Tonight, I’m standing in a stranger’s living room, singing at a house concert. I’m far from home and I don’t know anyone here but you’ve given me your time, your ear and your heart for two hours and by the end of the night, we know each other. We are fulfilled and changed by the experiences of the evening and life is good. We are moved, unexpectedly.
You approached me with tears in your eyes. I was standing near the tissue box so I had the honor of handing one to you. You told me what that one song meant to you, how it spoke exactly of an experience you’d had and that it meant the world to hear someone else felt the same way.
After a few moments of each of us trying to find the words, you said, “And you should audition for the The Voice!” I smiled and laughed a bit and said thank you. “I mean it,” you said, “you’re good enough! You could win! You could be famous! Someday, you’ll make it and we’ll say we knew you when.”
I’ve come to realize that this is a huge compliment, maybe the biggest compliment that you could possibly offer. You have just placed me in the company of some of the best singers you know of. You believe in me. You want me to have success and you want others to experience what you’ve experienced here tonight. I’m flattered and humbled and grateful.
For many people, watching one of the myriad singing competitions on TV is a huge deal, like a cross between a soap opera and football, exciting and dramatic and entertaining, an epic battle with a winner declared at the end. And you can be directly involved in the outcome. After all, it’s up to you to vote your favorite into the next round. And seriously, there is some pretty incredible talent on those shows, especially The Voice. So I’m flattered that you consider me talented enough to vocally rumble in the ring on your favorite TV show.
But I’m absolutely not going to do that. Here’s why:
1) I’m not interested in ‘winning’ at singing.
I sing for a living so in all honesty, I ALREADY win at singing. How strange it would be to have a celebrity judge (who probably knows less about singing than I do) listen to me for 30 seconds and decide if I’m ‘good enough’. I AM good enough to sing for a living because I’m doing it right now.
I sing for people, on purpose, at concerts and festivals and weddings and churches and bars. I studied music in college and have a degree in classical voice. I’m a singer/songwriter and I’m signed to a small and awesome record label. I sing for a living and I sing for people and I sing for myself. I totally win.
2) I’m not really interested in being famous.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to being well known or to my songs being heard by the masses or to making enough money to buy my mom a decent washer and dryer. But I have never been interested in achieving fame. Fame usually has nothing to do with the music and it almost certainly has nothing to do with talent.
It’s hard to judge the success of a musician without using fame as a measuring stick. But it can be pretty simple. Am I singing? Check. Are people hearing it? Check. Is everyone happy/moved/inspired/dancing/thinking at the end? Check. Do I want to do it again tomorrow night? Check. That, my friend, is success.
3) I don’t want to compete with other singers.
There are plenty of people out there taking advantage of musicians. They want us to perform for free. They want us to give them the rights to our music. They want us to ‘pay to play’. They want $2000 for introducing us to the guy who might use a song in a TV show. We have enough obstacles out there. We don’t need to be stumbling over each other, too.
One of the greatest joys in my life has been meeting and performing and collaborating with other singers and musicians around the country. They are my tribe. I love them and I want them to survive and thrive and make more of their amazing music. I want to share the stage with them. I want to high five the guy who is trying out a new song, even if he knows his performance wasn’t perfect. I want to be blown away by that girl with the amazing voice and not worry that she might be better than me. I want all of us to try new things, play new instruments and write new songs without wondering if the audience is going to vote us off.
I have had the pleasure of finding my tribe, some ships that have passed in the night and some who are docked in the same harbor. There are hundreds of us. Thousands of us. And life is better when we’re for each other, not against.
4) I want to help write a new definition of success for musicians.
I will admit, it’s pretty awesome to flip on the TV and see someone you know singing their hearts out for the world to see. I’ve had friends audition for almost every major singing competition, some making it to the finals, others not making it through the first round. And just because that’s not the path for me doesn’t mean that’s not the path for them, so I support them whole-heartedly.
But on many occasions, I’ve seen them give up when they get home. They didn’t win the singing competition so they decide to go to bar-tending school. Looks like they won’t skyrocket to fame, so they change their course all together. Some of the best singers I’ve ever heard are deflated because they lost out to a juggling dog. All the eggs, one basket.
It takes time and hard work to achieve whatever it is that you consider success but you won’t regret it. My life is full of music because I made choices along the way to ensure that it is. I could have given up when I wasn’t a famous singer by the time I was 21 years old. Oh, the things I would have missed. Even if fame is the ultimate goal…take the road less traveled and enjoy the ride.
As my friend and executive producer Lauren Markow always says: “Even a bad day making music is better than a good day doing anything else”. Right. On.
5) Because tonight was PERFECT.
Who says that the best music in the world is made in front of a huge audience?
It’s not. It’s made in small rooms. It’s made by people you’ve never heard of. It’s made when a musician is alone, writing a song, practicing, trying something new. It’s made when a french horn and it’s player become one entity. It’s made when your choir is rehearsing a week before the scheduled performance and everyone just clicks. It’s made at the Saturday matinee performance when the lead soprano finally understands and fully becomes her character. It’s made when I am singing one of my songs and I look up to see you, crying, nodding, completely present and I realize that I don’t even know what this song is about anymore.
So no, I’m not going to be auditioning for The Voice. Because I would much rather be standing right here, singing in a stranger’s living room, seeing your face as I sing, handing you a tissue as you tell me how my songs moved you. I am part of your experience and you are part of mine. I am fulfilled and I am changed and I am moved that you are moved. And this is what I want my life to be. Welcome to the tribe.
I will forever treasure the compliment.