Lael Feldman, who goes by her stage name Lael Summer, a senior in the Thornton’s Popular Music Program, is living the dream. In 2012, Summer signed to the True Groove Records label. She worked closely with producer Tomás Doncker to release Burden to Bear. This debut album, under the True Groove Global SOUL Independent Music Label, features Summer’s original, expressive songs as well as her cover of Hall and Oates’ “Do What You Want, Be What You Are.”
Born in New York City, Summer cites her urban upbringing as essential to the development of her complex and mature character. Despite her roots, she also clearly enjoys what Los Angeles has to offer to a young artist.
“There is nothing quite like the feeling of being unbelievably lost and alone while surrounded by millions of people- — you grow up fast,” Summer said. “It just so happens [my] two home bases are where it’s at in the industry and [I] get to experience the best from coast to coast.”
Despite her bubbly appearance, Summer’s voice is a powerful and soulful mix that accurately captures feelings of both pain and hope. In addition, her bluesy rhythms never stray too far from the accessibility of pop music. This masterful blend of genres stems from the the large role that music has played in Summer’s life.
“Music has always played a significant role in my life,” Summer said. “It is a huge facet of my identity, an outlet for my emotions.”
By age 10, Summer had shifted from musicals to more emotionally rich music. Though her voice has clearly matured since those days, Summer still maintains the same vulnerability and emotional rawness.
Summer also wants to dispel the myth that pop music is less rigorous than other genres.
“People hear ‘pop music’ and think bubblegum and autotune,” Summer said. “But we, too, are in a top conservatory studying a lot of the same things as [students] do in the classical and jazz departments.”
USC’s Popular Music Program was the perfect breeding ground for Summer’s development as a musician. She describes singing songs by classic acts such as The Beatles, Chaka Khan and Garbage.
“Performance class was so much fun, a lot of work, but it introduced me to all genres from early rock to funk, Motown and contemporary music,” Summer said. “It taught me how to work within a band, hear harmonies and understand every instrument and its purpose. It gave me experience performing and taught me how to learn new material super rapidly — a very valuable skill.”
The Pop Music Program is also known for its small class size — around 25 students per class —and the hands-on experience it provides.
With so much talent in one program, Summer sometimes finds it difficult not to compare herself to other talented students. The musician stays grounded by focusing on her art and making sure that her music truly expresses her emotions.
Summer’s lifestyle might seem stressful, but the artist advocates managing one’s time well. She also has the support of her family and friends who remind her to live a well-balanced life.
“Time management is crucial; when things get super stressful, I plan out my days down to 15-minute intervals and make sure to include time for breaks and for food,” Summer said. “They keep me in check.”
Summer is currently working on her first music video, collaborating with fellow USC students David Bolen, Janey Feingold and Audrey Rosenberg. With all her success, Summer tries to stay level-headed.
“Talent is only the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “You have to be fiercely driven and willing to accept rejection over and over again. I think that realization has really kicked me in the a– and I am finally beginning to take risks.”