I discovered my passion for songwriting just a few years ago. When I discovered songwriting, I fell in love with how I could place my soul into music and what that brought to the people around me. Like many of you, my love of music began at a young age, and my determination to build a career as a musician quickly followed. This led me to start in the music industry as a teenager. It wasn’t too long before I realized that, like any aspiration, this love was also a labor—its greatest rewards came with some difficult challenges.
When you aspire to succeed in the music industry, you learn quickly that this often means being subject to others’ opinions, whether they be peers’ or professionals’. Yes, outside opinions should only impact what you create so much, but we can't deny that these opinions are part of the equation in this industry. Constructive or not, criticism can make us feel vulnerable. When you also happen to be a teenager figuring out herself, her values, and her future, these opinions hold real weight. I probably speak for many young songwriters when I say I have found that some critics can be eager to find the negative, assuming that youth entails massive flaw. On the opposite side of the same coin, others might be overly-impressed with a song of mine, having set a low standard based on my age. It can be difficult to balance negative criticism with supportive feedback as well as my own opinions on my work.
With all of that critiquing, however, comes empowerment and improvement. I have learned to take opinions with a grain of salt, using what I feel will better my music and not letting the rest get me down. In fact, the intense reaction I have to a piece of negative feedback is something I can use to fuel my creative fire. Doing so has dramatically improved not only my music, but also my ability as a musician to put forth what I make with confidence, loud and clear.
Though it can be a frustrating downside, I value that criticism for the way it motivates me to work hard on my music--that thing I have loved for as long as I can remember. To me, music transcends all boundaries, including age. I believe that everyone has their own story filled with experiences, good and bad, that shape who they are. The best songwriting reflects the uniqueness of one’s story with powerful and prominent emotion. This is the way I approach my songwriting, but I have found some people assume that I haven't lived long enough to write songs with emotional depth. It is as if, because of my age, I have never encountered struggle or have nothing to express that could move an audience.
This kind of underestimation is frustrating to someone who really reveres and finds comfort in music. But, like getting criticism, I just let this reaction remind me of what I find so special about writing songs. Despite what some might say, I know that songwriting comes from the heart and captures your personal experiences. Everyone has an individual path but music is miraculous in that, even if I am a teenager just starting out, someone somewhere can connect with what I express in my songs.
While songwriting itself has its ups and downs, much of the music industry experience is all the work that must be put into the business side. There are websites to run, social media to upkeep, and outreach and branding to stay on top of. Not to mention the whole money thing! To anyone, let alone a teenager, it can all be overwhelming. Running a business is not exactly the typical teenage experience. This can leave a young person in the industry feeling lost as she takes on the tricky time management act that is balancing a career with academics, a social life, and of course some necessary self-care. For me, at least, this has been the most challenging thing of being a teenager and making music. My decision to switch to homeschooling is one example of the sacrifices a young songwriter might have to make in order to find the flexibility to pursue a musical career.
I may not have that balance perfected yet, but who does? How to best manage life and business is a big question in the lives of most, but all in all I like to see the glass as half full. In many ways I am actually at an advantage! I am enjoying myself doing what I love, and I am improving my work while growing as a person through the challenges this career creates. The significant difference in my writing from a few years ago compared to today is enough proof for me that, even when it gets bumpy, I am headed in the right direction.
When I started writing songs, I found something truly magical. Even as a teenager, I can envision the success I see for myself in the music industry, and I can start working toward that goal. My journey as a young songwriter may include plenty of trial and error, but it has all made for an amazing adventure so far. As with any dream, its ups and downs are what make it so worthwhile.
To follow Josephine's journey as a teenage songwriter, you can visit her website, www.josephinerelli.com (and stream her new EP Make A Change), and follow her on social media @josephinerelli. Her release show will be held this coming Monday, April 30th at The Old Church in SW Portland, with support from local singer/songwriters JoJo Scott & Rebecca McDade. Tickets can be purchased here.
*Edited by: Michelle Costanza