Growing up I didn’t originally aim to work in the singing industry. Singing was something I did for fun. I had two big doubts before making singing a career.
I was worried about people understanding my music and the message I was trying to get across. When I was first starting out, it was all solo gigs. Some of my first gigs with my band had like 5 or 6 people in the house. It’s still not a sure thing whether folks will show up but now I have people saying to me that my music makes them feel all the feels or that it was what they needed to hear. Our last gig at Rockwood filled the room to capacity. It was a great affirmation that if you stick with something, and are determined to work out all the kinks, eventually things will begin to blossom.
My second doubt was image-oriented. Even though we have curvy role models in the industry, (i.e. Adele, Jill Scott, Brittany Howard), I think universal acceptance is still on the horizon. Or hey, maybe it was all in my head. I needed to come to fully accept myself so that I could leave no room for anyone else to doubt me.
As a performer, I’ve been told before that if I lose weight then I’d get more opportunities, more acting roles etc. Even though it stung to hear, there was a time where I simply said, “Yeah you’re right!” I did the work and got up in the morning and jogged those miles. By my senior year in college I was my smallest I had ever been. To the point where people began to praise my success and talk about how good I looked. But I still thought I was over-weight and thought I was undesirable. My friends and I joke about it now; we say “Man if only I could be as skinny as I was when I thought I was fat.” We were clearly joking but if you think about it, it's all so messed up.
After I went to grad school and moved to NYC, I gained most of the weight back (what can I say, the food is good here). In addition, I was so distracted by making my dreams happen that working out fell on the back burner. It was never something I loved doing for myself. I always did it with others in mind so it’s easy to see why it fell out of the picture.
I don’t say all of this to keep harping on the same old sob story. I’m saying this because as a 26 year-old woman in the music industry, I want to be a pioneer for true body acceptance. I want to join the ranks of women who won’t shrink themselves to make others comfortable. I’ve got a big voice, a big personality and a big body to match it. And I love the way my clothes look on my curves. I think I found the image that works for me and it’s an image built on self-love.
I took the leap and decided to chase my dreams when I decided to stop letting fear paralyze me. I started out as a background singer. I loved that work. I still jump at opportunities to do it now. I just knew that I had things to say as well. I eased my way into it but when I started my fundraiser campaign for my EP, I had to remind myself that everything I needed to succeed was already inside of me. I knew a network of wonderfully talented people. I had the determination and I had the music. If I was ever confused along the way, I just asked questions or figured it out through trial and error. If something ever turns out “wrong”, I treat it as a lesson on improvement. That’s how my parents raised me.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every industry, of course. I get to meet so many great people and we bond over a universal love for music, which is sharing in a universal feeling or experience. I'm also able to be extremely creative with my work, something you won't see as much in other industries. The creativity in songwriting depends on and flows directly from me. I’ve also got amazing band members and we do a lot of creative collaboration. I love collaborating and bouncing ideas off of people. Music is probably one of the most creative things you can do.
But on the other end, sometimes the business side of things intimidates me. I’m an artist and have a free-flowing brain, so this year I’m determined to become as business savvy as ever. Even things like managing the logistics of my band's schedule, booking venues etc. can prove to be confusing at times, but my dedication to trying harder has helped. I work in education at an Afterschool program and one profession informs the other. What I learn applies to my entire life.
A few years ago I thought I would be auditioning for Broadway musicals or living abroad teaching English. I’m still working in the education field, but now music is a huge part of my life. Before I was under the impression I had to choose, that the capacity of my life was not big enough to include all my passions. Because of that belief, I said no to and blocked myself off from a lot of great opportunities in the past. Now there are some days where I feel as though I am working 80 hour work weeks. To be honest, I kind of am. I work as a manager at the Afterschool Program, there are 120 children in our program so that can get hectic. I am also managing my music career and band. I’m busy and I’m working towards my goals. Therefore, I feel good about the path I am on. If there is ever a time where that changes and I feel as though I need an adjustment, I’ll do it. But I always want to be educating and doing music in some way.
There was this one time I had a gig up in Harlem. It was a Friday night and there were bands coming in before me and after me. I finished my set and it hadn’t gone as well as I thought it would. So, the one thing I always do in those moments is get out my pen and paper and take notes (not literally) and think of all the things I could do better next time. The next band has started their set and they were phenomenal. My friend, who is also a musician, and I were sitting there and she asked me how I thought it went. So, I gave her a laundry list of all my mistakes. And then I looked at the band that was on stage and said, "I want to jam like them and have a vibe like them. I just think I’m too clean cut." She looked at me and said, “Stop it! Nope! This is not theatre. You don’t need to fit into a mold. You don’t want to sound like anyone else, or be like anyone else. The best part of music is that we all want to sound like ourselves. So, do yourself a favor and stop comparing yourself to other people.” That was a turning point for me. I knew this all along in the back of my head but I was subconsciously self-sabotaging because I wanted to be like somebody else.
I’m surprised at how many good friends I’ve made throughout this process. Seriously, I was under some crazy impression that it would be super competitive and catty. This is probably from all my years in theatre where there’s that one role that EVERYONE wants. I’ve gotten into arguments with friends over a getting a role. But the best thing I’ve heard so far is that there is space enough for everyone in this industry. I have met so many beautiful people through music and we have created a community.
Through my career journey, I've learned that I’m tough. I am determined as heck and I’m stubborn. Which has served me well because I don’t let things get in the way of my goals. Sometimes I can get into “one track mind” mode. I think it’s good to pause and reevaluate at times, instead of wanting everything to happen all at once.
I’ve been learning more and more about music. I never got a formal education in it so learning things like theory has been an on the go thing. When I was first starting out, I had to google how to write my first chart. I never wanted to bug anyone and ask, and my skill level wasn’t good enough to do it sensibly. Sometimes I think I procrastinate out of fear. That is the root of procrastination really. Over the last few years I’ve been tackling that slowly. I got a guitar and a keyboard. I’ve been writing on keyboard more than ever. I just played a gig on keys this past Sunday where I had to play 4 songs solo. I mean, I’m not Alicia Keys but I’m working towards it and trying. I am so in awe of music because there this great expanse of musical knowledge and every day my understanding grows. I want to keep on learning and growing.
My definition of success is that I’m working. I don’t have to be famous but I’d like to consistently be getting shows and having people attend those shows. It also means having a steady stream of income. Music is tough in that way. You put in a lot and the return doesn’t always equal out, but I stopped looking at it monetarily or else I would drive myself insane. But who knows... maybe that’s a belief I need to shift as well. The belief that I am worth the return on all that I put out into the universe.
The skills that have really helped me throughout this journey have been time management, money management, people skills, communication, collaboration, and NETWORKING NETWORKING NETWORKING. I can't stress enough the importance of following up and just being kind to people. It's cliché but no one likes a diva.
All of the performing arts industries go hand and hand and I think that this year has been a year for the books as far as people of color and women are concerned. We are visibly making strides in our industries. Watching the SAG awards was inspirational. It was actually on TV while I was at a gig. I was so blown away by all of the women/people of color representing!!
That being said, from my experience, all of the folks in my social network that have taken off and gotten somewhere (fast) have been white males. I am so proud of all they have accomplished but it just hurts when I look at my peers who are performers, who work really hard, and it seems to take twice as long to get there for a person of color. I think we’ve come to a point in history where people no longer view this as personal opinion. Now that the mainstream media has come to a place of acceptance, hopefully that trickle-down effect will change things for the everyday artist. Although, I have a feeling that the music industry is further ahead in that regard. If the music is good and people are digging it then I feel like those things don’t become as important. I’ve mostly performed in New York and everyone is so different so it’s hard to tell. We are all just trying to make an impact.
I will say that I did a gig once with all women and of course this conversation naturally came up. One of the singers participating said that she had an experience where a guy she was working with kept calling her a diva because of the way she would assert herself in the rehearsal room. In fact, it became his nickname for her. I think in this industry sometimes men have a problem with the way women take command. We are considered divas if we do and people think we are clueless if we don’t. I don’t think men are forced to deal with that. Luckily everyone I work with is very supportive and respectful, but we all encounter those mansplainers every now and then.
I would love to be remembered as a peacemaker. I want to write things that are deeply moving and make people look at and examine their life the way a great poem does. And to everyone reading this, keep going. It’s a marathon, not a race. Don’t be afraid to mess up and get messy and all you need to succeed, you already possess.