I stared at my neck and arms covered in hives. Hives? Seriously? I’ve never had hives a day in my life. I needed more antihistamine. Taking it would be worth the mind-numbing fatigue just to avoid embarrassing myself in front of all of these new and important people. After two decades of being a professional musician, I could not understand why walking into a Nashville recording studio for the first time would terrify me to the point of uncontrollable hives. For beginners in business, whether it’s a job interview or a opportunity to get published, the nerves do not stop.
The gentle soul behind the mixing board began a conversation. “So, are you published?” “Not yet,” I replied sheepishly, wishing I had any better answer to that question. “You’re just getting a work demo ready to pitch?”
I felt like the teacher just caught me napping. What exactly did he just ask me? “Uh, yeah,” I replied. I couldn’t think of anything cooler to say. “You’ve got a great song here. You’ll do well. You’ll see.” I smiled. “Thanks.” It was my very first vote of confidence in the unfamiliar and intimidating world of songwriting and recording.
After two gloriously inspired days in that studio, I was absolutely hooked. In the following months, I became a writing and recording junkie. My mind raced with new ideas for songs faster than my children change channels. Collaborating at this level with musicians who willingly breathed life into my work was positively captivating. I craved learning how I could become a bigger part of that process as it related to my own music. Every time I headed back home from Atlanta, I couldn’t wait for the next time I could return to that wonderful studio and to that amazing feeling. It was, and still is, my beloved epicenter, where my creativity is allowed to roam free.
While recording makes me feel artistically and musically invincible, no one forewarned me that I would need to ration that ecstasy in order to endure the business of songwriting. No one told me that the producers, artists, and publishers that I would pitch to would fail to feel the same level of elation. My precious three-minute masterpiece is nothing but another song to them. Furthermore, I learned that it had better be polished for the market or they’re moving on. The most fervent of beginner hopes are met with unreturned phone calls, rejections, and baseless critiques. And if you’re like most creatives, it’s easy to take up residence on the island of mental sabotage known as discouragement.
However, I am not typically someone who is easily discouraged. After all, I went to a recording studio with the one song I had ever written, completely jacked up on antihistamine, and with more hives than a beekeeper. But within months of finishing a decent catalog, I believed that true success required learning far more about the commercial business of songwriting. I joined organizations and I attended classes and seminars. I went to pitch nights, sat in on co-writing sessions, and I took every free song evaluation as gospel. I was encouraged to mold my own craft after this up-and-comer over here and that classic writer over there. I was desperately trying to become this writer I was never meant to be in my foolish quest to be taken seriously. Before I knew it, my pure love of writing was eclipsed by my determination to find the right someone with enough street cred to say that I was legit. I began resenting my talents that tricked me into this wild goose chase. I wondered if I would ever be successful or if I would ever cross into true legitimacy as a writer.
And then it hit me: I was already legit. I was legit when I walked in the studio door for the first time. I was albeit a new songwriter, vulnerable, raw, and I had this unshakable belief in one song. But I was open to everything and anything because in those moments my everything and anything were absolutely possible. I was already legit because truth and sincerity dwelled in my creativity.
For the creatives, legitimacy and authenticity are inescapable. They are the intertwined inhale and exhale of the creative process. If I remain true to who I am as a musician and a writer, then my work is legit, regardless of the success it does or does not attain. As I look at my own catalogue, I know which songs came from that beautiful place of authenticity, and I love them. I also know which ones were born from feeble attempts to mold myself into some silhouette of a successful songwriter. I love them too, but it will never be in the same way as the others.
As Fayette County embraces all things new and wonderfully creative, it is just as easy to ride the wave of possibility as it is to get caught in the riptide of rejection. When we dare to be authentic and we write, pitch, act, sing, or birth anything that relates to our creative craft, we begin at the source of authenticity. We may not get the cut, the job, or the role, and what stings the worst is that we may not ever get an answer why. But if you’re a creative like me, trust in the fact that what you bring to being is sacred. You are unique. Your craft is unique. You are already legit.