A musician finds his voice outside his comfort zone
Matthew Santos : A musician finds his voice outside his comfort zone
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There are three moments in my life that signified the importance of music for me as a form of self-expression and a potential career.
The first was when my older brother brought a guitar into the house, taught me my first chords and got me interested in singing. He planted the seed at a young age.
Then, when I was 17, I went to an art school in Napa, California for a semester. But I spent more time playing my guitar in my dorm room than I spent with a paintbrush in the studio.
And in 2006 I took a trip to Alaska with my best friend. We deprived ourselves of all modern comforts for two weeks. Once everything was stripped away, music was the thing I missed the most.
You won’t know if you’re ready to pursue doing what you love until you’re all in. When I dove into music full-time, I quit my job. I had no security, no guarantees whatsoever. All my eggs were in this basket. So if you’re considering doing something you’re naturally passionate about, my advice is to just go for it.
I didn’t know that I could sing until I started singing. Jumping into something unknown is definitely scary, but that’s the nature of life. What makes the fear worthwhile is the discovery and growth that come with it. You dive in not knowing if you can swim, and you find out not only that you can but how far. It’s constant growth, adventure and discovery.
There’s a conversation inside our heads any time we’re asked to step out of our comfort zone. A voice says, “You’re not ready. You’re not good enough for this.” My moments of doubt came down to worrying about what other people thought of me. I was a soul/folk/rock singer in a hip-hop environment, so I worried about whether I’d be accepted. What I told myself to combat those doubts was “Just do your best.” That’s all you can do.
It’s okay if your best isn’t good enough right away. Failure is an essential ingredient to success. If, on your first go, you’re massively successful, not only does that really mess with your head but it messes with your creativity. You don’t have the struggle and the urge to further your creative edge if you make it right off the bat. Every failure is really just a push to become better.
“The thought of being in charge and responsible for everything was very intimidating,” she admitted. “I didn’t think I had the strength or the organizational skills or the guts to do what I did. When I first started Rhythm and Shoes, I did all the choreography. I answered the phones. I did the emails. I did all of the accounting, and that was ridiculous. People around me said, ‘You have to delegate. People want to help you.’ It’s not that I didn’t think anyone could do a good job. I just didn’t want to burden people.”
In the studio’s second year, she learned to let go, handing off responsibilities to her staff. The effect was immediate.
“Every failure is really just a push to become better.”
When you fail, pinpoint what went wrong. Get a lot of feedback from people. I have my trusted sources, those whose perspective and artistic expression I admire and respect. It’s good to have that as a gauge—people you really trust to not only keep you grounded but also to give you the feedback necessary for growth.
But mostly a dream just takes a lot of experience and practice. I used to be terrified of singing in front of people. When I first started, people were like, “Dude, you look really freaked out up there.” But I was able to tone down the nervousness by repeatedly performing in front of people.
It can take a while to overcome a fear like that, but it helps to focus on what you’re doing. The first time I performed in front of a large crowd was with Lupe Fiasco at the Metro in Chicago.
I probably looked like a stiff, scared fool up there, but I got through it by focusing on making the best possible sound come out of my mouth. It’s a meditative process almost; everything else goes away, and it’s just you and your craft.
After a year or two of pursuing your dream, ask yourself whether it makes you happy. Do you truly love it? Does it inspire you? If you feel like you’ve given it your best and it’s not working out, either change your approach or find something else to pour your love into. That’s the most important thing: that your love is there. Success is when you can do something and keep that love.