The music business in 2019 has obviously changed immensely from what it was in 1919, but one thing about music hasn’t really changed all that much: It’s still inspirational, motivational, and capable of producing emotional power and beauty. Music itself brings people together, crosses boundaries, and inspires us to be better human beings, and the artists who make it often share their perspectives in the form of statements to the same result.
Now that I’m an adult and a professional touring artist myself, I wanted to look back at some quotes from my personal favorite artists whose work I grew up on to see if they still resonated with me. Here are seven that I thought were particularly inspiring.
“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing. If you’re not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.” ~Aretha Franklin
It’s so easy nowadays to get caught up in what’s trendy, and in the age of independent artists being able to produce and release work on one’s own, it’s hard to stand out when there’s so much content available at our fingertips. But in the end, if you’re doing something that feels 200% authentic to you, confidence will follow. Clear and to the point, the legendary Aretha Franklin knows her stuff.
“If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.” ~Beyoncé
Ain’t it the truth, Bey? Perfection is a mean old demon, and every one of us has been guilty of holding onto something far too long as we try to perfect every last bit of it. But perfection is, by its nature, impossible. There is literally no such thing as a perfect artist, a perfect human being, a perfect meal (although my mom’s beef with broccoli is pretty darn close).
Perfection is objective, and the process of growing and learning is what makes life so beautiful. The world would be so boring if we didn’t need to grow, learn, or change. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes sometimes.
“Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit.” ~Erykah Badu
From her 1997 live album, right before she launches into “Tyrone”, Erykah speaks to my artistic heart. It took me a long time to admit that I am an artist. The word has a bit of stigma attached to it, usually that artists are needy, too sensitive, too fragile. But I believe we’re all artists in some capacity, and it’s important to embrace it. As Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) teaches, your artist is similar to your inner child — creative, unafraid, free, and incredibly passionate. It’s so important to nurture that part of you and be honest about your humanity. No one is made of steel.
“I believe musicians have a duty, a responsibility to reach out, to share your love or pain with others.” ~James Taylor
I love this quote from one of my favorite songwriters. Have you ever heard a song that captures exactly what you’re feeling? A song that makes you say, “YES! That’s exactly it, I just wasn’t able to express it myself!” Well, my friends, that’s one of the many joys of songwriting. So yes, you have a responsibility to help others with your words and melodies. Some days you might feel like you’re not helping anyone, but remember: The world needs the magic of music. And if musicians didn’t exist, we would never have that feeling of catharsis. And I don’t want to live in that world.
“Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable. I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness.” ~Janelle Monáe
It’s scary to be vulnerable, but I believe it’s necessary to get to the root of your artistry. Singing your own songs in front of people is one of the most vulnerable things you can do, and embodying what makes your songs and your stories unique will light up your art. Don’t be afraid to make others uncomfortable, because once you start creating art you don’t believe in, simply to please others and their needs, you will lose yourself.
“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” ~Ella Fitzgerald
The queen of jazz has a beautiful point here and it’s such a great reminder that “love is the thing.” Isn’t that why we play music? We freakin’ love it and it makes us feel alive. We play to empty clubs, bare our souls, and write about our broken hearts for the love of it. And isn’t it amazing that you’ve found something you love? There are a lot of people out there who have no idea what their passion is — who may work dead-end jobs or feel lost. I used to be one. But when I found music, it was like finding God. I’m not religious, but I can see how people get into it. It feels amazing to have something you love, something nobody can take away from you. And to me, that’s the key to a happy and successful life.
“Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” ~Louis Armstrong
I love this quote because it reminds me that it does not matter how old you are. Throughout my 365-day RV tour of the USA, I’ve played to crowds from ages 1-99 and played with musicians ages 18-91 (literally, I played a show with a 91-year old vibraphone player, Harry Sheppard, in Houston, Texas). It’s so, so wonderful how music can cross these types of boundaries. It’s easy to get caught up in ageism with social media and the pop charts showing younger demographics, but remember: There are people out here of all ages, shapes, and sizes creating and sharing their music. And it’s never too late to pick up that guitar and start singing.
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