'It’s not your job to smile'
Things are going well for Auckland singer-songwriter Lisa Crawley. She recently starred in the critically-acclaimed production of ONCE: The Musical, and released a new single, Best Thing in the Room which was co-written with Grammy award-winning songwriter Rob Kleiner in Los Angeles. A decade ago, the picture looked quite different. Before she heads off to Los Angeles to work on her new album, we asked Lisa to dish out some advice for her younger self. Here's what she had to say:
Don’t apologise so much! It’s not up to you to make everyone happy, to smile when someone offends you, or to spend your time living up to what others expect from you. Also, it might be hard to articulate what’s going on in the moment, so write down your experiences to help understand how you actually feel.
When I was twenty-two I was in London doing my own gigs, negotiating with a major label and making plans to record in London with a dream producer. On the flipside, I was also working five nights a week in London’s ‘classiest’ hotels, being paid next to nothing to play piano and sing until the early hours, dodging creepy dudes and trying to cover up panic attacks.
When playing these hotel or pub gigs I often hid in the bathroom on my break, laughing off inappropriate comments. As a result of these experiences (and many from years prior), I became riddled with doubt about my ability as a musician—one who had managed to live off music but had also dealt with these kinds of experiences since the age of 17.
I’m still working on backing myself (and my hard drives, but that's another lesson learned). Yes, I still get unsolicited comments from dickheads, but with experience, self-discovery, self-belief and improv comedy classes I’ve learnt how to turn these comments around. I co-wrote a show about what goes inside a musician’s mind ranging from the funny and wonderful thoughts to the downright depressing. This was a huge outlet and showed me that as a youngin’, I was way too hard on myself.
Don’t hold on to what ‘could have been'. Do your research to make sure people have your best interests at heart.
During that time overseas someone very close to me got very sick, and as the opportunities for my own career got better and more exciting, their situation got worse. I left London, became a full-time carer and put music aside. It was lonely and stressful time, but I had no choice but to experience that pain which eventually led to a depth in my songs that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It was lonely and stressful time, but I had no choice but to experience that pain which eventually led to a depth in my songs that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
There were decisions to make that I had more control over, like choosing the people who would back and invest in my career, and now I’d remind my younger self to do as much research as possible. I said yes to working with people that seemed promising but turned out to be the complete wrong fit, but because of that I learned heaps about the industry out of necessity, and that has helped me to become a self-managed artist. Nothing is wasted, but most importantly—you’ve got time. Keep working on your art until you find someone who understands, challenges and loves it just as much (or more) than you do.
You can’t afford to work for free.
On the rare occasion, it's okay to work for free: charities close to your heart, family stuff, etc., other times you have to say no! Yes, exposure is great, who knows who might be there, yada yada yada.
It got to the point where I was playing for charities I’d never heard of and the sound of people chewing canapés was louder than my musical wallpaper.
It got to the point where I was playing for charities I’d never heard of and the sound of people chewing canapés was louder than my musical wallpaper. When accepting gigs now, I try to follow Meatfloaf’s ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad policy:
Is this gig or performance opportunity really going to be a good stepping stone for my career/ help me develop me as an artist?
Is this going to be a fun time with friends who inspire and value me?
Is this gig/work going to help me pay my rent so I can keep pursuing my creative ventures?
Watch the new video for Best Thing In The Room, directed by Martin Sagadin - Kiwi director of Aldous Harding's ‘The Barrel’ - and starring Hamish Parkinson, Bronwyn Turei and Liam Coleman.