Part III - Making a Dream Come True
Hello Sophie! So glad to have you back! It's been two years and your music journey has flourished. What can you share with us today?
Just this past July, I released my debut album, Beautiful Soul at the Freedom Festival 2017. The album has 10 tracks with 2 bonus instrumental tracks. Beautiful Soul is the main feature on the album. Each song in the album has a story behind it. Perhaps, on another day I’ll have the opportunity to share those stories.
Last November, I released my first music video of my song, Txhob Tag Kev Cia Siab. The video is centered around bullying, childhood depression, and suicide. All are issues close to my heart and only those who know me well, know the impact they’ve had on my life. I think that most of us have encountered some form of bullying growing up: being directly attacked physically or verbally, being the center of someone’s baseless gossip, or constantly getting picked on just for being different. I know how hard it is and how alone you can feel going through it. My goal with the video was to offer some words of encouragement to anyone who is experiencing hardship, to let them know that they’re not alone and, even if it may not feel like it at the moment, there’s more to life than what they’re going through. I had hoped that the video would not only bring awareness but also provide an opportunity for people to share their experiences in order to start the healing process.
It’s been quite the journey these last 2 years. I’ve met some amazing people, worked with 3 extremely-talented producers, and conquered every fear and challenge I had along the way. It was with both a joyful and sad heart that I greeted my release date last month. I’m still processing the fact that my journey of making an album is over.
You've accomplished so much. How specifically has your journey evolved in “finding your own unique voice” as you mentioned in Part II?
I think that part of my journey has been most interesting for me. As I stated in Part II, I’ve spent most of my life emulating my favorite artists. It’s why I love doing covers songs; I could imitate the original artist and just add something new to make the song my own.
As soon as I started working on original songs, I could no longer resort to that familiar process. I remember when my producer shared the completed instrumental of my first song, Hlub Mus Ib Txhis with me and the next step was for me to practice to record it in the studio. I can’t begin to tell you the panic and excitement I felt. I had this brand new song, where no one had sang it before and I was the first one to determine how it should be sung. I debated for days on technical things like where I needed to start singing a line, where I should take a breath, and how long I should sustain a note. No one could make those decisions for me and I made them absent of any direction. There was no way to measure if I was doing anything right, so I ended up singing the song the way that felt most natural to me.
I had no clue what I was doing and was merely testing things out, but more importantly, it was okay to feel confused and lost.
I had a vision with Hlub Mus Ib Txhis and wanted to showcase only the soft sweet side of my voice. I received quite a bit of constructive feedback on the song, with people saying that they expected more from me and that the voice I chose to sing the song in wasn’t my authentic voice. What I heard was “you failed,” and “whatever you tried, it didn’t work.”
I didn’t focus on that negative conscience for long. I got right back into it and decided to try something different with my second song. Instead of using my soft, sweet voice, I tested the power and vocal control I had with my song Kev Hlub Thawj Zaug. It was closer to what people were expecting from me so the song was better received. At that time, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on.
Later, when I started working with producer Shu Lor, he said something to me that helped me frame the experience. He said, “Sophie, the first album is always a trial run. You’re still learning what works and what doesn’t. Your albums after will be a better indicator of who you really are as an artist.” He confirmed what I was feeling but couldn’t put into words: I had no clue what I was doing and was merely testing things out, but more importantly, that it was okay to feel confused and lost. I will say that I think some artists are better at navigating the song creation process than I am. It’s just, nothing comes easy for me and it’s only with practice and hard work that I can do anything well.
I got more confident as I completed each song on the album. The songs vary so widely that each one showcases a different facet of my voice. Not any particular song captured all my skills and vocal capabilities within it. You have to listen to the album in its entirety to get an accurate portrayal of my “unique voice.”
Well said. You have a unique perspective that I know many are interested in. You went for your singing dream at a non-traditional time in life and within two years, you took action and made it a reality. What advice would you give to those who are still debating about pursuing their dreams?
Don’t wait for the right opportunity to arrive on your doorstep because it might not come. Instead, seek them out. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Sometimes, opportunities present themselves in unexpected ways.
I think it’s important that you used the word, “action.” Nothing’s going to happen if you don’t take action. I’ve always found that with any task, the hardest part is starting. Once you start, it makes it easier to follow through. If your end goal seems daunting and overwhelming, break it down into smaller tasks that can be completed over a period of time. Be prepared to adjust your plan to accommodate for unexpected or unforeseen circumstances.
When I decided that I was going to make an album, I sat down and mapped out how I was going to do it. Knowing exactly what my end goal was and when I’d like the project completed by helped to identify what I needed to accomplish in between. I initially planned on releasing my album at the Freedom Festival 2016. After I started creating my first few songs, I learned how much time it actually took to complete a song and realized I wasn’t going to meet that deadline. I didn’t want to feel pressured by time, so I moved my release date out to July 2017. I used a calendar to map out which song needed to be completed by which month and then worked hard to follow through. The most important step was that I started.
So don’t wait, start today. Even if it’s a small step, it’s at least a step in the right direction and it may just be the biggest and hardest one you’ll take.
Don't wait. Start today.
I love that! There's so much power in planning and taking that first step. what are a few things you learned along the way that surprised you?
Be prepared to perfect your time management skills. I thought that I had decent time management skills but these last two years really challenged me. I had unique circumstances, in that I was working on music on top of a full-time job and raising a family. I not only worked really hard but also smart. I didn’t waste a single minute, as each minute served a purpose. If I wasn’t at my day job, I was at home doing housework and taking care of my children. At home, if I wasn’t in my role as Mommy, I was working on music. Sometimes, I would be both Mommy and music artist at the same time. On several occasions, when I couldn’t get my baby to play by himself and was really pressured to practice for an upcoming recording session, I ended up using a carrier and practiced with him on my back. On a side note, that’s actually a great way to learn about breath support because you’re forced to sing with less air than usual. Anyways, the only time I could work on music uninterrupted was after my family went to bed. It was typical of me to practice or work on music for 2-3 hours a day until 1:00-2:00 in the morning. Time management was crucial under my circumstances. My life was busy enough before I started working on music. If I didn’t alter my routine in any way, my lifestyle wouldn’t have allowed for me to work on music at all.
Another thing I learned is to expect the unexpected. As much as you can try to prepare, there’s bound to be challenges you won’t be able to anticipate. All of them will test how badly you want your dream. Just to give you an idea, these were some of the challenges I encountered and some of them were a direct threat to completing my album: potentially losing my day job, not having enough funds to complete the project, a close family member had a severe life-threatening illness, my car broke down while I was out of town working on music, and mixed up hotel reservations which left me stranded with no place to stay for the night. Each of these situations required a different response or coping mechanism from me. Sometimes, I had to be a little creative. I will say the most important thing that helped carry me through it all was to have a positive attitude.
I know now that it takes more than just passion and talent to complete an album. It also requires hard work, perseverance, discipline, vision, creativity, and a positive attitude.
SO powerful. What one important advice would you give to an aspiring singer who wants to release a debut album in the near future?
Develop a strong support group. Trust me, you will need it. There are going to be times when things get so difficult that you want to give up. Your support group will encourage you to keep going and remind you of why you started in the first place.
Looking back, I realized how fortunate I am because I had an entire team behind me. My biggest source of support was my husband, siblings, parents, closest friends and relatives, and the incredible mentors I met along the way. I relied on these individuals to give me honest feedback on my music, strategize ways to overcome obstacles in my way, and for moral support. They believed in me, even more so than I did, and was willing to do anything to help me succeed. Honestly, my album wouldn’t have been completed without their help.
It’s also important to have a group of people who are dedicated to just helping you develop your “artist brand.” When I started out, I had no idea what an artist brand was. I quickly learned that how I present myself in public matters. People will judge you based on how you look before you even get the chance to sing. If you want others to take you seriously as an artist, you have to present yourself seriously as an artist.
Being the late bloomer that I always am, I knew nothing about fashion or makeup when I started. I used the opportunity to explore different looks and try makeup products that enhanced my natural beauty. I actually learned quite a bit about myself in the process. Contrary to being the shy and plain girl I typically viewed myself as, I found that there was a goddess inside of me just dying to come out. She was confident, wise, and, above all, fearless.
I needed a music team who not only knew me well but also could capture the essence of that goddess inside me. In creating the appropriate team, I learned that however you are and what kind of energy you give off, you’re going to attract the right kind of people to you. I worked with some of the best and most talented individuals to produce my music, design my album graphics, and ultimately, shaped my artist brand.
What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
My most immediate goal is to put out a few more cover songs. Recently, I released my newest cover of the classic song, Hallelujah. Please check it out, I really hope you can hear my growth in the song.
Several people recently approached me since my album release date and asked the big question, “When is album 2 coming out?” I actually don’t have plans to work on another album anytime soon. The reality is that I’m quite burnt out. Some people may disagree with my decision but I’m taking a break from working on original music. I can’t emphasize enough how important self-care is. No one knows better than I do what I’ve gone through these last few years. If I don’t take care of myself, no one will. As passionate and driven as we can be, we all have our limits before we start running on empty. I know myself and I’ve hit my limit. I want to offer only the best of me so I’m going to take some time to rejuvenate, replenish my resources, and knock out a few competing priorities on my to do list before I start working on music again.
I can’t emphasize enough how important self-care is. No one knows better than I do what I’ve gone through these last few years. If I don’t take care of myself, no one will.
When I do work on music next, I hope to explore some new things. As music artists, we are dynamic beings. We’re constantly learning and growing, our music should reflect that process. I am definitely not the same artist today that I was when I started out. My taste in music has also changed. In fact, while working on the last few songs on my debut album, I already felt that I was outgrowing the lyrics and that particular music style. The genre that I created my album in was fun but it really restricted my vocal expression. If you’ve already purchased my album and had a chance to listen to the love songs on it, you’ll notice that I kept them really light and happy. I’ve only shared the surface of love with you so far. As we all know, true love is not all “bubbles and butterflies.” It challenges, breaks, and changes us. I haven’t had a chance to create material that reflects the dark lessons I’ve learned from love. I really hope to explore that next. Please look forward to my first original song in English called My Broken Pieces.
Also, I have a few collaborations planned with other artists. I’m really excited! Nothing brings me more joy than working with another artist who is just as passionate about music as I am. Nothing’s set in stone for me yet, so I am open to suggestions if there’s an artist you’d like to see me collaborate with or a song you’d like me to cover.
And lastly, I have a special giveaway of my brand new album, Beautiful Soul! Find out how you can win in my video below.
Until next time. Be you, be fearless.