As a newbie to the guitar world, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I purchased my guitar. Everything about it scared me, from the frets which I called “the shiny middle things” to the headstock and tuners which I called “knobby things.” I somehow managed to break the Low E string on my first try tuning my guitar and ended up back at Sam Ash, bummed out with a bloody finger. My MacBook Pro’s Garage Band program was okay for learning chords and strumming patterns, but I wanted to learn current songs. Luckily, while looking for an online tutorial of “Smelly Cat” by Phoebe Buffay from the show Friends, I stumbled upon Jen Trani, a musician turned viral star, and her guitar tutorials on Youtube. I had hit the jackpot.
“I hit my head a lot as a child, and I mean, a lot. I think that somehow affected the way I show up in the world,” Jen Trani laughs. “Honestly, I don’t know what makes me unique. I’m just a very lucky girl from Colorado with a guitar trying to make a living doing music.” Thirteen year old Jen Trani was watching a movie when she saw a scene of a guy playing the guitar on the end of a bed. Something clicked in her mind, and she instantly thought, “I could do that.” She picked up her mother’s old acoustic guitar the next day and began playing. Seventeen years later she is now working for Mahalo.com making guitar tutorial videos and inspiring dozens of aspiring guitarists all over the world.
Jen Trani was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. Once she discovered her love for the guitar, she packed her bags a year after graduation and went to study at Los Angeles’ Musicians Institute, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance. “It’s [guitar] the only thing in my life that I have ever been consistent with so it made sense to pursue it,” she says. “But really, I don’t feel like I chose the guitar. It definitely chose me.”
A typical day in the life of this musician consists of waking up at 5 a.m. to work at Mahalo (Santa Monica, California) until 2 p.m., teach private lessons from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. and if she has time, rehearse or write until midnight. “I play every day, but it depends on what I am working on when it comes to practicing. I don’t have the same kind of routine that I did when I was in school. No more 3 to 4 hours of learning scales and chords. Everything that I work on is for work [Mahalo],” she shares. That means learning new songs for her students, transcribing for videos and writing parts for recording sessions. “I’m also in the process of learning ukulele and mandolin so that has been taking up a bit of my time.”
Jen became involved with Mahalo.com through a Craigslist ad looking for a female guitar teacher. “I was originally supposed to do 10 videos, but once the videos became popular Mahalo kept bringing me back.” She has done over 600 online instructional videos which total up to more than 15 million views for Youtube and Mahalo.com. In the videos, she teaches the viewers the chords, hand positioning and strumming patters to old and current songs like “Go Outside” by Cults and “Firework” by Katy Perry.
“I am 100% me. The good, the bad and the ugly. The mistakes, the wrong chords, the right chords, the quirky commentary, the rants, the weird faces.” She continues, “People seem to relate to that and feel safe to also be themselves in my bizarre-o land.”
Mahalo.com is a web directory that was launched back in 2007. It’s different from other search engines, like Google, because it tracks and builds hand-crafted result sets for current popular search trends. Users can search anything from sports, beauty & lifestyle, music and even parenting.
It takes a lot of preparation and organization in order to keep things running smoothly on and off the camera. “Lots of sleep usually helps me run my life smoothly,” she jokes. “I have an amazing support system that I can fall back on when things get too thick.”
Making these videos have led to Jen learning to deal with different challenges and the exposure that comes with them. In bands, she was always content with working behind the scenes, so it was hard for her to cope with the fact that she was put on the spotlight with these videos. “The videos have completely changed the course of my life and career,” she says. As if learning to deal with the spotlight wasn’t bad enough, Jen also does Skype lessons, UStream lessons and is now the face of Mahalo.com’s “Learn Guitar” iPad app. Somehow over the years, she has been able to create a way for her to be in her own world while performing, including performing in the tutorials. “Guitar and music are really the only reasons I get up every day. They are my life, my passion, my hobby, my love and my soul.”
In addition to starring on the tutorial videos, Jen has also been involved with different bands. She is currently performing on lead guitar with Sparrow, Lemon Boys, MojoRising and singer Sofi Bonde. She has gotten involved with these bands and artists through referrals; they pass along Jen’s name and number to other musicians.
“I have three memorable experiences as an artist that always come up to me in no particular order,” she says. One was getting to open for Hanson last year. Another was getting to demo a Luna guitar on The Price Is Right back in 2009. The last was selling out the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles when her and her writing partner, Abby, released their debut CD, Cannot Rearrange.
What can be expected from Jen within the next couple of years? She has no idea. “Had you told me last year that I would be where I am now, I would have laughed right in your face,” the quirky musician shares. “Well, I’m super short so I would have needed you to bend down a little bit so that I could laugh directly in your face.” She shares that she sees herself happy no matter what she is doing, and after many years of trying to manage and control every detail of her life, she is finally learning to let go. “The universe has a much bigger plan than I could ever dream of, so I’m going to let that stay in control because it brought me here and it freakin’ rocks.”