Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thoughts on the pursuit of music...

As I fly back to Boston this rather dreary evening after spending the holidays at home, I was supposed to go pay a visit to my old community theater to have a Q&A with the kids about what it is like to pursue music as a career. Unfortunately, that visit did not happen this time around, but I hope they know that they are often on my mind. 

I owe a lot of my continued musical pursuit to that theater. Without those experiences, I may not have had the courage to follow this path. It may seem weak or cowardly to say this, but I believe there is some truth in it. Plagued with chronic self-doubt, I will openly admit that there have been numerous times when I have been ready to throw in the towel and say maybe this isn’t for me. Luckily, those have mostly all just been melodramatic fits of frustration; it is safe to say that I am not anywhere close to giving up. The truth is, giving up would be the easy way out. No more struggle to be heard or “liked,” perhaps a significantly less amount of tears and significantly more amount of Netflix. (Okay…there’s already quite a lot of Netflix happening…) But anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows I never do anything the easy way. 

In lieu of the visit that did not happen, I wanted to open a little window into what this journey toward a musical career has been recently. Part of this was written 20,000 feet above ground and part in flannel pants back home in my cozy (and expensive!) Boston apartment. This is a life full of extremes and simple joys. One week can involve a nonstop schedule of work (yes, a grown-up, non-career-related desk job), practice time, rehearsals, and trips in and out of the city, while the next can be incredibly boring. The simple joys are getting to put on those flannel pants when you finally get home from a 16+hour day or having Hungarian honey (my favorite!) in your tea. 

(Full disclaimer: These are my personal experiences and thoughts, and everyone has an entirely unique journey to travel.) 

I am 28 years old. Steadily approaching that big 3-0 number. Sometimes that stresses me out beyond reason, and other times, I welcome it because it means greater moments of this journey are yet to come. There have been a lot of exciting things happening lately. I am beginning to come into my own voice and with that, opportunities are slowly beginning to open up. I chose the classical voice route; it suits me well, but it requires incredibly more patience as the voice matures later. I am finally beginning to truly understand my voice, how to use it and its purpose. That long-awaited feeling of being “consistent” in my singing is starting to be real. Yes, bad singing weeks happen, and it sucks. Those are the weeks when it feels easiest to just “call it quits”….those are the weeks when it is most important to push that thought train right off its tracks. 

This year has brought about a lot more auditions, both good and bad… I have walked into rooms welcomed with open arms…and into another where they flat out told me they didn’t want to hear me. THEY invited ME to come sing for them and then dismissed me before I opened my mouth. I’ve begun to conquer my somewhat irrational fear of NYC. And my audition that is set to be next weekend in New York will be in a glorious boot cast because I managed to break my big toe walking down the street. It sucks, but somehow I will figure out how to get there and back and walk into that room like it’s a normal day. My throat still works. :P (I have a theory that I am getting all of the weird audition scenarios out of the way in one season, so that nothing will ever phase me in an audition setting! haha!) 

Another note on auditioning… This is actually the career. At least a good chunk of it. People tell you this, but they don’t really tell you this till you get to the point that you realize it yourself. After each audition, the question is, “Okay, what/when/where is my next audition?” It is a constant scouting for audition postings and chances to be heard by directors. But let’s get real…auditioning is bizarre! You are basically voluntarily putting yourself into uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing scenarios of judgment. Most of the time (except in the case of the rude people from that particular audition mentioned above), the adjudicators want you to do well. Who honestly wants to sit and listen to bad auditions all day? Everyone handles auditions differently. I have discovered that I have a lot of anticipatory anxiety, but when I walk into that room, I am typically fine. It is a feeling of, “This is what I do.” Believe it or not, I actually had fun in one of my auditions recently! Shocked me, too! But I’ll take it! Your goal is to get to a point of feeling like walking into an audition is as normal as going to the grocery store. It is part of your “normal” life events. 

Rejections happen more frequently than acceptances. It is hard not to take no’s personally. I have never had a thick skin, but I have learned over time how to handle this. Shed your tears, get angry, but then it’s time to move on. (And careful what you say in public…you do not know who may be sitting beside you on the bus/train or behind you in a restaurant.) Some of the rejections I have received have actually been fairly comical. You have to remember it is most likely not about you personally. They met you for maybe ten minutes in that audition room (and that is if it was a good audition!). You may have sung the best in your life and still get a no because they may be looking for a particular sound (or dare I say it…a particular look…). I am a believer that the opportunities that are meant for you, you will get. If you don’t get a particular opportunity, that just means there’s something else out there for you. Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. No matter what, you have to be true to yourself. I embrace my weirdness. :) 

It’s okay to sometimes do things for free. I know I will probably get a thunderbolt thrown at me for saying this! Yes, the ultimate goal is to eventually be paid for what we do. That’s the dream. But you can never do this career for the money. Some of my best performances have been pro bono. You never know who may be in the audience or who may know whom. (The music business is a small, small world!) And on that note, ALWAYS BE PREPARED! It will give you a calmer mind, and amazingly, your breath will be helpful instead of nervous. Plus, you will gain trust.

I’ve barely embarked on this career, and I can already tell you that it can be incredibly lonely. Learning to be in solitude is important. There is often travel alone, meals eaten alone, and not to mention the countless hours in a practice room alone. Your social life is very different after you graduate school. You no longer see your friends every day. In fact, you begin to see them less and less. Sometimes, it feels like you have no social life. This is not true. It has simply taken on a different face. You come to find that you can often pick up right where you left off with some people, no matter how much time has passed in between. 

Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. Seriously, don’t. Media thrives on deception. Social media is no different. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook because it allows me to stay connected with people around the world. But you see a curated world in social media posts. You see only what they want you to see. And speaking of which, that is the same for your profile. Before you post, if there is a question about anyone seeing it, maybe it means you should re-evaluate before pressing submit. Your profile is part of the impression you give people both on and offline.

Everyone has an opinion. You have to be your own filter and decide for yourself who/what you are going to listen to. I’ve heard the gamut. There is no one way to do this career. Those who tell you there is a “prescribed path” are crazy. Everyone’s path is completely individual. 

Singing careers are expensive. Application/audition fees that you have to pay whether or not you are invited for an audition, traveling to said auditions, making recordings for applications and websites, voice lessons, coachings, pianist fees, audition/performance attire, photocopies, health insurance, transportation, accommodations, credit card bills, etc. It adds up quick. Living in the city is expensive in itself, but it’s all relative. You lose the sticker shock after awhile (until you visit home and realize the price difference!). I work full time while trying to figure out how to make it in this career. I wish I didn’t have to, but it has forced me to put myself into a routine.

That routine includes practice time. When I get home from work, my day is not nearly over; now, it's time to go back to the piano. (The timing of this is primarily so that my neighbors don't kill me for being so loud later in the evening! I'm very lucky that none of my current neighbors have ever said anything about me interrupting their dinner on a nearly nightly basis.) Some weeks, practicing is a precious commodity, and it pains me to not have all the time I want to devote to this. Having less of it helps you make the most of that time, though. When a performance is coming up, memorization time is stolen on lunch breaks, on the bus, walking down the street, etc. And yes, I am often lazy. Like now…I am back in Boston and should get back to practicing after taking the past week off, but then there’s Netflix, again… :P 

You have to be your own motivator. No one is going to make you practice. You have to find that within yourself. The true test is going back to that piano even when there isn’t an audition or performance in sight. That is what will keep you going. 

There is a lot of not knowing. Not knowing what comes next, not knowing if/when something will happen, not knowing where next month will take you…continuous not knowing. But guess what! No one actually knows ever…in any field! We are all learning as we go through life. Plan as much as you can, find some sort of consistency in your life to hold on to, and keep working on trusting the process. All in due time, right? 

Read! A lot! Articles, biographies, psychology, history, novels, plays, even blogs. Another nice thing about Facebook is seeing these recommendations shared by friends. I have a handful of friends that love to post things just like this blog post. I know finding the time to read isn’t always easy, but do as much as you can. (And perhaps that means a little less of that Netflix time…haha!) 

I don’t have any secrets on how to break into this business. I wish I did. Believe me, it’d make my own life a lot easier if I did! I am still trying to figure that out myself. I don’t know if I will ever make it or if I have what it takes. In fact, I don’t even know what “it” really is. I don’t think “it” exists. The journey just continues. I am not in this for the fame. For me, success is continually singing. Right now, success is simply getting another audition. I do know that I belong in this world, so I will find whatever it takes. And if one day I say that I’ve given it a good run, but I’ve had enough, I have given myself permission to walk away. However, I can never walk away because of fear. (That’s called running away!) Actually, giving myself that permission was liberating and gave me momentum.

I say none of the above to deter you. Rather, I hope this honesty encourages you to keep at it. There is glamour and excitement in pursuing music, and there is nothing like traveling as a singer. It carries with it a sense of purpose greater than oneself -- the pursuit of giving music back to the world. I want and hope for the life of continued travel like this. I have come to understand exactly what it means, and I am ready for that if/when it comes my way. But behind the glitter, the life is real. The frustrations, the exhaustion, the nonstop learning, continuous stream of no’s, the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, sacrifices, and solitude exist. Take heart in your dreams and know the world is full of possibility.

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