When Tara Betterbid decided to move to Philadelphia two years ago, she knew little about the city and didn’t know what she was going to do to make ends meet.
All she knew was her rent here would be $300 less than it was in New York City—and that the local music scene, with a wealth of soulful R&B singers, seemed the perfect fit for her.
“I just decided to move somewhere, and that really is the truth,” says Betterbid, who by day works as an executive assistant in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and by night performs as an R&B singer under the name “taragirl.” “I needed to move. I didn’t care where. But I knew a lot of the R&B artists in Philly. They were getting more attention in the media and they were doing things that I liked … so I thought, OK, if I can take a break from New York and go do this music thing, in a less expensive city, it’s kind of a win-win situation.”
Betterbid’s decision paid off last spring, when she released her first CD, The 26th Power. Betterbid wrote all the songs for the album, which showcases a sound she describes as a mix of old-school soul and modern R&B.
Now, with one release behind her, Betterbid hopes for more: She continues to write new material and, of course, perform live. She has appearances set for Nov. 11 at the Philly Fashion & Talent Expo and Nov. 18 at North by Northwest (for more information, go to www.taragirl.com).
“I am very driven and pretty organized when it comes to my goals,” she says. “I’ve been able to make a lot of progress. I’m not done yet, but I’m happy with where I am.”
Q. How were things different for you when you came to Philadelphia?
A. It was a much smaller scene, so I got to know it very fast, and people got to know me very fast. I was used to these big intimidating crowds in New York, especially with me being “the white girl” singing R&B music.
Q. How did you end up in the studio recording your album?
A. When I got here I made a conscious decision to have some faith in what I was doing and build on my songwriting. That started going well. I copyrighted some material and I would go out and sing, and people would ask, “What do you have? Do you have a CD? I love what you do.” But I would have to say, “No, I have nothing.” So this one guy I met said to me, “This is not OK. I’ve got to help you get production. You need to be in the studio.” … So finally I met up with my producer and that was the beginning of our relationship and how we were able to put this project together.
Q. As an independent artist, you handle everything—from writing to singing to marketing. Is that exhausting?
A. Yes, and it’s something that I really need to change. It’s one of my main goals this year. I guess I’m almost independent to a fault. I don’t trust anyone enough to take on this responsibility or delegate it to them. But I am tired. Do I want to do every last bit of it? No, but I feel like I haven’t met the person or people to handle my bookings, to handle my press, to handle everything, which is what a great manager would be doing for me. But I definitely need to do that, because it’s taking away from my art.
Q. What are your plans for the next year?
A. I want to play more to keep the buzz alive, so I definitely want to sprinkle in more local club gigs. But I prefer to play in venues that feature good sound. It’s not as fun for me to play at a South Street hole-in-the-wall bar as it may be for a rock band, because that’s their audience. So for me, I chose to do my record release at Grape Street Pub (in Manayunk) because of their stage. I like a great stage. I am a diva.
Q. How would you describe your sound?
A. There are a couple elements that I think make up the taragirl sound—first, super-strong vocals. And this is why I call it a mix of soul and R&B: The production has a very modern sound to it, but we also use live instruments. Then you have these really strong vocals over top with a lot of harmony, a lot of vocal arrangements. … I was influenced by great vocalists, and there are people that when I was growing up I was trying to emulate—all I would do is sit there and play their records over and over to see if I could do what they could do. I tried to absorb a little bit from everyone. I love Aretha Franklin. I love jazz singers like Dinah Washington. I love Mariah Carey—when I was growing up she was a huge influence—and Mary J. Blige and En Vogue. I just love a great female singer, strong vocals, stuff that’s hard to do.
Q. Ultimately, what is your goal in music? What would make you happy?
A. Some people say they want to get signed. Some people say they want to be on MTV. For me, I just really wish I could be an artist full-time and sustain myself. I swear that would be enough. I feel like I’m pulled in a lot of different directions, but if I could wake up and my job was just to come up with a great concept for songs or vocal arrangements, and if that was my everyday, that would be very satisfying. I’m not even saying I’d have to be rich, but if I could maintain and be an artist fulltime, that would be the ultimate. That would be great. And if on top of that, we could build on that, and I could be famous all through the world, that would be nice too.
Originally published October 19, 2006.