I was fortunate enough to work alongside Elisa as the Musical Director during her Celine Dion tribute show in 2017 on board “The Adventure of the Seas”. It was an instant hit on the ship and both the crew and guests couldn’t stop talking about it and asking if she was lip syncing (full credit to Elisa it’s her voice they were blown away by). This interview outlines Elisa’s transition from Vegas to becoming a full-time headliner on cruise ships and how those two worlds relate to one another, and what it takes to survive in each of them.
Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?
Well up until 2016, I was headlining in Vegas for 17 years. But currently, what is taking up the majority of my time, is headlining on Royal Caribbean as a guest entertainer. We fly on to do a show, cruise anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks and do a show or two, then disembark and get onto another ship. Thankfully, I do get time in between every few contracts to see my loved ones.
Additionally, I am producing another duet tribute show (which I shan’t name b/c it’s under wraps), that I will be performing in with a very talented friend of mine!
Also, I am constantly intrigued by continuing to learn as much music theory as I can when I have time and love to practice my piano/keyboard. It comes in handy when I write and produce my music I am constantly writing to be submitted for tv/film work. I am lucky to have had moderate success in being a music composer. ( over 5000 tv shows, 5 feature films that I know of so far). I have also been producing and doing jingle and voice-over work for 20 years and enjoy laying down vocals to other writers music when asked. When I am in one spot for a decent period of time, I pick back up my vocal coaching. I feel the best has yet come still. 🙂
How long have you been living in Las Vegas?
I was in Las Vegas from 2001 to 2016. I then relocated to Hawaii to perform in a show there for 14 months and since then I have just been touring and don’t really have a home base.
What would you say to a musician looking to relocate and work in Las Vegas?
I would say “Go for it!” Even though they continuously close shows down to put more EDM lounges in, there is still many opportunities and plenty of shows to work in. The key to getting in the music clique there? One word. NETWORK. Go out and support everyone. Get to know everyone and give out those cards. Eventually you will be asked to sit In and once you start getting asked to do that, it’s on. I am going to let you in on a little secret. Vegas THRIVES on new blood! If you are good, agents will compete for you. Everyone wants the “new guy”.
How has the music scene for working artists changed over the years since you’ve lived in Las Vegas?
Many years ago, Vegas had Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to name a few incomparable artists. These artists could play instruments, sing, act and many dance. The way Vegas has changed these past few years is, let’s say if you are a woman singer, the people that hire you want you to be very fit and show off your body. It’s a beauty pageant these days. I kind of got out of there right about the time things started shifting. I know a lot of incredible singers that were kind of squeezed out of work because they didn’t fit the stereotype of what these corporations are looking for. It’s unfair but its the nature of the beast. Male musicians don’t have it half as hard there.
How did you get involved in the cruise industry as a performing headliner?
I received an email from Royal Caribbean who had known of me from my work in Vegas and they asked me to submit my audition info and I got hired!
Can you please outline the key differences to being a performing musician in Las Vegas vs a headline act on cruise ships?
Well I can speak from a singers experience and say that the biggest difference is the amount of time you have to perform. As a singer in Vegas in a production show, you usually do two 1.25 to 2 hour shows, two times a night, six nights a week or if you are in a band you can do anywhere to two 1 1/2 to 2 hour sets to 5 or 6 sets a night. In the more challenging situations, a band will need to show up at 7:30 pm and play from 8 pm until 2 am. I did this for 16 years. I definitely paid my dues.
How did you go about creating your own headline show?
The show actually kind of presented itself to me. I was performing in a band one night and was about 3 months pregnant with my only son. The club was loud and people were talking and laughing and drinking and like in most bar cases, we were serving as background music. However, when I began to sing Celine Dion’s “My heart will go on”, it seemed that everyone grew silent and began staring at the stage and intently listening to me for the first time. By the end of the song, you could hear a pin drop. The icing on the cake was that several people came up and instead of $1 dollar bills, dropped 20’s into the tip jar instead. At that instance, I knew that I had touched on something special. When it was time to take off work to focus on my pregnancy and deliver my child, I put together the idea of my Tribute to Celine show and off I went! Fortunately it was an immediate success although I had a lot of work to do on getting it to where it is now.
What have been your biggest relevant challenges since being a touring headline act?
I feel that any of the other solo acts may probably agree with me that the two biggest challenges are the traveling and the loneliness you can sometimes feel. When you are doing a cast onboard contract, you can develop friendships and a new family through time but when you are constantly hopping on and off, you don’t get much of a chance to get to know anyone and the loneliness sometimes can be overwhelming. Also there is a massive increase these days it seems, in delayed and broken down planes, hours on a tarmac, lost luggage and 8 hour airport days (sleeping on the floor) that can often become frustrating. You have to be very thick skinned to do this job!
What would you say to someone who is looking for advice about creating their very own headline show?
I would say it’s important to figure out an act or artist that you know will sell. Reach out to other successful friends and take notes and always accept constructive criticism. I still do. I did get lucky with Celine. She is so beloved that when I perform her, she sells out all the time. I am also lucky that I can sound like her fairly easily. Who knew? LOL
Note: If you are a tribute artist, please don’t choose some obscure artist because you simply just won’t get booked.
I know you also write and release original music, and am curious how you find the time to do this between traveling non stop for your headline show?
I always have my laptop and logic pro to write music. Sometimes when I have writers block I will take month long breaks. Lately I have been focusing on other things. When I AM ready to write, I bring along my midi controller in my suitcase. ( small keyboard)
Do you or did you ever plan to invest more of your time and energy into your original music and make that more of a priority, or do you find you’ve got a good balance going between the headline show and composing etc?
When I was younger, yes it was a dream of mine to become a top selling radio artist. But as you know, it is very hard to break into that high level of success so probably about 10 years ago, I gave up on that idea and continued to perform in production shows and focused on enjoying doing both my own shows and Celine shows. It is all good because I have had much success in other ways with my original music getting to hear them on tv, movies, jingles and slot machine even haha.
I believe you created a singing application for smart phones? Can you describe your experience creating this and what motivated you to do so?
I received a phone call from someone associated with an App company who asked me to create this phone app as they were looking to create a voice lesson app. I received no info or direction and was free to create it on my own by submitting my own videos and lessons. However, these people never paid me! I have been trying to get in touch with them for years LOL
What would you say to someone who is interested in creating a music related application who doesn’t know where to start?
I would say don’t call the company that I used! LOL
I also heard through the grapevine that your voice is on one of the slot machines at a casino in Vegas. Is this true?
Yes! But if I may say, the machine was in casinos all over the world I believe. There is a great back story to this. When I was young, my favorite movie was Footloose. My friends would make fun of me because I loved this silly little 80’s movie so much. Through the years, my love for the movie and the positive way it made me feel has never wavered. I continued to enjoy the soundtrack through the years even up to these later years and then out of the blue one day, a good friend of mine, Matt McKelvie called me and asked me if I would like to do the vocals for “Holding out for a hero” for the Footloose slot machine. I find this coincidence to be absolutely divine to this day. I went and played many games on it and lost hahah. :). Just recently I also had another crazy incident when Sheryl Crow chose some roller dancing footage of me off of youtube for her new video “Roller Skate”. Sometimes the weirdest things just happen. LOL
Can you please share your experiences working with Chick Corea (I give you full freedom to name drop any other relevant musicians you wish to share)?
Working with Chick Corea was an incredible experience. He is such a legend and played piano for me three different times in shows in Hollywood and one in Florida. I am also extremely pleased to say one of those shows I also had Stanley Clark on Bass guitar and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums! There is a live recording of it on Soundcloud I believe. If you search Elisa Furr “And I am telling you live”. However I think my two other biggest career achievements were writing and performing a duet with Jonathan Cain from Journey ( Dancing with an angel, on Soundcloud) and being asked to do a concert for the King and Queen of Malaysia. That was such a huge experience, it’s whole other interview! So many funny things happened! You will have to read the book!
What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed or been affected by in the music industry over the course of your career?
Hmmm, this is a pretty general question and can be answered in a multitude of ways. So I will choose this path. My career actually continues to reach higher and higher plateaus the older I get so I guess I could say that the one “personal” change I have experienced is to learn how to ask for what I need and expect from a client or producer to be able to put on the best show I can and not be afraid to voice my opinion if things are unsatisfactory, I am getting mistreated or mishandled or things aren’t professional. Most recently I had to learn to become brave enough to speak out to a company I work for because they kept scheduling my rehearsals so close to the actual show that I would only have 15 minutes to leave and get back to my room to do costumes, hair and makeup after a grueling rehearsal before I had to be backstage to perform my concert. You CAN’T be afraid to gently ask for what you need. You know whats best for you and you have to trust that others will respect that. 🙂
What’s the most valuable career investments you’ve made to get to where you are now?
Without even having to think about it, hands down, the first valuable thing was purchasing my Logic recording software/recording studio gear and learning how to operate it all and be self contained. I haven’t met too many women that can produce in logic, at least in Vegas, so I am proud to say I am a Logic engineer. Haha. Hmmm maybe there is a “Woman’s Logic engineer” forum I can join somewhere? (Things to ponder…. )
Yeah, thinking back, I have made a decent amount of my money in production work and have also saved a ton being able to partly produce my own click tracks or karaoke tracks for shows. I’ve also produced many people’s demos and used my software to create many jingles and voiceovers.
Sidenote: If you are having a little slump with your singing or music career and have any kind of pleasant voice whatsoever, you can always go sign up at voice123.com and audition for voice over jobs. I made a ton of money doing that, luckily, while I was losing my baby weight for the Celine shows. I would also like to say to your readers, don’t ever just depend on ONE skill to make it through life. You will always be better off having a variety of skills because when one talent isn’t getting booked, maybe work in another avenue for the time being. For this very reason, I taught myself how to run logic, produce and edit videos in final cut, began voice coaching, learned how to produce songs ( for others demo work too) and am currently still interested in learning photography and photo editing skills. You never know when you could use these skills to make extra money and I look at it as security and a future. Being on tour all the time, it is hard to save or throw down roots for your future and can sometimes be scary. But the good things is, the internet and all of it’s knowledge makes all things possible, so remember, The World is Your Oyster!
If you could only practice three things, what would they be and why?
I always do my vocal warm ups. If you want to be a real singer you better make sure you don’t ruin your voice by not doing your warmups. Of course, I will always have my piano practice. I enjoy it so much even though when I am taking my sight reading test on Piano Marvel, I want to hurl my computer AND my Juno across the room when I keep messing up.
I also think it’s important to constantly practice good communication skills and professionalism so that you can always communicate well with your clients, producers, stage crew and audience. This is also important in your personal relationships.
Do you/did you spend much time transcribing other musicians?
Transcribe? Not exactly Transcribe but yes, I have spent years and years listening songs I like, then recreating the song by ear in my recording studio to create a track. I pick out and play all the instruments and parts with my midi controller, do the vocals and all the background harmonies then mix and attempt to master it. Still haven’t gotten so good at the Mastering part but I think that is more software than anything. I will never forget what Jon Cain said to me one time when I was stressing out about mixing one of my originals. He told me “Elisa if it isn’t farting, then it sounds fine.” To this day I am not quite sure what that means but I thought It too funny not to share.
If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?
Dirty Loops from Sweden. They are sick. Go listen to their version of Britney Spears “Circus”. I have been good friends with the bass player Henrik Linder for about 7 years. He taught me a lot about music when I was practicing bass for a few years. He is the best bassist I have ever heard in my life and I never get tired of hearing them. Their album “Loopified” is a magic carpet ride into some of the best playing and production you will ever hear.
If you could pivot to another occupation, what would it be?
I’ve always had a soft spot for animals and children. Either one would set my heart on fire … in a good way. I am an extremely strong EMPATH. It has actually caused a bit of problems in my life… lol
Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of music?
I have recently gotten into enjoying basketball. I love to read and I love to work out and train with weights. I love trying to stay as fit as possible. It ain’t easy let me tell you!
If you could study with any musician who would it be?
Jonah Nilsson from Dirty Loops. His singing skills are beyond my comprehension and his piano playing matches his voice. He is a freak of nature. I love Jonah!
Any other comments or insights you wish to share?
Absolutely. Guys, it’s the ones who never give up that make it! You have to be tenacious and have an attitude like the energizer bunny. No matter what happens, you get up every time you get knocked down. You are going to be lied to, ripped off, conned and manipulated on this musical ride (if you are lucky) and sometimes you may experience much worse. But if you love what you do, you GET BACK UP and don’t let anyone take you down!
I have been writing a book and the stories I will be telling are mind blowing. I have been through things no human being should ever have to go through. But I never, ever gave up, and I never will. I am happy to do what I love and to be able to make people laugh and smile for the past 37 years. I am truly grateful for all of my opportunities. To stay in touch with me and hear about my crazy on the road experiences, here are some of my sites.
Thanks for reading.
Thank you Isaac.