Steinhardt Student Scales the Jazz Industry

Alice Li
Lauren Scales and her strong dedication to music puts her soulful songwriting high up on the scale.

Inspired by her hometown of Detroit and her music-oriented family, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development songwriting master’s student Lauren Scales is now drawing crowds of her own. Recently, Scales, the daughter of musicians Gwen and Charles Scales, finished third in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition with her rendition of “La Lumiere,” an original song about light and its intricacies.

Scales said that she gravitated toward music because it surrounded her when she was young, be it her mother’s vocals or her sister’s cello.

Scales dreams of a career in the music industry, and her parents’ successes have made her aspirations seem more attainable. Her parents proved to her that pursuing a career in music does not always mean becoming a struggling artist, but like any other field of study, it’s not always a smooth journey, either.

“It’s a hustle,” she said. “But it is very doable.”

However, she thinks that the idea of instant gratification is an illusion in the music industry. She believes a steady career to be ideal.

“You don’t want to get big at 25 and burn out at 27, which can happen a lot of times,” she said. “It takes a few years to get settled. It’s okay.”

Scales’ music is potent — it clings to the soul. Like all good jazz music, it evokes smiles as well as tears.

“Typically when I’m writing on my own, I try and do things with some measure of a positive spin,” she said. “[I like to put in] real emotions, things that can be deemed universal.”

But it’s hard to put a label on her music, and she experiments with many styles.

“I like all music,” she said. “Yes, jazz is where I pull a lot of my inspiration from, and that is the tradition that I am the most rooted in, but I think that there are so many other things that I am also influenced by.”

Scales, above all, can find ideas to write about anywhere, anytime, be it in the practice room or on the train.

“Usually it doesn’t just come in one big piece,” she said. “It’ll start with just a random piece of melody, or I’ll be thinking about something and a line will get stuck in my head — I’ll write it down, and I’ll go back and revisit it. So it really starts off in a lot of little fragments that can happen anywhere.”

Regarding NYU, Scales finds the songwriting faculty’s knowledge and experience to be appealing. She hopes to one day write about New York City, but right now, she is still finding her way around.

“It’s only been a couple months, so right now I’m just trying to get the trains down.”

Email Alice Li at [email protected]

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