When I first started writing songs, I told myself and anyone who asked that I was writing them with the goal of getting them into the hands of other artists. It felt awkward and embarrassing to try on the idea that I’d sing them myself.
I realized it’s not so easy to ‘get songs in the hands of other artists,’ so I adopted the pseudonym Roan Yellowthorn and went all in performing my own music.
3+ years have passed since I started and, even now, I’m quick to tell people who ask about my goals that I want, ultimately, to write for other people. I’ve felt I need to point out that this stage of singing my own songs is transitory; that it’s a step on a ladder, progress toward a master plan; a master plan that doesn’t keep me in the forefront, a master plan that culminates with me in the background, that hides my face, that lets my words ring out but obscures my identity; a master plan that doesn’t demand credit or attribution. A master plan that doesn’t demand attention.
Attention is a tricky thing. I sometimes feel uncomfortable drawing attention to myself but, more often, I feel uncomfortable owning the fact that I like to draw attention to myself.
It goes back to childhood. How many times have we heard or repeated the idea that doing something ‘to get attention’ is shameful?
In fact, we all want attention. We all need attention. We all need validation. We all need love. Support. Encouragement. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I know this, intellectually. But conditioning runs deep and sometimes I find myself wrestling with discomfort at my own often undisguised pleas for attention. ‘Look at me!’ ‘Look at what I’m doing!’ ‘Look at what I’ve done!’ ‘Recognize me!’ ‘Check out this new song!’ ‘Love me!’
Women are especially conditioned to feel shame around asking for attention. This makes the journey all the more fraught for an artist who is female.
As women we must walk the line between saying ‘look at me’ and ‘what are you looking at?’ We must ask for attention without seeming to want it.
But being an artist demands an audience to receive the art. I am proud of my work. And I think it deserves attention. I want recognition for my achievements. I want respect for my artistry. I want untold numbers of people to hear my music. I know that they will connect with it. It is honest. It is true. It is real. It came from my soul.
I have ambition. And I don’t think it makes me any less of an artist. I think that it means I have faith in my abilities. I know that I am capable. I am not ashamed of that, even if it feels like a breach of social contract to say it out loud.
But the journey of this path that I am on has strengthened me. I can hear the music of my own soul more clearly now. I am learning to be more comfortable in my own glow.
I give no shortage of credit to my twin teachers, rejection and imperfection. The power of rejection has really helped solidify my own resolve. The power of making mistakes has really helped disabuse me of some of my perfectionist tendencies.
I have been rejected hundreds of times. The first few times, it hurt. It really, really hurt. The first few times, it hurt so much that I didn’t know if I could take any more. But I did. A lot more. And it’s gotten easier over time. Rejection is part of the process. It’s hard when what’s being rejected is an expression of your truest inner soul.
But, like anything else, you get used to it. And the more it happens, and the more you keep on going, the more you uncouple your own sense of worth from the opinions of other people. Its a vital step in the journey of going from people-pleaser to artist. It’s a rite of passage. A trial by fire. It tempers.
I was rejected by many record labels before I found Blue Elan. I have been rejected by 70+ agents. Venues. I have been rejected by managers. I have been rejected by magazines. Radio stations. Newspapers. Blogs. I get rejected by multiple venues on a daily basis. But you know what? I keep going. And you know what? Day by day, the ratio of rejections to admissions changes a little bit more in my favor. But some days it doesn’t. And I still keep going.
And the more I continue, the more rejection, where once it shamed me, shamed me, spurs me on. The more I get rejected, the more I do the music and the journey for myself. The truer my work and my path becomes.
Now let’s talk about imperfection. Until very recently, relatively speaking, I was paralyzed by fear of imperfection. I felt like I couldn’t make a move unless it was perfect. Needless to say, I often felt paralyzed. But this journey that I’m on has forced me, has allowed me, to grow. To embrace imperfection. To see each failure as an opportunity for growth. To realize, again and again, that a mistake does not foretell the end of the road.
I have messed up a million times. I’ve had bad shows and off days and I’ve played to empty rooms. My journey has not been flawless.
But the more mistakes I make, the harder I try. The harder I try, the more I want to. The more I struggle, the surer I am that the struggle is noble; that the wanting is sometimes sweeter than the getting, that the tension between the two keeps me in the present in a way that I’ve learned to appreciate; in a way that I’ve learned to love.
It is a privilege to be able to walk this path. Every day, I am thankful for the people who believe in me and for the opportunities that come my way.
With every step forward I gain confidence. With every setback, rejection, and mistake, I come more into myself. Each stride, for better or for worse, brings me more into the light.