Speak up for yourself. Ask questions. Carve your own path. Start by doing.
We sat down with Alanna Stuart and Ian Swain from Bonjay and Shamik Bilgi from Too Attached before their Diversity Tour show in Ottawa to talk about some of the biggest challenges they've faced in music. For anyone who's ever felt paralyzed by the need to be perfect or the by the fear of criticism, this advice will resonate.
Shamik: “We came up in the era where a lot of people, if they get signed, they could quit their day job and make it. So I think for myself, my goals were to get booked and try to play shows. I think in the world my sister was in, was trying to perform and get press. So I think that early struggles were just like, you know, trying to be heard and be appreciated for what we were doing.”
Alanna: "Being an R&B singer, I have a tool that other people can use that is completely detached from who I am as a person, completely detached from my character. I can be a vocalist on a producer’s album and not receive any credit, and it can make you feel a bit disposable and so my greatest challenge was: How do I be seen? How do you receive credit for the work you’ve done? How do you receive validation as a producer and a songwriter, and not just a vocalist? How do I become more than just this tool that can be used in a void? Especially as someone who really wants to make music. I don’t want to just be in the music industry, I want an artistic career. So how do I get recognized for that artistry. And on the flip side of that is, how do you become recognized for that artistry but then how do you not spend all your energy being angry, or fighting for that validation. How do you find that in yourself?"
Ian: "I have found that the biggest challenge is coming up with your own thing...I think it can become easy to fall into the trap of reading more and more and following the advice of people. But the tough thing about music is that, if you think of most interesting and compelling music that we love, it’s people who were something original. They found their own path and it was fairly unprecedented."
On getting started:
Alanna: "Just doing. I think the greatest gift I gave myself, when I wanted to learn how to produce was to give myself time. I didn’t go out and get expensive equipment, I didn’t go out and buy expensive software, I just had a cheap laptop I bought off a friend. Garageband is a built-in program we have. And I just played with the sounds that were already in the program. I just used what I had."
Ian: "Through doing it, and then kind of reflecting on it, you become better and better. It’s amazing, a lot of our favourite people - how little they started with, in terms of formal training and things like that. It can be very freeing also, that you‘re not trying to aspire to someone else’s vision of what you want to be doing. You’re making it up as you go."
Shamik: "As artists now, the only really struggle we have being a band ...is just trying to keep it moving, like not stay in the same place. How can we push ourselves artistically, to make this song not like the last song and make this record not like the last record...And we just keep trying different things. The goal is always keep trying things."
On carving your own path:
Shamik: "We realized that we got here one way or the other, but there was no real rulebook on that. And every single person that is an artist has a different career path when things line up differently, you can’t base everything you want based on what is around you."
Alanna: “So it does involve speaking up for yourself, ask those questions, and don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there...That how you’re gonna learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. And just do. Just get your hands in there, get used to the programs. And eventually I feel like the challenges you have trying to learn new programs will spark questions that will bring you to the next step and the next step.”
Ian: "Doing music, whether you are successful in music or not...is one of the best ways to do something where you’re the ultimate judge and there is no finish line, which can be really difficult because you’re not trying to meet the ideal of someone else, you’re trying to create your own new ideal. And it’s very hard to do from the inside, but in those moments where you feel like you’ve created something new, that is your unique story and your unique combination of influences, it makes it all worth it."