The Making Of A Music Maker
This is documentation of a breakthrough.
Not to be dramatic. But. Listen:
I wrote a song. A song and a half, even! And last Thursday night I performed them, sweating, in front of friends and strangers at a little DIY venue in Albuquerque called the Tannex.
This is a breakthrough because, until very recently, I believed that I could NOT write music.
Rewind to a year and a half ago. I was struggling with persistent self-doubt and social anxiety. My partner has loved going to events at the Tannex since 2016. I’d usually agree to go with him, but I often found it unbearable. Not because of anything about the venue or people: they were nothing but welcoming and generous with their creative offerings. It only felt unbearable because I believed I was not cool enough, not brave enough, not creative or interesting or original enough to justify taking up space. Sometimes, minutes after arriving at the Tannex, I’d flee with no warning. Biking home, I’d try to hide hot tears, hating myself for not being able to participate in such a vital community.
All that is to say: Thursday was not the first time I’ve hung out, anxious as hell, at the Tannex.
Nor was it the first time I’ve performed solo. I still remember every word to the song “For Good” from Wicked, which I sang as a duet with my friend Susan at our 8th grade graduation. In high school, I played Mimi in a scene from Rent, and Mrs. Lovett in a scene from Sweeney Todd. In college, I was the little-black-dressed singer trying to channel Ella Fitzgerald alongside the jazz band.
I always knew I was a singer, maybe even a performer. But I never thought I would be a songwriter.
It’s not often that I go from “I absolutely cannot” to “I totally did” in the space of a month. Honestly, it feels miraculous.
So what changed? How did I get from Point A to Point B?
- About six months ago, I started saying out loud: “I want to be in a band.” To my partner, to old friends, to brand new friends, to strangers, to coworkers. I decided that if I started saying it, the time would come sooner that I’d have to act on it.
- When my coworker encouraged me to sign up for a “fresh sounds, new voices” night at the Tannex, I said yes. I allowed myself to be given a deadline. I trusted my intuition about the decision and didn’t second-guess it.
- I leaned on friends for encouragement. I would not have gotten to “yes” and beyond without a group text of truly special lady friends who are dead-set on helping each other self-actualize on a daily basis.
- I set up some external motivation. Minutes after deciding to take this on as a personal challenge, I emailed my Cushy editor (shouts to Dani!) to tell her I was going to write some music and that I wanted to write my next piece about it.
- Once I was committed to the show, I committed time and energy to the process. For days, I did nothing with my free time besides try to make music. And I tried not to judge my process, despite all my inner demons who were dying to call it silly or stereotypical or fruitless. I brushed the demons aside; I got high and went for long rambling walks; I scribbled things in Sharpie on notebook paper; I spent so many hours noodling around on my guitar and loop pedal that I forgot to feed myself.
- I asked for help. One evening, a few days before the show, I ran into a neighbor, a singer-songwriter who I’d chatted with before but didn’t know very well. I decided to put myself out there and ask him for songwriting advice. That conversation made all the difference, and I wrote most of my first song later that night.
- I suspended my perfectionism. I don’t know if I’ll ever NOT be my harshest critic. But just for a night, I let my self-expression be enough.
It doesn’t matter if anyone else liked the songs I made. It doesn’t even matter if I like them. What matters is that, now, I know I will make more.
Author's note: The Tannex is a unique DIY performance space and zine library in Albuquerque, NM. Curated by community members, its mission is to "showcase the multi-disciplined, hybrid work of artists who often work outside the conventional definitions of performance" and it functions as a safe space especially for artists of color and LGBTQ artists. If you're in town, check out an event and consider supporting the Tannex.