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Best known as the bar singer in Ally McBeal, Vonda Shepard has had a varied career as a singer/songwriter. She has released six solo albums and toured with Al Jarreau and Jackson Browne. Her latest collection of songs from Ally McBeal, Heart and Soul, is now on sale.

Success for me means using 100 per cent of the abilities I've worked hard to enhance over the years. I've been playing the piano since I was six. Although I don't come from a musical background, I was given piano lessons along with my sisters, but I wasn't what you would call a good student. I tended to write songs rather than do scales. When I was 10 my father put me in a studio to record some of my songs and I've just gone on from there.

Starting young has definitely helped my success. All the experience I gained by touring with other players as a backing artist helped to prepare me for my own big break. I would advise anyone starting out as a singer/songwriter to play live as much possible. You never know who might be in the audience.

Experience and practice are also extremely useful. I find practising very meditative and it came fairly naturally to me when I was younger. I need more discipline now I'm older, but I still play for a couple of hours if I have a day off. I've always been very careful of my voice. I make sure I warm up my vocal chords every time. It's worth it because I never get hoarse.

It's also important to have a good team you can trust. Some talented people make a mistake by surrounding themselves with the wrong people. But I've been lucky. In 1995 I was at an extremely low point in my career. I had made two albums and was looking for a deal when I met Eve, now my manager. She got me back on my feet and supported me by agreeing to sign me whether my music was successful or not.

Having drive is a big part of success, along with integrity. You need to have a clear vision of what you want and take the steps to achieve it, even if that sometimes means playing gigs in tiny clubs. When David Kelley, the producer of Ally McBeal, asked me to do a couple of songs for a pilot I just thought it might lead to something else. If I had been arrogant and turned my nose up at television I'd never have got that big break. For me the secret of success is to be as prepared as possible for when the opportunities come up.