the long-gone Palookaville, and the Grapesteak, which is now Cafe Cruz—and selling demo tapes back when nobody else was really doing it.

“I was terrified [of performing], I would literally feel like I was going to throw up before I went on stage,” Framstad remembers. “I’d have my lyrics up there, because I thought that I’d get too nervous and forget them. I was mortified being up there, but I would do it anyway. And then you strengthen your courage muscle. You get more brave.”

Putting herself out there paid off in spades. Framstad followed her dreams to L.A., where she started approaching managers at a high level. “And because I did have my recordings together and I was playing live shows, they wanted to listen to me,” she says. “[It’s a chance for] a real honest evaluation from several higher-ups. I didn’t want to hear what I needed to work on. I had already worked so hard. I didn’t like getting feedback, I took it as harsh criticism. But in the end, most of what was said by the higher-ups was true.”

Framstad went on to write and record songs for film and TV, including a Gold Record song on the soundtrack 10 Things I Hate About You, and ran the songwriting department at the Hollywood vocal camps of Seth Riggs, who counts Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson among his past clients.

With an eye for the je ne sais quoi that sets one artist apart from the next, Framstad’s passion is helping artists map out a strategy to reach their goals, while staying true to their authentic selves.

Aside from vocal coaching—and Framstad sings a few lines of a song to demonstrate that sweet spot in her vocal range which in L.A. lingo is called your “money voice”—Framstad schools artists in piano, guitar and building confidence in live performance—from what to say (and not say) between songs to how to carry yourself on stage. Most obviously, though, she helps artists become better songwriters.

“I used to think that I had to write about certain things because that’s what other people were writing about,” says Framstad. “But the songs that people liked the most were the ones that I was really vulnerable about, singing in front of people because they exposed so much of me. There’s such a delicate balance between whining and being filled with self pity, and coming through it where the listener likes you.”

A song is a 3.5-minute chance to rock someone’s world, says Framstad, and while originality is wonderful, it’s poignant moments of sincerity that will ultimately win over listeners. “It doesn’t diminish your authenticity as a singer/songwriter if you have to learn the craft of songwriting, if you have to learn how to perform,” says Framstad. “That’s all a fantasy that nobody else had to learn how to do it. Everybody had to learn how to do it.”

For more info, visit pennyspopacademy.com.


PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS Penny Framstad, singer/songwriter and artist development coach, teaches both one-on-one and in groups. Her next transformational artist development intensive workshop is Nov. 20-21. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

Managing Editor at Good Times Newspaper |

The managing editor at Good Times, Maria Grusauskas writes the column Wellness, and also gravitates toward stories about earth science. She won a CNPA award for environmental reporting in 2015. Her interests include photography, traveling, human consciousness, music, and gardening. Her work has also appeared in Astronomy magazine, High Times magazine, Los Gatos magazine and on shareable.net.

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