Musical missy

Photos: Yanni

Melissa Fistric is a born performer. She first appeared on stage at the age of two in an amateur production of Little Red Riding Hood. Not in the title role, she clarifies with a laugh.

The vivacious, multilingual, multitalented Mornington Peninsula musician, MC, radio host and entertainer has performance in her blood. Her Slovenian background and the encouragement of family were the fertile ground for her burgeoning career. “I used to be part of a quartet with my siblings. We sang for the Sydney Olympics with the Slovenian President.” “Slovenian culture … we all sing. It’s in the DNA. It’s normal to us but to (newcomers) it’s like ‘What? Everyone just starts singing and just harmonises?’”

Melissa is in high demand all over the peninsula. Her regular radio work – Saturday mornings on ABC Gippsland radio – segued at the start of summer into managing emergency broadcasts, resulting in her having to turn down entertainment work during the peak period.

Melissa had worked in customer service management for 15 years before the entertainment bug she’d kept suppressed finally burst out of her. “I’ve always sung and played piano, but I’d never taken the chance to go and just do that as a full-time job.” When her frustration reached a tipping point her mum said, “I’ve never seen you like this. Why don’t you just reset?”.

Melissa resigned and took herself off to the family’s beach house to reflect, recover and try to make something of her music. “A friend brought me a ukulele and said, ‘You have to learn it.’ Then I bumped into this guy in Dromana playing guitar.
We started having a chat and he said, ‘Why don’t we just go for it?’ I took my uke to his gig the next week. I’d never sung with him, and we did a whole gig and it was awesome.”

Her co-performer was Melbourne-based musician Chris Hoffman. “In the music industry, it’s very hard to find someone you just click with. We picked up private functions and city functions and drove to Port Macquarie for a wedding and did gigs along the way; kind of toured. Then I went out on my own with the ukulele and towards the end of COVID bought a guitar.”

Melissa stresses the need to just pound the pavement to get started, turning up to venues and introducing yourself. “You have to do the work.” Now she gets most of her work through referrals. “It’s a hard industry. It takes time, but once you build up that momentum and that word-of-mouth you get phone calls or emails all the time requesting private gigs.”

On longer gigs she schedules breaks to rest her voice but rarely actually has one. “You don’t have breaks because everyone’s talking to you. And that’s when you’re meeting amazing people. It’s the best part about the job. It’s the best job in the world. I wish I’d done it sooner.”

“I know different genres, eras, TV shows, funny, old school, Wiggles songs, Frank Sinatra, then I’ll pull out a Blink 182, Johnny Cash, Alanis Morissette, Usher. I don’t have a setlist. I read the crowd.”

Being multilingual has also given her a distinct advantage in connecting with a variety of audiences: “Life experience makes it a whole package, a whole performance. It’s about making people have a nice time.” “You never know what people are going through, you know? I recently had a couple in their 50s who’d flown over from New Zealand and at the end they said, ‘Our friend is passing away and we’ve come to say goodbye. You don’t know what this afternoon has done for us’. I just lost it. That’s why I do what I do.”

Her radio work serves the same purpose. “Making people laugh, allowing people to have a voice. A lot of people aren’t heard.” “I thrive on stress. With emergency you have to get that warning out, coordinate teams. It’s very high pressure, people’s lives, so it’s full on, but also rewarding.” “I’ve never worked with such an incredible team. ABC Melbourne and Victoria regional teams have just been phenomenal. I’m so privileged to be a part of this emergency team.”

So what’s next for Melissa? “I want to have my own farm. That’s a ten-year goal.” It’s an intriguingly left-field response. Her large garden is already bursting with produce, in keeping with her Slovenian heritage. However, another motivation emerges – saving dogs. She already has two rescue dogs and would like to establish a home for many more.

“But in the meantime, just travel the world, meet new people. I don’t necessarily want the Taylor Swift, huge, sort of thing. I want to be under the radar and do little tours here and there.”

Melissa’s optimism and enthusiasm are infectious, as though having struggled through her former life in the corporate world she has stepped into a new life of gratitude, doing what she loves. She seems to have found the sweet spot between focussed determination and openness to whatever opportunities arise. “The next phase is recording my own songs, then whatever happens from there.”

The word that pervades both her life and her work is “community”. Melissa was on the verge of pursuing a career in athletics after early success as a sprinter, but she stepped away, uncomfortable with the ruthless nature of professional competition. It is clear she is far more interested in connecting with others than defeating them.

She is grateful for the culture of the Peninsula music scene that supports artists, even through winter. “The venue managers understand music. They love, love, love music. I think we’re really lucky in that sense.”

Melissa refers to the Peninsula as her “happy place”, with a long history of shared holidays with family and friends. “It’s quiet. It’s its own little sanctuary.” She is grateful for the culture of the Peninsula music scene that supports artists, even through winter. “The venue managers understand music. They love, love, love music. I think we’re really lucky in that sense.”

The advice she offers to those starting out is clear and simple. “It’s so clichéd but you just have to be you. And if they don’t like it, that doesn’t matter. Try another venue. Find your niche. Find what you bring to the table. You can’t ever be someone else.”

FB: @Fizzy Entertainment
IG: @melissafizz1

Peninsula Essence – April 2024