The Definition of Success

What I love about my voice lessons is that they usually end up being more like therapy sessions. We, of course, sing during these lessons but more than anything we talk about the heart of an artist. There is a joke in Nashville that any barista, waitress, or tour guide is a “wannabe” songwriter scraping by on a can of pork-n-beans and wild dreams. I have tables ask me all the time if I’m a singer or a songwriter. It can feel like such a demeaning question. Yep. That’s me. Just another blonde headed gal trying to get rich and famous. I actually had one guy correct me when I said I was a songwriter, “You mean aspiring songwriter.” No sir. I write and play music every day. That makes me a songwriter!

I recently went to an audition and one of the questions they asked in the paper form was, “Why do you like to play music?” That feels to me like my doctor’s office asking, “Why do you like to breathe air?” Seriously? Because I have to do it to survive. It really is that necessary. Sometimes I wish I could be a doctor, pilot, dentist, teacher … anything with a straight trajectory. You go to school, you learn how to do it, you get your credentials, and then you go out into the world and do it. I’ve tried to quit music so many times … because of fear, laziness, insecurities, whatever. But it’s like trying to quit breathing. I run out of air. My soul is suffocated and the only thing that soothes the burn is picking up that ole guitar.

This artist thing takes quite a bit of faith. It is really hard to believe in yourself when it seems like nobody else does. It is a peculiar journey. The thing that makes an artist really good at what they do is their sensitivity, but in order to make it in this business you have to have pretty thick skin. It can be quite the balancing act and I find, as in all areas of life, you’ve got to have the right perspective. One of the quickest lessons I’ve learned since moving Nashville is that I cannot let someone else define success for me.

At my last lesson we talked about remembering what our purpose is as artists, singers, and writers. This isn’t about singing, it’s about delivery. It’s about giving the listener goose bumps. My job title is not “singer”. This is bigger than that. When I sing at someone it’s like spraying melody all over the place just hoping it will impress someone. It’s all about me. I can hide behind this and so can the listener. But we both walk away unchanged. That’s not what music is about, stroking my ego. It can’t be. It’s about sharing our sorrows and joys in a way that only music can. When I talk to my listener instead of at them through melodies and lyrics with a sincere and authentic intent, there’s nowhere to hide. I am certain you have experienced this before. It’s the difference between a “pretty good singer” and that mysterious “it” factor. It’s the difference between enjoying a show and being moved to your core. The only way to make this kind of connection with your listeners is to be in the moment, to be fully present. To turn autopilot off, take a deep breath (maybe the first one in a long while), and take a look around. I realized yesterday that I don’t like to do this. Sometimes when we’re hurt by people we love, or wounded by strangers, we check out. I think it’s a defense mechanism. We don’t want to feel the pain so we create self-absorbed realities to live in and give ourselves the starring role. We don’t notice what’s going on around us. When we wake up and look around we see people hurting. We see people we cannot help and worse yet, people we should be helping. And maybe we feel the hurt ourselves. Yesterday I turned autopilot off. I looked people in the eyes as I passed them. And it did hurt. But that’s the essence of relationship, going through life together.

If I asked most people what a “successful” artist looks like they’d probably throw out phrases like; #1’s, Grammy’s, sold-out shows, tour bus, money, fame, beauty, on and on …

But as far as I'm concerned if I want to be a “successful” artist I've got to turn auto-pilot off, look my listener’s in the eyes, and offer up my authentic wounded self. No protective walls. 

Are you on auto-pilot? Look someone in the eyes today as you’re walking down the street. It’ll probably feel awkward and they’ll probably look down at the ground. That’s how disconnected we are. Instead of turning away from someone, why don’t ya smile at them?! Like the cashier’s hair at the grocery store? Tell her! Think the bank teller has a fantastic smile? Tell him! Who knows, a compliment from a random stranger just might make their day!

All I know is that learning how to be a better ‘artist’ is teaching me how to be a better person. I’m learning how to get out of my own head, get above my own needs, and really figure out how I can serve others through all the gifts I’ve been freely given. Slow down and look around. Because there’s nothing smaller than being stuck in your own story.