A Thank You Letter to Women in Music

1/10/19

I grew up in performing arts, I was dancing and acting and singing, really anything that would get me on a stage I was participating in. I wouldn’t classify myself as outgoing, quite the opposite actually. I am an introvert, I feel anxious in hyper-social situations or those environments where I don’t know many people.

But being on stage felt like home, performing in front of others felt right. It’s an experience as I’ve grown older and shifted to the more business side of things that I yearn for almost every day. It seems simple enough if I love performing so much then I should just go out there and do it! But now and even as a child, I have felt a doubt and inauthenticity about my voice. I have had glimpses of feeling like “ooh that’s it! That’s me!”, but it’s never been consistent.

When I was around 11 years old I began taking acting classes on the weekends at a local arts school. I was serious and made it clear that I wanted to be an actress and singer. I think at the time the goal was broadway. You could attend the school academically from 7th-12th grade, but you had to pick a conservatory, apply, audition, and be accepted. I auditioned in 7th grade, 8th grade and wasn't accepted until 9th grade. That level of competition and defeat I believe is good to learn young, but it also reinforced insecurities that I’ve continued to struggle with to this day. It’s the sense of never being good enough. I was in the musical theatre program, doing my best attempt to sound like the other students and I never did. I never got into any of the shows unless they were directed by a guest director. These professionals would come in and cast me because they liked what I was different, they liked that I didn’t sound like everybody else, but then I would go back to class and be critiqued for not sounding like the cookie cutter broadway belter.

In the summer after my freshman year, I joined a program called Camp Sing. I can say without a doubt that was one of the best decisions and experiences of my life. It took me out of the musical theatre environment and it was run by two men in the industry who believed in championing what made each attendant unique and talented. The program was comprised of workshops and masterclasses and ended with a competition at the end of the week. The second summer I attended, I won the competition and that performance was the most authentic I had sounded up until that point. Returning to school I had a new sense of confidence, but it was fleeting. I still had two more years of high school and the pressure continued to knock me down. I transferred to the contemporary music conservatory hoping that would help but it was the same situation. No one on the radio sounded like me and when someone asked me what genre of music I sang, I couldn’t tell them. I began saying Jazz because that is what I felt closest to and most inspired from but deep down I knew that if I were ever to write and produce my own music it wouldn’t have a home. There’s no question that I could contort my voice to be similar to any indie pop singer-songwriter but I had a major issue with finding my voice.

After graduating high school, I moved to Chicago for undergrad pursuing contemporary vocal performance. The overall experience and structure of this college was very similar to the “advanced" style of my high school. Though I was no longer singing musical theatre, the new environment I was in questioned and critiqued why I didn’t and didn’t want to sound and fit the mold they had created. My college experience opened other doors for me and I began finding new passions within music on the business side. My love for music has only strengthened but I continue to feel a void. I am not fulfilling a big part of who I am and I haven’t been on a stage in years.

I often brush off conversations about my music because how can you fit all of this into a casual conversation? For a long time I wasn’t able to put this experience into words. I wasn’t able to say that the 8 years I spent studying music actually stripped me of any authenticity and ability to present my voice with confidence. Recently, I have felt a shift. I have been thinking about my relationship with music more often, I’ve gotten so comfortable not exercising that muscle and creativity that there is a fear of opening that part of myself up again. I know on that front, it’s me standing in my way.

Now up until to this point, I wouldn’t say that this sounds like a thank you letter. But here is where my gratitude begins…

Today, I work in the music industry. I work in a venue, I am a contributing music writer, I work with local bands and put on my tour manager hat when I can. Within the last year or two I have seen more young women in rock n roll than ever before. More young women that I can identify with, there are some really rad musicians being innovative and unique and they don’t all sound the same but they fall in the same niche. It’s powerful. Courtney Barnett, Jen Cloher, Molly Burch, Margret Glaspy, Anna Burch, Lala Lala, Gabriella Cohen, Angel Olsen, Bad Bad Hats, Breanna Barbra, Japanese Breakfast, Ohmme, La Luz, Stonefield, Mattiel & more. I’m looking at all of you. Most of these women have been making music longer than 2 years, but what I am referencing is music as a collective. You all have helped shape and redefine what being a singer and a musician as a woman looks like. You’ve broken genres and stereotypes. You’ve broken barriers.

Yes, it took my long story of a girl who is in love with music, who thrives on stage, who has lost her voice for me to make this point. But it was needed because music is changing. The women in music today have helped me find these words. The women in music today have ignited a fire within myself to stop standing in my own way. The women in music today deserve a big thank you.