How to Pick the Right Singing Mentor

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I always love the first lesson with a new student. Young and old, new singing students are so full of excitement to come to study what they naturally love to do, and their energy is infectious! But how do you go about finding and choosing the singing mentor who is right for you? Here are a few things to consider.

1. Voice Teachers vs. Vocal Coaches

I say “singing mentor” because there are different types of professionals to choose from depending on what your goals are. Generally speaking, a Voice Teacher is someone who has a post-secondary education not only in performance singing, but also in vocal pedagogy—the study of teaching voice. A Voice Teacher helps someone to improve their vocal instrument, tone quality, technique, etc. using an advanced knowledge of vocal anatomy and sound. A Vocal Coach, on the other hand, is usually an experienced musician who helps a singer prepare for a specific challenge—like an audition, recording, or live show—and is almost always a deft piano accompanist. A Vocal Coach will help a singer to maximize a performance. Of course there is lots of crossover, and both Voice Teachers and Vocal Coaches will be able to guide singers through warm-ups, exercises, repertoire, and sometimes even psychological barriers. Both can help beginner voice students, and almost all of them will work with beginners.

2. Teaching Experience 

A singing mentor may or may not have a university or college music degree, and that’s ok. A six-year-old beginner does not need to see someone with a master’s degree in Vocal Pedagogy. But they probably should see someone who has experience teaching six-year-olds. The most important thing here is teaching experience. Just because someone knows how to do something really well doesn’t mean they know how to teach it. A good mentor will have a well-rounded musical career, but they don’t need to be a Broadway veteran to help you reach your goals. A combination of education, years of teaching experience, and the age range of their students will give you an idea of what their background is and what their strengths will be as a mentor.

3. Genre

Most singing mentors work primarily in one genre of singing: classical, musical theatre, jazz, or pop. Some can help with more than one; Vocal Coaches are more likely to be generalists, and Voice Teachers are more likely to be specialists. Voice Teachers are also more likely to be classically trained. Keep in mind that most of the post-secondary music education available for voice is in classical or jazz programs, so a university- or college-educated mentor will likely be trained in one of these two genres. There are a few specialized colleges that teach musical theatre, like the Randolph Academy, but post-secondary programs that graduate pop singers are few and far between (here’s one). When seeking a mentor, keep in mind what genre you are looking to study. Personally, I believe that all singers can benefit from classical training, and it’s a fine place for a beginner to start.

4. Vetting

As it stands, there is no legal regulation of private music teachers in Ontario. Anyone can hang their sign and say they teach voice. While I do believe that qualifications can come from a variety of different places, things to look out for would be a post-secondary music degree or diploma, years of teaching experience, and/or membership in professional associations like ORMTA or NATS. Teachers at private music schools have also been vetted by the school in the hiring process, and often have had a criminal background check done in order to teach children.

5. Price Point

Singing mentors in particular seem to come in a wide variety of price points. I have seen everything from $50 to $300 per hour, and that’s just in Toronto. The amount a teacher charges is based on many factors, including the market they are in, their name recognition, and their target demographic. As a general rule, the more professional your goals are, the more you are going to pay for the right mentor. The ones who charge more than $100/hour generally have name recognition in the music industry, but there truly are no rules. For beginners and hobbyists though, student teachers are a good quality, less expensive alternative to get you started.

How did you find your singing mentor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Reasons Why Singers Need to Know Music Theory

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As I toil through seemingly endless exercises in preparation for the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Advanced Harmony exam, I often find myself asking WHY?!!?!? Music theory students are famously disgruntled. The rules, the complexity, the mind-numbing repetition… No matter how much someone may say they like studying music theory, everyone has a breaking point. A three-hour theory exam is enough to turn any bright young musical mind to mush. AND YET, I remind myself how incredibly valuable this skill set is and has been to me so far.

Many beginner singing students with no previous musical experience come to me having learned to pick out a tune from a favourite song by ear. They are often in search of improving their voice and working towards getting on stage. Approximately zero of them ever come to the first lesson saying, “I want to learn about music theory.” Here’s why learning music theory is important.

  1. For amateurs, music is required reading. Sheet music allows us to notate music in a way that a musician can pull from the page, even if she has never heard it before. The ability to read sheet music and even sight-sing is not just an expectation for the professional session singer or Broadway star. From church choirs to community musical theatre productions, singers are almost always given sheet music as the sole source material. Some generous directors might provide practice tracks, but in my experience they often don’t. A singer with ambitions beyond the shower or karaoke bar will eventually have to learn how to read music, which is the first part of any music theory studies.
  2. If you rely on other musicians, you must speak their language. While many singers I work with can accompany themselves on an instrument, often we singers rely on outside accompaniment, i.e. someone playing the music while you sing along. If you are being accompanied by a musician—or dare I say a band of them—you will need to know how to speak to them about what you want musically, and also understand what they are saying to you. If you can’t answer the question, “What key do you sing this in?” then you need music theory. And by they way, singers have an unfair but not entirely unearned reputation among other musicians for not knowing anything about how music works. Be the change you want to see in the world.
  3. It will get you out of the ditch. The reason why it’s easy to learn most pop songs by ear is because, well, they’re easy. But let’s say you landed a part singing in the chorus of your local musical theatre production and now the lines you have to sing sound a little weird. The notes sound atypical, the time signature changes back and forth. Even if you do have a version of the song you can listen to over and over again, it’s still tough to really anticipate those entrances. Never fear, music theory is here to help you count your way into the rhythms and wiggle your way into those accidentals (notes outside the key). When intuition fails, music theory is a logical system you can use to solve problems.
  4. You can learn other instruments faster. Have you ever met one of those people  who seems to be able to play every instrument she picks up? It’s because she’s not really starting from zero with each new axe. She knows music theory! Knowing the scales, the names of the notes, the construction of chords etc. will help you find your way around virtually any instrument a whole lot faster. Why do I need to learn an instrument, you ask? Because being able to accompany yourself gives you the freedom and flexibility to perform whenever you want, without having to schedule or pay anyone else, in the key that actually suits your voice.
  5. Understanding music increases appreciation. I have always been the type of person who could be intensely elated or utterly gutted by a dramatic chord change. Now I am learning about the chords that do those things, and it honestly feels like a spiritual awakening. The♭III chord GIVES ME LIFE! The I-IV-iv progression is INTROSPECTIVE TEARS! These Neopolitan 6 chords add a little bit of OOH LA LA. The tierce de Picardie is a real eye-roller. There is so much life in these chords, and understanding the complexity of what the composer was doing really transforms the experience of listening to music. And a singer’s job is to FEEL THOSE CHORDS!!

These are five reasons why I think every singer should learn about music theory, but the big motivation I keep coming back to is songwriting. Deepening my understanding of harmony and harmonic progressions only makes me a better songwriter. I love using the new moves I’m learning about as I go.

Have you had your music theory today?

 

My New Brain for 2018: Filling the Day to Declutter the Mind

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Most of my past new year’s resolutions have failed because they centre around something I think I should do, but that I don’t really want to do in the moment. So this year, the overarching theme of my new year’s resolutions is to schedule my day with the things I want to do to stay happy and focused on achieving my goals. I have learned that avoiding these tasks and procrastinating only leads to guilt and shame, and leaves my mind free to spin out into dark places each and every day. Keeping my mind occupied with a daily schedule of fruitful work is the name of the game in 2018. So here is my ideal daily routine for 2018.

9 am – Wake up! Because I work evenings, my sleep schedule can be all over the place. Waking up at the same time every day would be an achievement.

9 – 9:30 am – Breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth.

9:30 – 10:30 am – Practice time! This is time to spend with my voice, piano, guitar, and/or ukulele. I don’t want to proscribe too tightly what I’m going to do here, but it will include a good vocal warm-up, practicing for my video, songwriting, and whatever else I’m working on.

10:30 – 11:30 am – Homework time. I have been neglecting my harmony studies this past fall, and I really do want to write the RCM Advanced Harmony exam this summer. It’s totally doable, but I just need to make it a part of my daily routine. Anyone who has done theory knows that the work can be a little bit tedious, but I find that whenever I play out what I’m learning on the piano, I understand it better, and the new chords always inspire my songwriting.

11:30 – 12 noon – Check email. I will respond to your messages at this time!

12 pm – 1 pm – Physical activity. This could be going to the gym, doing a yoga video, or seasonal outdoor activities like gardening or shovelling snow. Whatever I’m in the mood for that day.

1 – 1:30 – Lunch time!

1:30 – 2:30 pm – Get ready for work! Shower. Make-up. Hair. Fashion. Selfies. I look good, I feel good!

2:30 – 3:00 pm – Commute to work. Walk, bus, ride, whatever the weather allows that day. I am free to move as I choose!

3 – 9/9:30 pm – WORK. My job can be somewhat irregular in terms of start and end time, which has often prevented me from being able to follow a routine. But 3 pm is the earliest I can work, so I figure if I always get to work at 3 pm, I will often have “office hours” to prep for lessons, respond to work emails, and tidy up my studio. I may even be able to create some more helpful social media content for my students and followers!

9:30 – 10 pm – Commute home.

10 – 11 pm: Dinner & QT with my spouse and doggy. My husband works a normal day job in Waterloo, so his sleep schedule has to be a lot earlier than mine, with an 11 pm bed time. We will have more time together on weekends, but we’ll make the most of the time we have together during the week.

11 – 12 am – Spiritual time. Meditation, reflection, ritual, journalling, learning, reading, watching videos, etc. Time to devote to my soul and spiritual path, to keep my life intentional and my emotions balanced.

12 – 12:30 am – Getting ready for bed. And not just the regular oral clean-out. Slather my body in lustrous butters from head to toe, and anoint my face in luxurious oils. Take some time to love and spoil my body!

12:30 – 1 am  – Read.

1 am – Meditation into sleep.

Of course, another important aspect of this plan is to forgive myself when I cannot do the plan. There will always be days when this is just not meant to be. But the point is to have a plan and keep myself occupied each day with the things I want to do. And if I ever get off track, I can just look at the clock, look at this list, and pick up from where I am.

Hope your New Year is joyous and bright! What are your New Years resolutions?

LB

5 Ways to Avoid Losing Your Voice over the Holidays

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Most of us emerge from the holidays with a bad hangover and a strained voice. Here are some tips to improve the chances of your voice making it out alive this holiday season…and maybe the rest of your body, too.

  1. Avoid shouting at parties. When our environment gets too loud, we tend to raise our speaking volume to the point of shouting just to talk to the person next to us. We often don’t even realize we’re doing it until we start to feel the strain. Speak softly at the front of your mouth, and articulate your words instead of pushing your voice. If your holiday party is too loud to talk, ask the host to turn down the music, or invite your conversation partner into a quieter space. If none of these feels appropriate, you should probably be on the dance floor anyway.
  1. Get plenty of rest and fluids. Sleep in and drink tea! If you do sustain some vocal damage, nothing will fix it like a good night’s sleep. Enjoy your break!
  1. Keep drinking to a minimum. Alcohol and caffeine are both associated with drying out the vocal folds, which can lead to strain and injury. I should also mention that dairy increases phlegm production, causing you to clear your throat more, which is basically as bad for your voice as coughing. Of course we’re all going to have fun, but a rye & ginger is probably a little easier on your throat than a rum & egg nog. I love hot toddies, myself.
  1. Warm up! It may seems strange, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of talking for the evening, prepare with a little vocal warm-up. You can even do it in the car on your way to the party.
  1. Breathe. It’s amazing how often we forget to breathe when we talk. When we are running out of breath to finish our sentences, our voices become strained. The voice needs that breath support to keep going, otherwise it has to push in an unhealthy way. Take a deep breath in the middle of a sentence. Make them wait. You’ll feel like Barack Obama.

Of course if you’re sick, you’ll need to recover. But hopefully this helps you get through the next few weeks!

Christmas Music for the Jaded Musician

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Musicians tend to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music.

…Ok, so most lean more towards the hate side of things. It’s done to death. You’ve heard the same songs over and over again since childhood. Every new cookie-cutter cover, or sappy original take on the same theme (“It’s Christmas and I’m lonely!”) is enough to make you want to tear your own ears off.

It’s also incredibly commercial. Just about every mainstream artist puts out a Christmas album at some point because it’s basically mandatory, even if you’re not Christian. And of course many musicians get lots of well-paid gigs at this time of year as airports and hotels suddenly have big budgets to hire us to play holiday music in their terminals and lobbies. And let’s not forget the music teachers whose young students seemingly only ever want to learn Jingle Bells. Christmas music is great for beginners, and students actually want to play it.

And so we do it. Begrudgingly. Soullessly. Half-alive.

But I have a secret…

I actually love Christmas music. Not all of it, and not all the time. But here is some of the Christmas music that I still get excited about.

  1. The Charlie Brown Christmas Album Vince Guaraldi’s inventive jazz arrangements and improvisational pianistic style mixed with realistic children’s voices completely reinvents these classic Christmas carols. There are also fantastic original piano pieces. Perfect for: Party background music or studies for the young pianist.
  2. Chipmunk Christmas. Ok look, I know this is all children’s music so far, but it’s really hard to listen to Chipmunks sing Christmas carols and not feel better about life. If you don’t like this album you’re basically a monster. Perfect for: Watching backyard chipmunks do their thing, or when cheering up is needed.
  3. The Phil Spector Christmas Album. Now I know that Phil Spector is a convicted murderer, and he really screwed over Darlene Love. But these Christmas covers are magical, and her vocal performances are unmatched to this day. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)?” Come on! Also the Crystals “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is delightful. Perfect for: Rep for female vocal groups, or a very 60s Christmas party.
  4. This Jazz Christmas playlist. Norah Jones. Harry Connick Jr. Sting. What more do you need to feel like your troubled artistic genius self? Perfect for: arrangers, self-loathing, etc.
  5. Sharon Aaronson’s Christmas Stylings. These books of jazz arrangements for solo piano are really beautiful and fun to play. Probably at the Grade 5 or 6 level. I always come back to these around this time of year. Perfect for: the piano hobbiest who wants to play a few tunes at parties or public pianos and not be kicked off.

Please enjoy Christmas music responsibly.

A Singer’s Tips for Surviving Cold and Flu Season

It has arrived! The sniffling, sneezing, snuffling, snorting, and snoring! Cold & Flu season rears it’s ugly head every fall/winter, and it is particularly disastrous for singers. While most other people feel that they can work through a cold if they need to, singers cannot. A cough or sore throat can take down a singing voice, and if we can’t sing, we can’t work. Performances are cancelled. Ticket holders are disappointed. Rehearsals are compromised. Singers infect other singers and entire productions can collapse! So here are my tips—many of them straight from the doctor—on how to survive cold & flu season as a singer. Or perhaps just as the gross, bacteria-laden animal we call a human being.

To prevent getting sick…

  • Be a germaphobe. Don’t share forks, drinks, food from someone else’s plate, etc. It seems obvious, but it’s incredible how often people ask for a lick of your ice cream or a sip of your wine. Find your inner diva, and steel yourself to say, “No! I am a singer!”
  • Boost your immune system. Taking supplements like zinc and echinacea daily will help to strengthen your resistance to viruses. I drink a cup of echinacea tea or Throat Coat tea almost every day. Zinc lozenges are a great alternative to cough drops, which actually dry out your throat from the menthol.
  • Keep your hands clean. The cold virus can survive on a hard surface for 24 hours, the flu for 15 minutes. The virus invades our bodies when we touch infected surfaces and then touch orifices like our mouth and eyes, or other people. Wash your hands regularly, and keep hand sanitizer close by. In my studio I keep special anti-viral Kleenex that kills the cold virus in 15 minutes. Also try to wipe down your space with disinfectant wipes every so often.
  • Get your flu shot. In Ontario it’s free! Many pharmacies offer the shot, and of course you can get it at your doctor’s office. It’s just one more thing you can do to help yourself and others prevent the spread of the flu, which can be fatal to the very young and the very old.

If you are sick…

  • Rest. Your body needs sleep to fight off the virus, and lots of it. The more sleep you get, the shorter your cold’s duration will be. The more you try to push through, the longer your illness will go on.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Your body needs to stay hydrated in order to flush out the virus and keep your immune response strong. This is why you should not take over-the-counter cough medication or nasal sprays if you can avoid them, as most of them work by drying you out. This temporarily relieves your congestion, but longterm makes it harder for your body to heal and prolongs illness duration. Cold & flu medications are for the high-stakes “I-have-to-get-through-the-next-6-hours” situations, not for routine use during a cold, and certainly not for singing. High-dosage echinacea, water, tea, and fruit juice will give you the fluids and vitamin C that you need. Avoid caffeinated drinks, especially coffee, as they tend to dry out your respiratory system and vocal folds. Also avoid dairy as it increases mucus production and congestion.
  • Clean out your nose. Nasal irrigation devices are all the rage these days because they provide non-medicinal relief from nasal congestion using saline or salt water. You can buy a Neti pot at any health food or drug store. Personally I have a Navage because I find I need something a little stronger.
  • Clean out your throat. Gargling with salt-water or even anti-septic mouthwash like Listerine can help to clear out a clogged throat, but hands-down the most effective phlegm-burner is a few drops of straight-up oil of oregano. A nasty business, but very helpful for throat congestion and post-nasal drip. You may also want to try an oral anesthetic (read: “numbing”) throat spray if your sore throat is keeping you up at night. Slippery elm bark supplements also help heal sore or overworked throats.
  • Sleep with a humidifier on. The extra moisture will help to soothe a dry throat and lungs, but keep the setting low to avoid mould. Steam and eucalyptus oil can also help loosen mucus in the respiratory tract.
  • Don’t infect others. You are considered contagious within the first 3-5 days of showing cold symptoms. The cold & flu viruses are not only contracted from contact, but they are also airborne. If you are coughing viral droplets into the air, people can get it just by breathing near you. If you must venture out into the world, then please wear a mask, especially if you will be around other singers. Otherwise, stay home and rest!

Hope that helps! Do you have any favourite home remedies for cold & flu? Let me know what works for you!

5 Reasons Why I’m Applying to the Gonzervatory this Friday

This week I’m taking a break from my Fallen Hero Covers series to create a different kind of video. You see, Chilly Gonzales is offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris for budding composers to study in beautiful studios with the likes of Peaches, Jarvis Cocker, and of course himself. So I’m devoting my video-making energy this week to creating my Gonzervatory Application video, wherein he is asking to see my “musical life.” It’s a tall order, and initially he had a hard time getting submissions. But here’s why I’m doing it.

  1. It’s a time capsule of where I’m at right now. Applications force us artists to reflect and take stock of the things we have done, what we have achieved, and help us to focus on where we are looking to go. As I struggle with a period of creative uncertainty, it has been extremely helpful to see where I have been.
  2. It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime. What artist would not kill to spend a free week in Paris studying with her heroes? Oh My Gawd. Where else does an opportunity like this exist? Nowhere, that’s where!
  3. I need help! I have been challenged by the struggle to figure out my artist identity, how to best present my work, and putting together a unique live show that inspires me and brings out my Pheonix. The Gonzervatory seeks to explore a unique approach to learning music that challenges and inspires. I feel like if anyone can help me, it’s these folks.
  4. It connects me to other artists online. Just watching all of the other application videos has been so fun, guys. Search up #Gonzervatory application and you’ll see. There is a global community of artists watching each other’s videos, getting a quick impression of what other people are doing, and I think that’s absolutely fabulous! Lots of inspiration there.
  5. It will make me a better teacher. “I had a problematic relationship with studying music,” Chilly says in the opening to his video calling for applications. “I wanted to be inspired and challenged, not taught!” It is a good reality check for any music teacher: our job is to inspire, and we do that through our skill, creativity, and passion. In any case, I would be very excited to see how Chilly approaches this in his instruction.

Submissions are due this Friday December 1 at midnight London time, which is 7 pm Guelph time! My video should be up at noon Friday as per usual! Hope you like it!

When Great Artists are Monsters: An alternative to separating artist from art

The crescendo of abuse allegations against creators in our mainstream culture is reaching an all-time high. For years now, one question has kept popping up in our collective consciousness: can we separate the artist from the art? Of course what we really mean by this is, can we in good conscience continue to enjoy the works of people who have done unspeakable things?

As an artist, the idea of separating the artist from the art seems like a trick question. My art is an extension of myself. It is certainly sometimes an exaggeration, a composite, or an escape, but it always comes from me. My hope is that if I am wiling to be honest about myself in my art, in what I choose to write about, then perhaps my audience will connect with that around some universal truths. Perhaps there are some really ugly things that we feel that we are too ashamed to talk about, that can find their healing place in art. This, I believe, is the artist’s calling, but it’s a tall order to expose yourself like that.

Of course, not all artists operate this way. When it comes to creating, I feel like there are two types of artists: those who run towards their truth, and those who run from it. Amy Winehouse was a songwriter to sought to bare her soul in all its monstrosity in her music, and we couldn’t look away. The themes of addiction—to drugs, to her toxic relationship—were central to her music, her life, and, unfortunately, her demise.

On the other side of things, when I listen now to the stand-up comedy of Bill Cosby, I hear the squeaky-clean humour of someone who was trying to create a more innocent persona to hide or distract from the darkest parts of himself. He certainly fooled us for a long time, but perhaps he was also fooling himself. His crimes were singularly atrocious. However, do we not all create an idealized self-image to some extent? Do we not all run from our darkness, deny our faults, even a little bit? At the end of the day, these monsters are human, and there’s a little bit of them in all of us. For me, this lens makes listening to his stand-up a lot more disturbing, and a lot less funny. Not exactly my idea of an evening’s entertainment.

Of course, there are also those artists who expose their uglinesses with seemingly complete oblivion, like Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines.

So can you still enjoy the art of a monster? For me, I think it depends on how self-reflective and honest the artist has been about their demons in their art. But if the artist has been hiding something that is now in full view, I recommend putting their work into the context of their ugliness and see if you still like it. Would you still want to jam out to R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix if you knew he was addressing it to a 13-year-old girl? Because that is probably not far from the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Artist’s Journey: 5 Ways I’m Moving Through Uncertainty

The artist’s journey is not an easy one. Finding your unique voice as an artist is a beast I’ve been grappling with for a while, and continues to snarl and snort at me every day. A problem like “finding yourself” seems big—overwhelming even—and certainly in my case can often lead to stagnation. It’s only through breaking it down into concrete action items that I can move forward and feel good about living out my passion. Here are 5 things I’m doing to help me through this time of searching.

  1. Talking to other artists. I’m so blessed to know some very passionate creators, but the way my life is right now, I have to seek them out. I’m making plans to meet up with artists I respect so I can pick some brains. It’s important to have other artists to talk to about ideas.
  2. Starting rehearsals. I’ve determined that all I need is to find ONE person who wants to work with me, and begin rehearsing my original material towards the creation of a live show. What form that live act will take I do not know right now. But I have songs, and booking a rehearsal is a start.
  3. Booking a show. One thing has become clear: I need to get back on stage. Even for just 5 minutes. The YouTube videos have been a remarkable learning experience for me, especially in terms of my songwriting, but I need to perform for audiences again in order to feel that what I’m doing actually matters to people and is grounded in reality. And I need to feel the spark of what excites me about performing, and feeding off of an audience, which I always found so brightly in solo improv comedy. So I have booked a 5 minute spot on the November 28 Comedy Open Mic night at the Making Box Theatre for which I have absolutely no plan! See you there!
  4. Being open-minded and patient. My particular set of skills may not be and probably is not conducive to a tried-and-true artistic format. And while that can be frustrating and unsettling, it’s also not ultimately a bad thing. For instance, if I were best suited to being a conventional “pop star” then perhaps my path would be slightly better laid out for me. But what I am best suited for is not as obvious, and so the path ahead is less certain. However, if I can create something that is uniquely me, then yes it will take longer to develop, but it will be fresh and new, and impossible to duplicate without me.
  5. Striking while the iron is hot. As winter sets in, and the days becomes shorter, energy tends to wane. We need more sleep, more downtime, and I’m ok with that. I’m ok with not creating as much during this time. I’m ok with this period of reflection, rehearsal, and reaping what I’ve sown. I will not force myself to write each day or each week as I have done. I have enough to go forward, I am enough to go on. But! If an idea grabs me, I will tend to it. If at all possible, I will set aside the daily routine to follow inspiration. And I hope in this way to find passion in my work again. May it not be a mundane and monotonous chore to write songs, but an act of self-expression and vitality. And in this way, may I accept the winter and also rage against the dying of the light.

If you are an artist who has found ways to move forward in your development, I would love to hear them!

xo,

LB

On my 32nd birthday, here’s 32 of my problems that I threw in a dumpster

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This past weekend I got together with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while for an emotional closet cleaning. We each made a list of all the emotional baggage we wanted to be free of, placed the papers in an old suitcase, drove it 20 minutes out of town and threw it in a dumpster. Then we went for lunch.

As a woman, a musician, and an aspiring artist now knee-deep in her 30s, this birthday brought up a lot of stuff for me. My husband asked me what I want for my birthday, but this year I’m far more interested in what I can purge than in anything I could receive. Here are 32 things that were in that suitcase, in no particular order.

  1. Being unhappy with where I’m at in life. There is no magic finish line to life, and even if there was, I am not supposed to be there at 32. And even if I was there, then what would I even do with the rest of my life? Finish lines make no sense.
  2. Being unhappy with where I’m at as an artist. I’m on a journey, and I’m at a spot where every single other artist alive has been. Also, see #1.
  3. Being resentful of other people for things they have said or done to me without apology. Anger is a call to action, but resentment is a slow death. Use it, say something, make art, heal, move forward. Forgiveness must always be earned, but the Pheonix does not need validation from the ashes to rise.
  4. Operating from a mindset of scarcity. Recognize the dreams that have come true.
  5. Being out of touch with my friends and family.
  6. Being hard on myself for the low points in my creative productivity. Some times are for creating, some times are for performing, other times are for reflecting.
  7. Being afraid to try things that seem “unproductive” to me, like painting or rock climbing. Do things just for fun.
  8. Being fixated on a problem for too long, unproductively. Meditate. Let go. Return to it later with a fresh mind. Also, have I eaten/slept? I might need a time out.
  9. Being afraid of my own success and how my life will change if my career progresses. The career of a musician is hardly predictable, and there’s no way to know what shape it will take. But it will be of my own making.
  10. Being afraid of my age as a woman in music. There is a place for me, and if there isn’t, I will carve it out myself. But I could not have written the songs I write now at 23.
  11. Setting time limits on pursuing my dreams; e.g. “If I don’t achieve X by the time I’m XX years old then I might as well give up.” My dream is my life, and it can only grow as I do. I will not go backwards.
  12. Taking on commitments that do not serve me, or anyone or anything I care about.
  13. Being afraid to speak my mind politically. I may not be a captain in the army, but I aim to be a brave and dutiful soldier of the causes I believe in.
  14. Blaming others for who I am. Quite frankly, if nothing bad had ever happened to me, if no one had ever hurt me, I would be boring. All the talent in the world cannot save a boring artist. So, these people who have wronged me have also given me a great gift. I have the power to transform their transgressions, if I so choose, and turn them into art. But these people don’t write my story, they don’t own my sorrows, and they certainly won’t share in my glories.
  15. Holding on to old grudges. I just don’t have the energy to hold on to anything anymore!
  16. Being unhappy with my appearance. I am not as old and ugly as I sometimes like to think. But I’ve noticed that putting in the effort to eat well, exercise, dress up for work, put on make-up, etc. does help my self-image because it makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. Nothing wrong with that!
  17. Being ashamed of not knowing something. Sometimes knowing less is more.
  18. Talking too much to compensate for my imposter syndrome. My voice can’t handle it so let’s just say it once and move on, shall we?
  19. Comparing myself to other people and feeling like everyone else is doing better than me. In other words, drop the devastating jealousy. Everyone is on their own unique journey. But honestly, if someone is doing amazing then let that be motivating instead of crippling. Did they really do anything that I can’t do if I put my mind to it? Also fair question: do I want their life, complete with their time management breakdown?
  20. Feeling guilty about not knowing when I’m going to have kids. I know that we want kids, but financially and career-wise, we both know that it doesn’t make sense right now. People think owning my dog is like having a kid, but for all her medical expenses she should really have her own one-bedroom apartment. Besides, my husband made his greatest career strides in his mid-30s, and I just want the same opportunity.
  21. Feeling guilty for my lazy mornings. I work afternoons into the evening, so the morning is my downtime. I often feel like I’m supposed to be doing something because it’s the morning, but this is my time!
  22. Being afraid of changing course. Once I start something, I can get stuck in it for a long time beyond it’s expiration date in my heart. I’m trying to be more open to change.
  23. Hanging on to useless crap in my house. I’m talking literal garbage. I keep finding hiding places for all kinds of useless knick-knacks because, oh I don’t know, they’re in “good condition,” or “it’s a memento,” of that time, or “if we just find the missing piece it’ll be worth it.” Throw that shit out!
  24. Pretending I am a therapist. I am not a therapist. I need therapy.
  25. Procrastination, avoiding bed time, and other forms of self-sabotage.
  26. Letting myself feel bad for too long before getting help.
  27. Being afraid to reach out to someone I haven’t talked to in a long time.
  28. Spending too much time on the internet until I feel anxious.
  29. Diving into work to avoid addressing the problems in my marriage/career/friendships, etc.
  30. Taking criticism about my artistry too personally. Be open to feedback from people I trust and respect. (And screw the rest!)
  31. Being really harsh on Young Laura and the stupid things she did, how naive she was, how unable she was to navigate certain life-altering situations, etc. She was just a kid, so give her a break. She did do some pretty badass things, too, so remember those moments.
  32. My fear of ghosts. I bought a ouija board and I’m coming for you, ghosts!