Check Your Ego!

Feed Your Ego Pin

The topic of this blog entry popped in my mind a few days ago after watching one of my favorite reality shows. YES…..I do watch some reality shows. What can I say? Anyway….this particular show follows the lives of a few R&B artists as they work together and take steps to revitalize/grow their respective careers.  I started watching the show because it features artists whose careers I’ve supported over the years. I hoped for no drama, some great singing and a little inspiration; but unfortunately that has not been the case quite often.  I will say the latest round of drama served as a true disappointment for me when something quite ugly appeared once again among these artists……EGO! Now I am realistic and know that everyone has some level of an ego especially in the music industry, but that does not excuse people from not recognizing when their egos are out of order and need to be checked.

Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of artists/musicians who think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and don’t mind telling you! I usually find it irritating and/or comical because it’s so absurd.  I do believe to deal with this crazy music industry one has to possess a healthy amount of confidence, but not to the point where it crosses over into “I Am God” territory.  I have an issue when artists buy into the hype and treat others as if they are better than them just because a few people purchased their album or came to their performance.  That type of support can shift quickly and does not speak to the value of you as an artist or person.  Too easily I see artists fall for this skewed reality which results in egotistical individuals whose behavior is often quite horrendous and offensive. I learned years ago that we are all on this journey together and should respect each other as musical equals striving for excellence and longevity.  Maybe I am in the minority on this one, but it is what it is.

On the particular episode of the show I mentioned, a couple of the artists have truly drunken the “Kool-aid” and act as if they are above doing certain things such as singing background vocals for another artist! I honestly was blown away at their behavior because some of the absolute best vocalists/artists in the game have held it down as background vocalists in recording sessions and live shows.  In fact, I just recently saw Academy Award-Winning “20 Feet from Stardom” again which truly reiterated the fact about extraordinary vocalists singing background vocals, i.e. Lisa Fischer and Merry Clayton. Shoot….one of my absolute favorite artists of all time, Luther Vandross, was a legendary background vocalist which led to his solo career. Singing background vocals is an art form all by itself that demands the utmost respect.   I felt the artists on the show should have been honored to share their talents in order to support their fellow artist who is one of the most respected, unique and sought-after vocalists in the industry even after being in the game over twenty years. What happened to camaraderie and sister/brotherhood?

After the episode was over I sat still shaking my head in disappointment.  Maybe my perspective is different on being a working artist/musician, which to me means you check your ego at the door and remain hungry for the opportunity to share your gift.  I do not mean randomly sing at the neighborhood back porch gathering or every time a family member asks you to sing!  A professional artist has to exercise some discretion, but when the opportunity arises to contribute to music of substance, background or leads, one should seize the chance and do their absolute best.  Not only will it possibly introduce you to new listeners/fans, but you never know who in the industry is listening/watching which may lead to additional work. Most people welcome the opportunity to work with an extremely talented vocalist, but the chances to secure steady work increases when people know you are professional, humble and cooperative. To possess this perspective one has to NOT buy into the hype and be consumed with being famous.  An artist needs to love singing, performing, writing, etc. and do it because you have a passion for it.  Those who only do it for the fame usually have quick, fleeting careers because their priority is not about creating timeless music and artistic evolution.

At the end of the day I guess we all get into this music game for different reasons. I undergo reality checks often to remind myself why I have been chosen for this life.  For me it’s for the love of music and to progress the art form, but I am probably in the minority these days.  I just hope those artists out there with serious talent learn how to remain humble, understand the necessity of paying your dues, and not get caught up in a false sense of reality that causes them to belittle others and not honor their blessing. The last thing the music industry needs is another artist with an inflated sense of self creating soulless music. We MUST do better!!!

COL Album Cover FotoFlexer_Version

It has been almost a week since the release of my sophomore album “Colors of Life” and I had to take a moment to reflect. The fact that it has been released is still somewhat surreal to me. I find myself sporadically picking up a copy of the album and reviewing it as if to remind myself that it is not a figment of my imagination! Then as I peruse it I feel a smile form on my face every time because all the dots start to connect and I am reminded that this is MY new baby.

I feel as if I spent half of my life preparing to make this album. LOL I know that’s a bit extreme, but it feels that way just because my life has gone through so many changes since the moment I started thinking about recording a sophomore album a few years ago. I still remember contemplating not ever recording again unless as a guest vocalist on someone else’s project. I was at a crossroads about my music career and questioning if it was worth all the headaches I endured. Well……after this past week I can declare with the utmost certainty that all I persevered through to get to the point of releasing “Colors of Life” was worth it!

Every time I received some encouraging feedback from someone who purchased the album or hear it played on a new radio station I thank God and also those around me who are working hard to make this happen. There is NO way I could do this alone so I am forever grateful to those on my business team who devote their time, talent and wisdom to ensuring my album is a success. When I’ve found myself becoming anxious about how the album would be perceived or if anyone would actually purchase a copy I quickly think of these committed individuals on my team which snaps me back to reality.

Then to top it all off, I was able to share some of the new music this past Saturday at my first CD Release Concert at the Sharp Nine Gallery in Durham, NC. When I tell you the show exceeded my expectations, I am 100% serious! I am not a pessimist, but I was definitely nervous about having a good turnout. People will always say they are coming out to a show, but have found that many tell you that as if it is “the thing” to say, but tend to not follow through. However, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday when I saw a lot of familiar and new faces in the audience ready to soak in the music. From the first song I could tell people were genuinely “feeling” the music. I saw heads bobbing to the rhythm, people sitting on the edge of their seats and eyes closed in rapture. What a beautiful sight to witness! I felt so privileged to have such a receptive audience at such a crucial show. Then I was super blessed because people also showed their support by actually purchasing copies of not only my new album, but also my first one. A brotha was floored! I can honestly say I left the venue on Cloud Nine pinching myself from time to time to make sure it was all real.

Though the journey continues and we have much more work to promote “Colors of Life”, I travel it proudly prepared for the mountains AND the valleys. Shoot….the valleys make one appreciate the mountains SO much more. The release of “Colors of Life” epitomizes this bit of wisdom perfectly. As a matter of fact, I titled this entry “Finally” after the last song on my new record. It captures my overall sentiment perfectly. Take a listen. THANKS for all the love for my new record everyone.

Return to the Stage

Last weekend proved to be a memorable one for me. I performed for the first time at a venue in Raleigh. It’s a wonderful café with a welcoming staff and some of the most delicious, fresh food that will make you hurt someone. I honestly had some trepidation about doing the gig because it had been a while since I last performed and the gig was scheduled to last 5 ½ hours! Yes….I said 5 ½ hours! LOL That fact alone had me shaking my head a little beforehand, but I’m always up for a good challenge IF it makes sense. Let me just say that I’m grateful I decided to do it.

I worked with all new musicians except for one who remains one of my favorite musicians to work with period. We practiced a “truck load” of music during rehearsal so I was praying to God that we’d get through everything at the gig without “crashing and burning.” Thankfully the guys jumped knee-deep into the music from the first note and breathed precious life into the songs. We had several funny moments during our three 90 minute sets including being told a couple of times to lower the volume as not to distract the people eating dinner. The beautiful part was that the patrons eating dinner WANTED to hear us play and even stayed for extended periods after they finished eating. I was amazed to look down and see some of the same faces at the end of the second set that I saw during our first set. Not to mention people actually clapped for us without being prompted and then showed us the ultimate “Thank You” by filling up the tip jar.

One of my favorite moments of the night occurred towards the end of the second set when the wait staff cleared away the chairs and tables in front of the stage. Next thing I know there were a few couples dancing joyously to our rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. The musicians and I smiled to one another as we all agreed that we never considered that particular tune a danceable one. However, it was heart-warming to see people so touched by the music that they HAD to get on their feet and dance. That moment signified success for the band in my opinion. We continued to play and have a consistent group of folks on the floor dancing. I think I smiled about 80% of the time watching them enjoy themselves.

Overall I had an extremely positive experience returning to the stage after my hiatus. I was elated that my voice endured such a long gig and that the musicians eagerly joined me in infusing our souls into the music to transport the audience someplace special. I ended my night with the booking agent for the venue asking me to pick a date to come back and perform again! I couldn’t ask for a better ending to a fun-filled night of swinging, honest music.

Honest Communication

Most of my closest friends know that one of my guilty pleasures is reality TV. A few of my favorite reality shows follow the lives of successful recording artists. A part of my interest is simply to see how they live their daily lives amidst a busy recording/touring schedule. Another key part of why I watch them is to learn. I am always trying to acquire new ideas/ways to conduct business as an indie artist and navigate the ever-changing music industry. What has surprised me is that I’ve found myself repeatedly shocked at some artists’ behavior when it comes to communicating with individuals on their business team and not taking ownership of their actions.

The primary purpose of an artist’s team is to support him/her in their professional endeavors and help in executing the artist’s master vision. However, for the team to operate efficiently and effectively the artist has to be crystal clear in communicating with them. The person who needs to understand the artist’s vision better than anyone is the manager who serves as the head of the team. What is astounding to me as I watch these reality shows is the confusing messages and/or lack of communication between artists and their managers. I see managers attempting to do their jobs and artists who are not being realistic with their expectations. It’s as if the artists are expecting the managers to not only read their minds, but literally move heaven and earth to reach an extraordinary goal. To add insult to injury the artists refuse to take responsibility for their actions and blame the manager for every loss or failure. Then at that point the artists usually are ready to “jump ship” and look for new management thinking that the “grass is greener on the other side” before thoroughly assessing the situation and holding an honest conversation with their manager. When they show these scenes I always end up shaking my head in disbelief and checking the TV information to ensure I’m not watching a new episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
The key to any relationship in my humble opinion, including a business relationship, is effective communication. My manager’s commitment and ability to execute my vision has repeatedly amazed me, but one reason is because our business relationship started with our having a direct conversation about our individual expectations of each other. Have we had some bumps along the way…..Yes. However, that is to be expected in any relationship. To resolve any issues that arise we hold a meeting, discuss the issue and then take the proper steps to solve it. We don’t even always agree on the resolution to a problem, but that does not stop us from discussing it like adults, respecting one another and finding the best answer. Our conversations can sometimes prove quite difficult because it forces me, the artist, to be honest with myself about personal issues including insecurities that stand in the way of progress. However, I could not imagine having a manager who does not force me to ask those tough questions about myself that need to be answered in order for me to evolve as an artist. Therefore, I have to do the work and take accountability for my part in MY dream instead of projecting my shortcomings onto my manager who is doing her best.

Artists need to be “real” with themselves about what they want for their careers and if they are truly ready for key people on their team such as a manager. If they do not want to be managed then do NOT hire a manager and drag them through hell just do his/her job. That is not fair to all involved parties. I’m sure I’ll continue watching these reality shows since I obviously am receiving an education on the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the music industry along with some great laughs, but I sincerely hope that some of these highly successful artists “catch a clue” and start taking responsibility for their actions instead of blaming those around them who fight the “good fight” on a daily basis on their behalf.

As I reviewed a draft of the design/layout of the CD packaging for my upcoming album “Colors of Life” this past week I had a surreal moment. In fact, I had to look at the design a few times to ensure I was seeing what was actually in front of my eyes. I just could not believe I had reached this major point, not only in the creation of my album, but in my life!

To say I have sacrificed and undergone numerous life changes the past few years to reach this point in my music career would be “dead on” accurate. My address has changed more times than I can admit the last 6-7 years including 2 cross-country moves. I’ve had times when I questioned my thought process, but I always kept moving forward and remaining faithful despite not feeling a sense of stability. A song that I often perform in my live performances always captures the sentiment of my seemingly nomadic lifestyle, Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” As cliche as it sounds I honestly feel as if Joni sat down with me and asked me to tell her about my life as inspiration for this powerful tune. However, when I look back in retrospect, I realize all my moving and life-altering decisions have been with purpose. Everything I have chosen to do has taken me a step further in living my dreams and meeting my goals.

The quote that I based this blog entry around struck me to the core because it is truth. Despite the crazy struggles and often-times baffling decisions we have to endure on a daily basis, it isn’t all for not. We have to remain committed to the bigger picture and trust in God’s plan for us because it usually is so much more than we can even comprehend for ourselves. In viewing the design for “Colors of Life” I suddenly understood that every single step I have taken the last several years had built up to the point where I am ready to release a musical statement that I am extremely proud to share with the world. My move from DC to the San Francisco Bay area and now to the Raleigh/Durham area all HAD to happen for me to understand myself better in order to artistically mature. In addition, the sense of stability I sought for many years was within my grasp because it boiled down to a shift in my perspective. Period. At the end of the day I am exactly where I need to be following the path meant for me. I just have to take things day-by-day so I can continue enjoying this beautiful journey and not be shaken when obstacles are thrown my way.

The Music “Business”

The last few months have proven to be a whirlwind of activity for me ranging from work on my album, gigging, checking out a LOT of live performances, spending time with new friends, and just living my life. In addition, to these experiences I have been brought face-to-face with the business side of my music career. I tend to discuss my creative process and inspirations on this blog, but I would be remiss to not address the business component of being a professional artist. I’ve always prided myself on being quite resourceful when it comes to handling the “industry” aspect of the music industry, but some days it feels as if I’ve been thrown into a Music Business 101 course that threatens to kick my butt on a consistent basis. What has helped me during these difficult trials is having a strong support system that includes individuals such as my manager to trusted friends around me who empathize with me because they have their own stories about the industry to share. Does it blow my mind all the craziness we as music artists go through navigating this industry? Hell yes! However, it is a necessary process for anyone who plans to thrive in this industry because it takes the utmost determination, persistence and faith to weather the storms thrown your way.

After spending some time to thoroughly ponder and assess some of my recent experiences within the music business I have some key points/advice to offer:

• Have a signed contract in place for any and all business relationships/agreements to insure clarity and to CYA!
• Conducting business with friends can be a “slippery slope” that could prove detrimental to a friendship. It is crucial that both you and your friend are on the same page about expectations and what it means to provide excellent customer service!
• Educate yourself about the music business as much as possible via books, classes/workshops, conferences, mentorship, etc.
• Build a supportive team of advisors comprised of individuals you feel confident believe and support your artistic vision. This is a MUST in my book because you need the right people in your corner to help you achieve success. You cannot do it all yourself. Plus, you need people who are committed to seeing your vision come to life and not what he/she thinks your vision should be.
• Know when to shut your mouth and listen so you do not miss important information needed to grow and prosper.
• Accept the fact that you do NOT know everything and it is OK. Just learn how to conduct the appropriate research and/or talk to the right people who DO know the answer to your question and do not possess an ulterior motive in sharing it.

The points above are by no mean the “end all and be all” of traversing the treacherous terrain of the music industry, but just some bits of wisdom I have learned the hard way in the past several months. I can admit if my head was not so “hard” I might have avoided some things, but we all acquire information differently. This proved to be my path of enlightenment.

A New Year!

It has been some time since my last blog entry so I am well overdue for this one. I hope everyone’s year has started on a great note and you’re making the most out of it already. 2014 has been a great year so far. I kind of figured it would be based on how I brought it in with family and friends watching the illustrious acorn drop in downtown Raleigh, NC. I had such a warm feeling of contentment on New Year’s Eve that I was ready to take 2014 by storm.

Despite the horrendous weather conditions, I found myself moving to my “home away from home” in Harlem, NY less than a week after NYE. It pays to have great musician friends who travel and offer you the chance to sublet their spot while they are gone.  Luckily, I was in the perfect place in my life to take full advantage of the offer. I basically hit the ground running once I arrived in NYC. My first week consisted of my attending the Jazz Connect Conference which is connected to the huge APAP Conference. Once again, I took copious notes at the breakout sessions I attended and handed out my business cards like a fiend. A brotha has to network, right? LOL I’ve kept in contact with a few awesome individuals I met at last year’s conference so I’m hoping the same this year. I was quite humbled when some people remembered me from last year or recognized me from my music. Those moments always remind you that you are on the right path.

As the conference concluded, I prepared myself to attend two full nights of the Winter Jazz Festival in the East Village. Man…I fell in love with this festival last year and it was no different this year. I will admit it seemed harder to get into certain venues this year like at Groove, but I still navigated successfully so I was able to catch a multitude of performances ranging from Somi, Gretchen Parlato and Rene Marie to Rudy Royston 303 and the Next Collective. As usual I spent the majority of that time with my eyes closed and head shaking as I digested all the amazing music hitting my ears. What made this year even better was the addition of a new set of friends I made on the first night of the festival while hanging at the Zinc Bar. I ran into a good friend and amazing vocalist, Whitney James, who I met while living in the Bay area who introduced me to two other extraordinary singers, Emily Braden and Michelle Walker. We ended up sharing a lot of laughs and music! Plus I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of musicians/artist whose music I own and highly enjoy. To say I was in heaven would be an understatement. One funny moment for me occurred when met an extremely popular pianist/producer who I successfully handed one of my business cards. I try to be calm and collected when meeting anyone, but some people’s sheer talent just throws me. I truly hope I didn’t look like a “deer caught in the headlights”. Oh well….hopefully I didn’t look crazy. LOL

Over the next week I found myself making the rounds at several venues checking out local/international talent and soaking in the NYC music scene. I think my average time getting home was 4 am and I could not be happier. Hey…this is a city that never sleeps and I am a jazz artist.

Then my trip took another positive step forward when I had the opportunity to perform with legendary pianist/arranger/composer Onaje Allan Gumbs and his New Vintage group at the BAM Café in Brooklyn. New Vintage is a collective group consisting of musicians, vocalists, spoken word artists, and dancers. Man…this was a new and rewarding experience for me. The caliber of all the artists involved was extremely high which forced me to be on my “A” game. Plus the venue was packed both nights so I had to bring the heat. The feedback from attendees was extremely positive so I left each night feeling on top of the world.

In the midst of all this I also had my final two sessions in the studio to finalize some vocals on my forthcoming album “Colors of Life.” Both sessions were frustrating at times, but extremely productive. I almost was in tears leaving the final day when it hit me what a monumental moment that was and that the next phase of this project was about to begin. I took some time to reflect on the last couple of years up to that point and had to shake my head in disbelief. So many times I did not think I would get to that point. Not to mention, I learned a lot about myself during the process including my weaknesses and strengths as an artist, but ultimately my fortitude in making this dream a reality. Lord knows it has not been easy!! I will always think long and hard in the future before working with friends of mine in a business capacity again. That can cause some SERIOUS issues. However, I am even more encouraged about releasing “Colors of Life” and letting the world hear what I have to say.

So anyone reading this can tell that I have been busy in 2014! I could not have asked for a better way to start my year and I more than ready to see what the rest of the year holds for me. I know one resolution of mine is to write my blog entries more consistently so I am informing all of you readers so I can be held accountable.  Don’t be afraid to call a brotha out if need be. Talk to you soon!