About a year ago, I saw snow falling for the first time. It was my second month out of Florida, so I was dressed in a sweater, leggings and Ugg boots (total no-nos that have since been confiscated by the Brooklyn fashion police). I was recording my second EP at a studio in Williamsburg. After spending all day in a warm, windowless room, I stepped onto a snow-covered sidewalk smeared with dirt and dog shit, totally appalled. I watched the snowflakes fall; the little bastards were everywhere, and my pigtails turned to icicles as fifteen cabs ignored me and my timid waves. Since Hurricane Sandy had filled every train back to Manhattan with water, I had to trudge to a vegan grocery store (lol Williamsburg) in squishy wool boots to charge my dead phone and call a car. It took a full hour for the driver to arrive, and I cried the entire trip back to the East Village. I didn't leave the house again until March.
This experience sums up my year pretty perfectly. Throughout my crusade to prove my worth to myself and everyone who's ever thumbs-downed my YouTube videos, I've faced a thousand of these new little "struggles," and each time I've rashly wondered why the fuck I even chose this path when it would be so much easier to move back home to Florida and fall back into my Claire's assistant management routine. I'd never have to read another bad review, I'd never have to listen to another audience of 16-year-old boys chant "suck a dick! suck a dick!" louder than my rapping. I'd never have to see another 4chan conversation about how my thighs are getting fatter (I hit puberty!!! Leave me alone!!!). So I cry and call my mom and tell her I'm moving back in because of all these "problems," and with one laugh she puts everything back into perspective. THESE are the bad things in my life? This year, I've announced my retirement from music at least 5 times because an audience wasn't bouncing as much as I'd told them to. Really?
These are the things that feel so tragic and damning when they happen, as if I'll never find success someday because I'm not already universally beloved for whatever it is I do. I'm blushing/rolling my eyes at myself as I write this, because it sounds really lame. That's what I've learned from my year as a "professional" "musician"; success=work+time, but only if you have the right attitude.
In the one year since I decided to start taking myself seriously, I've played some real nightmare shows. I've had weird things shouted at me, I've been hit with various bottles, I've curled up under a lot of green room tables. A lot of my friends have been doing this much longer than I have and been through all of it before, and when I recount the traumas of my bad shows they shrug and tell me to make up for it next time. At first this infuriated me, but now I get it; in the internet-music hustle, you do the best you can in order to work your way up. In our "realm" (sorry for using that word), you aren't handed a record deal and your CD isn't automatically available at Best Buy. Going into this, I sort of assumed that when you reached a certain number of YouTube hits, a man in a suit called and asked if you wanted $100,000 for an album and when you gave it to them, suit man would put your face on some billboards and you'd get to go on tour in a fancy bus with bathrooms that you could poop in. Unfortunately, huge record deals don't happen like they used to (I have no fucking idea how they used to work or even how they currently work, but that's what everyone has told me when I ask them why I don't have one) and if you poop on a tour bus, DISASTER STRIKES (trust me). I've been forced to face the reality that I will not be making a consistent shitload of money, and I am personally responsible for figuring out how to gain exposure without an ad on the L train.
When you do music stuff on your own and rely on the internet to build your fanbase, you have to figure out what you're trying to say to them and learn how to say it in a way that they'll remember. People stop giving a fuck about the link you tweeted as soon as they refresh their Twitter feed. That's what I had trouble coping with—for a while there, I'd be devastated when people didn't talk as much about a new release as they talked about the last release. I boarded a weird/unnecessary emotional rollercoaster: things would flop, plans would fall through, it would all feel like the end and I'd start pricing flights back to Florida because at this rate I would NEVER make a good album and nobody would EVER want to come and see my shows.
Conversely, sometimes things were better received than I would ever have expected (I started out expecting nothing, so at first, every time someone would say something positive I'd get so stoked). I'd plan out this unrealistic trajectory of "success" that anyone would be a fucking moron to believe in. Like, "I'm going to finish ten songs THIS WEEK and we'll put them all out NEXT MONTH and everything will be SO FUN AND EXCITING!!!!!!" type of shit. Inevitably, I'd lose steam. I started catching feelings over everything, listening to a lot of Drake, spending a lot of time upset over losing opportunities that I'd been excited about.
On a particularly shitty, nobody-likes-me day, I texted my mother to tell her I was giving up on music for good. NOBODY wanted to release my album, NOBODY wanted me to go on tour with them, and NOBODY would go to this really gross Mexican restaurant with me. Thankfully, she had watched a documentary on Jay-Z the night before and replied with this paragraph, verbatim:
"I was watching that documentary last night and Jay-Z said he couldn't get a record deal in the beginning, he was begging people to just take his demo. Then he went into something else which was the thug life and decided his conscience told him what he was doing was bad stuff so he then got down to business. Because it was what he knew he wanted. Love you so much."
Suddenly, I realized what a whiny idiot I'd become. Growing boobs (there may have been more factors, but I'm really trying not to blame myself here) had transformed me into a snobby entitled asshole who expected everything to be handed to her and everyone to pay attention to her at all times. If Jay-Z could abandon the thug life in favor of hard work and grow up to own basketball teams or whateverthefuck he owns, I could at least stop tweeting about how nobody cares about me long enough to work on songs that I could be proud of instead of trying to laugh off. I actually REMOVED every trace of Drake from my iPod and listened to nothing but inspirational vocal trance until I finally found the motivation to make music that I didn't completely fucking hate. I realized I've been given the dopest possible opportunity-—to be able to spend all of my time doing shit that I love doing—and I was taking the entire thing for granted. So I fixed that.
This is embarrassing to write about. When my editor asked me to write a piece on "how I felt my career has developed this year" or something, I reluctantly agreed with the understanding that I would certainly humiliate myself. I don't feel like I really DESERVE to be bitching about anything (I'm sure most people would agree) and thanks to all the time I spend on Tumblr, I'm totally aware that I have every privilege and to paint myself as someone downtrodden is ignorant and kinda gross. On the other hand, it's hard to talk openly about being grateful for what I have and even harder to admit that I took it for granted a lot this year. It's been surreal to me, like I might actually be part of a Truman Show type of deal under some MTV mastermind.
I still don't know for sure, but if there WERE old ladies knitting on the couch getting excited over watching me pore over Google analytics, I'm really sorry. I finally figured out what I should actually be focusing on—being proud of myself.
Kitty's on the internet, but you knew that already. She's on Twitter - @kittaveli