Hi guys! I’m back from Austin, Texas! It has been a fruitful and memorable trip and the MEOW Con (Musicians for Equal Opportunites for Women Conference) was an incredibly inspiring experience! It was a busy weekend filled with panels and talks about women in music with showcases by 93 female-fronted bands and female artists.
Well, there’s so much to talk about but let me start with the panels first. There were so many great panels going on at once, I couldn’t decide which ones to go for.. at times I literally ran from room to room so I could get a feel of each of the panels, as I didn’t want to miss out on any! There were some standard workshops such as ‘perfecting your online presence’ and ‘how to make a great YouTube video at a low budget’, but what really impacted me were the ones that were specifically about women – eg. touring as a mom, empowering girls through Summer Rock Camps, women’s mental health and trauma.
In the ‘Touring as a mom’ panel, we had many musicians who were mothers share their experiences of bringing their children on the road when the toured. It was an eye opener, as usually in Asia, it seems like an artist’s career is generally over when they have children. But this completely changed my perspective of the issue. They discussed the pros and cons – eg. you get to spend a lot of time with your children but at the same time it can be hard to handle young children and travel with them on a consistent basis, also, the cost of the extra air tickets or car and petrol, as well as hiring a nanny can eat into your earnings from touring. One of the musicians told us that she has given herself a deadline to quit touring – once her eldest child reaches kindergarten age. Another mother said she has had to shrink the sphere of her touring locations, in order to limit the time away from her children.
There was a whole debate about what is ‘the right thing to do’ and what do you have to sacrifice as a mom. But we concluded the forum with an acknowledgement that it is really a matter of personal choice. Having children is a choice. If you decide to put your career first, your relationship with your children or your children’s upbringing will be affected. If you put your children and family first, you would probably have to do it at the expense of the career. You can’t have both. The mothers agreed that there’s no point in running around with your hands in the air saying ‘it’s not fair’ because it really isn’t and never will be. We will never be one of the guys. It’s easier to acknowledge that life just isn’t fair, accept it and move on. Work with what you have. One of the mothers even claimed that she was glad she was ‘not more successful’, after watching the documentary ‘Rock and Roll Mamas’ which discussed mothers on the road and the less-than-desirable consequences with regards to the children of these successful musicians.
To me, that was one of the panels that really impacted me. I guess in Asia, most of the artists are young. Audiences like the sweet, cute and innocent female artists, especially in the Chinese and Japanese music scene. However, many of these American performers were thirty and above and all had thriving careers. I was always worried about my ‘shelf life’ as a performer, but this panel made me inspire to be one of these artists with longevity, and not worry that I’m not that young anymore. I’m not aiming to be a pop star, so I guess age doesn’t matter as much! :p And I will have to come to a point where I have to make a decision regarding family vs career, but till then, I’ll give it my best shot!
I also found the talk on girls summer rock camps really interesting – these days, there are heaps of summer camps all around the USA holding music camps just for girls. By being in an all-female environment, the girls are free to be themselves, express who they are and feel safe and empowered. Ideally, the instructors and mentors would be female musicians whom the girls can look up to. These camps introduce these teenage girls to music, songwriting, performing and the aim is that they leave the program with a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, and also with new friends who share a passion for music. I had the chance to speak to Dr Monika Herzig as we were in the same shuttle to the airport and it was nice to be able to discuss with her in more depth the program that she runs, called Girls Create Music in Indianapolis. This is something I’d like to do in the future because it’s really meaningful to share the love of music to the youths in Singapore!
Another talk which was a real eye-opener was on mental health and trauma, and how songwriting acts as a coping mechanism. I personally have been fortunate not to have experienced a significant trauma, but listening to these women share their past experiences with drug addictions, depression and sexual abuse amongst others really brought this issue to light. I felt a sense of admiration towards these women for being so strong and overcoming all their struggles! In Singapore, ‘mental health’ is hardly discussed, so it was really nice to see a heart-to-heart discussion where everyone was very open about how music helped them heal. It gave them a voice again, when they felt lost and helpless. That truly is the power of music! Also, I found out that Austin has a lot of support for musicians – they even have a foundation called SIMS, which provides mental health services for Austin Musicians. It’s so heartwarming to hear that there are places out there that support and take care of musicians, and treat it like a real career!! So, that was a pretty eye-opening panel.
I also attended a talk on artist management, songwriting inspiration and crowdfunding. Singaporean singer-songwriter Inch Chua spoke at the crowdfunding panel and it was nice to hear her share some tips she learnt from her successful campaign!
The highlight of the conference was also all the evening showcases. On Friday night, I performed at the showcase at the Piano Bar! It was an intimate setting with me on the grand piano, my two Austin musicians – Carolyn Trowbridge on the cajon and Bryan Sunderman on the guitar, with the audiences sitting in sofas watching us! I was one of the few international performers, which added to my appeal, so I was glad to have an audience, especially since I don’t really have a following in the states yet! It was such a refreshing and enjoyable experience sharing my music and stories to a new audience who were very appreciative of my music, so that’s something I’m really grateful for! I got to meet new fans, which was amazing! Thank you to all of you who dropped by to watch my performance. It means a lot after making it halfway round the world 🙂
There were many performances going on simultaneously, so once I was done with my performances, I found myself darting around trying to catch as many performances as I could. I guess I enjoyed the acoustic sets the most, especially the piano-based singer-songwriters! One of my favourite acts was Sara Skinner, she’s pretty well-known on YouTube, but her powerful yet intricate vocals blew me away. She’s also such a down to earth person despite being so talented and beautiful! There were also some girls who were accomplished beyond their age – 13-year-old Grace London, armed with her guitar and kick drum charmed the crowd, 16-year-old Brittany Pearl reminded me of Kate Nash and Lily Ellen with her wit and sass, while 17-year-old Ashley Rezvani exuded a real confidence in her performance. I got to the chance to speak to them after their performances, and I found out some of them had moved to LA to try to make it there as a musician. I really admire them for knowing what they want at such a young age and really going all out to reach for their dream! Also, they’re lucky to have such supportive parents – that’s always importantJ There were also many established female musicians too – for example, Jo Wymer, two-time Grammy nominee (who actually came to watch my performance!) and Jennifer Batten, who played guitar for Michael Jackson amongst others! There were literally bands from every genre and it was the most inspiring weekend for me, being immersed in such incredible talent! It has only inspired me to be a better musician, to challenge myself, work harder and return to perform in the US!! There is so much talent out there and I guess we have to be exceptional to really stand out.
Oh yes, I’d like to thank NAC for supporting this trip of mine! It would not have been possible without your support due to the high cost, especially of the plane ticket all the way to Texas, but thank you for believing in me enough to give me a grant!! Appreciate it:)
Well, I really hope to capitalize on this momentum I have since returning from this conference to write as much as I can. Being away from home, away from my comfort zone and exploring Texas on my own allowed me to let my thoughts run free and gave me lots of new material to start writing songs for my new album.. It’s so easy to get caught up in work and the comfortable life in Singapore that you kinda lose the inspiration to write, so I’m glad I’m all rejuvenated and armed with a whole notebook filled with ideas! Wish me luck 🙂 and thanks for reading this very long article!!