Why The Best Kind of Success Doesn't Come Easy
When I was a little girl, my parents gave me a keyboard. I’d spend my days learning all the songs that the keyboard had programmed into it. When I ran out of songs, I started putting my journals full of short stories to music. I was the weird kid in school, and music gave me a voice when I felt like I didn’t have one. Of course, while music was an outlet, it still didn’t make it easy to share with others.
I played my first show at a local record shop in 2011. I was so nervous that I broke out laughing in the middle of one of my songs. My hands were shaking, which made it very difficult to play the keyboard properly, as you can imagine. My voice was shaking, too, and my face was flushed with embarrassment. My heart was pounding, and adrenaline pumped throughout my body. It was an important show, though, because even with all of that fear, I still got on stage.
That’s been a lesson that’s stuck with me throughout my entire career. Success isn’t easy. Often it’s doing a lot of things you don't want to do and doing a lot of things you’re not even sure you’re capable of doing. The point is that you do those things anyway. If I hadn’t just pushed through and continued to play, even after I laughed on stage like a weirdo, I’m not sure if I’d still be playing music today.
After that show, I started taking lessons. I knew I needed to if I wanted to study music in college. I began doing lessons three hours a week, sometimes longer. The semester after high school came, and I packed up my bags to move away from the comfort of my small town and go halfway across the country to Chicago. My first summer after college, I got an internship in a recording studio. Shortly after that, I was doing at least two music business internships or jobs at a time, from Universal Music Group to The Recording Academy. I was taking in everything. I’ve found that it’s important as a solo artist to understand how to represent yourself. You can’t depend on others to do the groundwork for you. I was taking music business classes, joining organizations, going to networking events, and learning every way I could.
This past year of college was my last, and I’ve been finishing it remotely. If you would’ve asked me when I was a freshman if I’d be living in Brooklyn taking classes online and writing the days away at my keyboard, I would’ve probably thought you were nuts. Things happen in unexpected ways, and I’ve learned to just go with it. Sometimes you have to give up comfort for the possibility of something great.
It would’ve been easy for me to step away from school permanently. I had finished pretty much all classes related to my major by the end of my sophomore year. At this point, all that was left were classes that didn’t seem related to my field in any way. But giving up all that I was working towards didn’t feel right either. Those four years gave me the time to experiment and figure out who I am as an artist in a city that provided endless opportunities. I’ve made most things happen for myself outside of school, but I don’t believe they would’ve happened if I didn’t go. School isn’t just about learning from textbooks or sheet music; you also learn a lot about yourself.
Pursuing a career in music means taking risks. Don’t let “no” be a deciding factor. Embrace criticism with appreciation. Question everything, but also trust yourself. Don’t be scared to make a fool out of yourself. As I've gotten further in my career, I’ve learned that it doesn’t necessarily get easier—you just face different obstacles, and each one prepares you for the next. I think back to my teenage self laughing in the middle of my first live song, and I’m grateful that she pushed onward.
Olivia Grace is a singer and songwriter living in NYC. Listen to her new single “Shoestrings” here.
Photo by Hannah Cohen.