Valerie June Speaks (and Leads Her Successful Career) From the Heart
Memphis soul singer Valerie June is a true rising star. Bob Dylan noted her as an artist to watch and Brad Pitt recently stopped by one of her shows. But what’s even more interesting (to us, at least) about this genuine and inspiring artist is that she has been mostly self-managed and has grown her career from playing open-mics at coffee shops to now selling out 700+ person venues around the globe.
Her latest album The Order of Time is critically acclaimed and for good reason. The magical ethereal songs are unlike anything you’ve heard. Take a listen here and read our interview with her below. Don’t miss her on tour this fall.
Lyric Financial: How do you write a song when you feel blocked? What helps you become creative again and begin songwriting when you feel uninspired?
Valerie June: I can’t force myself to write. I have to live a life that allows the songs to feel comfortable coming to me. I take for granted the way I live. For example, I spend a lot of time in solitude and with nature. I am doing things like cooking, cleaning, emails, etc, but I’m silent. I guess I’m making space for songs to enter my consciousness. So the easiest way for songs to come is while I’m doing other things. It’s kind of like field recordings. Our elders worked in the fields and sang as they worked. The songs come while I’m working on other things. It’s hard for them to come when the mind is focused on making them exist. I really love that movie- Songcatcher-because it really is like catching a voice in the air/ether.
LF: Can dreamers be good at business too? How do you balance the creative and business sides of your industry?
Valerie: I suppose I do alright balancing business and creativity because I’ve been self managed for most of the 15 years I’ve been making music, and I’m really happy with the success my career has seen. I don’t necessarily advise self management, but I do advise waiting until you find the right people to handle your business. My parents along with all of the other small businesses that I’ve worked for taught me how to have a mind for business. Business is just something I grew up around…probably more so than music. I saw successes and failures and witnessed how to balance creativity alongside it. Plus as I mentioned before, the songs come while I’m working on other things. Things that are not necessarily creative. Things that take my mind away from creativity. Things like work.
I have never in my life had a time where I only lived in the creative world, but I believe that is the next step for me. I’m curious to see if I will still receive songs. Will my creativity grow, or do I need business to bounce it off? There are bridges that help with the balancing of the two. My walks and dancing help to transition from one mind to the next throughout the day. If I wake up with a load of emails that I’m not in the mood to answer, I start the day creatively. Then a few hours later, I’ll go for a walk or dance, and return ready to answer the emails or make some phone calls. This works vise versa as well. So I suppose the balance is in have a spirit practice that allows you to slip from one world to another!
LF: For younger songwriters and musicians just starting out what is some business advice to help guide them, not just in their creative pursuits but in building a business around their creations?
Valerie: Number 1: Start a visionary journal to write down what you wish to see in 10 years for your career. Then walk it back to 5 years. Then walk it back to this year…landing at today.
Dedicate a few minutes each day to put work in towards your vision. If you have a day job, get off and give at least 10 minutes to your vision. Small multiple moves mount up to equal great leaps!
Number 2: Always keep 3 attainable goals in your week so that when you see others making it look like it’s easy, you can keep clarity around your vision.
Number 3: Most things take money, so even if you don’t have it, create a budget with imaginary money showing yourself exactly what you’d do if you did have it. The money will come, and you won’t have time to stumble around trying to figure out your right foot from your left. You’ll need to get moving!
Number 4: You will fail. Get up and try again. The odds are in your favor because you really don’t have anything to lose. It’s a business built around creativity.
Number 5: There are few things more powerful than your beliefs. They form your reality. Manifesting a dream is a practice of believing in yourself, so believe fearlessly!
LF: How do you decide when collaborating or bringing on different vocalists, instrumentalists, etc. what percentage each of them receives? Has this been a challenging part of your creative process?
Valerie: In songwriting, it’s pretty easy to know if it was an even contribution or more in the favor of another person, so you divide it evenly according to what you and the other writers agree to. With recording musicians on an already written song, it’s a work for hire.
LF: For independent artists who do not have a support team of management, business advisors etc., what advice do you have to protect their assets (songs)?
Valerie: If you are an independent artist without a team or advisor, I’ll tell you like the Memphis musicians told me when I moved there as a teenager getting started in the industry: Hold on to your publishing unless somebody is writing you a big check. Then if they are writing you a check, really think back to those goals you had for what you’d do if you had money. How can you invest in your own vision? Is the amount enough to make a dent in your goals? What do they want in return? If possible, never sign anything that you can’t see your way out of…for example — -how long do you estimate it would take you to recoup? Can you recoup within your lifetime? Will you still own your work? Basically, thinking about your unborn children. If you don’t have anything to leave them, at least you’d have your songs! Lastly, find artists that you respect the career of and ask them what they think about opportunities that might arise for you. Even if you don’t follow their advice, you still have been given a direction.
LF: In our turbulent political climate what are some inspiring songs to get motivated and proactive?
Valerie: Tina Turner’s spiritual music really has been bringing me great clarity in the storm. Alice Coltrane’s Transendence album is another that helps me stay in tune with my dreams for humanity. I believe it’s easy to turn on the news, get angry and shout about how wrong the political world is today. It’s not easy to practice being the change we wish to see. Most of my favorite politicians have used spirituality to motivate them to create positive change. (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela) To quote Mandela, “Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundations of one’s spiritual life.” Maybe I’m just a fool, but I happen really feel that this is the only way to TRUE change. For me, It’s the only TRUE politics. It’s not about religion, though some need it as a door. It is about tapping in to your inner light. The true reason you came to earth.
LF: What is 1 piece of career advice you wish someone told you sooner?
Valerie: I wish someone would have told me to without a doubt believe in myself and my visions. I wish that believing came easy. But often times, believing takes work and is born from doubt.
*Learn more about Valerie June here.
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