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Blitz The Ambassador On Afropolitan Dreams And Life As An "African In NYC"

Blitz The Ambassador On Afropolitan Dreams And Life As An "African In NYC"

Blitz The Ambassador

Yesterday (April 28), Blitz the Ambassador released his second album for the Berlin-based label Jakarta Records. The release, Afropolitan Dreams, quickly feels like the Ghanaian rapper’s most centered piece. Beyond an eclectic mix of mostly African features, the album is built on Ghanaian high-life tendencies more than any boom-bap revisionism. Still, he trades American Hip Hop references with Accra-specific mentions as well as he ever has before and has an endearing way of slipping into and out of either continent’s slang. Now in his early 30’s, Blitz moved to New York City in 2001 as a teenager. Living in Brooklyn—and then Ohio for college before back to the borough—he built a career in the same place that many of his own Hip Hop idols rapped about on record twenty years ago.

He has an unpretentious penchant for interpolation, co-opting a Pete Rock & CL Smooth line for his own back-to-Africa sentiment or flipping a popular Sting lyric and melody into his own immigrant anthem. Speaking with Project Inkblot earlier this month, Blitz detailed the inspiration behind his latest album and broke down his relationship with New York as an African immigrant and Hip Hop artist/fan. He has an obvious humility in having made it this far but reserves a fierce sense of belonging.

“There’s a lot now that makes it possible for global voices to really participate in Hip Hop culture,” he says. “I’m biased to this of course because of my trajectory. As a fan growing up in Ghana and being a participant in the culture and having the opportunity to inform people. But when people try to narrow Hip Hop down to just American culture, I have to remind them that Caribbean immigrant culture is a huge part of Hip Hop. Puerto Rican immigrant culture is a huge part of b-boy and breakdance culture. You can’t ever forget that immigrants are the basis of Hip Hop. Now of course as years have gone by it’s American culture but the foundation of it is Kool Herc who is a Jamaican immigrant. So he’s me in a lot of ways. His experience outside of America shaped this culture.”

Can you talk about the African community that you encountered in New York when you arrived in 2001? When you first arrived, did you feel more alienated or embraced as an immigrant and as an African in New York specifically?

It was a bit of both. When you arrive in a place you want to kind of find your own way. You know that there’s a community here that they’re gonna support you when you need it but you also know that you can easily get kind of lost in that community and not experience anything outside of that community. So what I kind of did was a bit of both. I ended up being in Brooklyn which was out the norm for a Ghanaian because most of the Ghanaian community is in the Bronx. So what I would do every week is I’d go up to the Bronx at least once a week because a lot of people that I went to school with and the best restaurants were up there. So I’d go up there to make sure that I’m in touch and linked up but I stayed in Brooklyn so that I could still have some space to experience life outside just the Ghanaian community. And of course I went away to college as well in Ohio which helped create some of that gap but also kept me connected in a way. When you’re away that’s when the longing [starts].

Another thing I was thinking about is that for anybody interested in Hip Hop, regardless of whether or not you’re from this country or not, New York represents this sort of cultural mecca. It all emanates from the Bronx since we’re talking about that. What’s it like to call a place that you seem to have longed for for so long your home?

Yeah man. You know a lot of New York was lived vicariously before I came to New York. Of course there were certain things that I was a bit familiar with. A lot of it from my connection to Hip Hop and the way Hip Hop painted New York. Then some of it too was just experiential, so when I got here I was like, 'Wow, okay. It’s not like it is in the Wu-Tang record. It’s not like it is in the Biggie record.' There’s certain things that words couldn’t even explain what this place is. But I’ve always appreciated New York because it gave me an opportunity to compete and compete on a very high-level that being in any other metropolitan city—even in America—wouldn’t have never given me. To perform with some legends at such an early part of my career. I had opened for KRS-One. I had opened for Big Daddy Kane. I had opened for Rakim. I had opened for Public Enemy. Some of these were in front of thousands of people at places like Summerstage or Celebrate Brooklyn.

A kid who had all these people on his wall in Ghana—then to be backstage with these people, to give’em a pound, to say, ‘Hey listen, you changed my life and here I am.’ I think that’s like one of the most powerful things that could ever happen to anybody with a dream.”

I was still in shock that here I am. A kid who had all these people on his wall in Ghana—the environment, you can’t even compare environments—then to be backstage with these people, to give’em a pound, to say, ‘Hey listen, you changed my life and here I am.’ I think that’s like one of the most powerful things that could ever happen to anybody with a dream. I think that that journey continues to play itself out in amazing ways. I’m still always in awe. I’m in awe at New York. I’m in awe at the culture of Hip Hop. I’m in awe of how full-circle all of this has come. I’m still kind of like pinching myself. Like ‘Wow.’ Like you said, a place that you wanted to call home forever you can call home but not just call it home but be adding to a very rich history of it in a major way. I don’t take that for granted. I’m very privileged.

Being in New York you’re always around Ghanaians and you’re always around Africans, but how has your perspective or emotional attachment to Ghana changed? I guess attached to that, what have you learned about Africa in New York? 

Wow. I’ve learned a lot man. It’s very interesting. I’m realizing that there’s a reverse-longing that’s happening now. The longing that I had to come to America and to live in Brooklyn and to participate in Hip Hop culture and blah blah. I’m beginning to find that the reverse is happening. Now that I’ve lived over a decade in America and a majority of it in New York, I’m finding now that the same way that I was super curious about New York and how I wanted to know everything about it—I wanted to know the slang, I wanted to know what Hip Hop artist was coming out next month, I wanted to know what part of the country they were from, what borough they were from, I wanted to know what street they were talking about—I’m finding out that that the reverse is happening. Now that I live in America my curiosity for Africa has grown.

I’m realizing that there’s a reverse-longing that’s happening that I live in America my curiosity for Africa has grown.”

I’m beginning to have that same experience where I want to know what’s happening in Accra. I want to know what’s happening in Abidjan. I want to know who’s the next guy to come out of Nigeria. What street are they talking about? It’s almost a mindfuck when you think about how you long for something you get it, and then you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I’m longing for this other thing now just as equally as the other thing.’ That’s what’s happening to me now and it’s influencing my music greatly. It’s influencing the choices that I’m making. On this record I featured a plethora of artists, none of which were American-born or American Hip Hop artists. I would have never thought about it. Me coming up as an artist that would have been the first thing I would be looking for, ‘How can I get an American artist on my record?’ Specifically a cat from Brooklyn on my record. Now it’s like, I’m here, I’m part of it, I live it. Now I want to feature guys from Brazil, I want to feature singers from Nigeria, I want to feature rappers from Kenya. That’s what I’m curious about now. It’s interesting and I’m enjoying that bit now.

Maybe to them you’re that guy from Brooklyn.

Maybe to them I’m that guy from Brooklyn. It’s kind of crazy. That is fact. It’s a spiral. You don’t even know where you fit in all of that. You just know that it’s happening and you’re apart of it.

You’ve talked a lot about experiencing American Hip Hop as a young person in Ghana. What was it like for you to see groups like A Tribe Called Quest wearing dashikis and Africa pendants?

It was powerful. Having the word Zulu Nation [on] the coolest biggest shows. Seeing the red, black, green. Seeing the red, gold, green. Seeing the big medallions. You knew that they knew that you existed. You know what I mean? And that’s such an important part of existence in itself, when you look up to anything, when that thing acknowledges that you exist and acknowledges that you are an influence in shaping it. It makes you feel good. Of course we would have loved to touch, feel, to see that connection be more tangible, but I think that that’s what’s happening now. Even though we saw those medallions, even though we heard those shout-outs. It didn’t matter what the subject matter was. Matter fact there was a song that Pete Rock and Raekwon on Soul Survival 1 and I remember Raekwon going something random and he was like, “Puffing the marijuana / African gold from Ghana,” I was like, 'Boom, that’s my favorite record.' It made no sense, it wasn’t even like a real shout-out it just rhymed. But what was important to me at the time at least was that he knew Ghana existed. It felt good hearing somebody that you looked up to do that to you.

And that’s such an important part of existence in itself, when you look up to anything, when that thing acknowledges that you exist and acknowledges that you are an influence in shaping it. It makes you feel good.”

That’s kind of what I’ve realized that we’re bringing full circle. So we’re not only just like throwing Ghana in there as a rhyme, we’re talking about Accra city. So I’m imagining how people in Accra city feel everytime they hear me say that on a record that is played on whatever level that is big to them...I think the bridge is slowly coming together. It’s gonna take a lot of dialogue musically or [verbally].

Bringing it forward to what your album, what does the word ‘afropolitan’ mean to you? 

To me what an Afropolitan represents is an African in a global context. There are many contexts in which an African can exist. You can be an African in an African context where the conversation is limited to your immediate environment. Then there is an African in the context that isn’t necessarily [the same] but you still have to navigate through it and find what still makes you African in that environment. I look at it from metropolises and how a metropolitan affects an African young or old. I’m not an anthropologist but I can examine the changes that have occurred in say African immigration to the West. So our parents immigrated, a lot of them fleeing from catastrophe that was happening post-independence and people had to be in exile and it was very shaky at the time. Then comes another wave that come for education. So their jobs are to figure out ways to fit in these new worlds. So they come, they are the best students ever. They’re doctors, they’re attorneys, they do well in that space but don’t really have goals of returning because they fled.

It’s really a journey of arriving and returning and finding your place in that return. And finding what you can contribute in that return.”

Then there’s this generation that’s coming up that isn’t really about fleeing, a lot of it is just about access and how can I gain more access so that I can go back? That’s a more urgent conversation that’s happening now. How do I go back? How do I return home? This is merely a path to try to go back with some access. Whether access means financial resource, intellectual resource, whatever resource, but you know that at home it’s challenging to gain that because you don’t have a footing. So a lot of us leave with that goal...I feel like it’s necessary that a lens is shined on this group. That’s why I called the record Afropolitan Dreams. It’s really a journey of arriving and returning and finding your place in that return. And finding what you can contribute in that return. That’s kind of what I feel defines at least my personal Afropolitan Dream.

Jay Balfour is a Philadelphia based freelance writer and editor. In addition to Project Inkblot Jay has written for publications like HipHopDX, Redbull Music Academy, Bonafide Magazine, and more. Get in contact with or follow Jay on Twitter @jbal4_

Kalae Nouveau and the Power of Women with Fem'Fatale

Kalae Nouveau and the Power of Women with Fem'Fatale


Rockin' her signature killer style, a huge grin and natural talent, Kalae Nouveau (formerly Kalae AllDay) is a vocalist, rapper, actress and the creator of Fem'Fatale, an ongoing meet-up initially created to gather women artists in various genres to share, connect, inspire and create real relationships. Tired of what she viewed as the divide among women artists and spurred to create a community after meeting various female mentors and supporters, Fem'Fatale has been running ever since. Kalae has recently recommitted to reinvigorating the community; from spicing up the web presence to thinking up creative ways to bring folks together - be it via film screenings or working with domestic abuse survivors.

I first met Kalae at a Fem'Fatale get together in Brooklyn and was impressed by her warmth, ease, and her genuine desire to bring people together. I also remember the good vibes of the women who attended; graphic designers, vocalists, editors - it was my first introduction to these group of creative ladies; not only did I dig their talent, I dug their willingness to support one another. Project Inkblot chatted with Kalae over hummus and some bomb-ass eggplant dish in Harlem one rainy afternoon on her process as a creative artist and performer, starting Fem'Fatale, the problem with yes men and why getting your ass kicked makes you stronger.

Let’s talk about Fem'Fatale. That’s where we met and I loved the vibe and the experience. Why did you start the group?

Growing up I found it hard to relate to most people. I was always excluded, teased and picked on. I was very different looking, including being very tall. I wasn't really accepted until I got into the art circle. I was meeting women who were so real, nice and creative. I felt like I found my tribe. I thought, how do I get these women together? I have always struggled with- and I am almost sorry for saying this - but ‘normal chicks.’ People who are ok with normalcy. Maybe I am more adjusted, but as a teenager I couldn’t connect.

I really loved the women I met through being a hip hop artist. So I started to get their contacts. At the time I had this two bedroom apartment on the upper west side and a lot of people could come and hang out. I wasn’t savvy yet on getting a venue, that came later.

What was your vision for Fem'Fatale then and is it the same now? 

My vision then was to get these talented women together so we could network a bit,  share and learn from each other. The vision has changed - before, all the women who came were artists but now it’s more about sisterhood and community so we may have business women etc. Now, the vision is to have a stronger internet presence.

The second year of Fem'Fatale was harder. It was the first winter and people didn’t want to go out as much. I brought it to Brooklyn and had another woman host it, we also went to the Bronx. Because of my childhood and what I considered to be rejection, when I invite a bunch of women who I admire to an event and they don’t come, it’s so heartbreaking on so many levels. I started to get really discouraged and almost started to feel resentful, like why are my sisters not cooperating? One of my friends said, are you really doing this for them or is it for yourself? And I thought about that - what does it mean to do something good for people and what it means to do something good for yourself. And what I realized was you should always do things that are good for yourself and if it benefits others then that’s great. Yes, I am doing it for myself and I am also doing it for them and I am not going to feel bad about wanting that. It feeds me in a really amazing way and what I see in the future is having Fem'Fatale groups that are not always run by me. Perhaps having Fem'Fatale groups in different cities.

Can you talk about some of the work you've done in women's shelters? What was it important for you to integrate this type of outreach into Fem'Fatale? 

We went to shelters for women who have been domestically abused and done [creative] work with the women there and have had them bring their children. A lovely friend of mine Gianna Leo Falcon does a lot of social work and put Fem'Fatale in contact with this women's shelter on the upper west side. I felt like the magic that was happening between the artists in Fem'Fatale was so enriching and enlightening that it should be shared through community work with females that normally wouldn't have access to this sort of thing. It's Fem'Fatales community outreach. I want to incorporate it and other work, like youth outreach, more into the Fem'Fatale regular rotation. I feel like I need to give back to my community but it has to be something I am passionate about.

The mission is to create sisterhood. Simple and plain. The members really enjoy the relief of being around powerful opinionated women with out the masculine divine presence. It really liberates the divine feminine out of conditioned entrapment and forces women to recognize the value in their and their sisters' ideas, opinions, etc and through that I hope to inspire connection, self-worth and most importantly SISTERHOOD. As soon as women recognize the importance of being surrounded by other women, the cattiness and the belief that there can only be one spot/one token woman, will subside.

You’re a native New Yorker; how has NYC contributed to who you artistically?

 New York is so diverse. It’s hard to not have a global sprit. I was always surrounded by different people, ethnicities, languages. You know, for a lot of people, you don’t get to eat sushi when you’re nine. The urban culture, the diversity, the fact that we’re so densely packed together. There’s this sense of limit and limitlessness a lot of the time.

When did you get into music?

I believe I came out of the womb singing, since I was four I was singing and since I was seven I was writing my own music. In New York, when you grow up, you're exposed to so much art. Sometimes people are only exposed to a certain type of art but I was exposed to a variety of artists: Sined O’ Conner, Dorris Day, Barbara Streisand…I had no idea that I was ever going to bea rapper. People assume that I am a singer but are usually surprised that I’m a rapper. At sixteen, most of the hip-hop I got was from the radio and I didn’t like it.

What didn't you like?

I couldn't relate. The oppression of women, getting money…there was nothing about that that resonated with me as a human being. Not just hip-hop, but pop music, too. I started to get into what would be considered “conscious rap” like Black Thought, Mos Def, Common. My nephew rapped and he was five years older than me. I was sixteen and I wrote a rap because my nephew was recording onto a cassette tape. I went back to him and said, ‘listen to my rap’ and he was like, ‘that was fucking horrible’ [laughs] so I never tried to rap again until some other people started encouraging me, around nineteen.

What are the differences between rapping and singing for you, as a performer?

Rapping is like talking. There’s so much you can do with it that is outside of getting my diaphragm ready…all of the technical aspects of singing I can throw out the door. I can do so much more. So, the performer part of me is more expressed when I rap. I can do a lot of expression and emotion in singing but it’s more subtle. Rapping is more in your face, energetic, crazy. It’s really fun.

Are you currently working on an album right now?

I’m not working on an album right now but I am working on the film score and shooting a movie for a film called Good Funk. It’s been ten years since I have acted but it’s performance, and it’s art. I think performance art is all the same. What makes the movie special is where the paths intertwine. There are four main charters and about six stories and it’s a commentary on what’s happening in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and what’s happening in this neighborhood. It's very touching and I think it’s one of those stories that everyone can relate to. It’s kinda like you’re thrown into this moment of time. I love to perform. What I prefer is not one over the another but the moment in time when I am performing over the moments in time when I’m not. I’m not opposed to those other moments like being in the studio or recording but the moment I hit the stage is like magic, it’s like all of the other moments were for this.

My favorite part is performing but I know for some people their favorite part is writing. There are times I write because I have to, because I am working on a project and there are times when inspiration hits and these are the times where it’s magical and spiritual. And that doesn’t happen all of the time especially when you’re doing this full time. There’s a lot to be inspired by in New York City so I always say with input there’s output. If I am doing a lot of output and no input, it can be tedious. I also find the hours of two to four in the morning to be so inspirational. Almost tike clockwork, inspiration hits.

As an artist what are some of the challenges?

At some point I just had to be ok with not being like everyone else. I remember a promoter once told me, ‘I know you rap but I don’t know where to place you’ and I thought, don’t say that like it’s a negative. Most of my recorded music is my manifestation of myself as a rapper but not as a performer. Even when I try to fit in, I can’t do it. It’s hard for me as a person in development. It’s very easy for me to do lots of different kinds of arts. I draw, paint, sing, rap, act…so trying to contain myself for the benefit of myself is an arduous task. I know in my heart I want to be a singer but I can’t spread myself too thin. I think I did and I broke and I have been trying to put myself back together. I now feel like I have a foundation to stand on.

One of my complexes is the 'yes men' complex. I think it’s important for people to tell the truth and to not always be so impressed with the people you're around who are artists. I’m not that impressed with my own stuff so when I am around people who are, it makes me feel like, ok are you lying to me or are you so consumed with the sparkly aspects that you can’t judge where the dull parts are?

What I learned is that I need to decide that for myself. And that has been a huge part of my process. If someone tells me yes or no, you cannot let your ego be affected but it's challenging, especially as an artist, you want people to like your shit! It feels so good when they do and I am trying to disassociate my ego from that. Every time I feel like I fail, I become more pliable. My jump back is quicker. The first time is tragic, your poor little soul! The second time is like, that hurts. But the third time you’re like I can do this. I came back before twice.

Interview by Jahan Mantin

Outside of the Colour Box with Amie Batalibasi


Outside of the Colour Box with Amie Batalibasi

Stereotypically speaking, walking around most urban areas means you're faced with the requisite dilapidated building, an abundance of rats and lots of street art (Lower East Side anyone?). While the majority of us pass by edifices that have long since retired without so much as a second glance, some of us wonder how the burnt down pizzeria on our corner might look as a cultural center or a restaurant or even an art gallery.

It takes a keen eye and a desire to create something new to take the time and energy to re-claim a space. Amie Batalibasi, Australian filmmaker and the creator of Colour Box Studio, wanted to create a place for artists to promote their work, exchange ideas, and learn new skills. In 2012, Amie decided to turn an old tattoo parlour into  just that. Working with a dedicated team of volunteers and an exceptional drive, Amie createed a space that has turned into a communal and artistic hub in Footscray, a diverse and artistic inner city suburb in Melbourne, Australia. CultureFphiles spoke with Amie about the process of creating something out of nothing, why Footscray is such a special place to live and the importance of promoting your work.

You created Colour Box Studio in late 2012 after noticing an old tattoo parlor you wanted to change into a community hub/creative space. What sparked your interest in reclaiming that space?

The tattoo parlor was pretty awesome – it had skulls and roses painted on the outside! And although the interior was dull and dark, as soon as I stepped inside the building, I knew that it was the right space. It had a shop front, a large room in the back and a courtyard outside. In my mind, I immediately saw these three spaces filled with art, creative workshops, pop up shops, events, community and creative people! So in one month on a shoe string budget, with the help of an awesome team of volunteers, we plastered, sanded, painted, knocked things down, built things and transformed the tattoo parlor into Colour Box Studio. It was such a wonderful show of community spirit and we opened with a bang on November 7th 2012 – 140 people through the door in one evening!

I know that as an artist, there are challenges to generate income and find support, a lack of opportunities to showcase work and a need to network with like minded people. So I guess I hoped to fill some of those was really important for it to be set up by artists and creative people for artists and creative people.

Why did you think it was important that Colour Box Studio exist? What sort of need did you envision it fulfilling? 

Because I have a creative practice myself [as a documentary filmmaker and community arts practitioner], I know that as an artist, there are challenges to generate income and find support, a lack of opportunities to showcase work and a need to network with like minded people. So I guess I hoped to fill some of those gaps and address some of those issues with Colour Box Studio. And it was really important for it to be set up by artists and creative people for artists and creative people. In the short time that we have been open [8 months], I think that we have achieved some of this vision.We’ve showcased over 100 artists through our programs and enabled artists to gain an income through our Pop Up Shops and facilitating workshops. We’ve also run events and exhibitions that are free and accessible to the broader community.

For folks unfamiliar with Melbourne, Australia, what is Footscray like? What makes the neighborhood so special to you?

Footscray is unlike any other place I know and it’s a very unique suburb of Melbourne. The most notable thing is that it's rich in cultural diversity...I’ve lived here for over 6 years and can’t imagine living anywhere else in Melbourne. The thing that makes Footscray special to me is the sense of community – it’s not just a suburb, it’s a community of diverse people and cultures...sometimes a walk in Footscray can feel like you’ve traveled to another country.

As an Australian Solomon Islander, coming from a diverse background myself, I feel really comfortable here. Also, there’s a bit of a rising art scene – there are quite a few galleries and artist run spaces and we’re happy to be one of them! I just hope that with all of the recent gentrification and new development in the area that Footscray can hold onto its unique character. The building where Colour Box Studio is at the moment will actually be knocked down next year to make way for 12 Storey apartments – so we have to relocate at some point.

Most people who see a space and have a dream to create something from it are stopped by a number of challenges. What inspired you to move forward on this idea? What were the first steps you took to make that a reality?

Yes, I would agree that there are so many challenges in terms of following your creative dreams whatever they may be. I knew nothing about setting up a creative space – all I knew was that I had an amazing creative network that would be able to use and benefit from Colour Box Studio so I just jumped right in. I am a pretty determined person – once I have my sights set on something I give it everything I’ve got. I am lucky to have had strong women role models in my life to look up to. The first steps I made were to educate myself – I researched other creative business models and I spoke to a few people running them.

The most important thing I did was to consult with my creative networks...I think that for me, the three key elements to setting up Colour Box Studio were persistence, team work and listening to my community. These are still key to how we operate.

The most important thing I did was to consult with my creative networks, invite them to the space in the middle of construction phase and ask them over a glass of wine, what they could see happening in the space and how it could benefit a place like it. From there I ‘rallied the troops’ (volunteers) and promoted like crazy. I think that for me, the three key elements to setting up Colour Box Studio were persistence, team work and listening to my community. These are still key to how we operate.

What have been some of your challenges and how have you overcome them? What keeps you moving through these challenges? 

Running Colour Box Studio is a volunteer position for me and everyone involved and it seems that everyday a new obstacle presents itself! One challenge would be that everything we do is for the first time, so we are constantly learning! We have run four completely different programs accessing very different artforms and creative communities - an Art & Craft Program, Digital Media Program, Ethical Fashion Program and a Writing and Performance Program. Our next program will be Music and Sound...the good thing is that with every program, we increase our networks for the next time.

It has sometimes been hard to find media opportunities in more mainstream media – especially with one big Australian newspaper stating that we’re 'not newsworthy enough.' We don’t have an advertising budget so we have to think creatively about how to promote our artists and programs for free. So we’ve really tried to focus on local newspapers and bloggers who have been very supportive. And we’re really trying to grow the Colour Box Studio blog with quality content written by our volunteer blogger team. Of course, we’re all over social networking! I think that the small successes along the way keep me inspired – whether it be someone coming in to buy a locally produced item in our Pop Up Shop, seeing a local musician perform at an event or attending a creative workshop by a local artist. This is why we’re here – to provide a platform for artists to pursue their creative passions and that’s the vision that keeps me inspired.

It’s been really tough starting out and getting our name out there – and it’s been a big learning curve personally. I think what has got us through, is the community around us – the amazing volunteers and our creative community. This year we ran a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to keep our doors open. Thankfully, we were successful! It was so humbling and awesome to see that our community really wants us to be here!

How do you manage the responsibilities of running Colour Box Studio and other areas of your life?

Finding work/life balance is tricky for me. Apart from volunteering to run Colour Box Studio I am a documentary filmmaker, media trainer and community arts practitioner. At the moment I am making a documentary film called Fishing for Culture about people from diverse cultural backgrounds who like to fish; and I’m also volunteering for a group called the Australian South Sea Islander Secretariat – a group that works to be a representative voice for the descendants of 62,000 Pacific islanders who were brought to Australia in the late 19th Century to work on the cotton and sugar cane fields as laborers. So I am busy - but very happy and lucky to be busy! The truth is that I work a lot (people often get emails from me sent late at night!), but these are the things that I am passionate about so I am driven to do them! And I can say that I truly love the work that I do.

You've gotten a lot of folks on board as volunteers for the project. How did you manage to do that? What do you think was the draw for people to get involved?

Colour Box Studio is 100% volunteer run and operated. I think that this helps us to build a sense of community around what we do and it means that everyone who is here, really wants to be here and shares the vision of supporting our creative community. At first I used my own networks to get people on board, and now through word of mouth and social networking people are coming on board. Our most recent volunteer found us on Twitter! I think that people want to be involved at Colour Box Studio because it's a chance to give back to community and we provide hands on experience...but also I think that our volunteers like to be a part of our community, they can network and meet other creative people here.

When we started in November 2012 I had no idea what I was doing and no experience in setting up a creative space. It was like starting from scratch again. I had no business plan and I had no processes and procedures in place!

How has creating Colour Box Studio differed from the creative process of making a film? How has it been similar?

I think that some skills from my filmmaking practice like project management, managing people, producing skills, organizational skills, teaching skills etc. comes in handy. [In other ways] setting up Colour Box Studio and running it, is entirely different to my filmmaking practice. My film work is quite diverse – sometimes I am making documentaries for other people, sometimes I am teaching/sharing filmmaking skills with diverse community groups, sometimes I am producing community film projects, sometimes I am working on my own film projects. I have been developing my filmmaking practice over the last few years so I feel like I have been able to hone my creative processes a bit and I have certain ways of working. But in terms of Colour Box Studio – when we started in November 2012 I had no idea what I was doing and no experience in setting up a creative space. It was like starting from scratch again. I had no business plan and I had no processes and procedures in place!

Basically we have been learning as we go, making lots of mistakes and then fixing them. I basically just try to make sure we can keep our heads above water in terms of covering costs and then I try to keep the overall vision of Colour Box Studio strong in my mind and keep moving forward.

Folks tend to have lots of romantic notions of the "life of an artist" or being an entrepreneur. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions?

Hmmm...I’m not sure who thinks that about artists! Maybe because all of the people I know are in creative fields and we all know that it’s a tough gig – especially in the beginning. I know a lot creative people and artists who have to work at another job (that they don’t like that much) to sustain their creative practices. In Australia, it is really difficult to do the creative things that you love full time, and make an income from it. I’m not saying that it can’t be done but it is challenging.

The other thing that I have experienced, is that if you want to be an artist and make a living from it, you have to become a business person as well...the most important lesson was not to be afraid of promoting your work – because basically, if you don’t do it in the beginning no one else will.

That’s part of the reason why I wanted to set up Colour Box Studio – to allow creatives and artists to pursue their creative passions and make a bit of income from it. If we can at least be a stepping-stone for someone on their creative career path, then I am happy...if you want to be an artist and make a living from it, you have to become a business person as well. After university, I did a business short course and found that it was invaluable to have the basics of how to write a business plan, how to do your own accounts and the most important lesson was not to be afraid of promoting your work – because basically, if you don’t do it in the beginning no one else will. And this is probably why we try to promote our artists at Colour Box Studio as best we can.

What legacy are you looking to leave with your work? 

Wow – this is a big question. The word ‘legacy’ is scary especially since I am only 32! Much of my work is collaborative and centered around community, culture, creativity and storytelling. I feel very privileged to work with the people I work with - whether it’s the volunteers at the studio, participants and collaborators in film projects, or the audiences and communities around that. I think that with whatever I do, I can only strive to give it 100% effort and 100% honesty in terms of setting out to achieve my aims and objectives. If by doing that, my work can help to create a little bit of positive change for people and communities, then that's an added bonus.


Interview by Jahan Mantin

Feature image by Rachel Main


Alyson Greenfield: There's No Shame in Failing Up


Alyson Greenfield: There's No Shame in Failing Up


If you've ever created any kind of movement, you know the dedication, resolve, humility, confidence, determination, and resourcefulness it can require. And while everyone looking through the sidelines marvels at how effortlessly you pull things off, they often remain unaware of a single truth.That ish takes a lot of hard work. 

Alyson Greenfield is one of those people who gets things done. Inspired to create her own music festival after noticing the lack of artistic platforms for women musicians, Alyson created The Tinderbox Music Festivalin 2010. Debuting at Southpaw in Brooklyn and featuring 19 women artists on two stages, Tinderbox continues to expand. Last Fall, they featured their biggest show yet -  37 artists from around the world rocking out on three different stages at NYC's illustrious Webster Hall. 

In 2011 I had the opportunity to work with Alyson on Tinderbox's second show, at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, and was often inspired by her relentless energy, resourcefulness, sharp business sense, honesty, kindness, and creative vision. Almost 5 months after their Webster Hall event, Project Inkblot spoke with Alyson as she and The Tinderbox Team excitedly geared up for 2013.  Ever the truth teller, Alyson spoke with me about how important it is to take care of yourself when you're creating something of such magnitude, how success can sometimes feel like failure, and how Tinderbox forced her to come to terms with what really matters.

How did Tinderbox start?

It started in 2010. Lilith Fair had come back on the scene - it was big in the 90’s – it’s a whole festival of women artists. I moved to NY in 2009 and I was thinking, I would really love to play this. I was a women’s studies minor and I was on the Chicago National Organization for Women’s board and it just made sense for me as a musician to do this. I had just moved to New York and I had been talking about starting a blog. A friend of mine said, 'well, your blog has to have a focus.' So, I started a blog pitching myself to Lilith Fair and every entry started with, Dear Lilith Fair. I really like to be creative and it was a big outlet for me. I didn’t get to play Lilith Fair but it was a great experience. I had helped run some unofficial showcases at SXSW that year and I had never done bookings or promotions before but I booked a bunch of acts and I thought oh, I can do this.  I thought well, I’m not going to play Lilith Fair but I know a bunch of women who are amazing musicians. It seems like there was a desire for women to have a platform not only in the music scene but to be around other awesome women. I thought, well I have this music and business sense, why don’t I just create my own event instead of trying to be a part of someone else’s? Within a few months, we got ASCAP and Bust Magazine on board and had the event at Southpaw on two stages with 19 different artists. We just kind of pulled it off. We had this awesome community vibe. The venue said they’d never had such well-behaved artists. What was so great was that so many people were coming up to me like ‘wow, we heard so many great artists.’ They hadn’t heard of most of them. Every year the artists fall in love with some of the other artists and collaborations come out of it. I’m really excited about Kalae Nouveau and Charlene Kayewho met at Tinderbox and are collaborating now. I love when that happens.

That must be so gratifying.

Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. In some ways I’ve created something that is bigger than me. Sometimes I’m like, I don’t know how much of my life this can be because I have other responsibilities. At Webster Hall, so many people kept on coming up to me telling me how inspired they were. That was the word of the day.

We went from a 500 capacity venue at The Knitting Factory to a 2,600 capacity venue with three stages and 37 artists from four different countries. We blew the roof off from where we were before. It was really exciting and challenging and the event itself was amazing. Performing at Webster Hall as an artist was incredible and otherworldly.

What I finally learned this year is that delegation is key. It is so important. No one can do it by themselves. You have to trust the people you’re delegating to. It was really scary for me, because I don’t like asking people to do things. You can’t do things without other people, or you can - but you can’t do them well.

How did you get all of these people on board? 

There were a few people who came on board last year who, without them, Tinderbox would not have happened. Nasa Hadizadeh, Rebecca An…they were just instrumental. Then I brought on an assistant, Alexandra Martinez. These women were invested in Tinderbox like it was theirs. They came with great ideas and busted their butts and there were tons of other volunteers. They just took it on. I would ask them, why would you do this and work so many hours? And they would tell me what they were getting from it. I would feel bad because I didn’t have the budget to pay people or myself. The way people worked just astounded me. I would have conversations with people and they would share the value of Tinderbox with me. I felt uncomfortable asking people to do things especially when I wasn’t paying them. It was difficult for me to not feel guilty about not giving people paychecks. I had to understand that this was a reciprocal relationship. I’m getting something, they’re getting something and we’re working together to create things. I delegated and these women really took things on. What I finally learned this year is that delegation is key. It is so important. No one can do it by themselves. You have to trust the people you’re delegating to. It was really scary for me, because I don’t like asking people to do things. You can’t do things without other people, or you can - but you can’t do them well.

What are some of the changes you noticed in how you were running Tinderbox?

I felt less alone. I even had people say to me that when I first started Tinderbox I would refer to it as ‘I have to’ etc. That changed to ‘we’ as in, 'we need to' and people were like, that’s a good thing you’re saying ‘we.’ I learned that it’s important to trust people and to identify to people what they’re best at and let them do that. Once they did that, they would come back with results. We had meetings all of the time and I had to learn how to negotiate and deal with different personalities. People have different ideas and they feel strongly about them and this year we were dealing with different sponsors, and so many more people. I also learned how to be more diplomatic and honest. Everyone worked so hard. People were invested with their heart, as well as their time.

But after Tinderbox this year you realized you needed some time off from the project.

Tinderbox kind of took over my life. I had to pay my bills and I didn’t know if this was the thing that could do that. I couldn’t put my life on hold and not be able to take care of my basic needs any longer.  We were working with artists and venues that were a lot bigger than what we had dealt with before. I’m good at negotiating, connecting and networking but there was a learning curve. I held it down but we didn’t have the capital at the ground level. We’re still young and we didn’t have the funding, and everyone was volunteering.

I felt like I had run into a brick wall. I am just crazy driven and don’t stop to breathe sometimes. If I have ideas, I will accomplish them but sometimes it comes at the risk of my sanity.  I had devoted my life and sacrificed things like a regular income. I was focusing on it all of the time and you know how it is, you can work on it day and night and still never be done. I was still doing little things here and there to provide for myself but at the end, I just felt defeated.

I wore myself out. I think the expectations we have for ourselves are so high. You don’t let yourself breathe... I didn’t have a life and at the end I felt like I was left with nothing and had done this huge thing that seemed to benefit other people, but at the end I had no energy...I started resenting Tinderbox.

Can you speak about why you felt defeated?

A lot of things came down on me because in these types of circumstances, things come down on the founder. I wore myself out. I think the expectations we have for ourselves are so high. You don’t let yourself breathe. I don’t know if it’s a do-it-all mentality or what. I’ve always liked to work. Ever since I was a kid, I had projects and would organize and set these structures. I was a perfectionist and I would just do and do and do.

I was like, I don’t know if this is going to happen again. I kind of felt like I had lost myself. I was living in this fantasy land where I thought if I worked my ass off, it would come back to me but it didn’t matter because it didn’t come back. It is coming back now – but at that time, it wasn’t. I didn’t have a life and at the end I felt like I was left with nothing and had done this huge thing that seemed to benefit other people, but at the end I had no energy - and I have a lot of energy – I was just done. It takes a lot for me to be done. I started resenting Tinderbox.

I think that happens to a lot of people.

Of course! Because if you don’t feel like something is giving back to you and you’re putting everything into it then that’s not balanced. There were incredible things that happened but I was almost mad at it. I didn’t want to talk about it. Pretty soon after the event, people were like ‘when’s the next one? I want to apply. What venue will you do it at?’ I was like, I don’t know if there will ever be another Tinderbox again. I cannot talk about it. Then I realized I had to get back to being a human being. I needed to provide for myself. I’m going to be the best at providing for other people when I’m setting an example and providing for myself. This is a key thing with women. Women are so good at providing for others and not always themselves.

Compassion for yourself is huge. I go to a lot of Buddhist talks and it’s so important. We think it’s an indulgence or something for leisure time. If you care about yourself you can be compassionate towards others.

Compassion for yourself is huge. I go to a lot of Buddhist talks and it’s so important. We think it’s an indulgence or something for leisure time. If you care about yourself you can be compassionate towards others. One of the Buddhist teachers says, ‘you know when you talk to yourself in your head and you’re being really mean to yourself, well would you talk to a good friend like that?’ And usually the answer is heck no. You’d rally for your friend instead of throwing punches. Having compassion is so important as well as realizing that things will happen on their own time. I think for me, also, there was a lot of thinking that things have to happen now. I spent so much time and energy on Tinderbox and I thought, things have to happen now! I have to prove this is real. I’m so over that now. In the second year we got press from TheNew York Times but it wasn’t enough. It was like, no – this year it’s going to be at Webster Hall. I had this unrealistic expectation that it had to be a certain way.

There was a sense of attachment?

Yes. It becomes really stressful because you say that it can’t be any other way. I think collectively, over the last two years, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and meditation and really looking at myself and being honest. I realized I was being pretty mean to myself when Tinderbox was over. I felt like a failure. From the outside it wasn’t that way but from the inside, it felt that way. I started thinking I have worth because I am here and I’m human. I had gone camping in the summer with some friends and I was by the ocean and I thought: this ocean doesn’t care about Tinderbox. The world is so big. We make everything such a big deal.

After Tinderbox, I took a couple months away from it and I looked at our sponsorship deck, which is a compilation of our press, mission, goals, artists etc. and I thought, whoa - this is really successful. I kind of blew myself away. I had never really thought of that before because I was just working and doing and feeling like it wasn’t enough. was always like, we’re not here with this we’re not here with that – all the things that we’re not. And looking at that was like wow, we met a lot of our goals and even exceeded some of our goals. And I thought, I have worked really hard and I am successful and success doesn’t have to be financial. There isn’t one way to be successful.

You didn’t realize how successful you had been before?

Sure, I had little glimpses here and there but it was always like, we’re not here with this we’re not here with that – all the things that we’re not. And looking at that was like wow, we met a lot of our goals and even exceeded some of our goals. And I thought, I have worked really hard and I am successful and success doesn’t have to be financial. There isn’t one way to be successful.

I reconnected. I genuinely like people and I finally realized I have something to give that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the music industry or being a musician or having a MFA. How can these gifts manifest? Maybe it’s something I never thought of. I let go of what I thought I should be or had to be to feel worthy. I thought, my priorities are: I need to pay my rent, I need to provide for myself and I haven’t been focusing on that. Now I have a few different jobs and I like them. They bring out different parts of my personality. And that’s nice to know. Things have been coming my way. When you’re open, the world gives you answers. Now I feel like the world is reaching out to me. I am also acknowledging now – I have always had this little thing on my shoulder that’s like ‘you’re not there yet. You better keep working’ but it’s like hey – I’ve done a lot of things. I don’t think I really thought that. I just let go…and it was hard. I opened up space so that things could come in. When you’re not making space for things to come because you’re always trying to get and go somewhere…when you can sit and be still….things can happen. All of these opportunities keep coming to me now. And the thing is, is that nothing seems like such a huge deal. It feels like ok yeah, let’s try that out whereas before everything was such a huge deal. Also, not taking yourself so seriously, that’s really important. Hitting that brick wall – it almost took that to build myself back up. At the time you think it’s the worst thing in the world but it’s really beautiful. Sometimes you have to go to the bottom in order to take those baby steps back up.

Interview by Jahan Mantin

Feature Image credit: Jasmina Tomic


Miles Bonny--On Human Impact, and Truthful Music

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Miles Bonny--On Human Impact, and Truthful Music


While it can sometimes feel like we’re standing still, the truth is, is that we are constantly evolving. Sometimes these changes can feel drastic, often they are imperceptible. Born and raised in New Jersey and a former social worker - singer, DJ, producer, family man, and trumpeter Miles Bonny, is in the midst of big changes. When we spoke to Miles, he was gearing up for a move from Kansas City, where he's lived for the past 8 years with his family to New Mexico. Beyond the move, Bonny continues to grow as an artist and play with the boundaries of what it means to be a blues/soul/jazz influenced singer. His songs incorporate a sense of intimacy usually reserved for the grainy sounding records your parents listened to when you were a kid - and his music emits a sense of nostalgia, ease, and vulnerability.   When we spoke with Bonny, he was phasing out his work as a Cultural Communications Curator for individuals and non-profits and had recently returned from touring in Europe where he performed much of his latest album, Supa Soul Sh*t, with collaborator and producer, Brenk Sinatra. CultureFphiles chatted with Miles about his latest album, being an artist and a father of two, and waxed poetic on the following questions: how does my identity as an artist evolve? How do I make sure my work aligns with my values? How do I contribute to the greater good?  Read on. 

Let’s talk about Supa Soul Sh*t and the origins of this album.

Since I never made money from my music, I did it on the side…I jumped around from a lot of different jobs and I realized that I value my life and my potential and if I’m doing music this whole time, why am I not just doing that? When other people started taking my music more seriously, like listeners, I was like wait - they’re taking it more seriously than I am. It’s cool because good things are happening and maybe that has to do with my energy because I’m in that place and people can feel that.

How did creating Supa Soul Sh*t differ from your previous album, Lumberjack Soul

Supa Soul Sh*t  took a lot longer and so my vocal recordings were all over the’s my first album completely with one other producer [Brenk Sinatra]. In the past, I've been the producer. As a cohesive work it definitely feels more powerful and deep than my previous release. When we toured we largely based our shows off of that album and people would come up to us and tell us how the show had impacted them, which was surprising. It’s not easy to perform this material when people are going to a show on a weekend night and they’re hearing slow ass soul music. But I think that because of Brenk’s strength as a spirit and as a person and how much he believes in the music, he would play the entire beat for each song not like, ‘oh we’ll do a verse here or a verse there’ so as a performer, it wasn’t easy but maybe it just made it more real. If it touched people there must be something to it. Music is just social work in that it provides a warmth that people don’t really get from other people or other settings in their life.

Do you feel your music provides that warmth or a sense of connection?

That’s not my intention when I record but I think that is something that happens as a result. I mean, I’m just trying to be genuine. I’m not like, ‘hey, let’s fuck all night. I got a lot of money.’

All I get sent from producers are slow Jazzy beats which is a great - I really love being that guy who sings over slow Jazzy beats. But I also love crazy shit…I love the genre that is related to the music I make and the music that has historically preceded it, but I also love fast, danceable things and I’m thinking I can do both.

Well, soul music used to have a real subtlety to it. Even in Marvin’s, “Let’s Get It On” the message is clear - but there’s still a subtlety present that’s missing in a lot of music.

Yeah, and it comes off as being disingenuous. I love old music. I love things about new music. Why can’t we just make something that is honest and true for today without having to feel like that middle ground can’t exist?

If I am trying to describe what my music sounds like, I have to come up with words to do that, and that’s where marketing comes in and that whole, music-meets-non-music-conversation begins. I’ve been struggling for a long time given my understanding of marketing and how helpful it can be when you find those right words. I mean, ‘soulful’ doesn’t mean much. To a bunch of white people, it can mean ‘black’ music or something for ‘black people.’ You can’t say ‘organic’ anymore because it’s just redundant. I feel a connection between the idea of Jazz soul and beats. My history stems from hip-hop beats. There’s a trumpeter named Nicholas Payton who is creating a whole lot of hub hub now because he is saying Jazz is a derogatory term and it’s actually black American music and if you look back historically, all these people like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington were saying we don’t play Jazz, we just make music. All I get sent from producers are slow Jazzy beats which is a great - I really love being that guy who sings over slow Jazzy beats. But I also love crazy shit. I love the genre that is related to the music I make and the music that has historically preceded it, but I also love fast, danceable things and I’m thinking I can do both. 

My fans love the music I make. Or have made. Whether they like what I create in the future is up to them. I don’t have zombie followers. I have a community of individually minded, free, progressive thinkers.

How do you negotiate the desire to try different things so you're being true to your evolution as an artist but also remaining faithful to your fans? Is that even something you consider?

My fans love the music I make. Or have made. Whether they like what I create in the future is up to them. I don't have zombie followers. I have a community of individually minded, free, progressive thinkers. They are evolving themselves in search of self and freedom. We all are, the world is changing before our eyes. Sticking to an easy formula or something that is purely about money is foolish for anyone.

I’m an ambassador for the type of music that I like. Musically, I make the music I want to hear...I'm conscientious about what I do. I'm not into pyrotechnics and choreography. I'm not a lighting designer or stockholder. I’m living a life based on my spiritual path and connection with community in this time. All with an understanding of the history of my musical lineage in my ancestors and with the recorded material that has shaped me.

It’s clear it’s important your values are aligned with your work. It can cause a lot of conflict when we do work that is not aligned with our values. Can you speak on that?

I would say, factually, probably most people don’t have their work aligned with their values. I think that’s why society is collapsing right now. As individuals, people are working purely for money and if the people they’re working for are doing it purely for the money then it’s hard to base an entire society on something that’s fake. We’ve had to choose boxes as jobs for people to fit, but they are essentially created by someone else, as opposed to us developing our own interests.

A lot of it comes down to how I am choosing to be perceived as an artist. And if I am being consistent with what I claim...there are things going on in the world that are ugly - but I don’t want to make ugly music.

A lot of it comes down to how I am choosing to be perceived as an artist. And if I am being consistent with what I claim. I want to be someone people can rely on and trust. I’m starting to write things that are more reflective. If I genuinely believe strongly about things going on in the world and the people that listen to me also do, I can do it in a way where the music is enjoyable and not shoved down their throat. I’m growing as a songwriter and finding the balance between creating content that is not too personal that no one can relate to it but also not making it into a lecture. The fact is, is that there are things going on in the world that are ugly - but I don’t want to make ugly music.

That’s the hard part about anyone being adamant about social justice. It’s never ending, as far as the amount of ways you can shift your choices to be aligned with those beliefs. I’m trying to be conscious of not buying things from countries with bad labor laws…I was talking to a friend of mine and he was like, ‘yeah people might have these beliefs but we still don’t follow them when it’s inconvenient for us.’ At what point do I hold myself accountable? It doesn’t mean we have to be hard on ourselves but it’s still something I’m trying to work on.

How do you balance your family life and your career?

How do I not completely sell out and potentially gain greater fans or bigger opportunities while at the same time staying true to my values and make sure I have enough money to be a responsible father? So far it’s not hard, but it requires a lot of hard decisions. You can’t be lazy about it.

How has being a father and having a partner influenced your music and the way you approach your art?

It's increasingly becoming something my collaborators understand is important to me. My love for family and belief isn't "cute" - it's real. Raising children well is important and realer than any fame I could ever obtain. I could not buy what my family provides me and what I can provide them. My first video was based on my family life…at the same time, we give each other great freedoms. My partner and kids and family situation is amazing. I'm thankful. I want the same for others.

I started singing when I met my partner. The balance between touring, recording, and anything I do publically has to fit within my life as a whole.  The song "As you sleep on my lap" did real well on my man's Ta-KU Soundcloud. People seemed to respond to the honesty of it. It was a freestyle recorded while she was in my lap, sleeping in the studio.  I'm trying to be myself as much as possible. Myself, and my music are always getting realer as I learn more about myself and society.

My grandmother, Helen Bonny, wrote a book called Music Consciousness: the Evolution of Guided Imagery in Music. She wrote that even though she knew how to play violin she never wanted to be the person on stage, she wanted to touch people’s hearts. I was like fuck, I wish she was still alive so I could have a conversation with her. It’s like, I need to do shows because I want to connect with the people who like my music but I don’t really care about being on stage and I don’t really care about being famous. I just want to make good music and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.

Interview by Jahan Mantin

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A Letter to All Musicians--From Meghan Stabile


A Letter to All Musicians--From Meghan Stabile

Meghan Stabile

When I first met Meghan Stabile, I was amazed at how one seemingly reserved (emphasis on the seemingly), petite woman was behind one of the most massively growing, cutting edge, music cultures in NY. Founder of Revive Music Group, Meghan has been responsible for some of the ballsiest music mash-ups on stages all over the world as a show and festival curator. She's known mostly for revisioning traditional Jazz and hip-hop idioms in tandem. In the beginning, her ideas were highly risky concepts with sometimes high stakes involved, but through relentless work, she's one of the most reputable show producers in the city. That's why live musicians flock to her in droves, eager to play truly challenging and exciting music, but also to learn how to survive in an otherwise grueling music industry. With the increased frequency of producing Revive shows, as well as the creative machine behind The Revivalist(Revive Music Group's editorial arm), Meghan's deepest passion remains being an ally to musicians. To her, being a true ally means being pragmatic and honest in the deepest sense of both words.

As evidence of that, I approached her to do this piece because of this post on her Facebook wall that completely blew up and went viral:

In the spirit of the Facebook conversation that impacted hundreds of musicians, Meghan breaks down her advice further:

There are less labels out there, which means that you must fill the void. 

I work with mostly "Jazz" artists. There are only a few jazz labels out there that are alive and signing artists. Traditionally--and still to this day--jazz departments have the lowest budgets, obviously compared to most other genres. Nowadays, budgets are even lower, and what used to entice artists to get signed to a labels, just isn’t happening anymore. If it is, it's extremely rare. More artists are becoming independent, because they have to be.  More artists are putting out their own self-funded projects, just to get their names out there. It's either Indie or DIY. Labels are becoming extinct.

The music industry has changed, and you need to adapt.

The biggest reality check that musicians need is that we are no longer operating under the music industry’s old model, where an artist would get signed to a label, and the label would supply you with artist development, a person working on your promotional campaign, someone on publicity, another handling marketing, an art design department, folks running the studio, an executive producer. That's not the case anymore, so therefore artists need to adapt. The question is how, and what are we adapting too?

The myth of the manager—No, they will not do everything for you!

I get contacted all of the time by musicians asking for assistance and guidance. Some think the solution is getting a manager or agent. They don't need a manager at stage one or even stage five. The thought process that having a manager means that they are going to do everything for you is simply not a reality anymore. Managers and agents opt in when they see a reason too, mostly beyond what they are hearing. Even if you get signed to a label, you still have to handle the majority of the business yourself. Some managers are really great at taking on the majority of the work, however, my point is, it's a partnership that succeeds. Also, labels aren't always the solution to help you handle all of your business. They don’t always have the capacity or resources to develop you every step of the way like they used to. Either way, you must be more involved with the work.

Have realistic expectations when working with a manager.

For some, they have so many steps that they have to do before a manager is even going to want to come in the picture. If a manager is going to start from stage one, That potential manager has got to be in love with you--in love with your music, in love with you from the jump. They have to want to go through that entire process with you, through thick and thin with you. With that being said, as an artist, you have to be prepared to be on the same page with them; if they go hard, you must go hard too. Most managers will not take on a new client from stage one. You have to build yourself up, to where they take notice.

You need to build your work to a certain level before others are going to be able to help you successfully. 

Artists/musicians have to build themselves up to a point where industry professionals are going to take them seriously. As an artist, you have to come already prepared and ready to work. It's very rare that managers or agents will sign an artist without there being some kind of buzz already. The other factor that they look for is whether or not you're going to be making them money at some point. If they love you, they will invest, but they are investing in your success, which is ultimately their success. Many managers are stretched thin in this business. For them to invest their time into you, they are going to want to know what they are going to get back in return--even if it’s eventually. That's how managers and agents work. It is their livelihood to work on your behalf, and they have to see the value in your product. It sucks to even say it like that, but that’s the honest truth in how folks in the business think about it. Not all are machines, but again, when it comes to business, their are few that are in it for the art, the creative aspects, and the passion. For some, this is their JOB. Find the ones that love you first.

Creating the album is not enough.

Many artists think that after they put their work out on itunes, everyone’s going to want to buy it, and that everybody is going to know about you right away. Absolutely not. There is a level of promotion and marketing that artists need to be savvy to. Even artists signed to big labels come up with their own marketing campaigns that's later carried out by the label team. The point is, don't stop at the launch; be a part of the master plan.

Treat your music like it’s your business—because it is.

Many musicians think that all they have to do is create the music, and the audience will come. But to even be relevant in this fast pace, factory-like industry, where product is being pushed every second, treating your music like your own independent label has become more of a necessity.  Musicians have to understand that their music as a business. A lot of musicians don't even want to think about that--they want to worry ONLY about their creativity, and that’s the biggest mistake they can't afford.

Do your research—What business are you in?

You have to think ahead of the game, and not just make decisions because you assume a certain outcome will happen, based on what you think you’ve seen happen for others. You first have to know what business you are in. You have to reflect on the things that you’re doing in that business, and if they are going to make you successful based on YOUR situation, and not anyone elses. There are multiple ways, many scenarios, and more roads than one to achieve success.

Be your own director: Take your work more seriously than everyone else. 

You have to direct your own path. You’re the only one who is going to care 100% about your music and your craft. You may not know 100% how, when, who, or what--but you have to try. If you start at square one, or stage one--whatever you want to call it--then you're already on your way. No one is going to care about you more then you.  That being said, you have to oversee everything on your project. Even if you are on a label and you have a manager, the reality of the industry is that everyone is stretched thin, and every project is important. Unfortunately, your project is not the only project out there that they're going to be dealing with. You have to push some buttons to make sure people are on point, but you also must be on point. The key to that is knowing at every level what is going on. Even if you have a team of people working with you, you have to be at the center of the decisions being made to ensure that the decisions are in your best interest. However, always be open to suggestions.

Get people to flock to you.

Once you have your shit together, other people will start to come in and want to work with you because they will see the value of what you've created. You don't have to chase people down. If you know your music will speak--then let it speak, and they will come to you. If this sounds like a contradiction from everything else I've said, it's not. You still have to do all of the work.

Be open to criticism, but also be aware of who you are dealing with. 

It’s valuable for artists to seek advice and feedback, but more importantly, artists need to be open to the truth of both their limitations, and the realities of their environment. I once brought in a record to a label  years ago. It ended up being a very successful record. At the time, this label didn't think so, then it blew up. Sometimes, that's the name of the game when you work with certain labels. On a label level, there are a few people who are the gatekeepers, and well--if they don’t get it--you may not get put on. Try a different way. Don't rely on a label as your end all and be all.

Find a balance between vouching for yourself and stepping back. 

Musicians sometimes say, "I got the gig, I got the gig." That means they’ve gotten a gig that A) puts them on the road for a while and B) is their intro to the game. Often these gigs pay musicians shit money and for long periods gigging with the same artists. Most of these big gigs underpay musicians. Most musicians just starting out don't know or realize it until they've already signed on for the tour. Part of it is because they didn't know what they should be getting paid. There was nobody they could go to for advice, and they just wanted the gig. I'm not saying that if you are getting offered to play for huge artists, not to play. It's a great opportunity. You can't go in there with unreasonable demands either or you definitely won't get the gig, but at some point, don't feel you need to compromise what you deserve. You are making them sound amazing on stage and on their records. Your artistry is invaluable. They can always hire someone else that will accept the cheap check, but know that you don't have to do that. You must value your art, do the research on what’s fair pay, and negotiate when you can. It’s about finding that balance. The real gigs will demand real cats and you'll be happy in the end for not settling for anything less then what you deserve.

Business brainstorming is creative brainstorming.

I remember when my good friends Raydar, Jared, Lee and I used to sit down and come up with concepts for shows. We were in creative mode--using that other side of our brains. When it came down to business, it was a whole other story. Musicians especially need to be taught that you can do both, and through the act of doing it, you will start to deal with the business side much more comfortably. I think it would benefit musicians if they had more creative brainstorming sessions related to business strategies, like marketing. Musicians are naturally inclined to creatively problem solve, they have all types of crazy good ideas—and that can be applied to businesses. The key is to start seeing business in a creative light, because it is.

Things that you can start doing for yourself.

Musicians shouldlearn how to create strategic partnerships, and how to build a label around themselves. The tactical advice about acting as your own label is what artists need to put forth time and energy in learning. Again, that means understanding all departments, all divisions, all challenges you are dealt with, so you're able to not only understand what each thing is, but that you know how to engage each one separately, and together when needed. The time of becoming an entrepreneurial artist is NOW.

Be honest with yourself. 

I know many musicians who would never take any of this advice. They are left field--creative geniuses who won't do any of this stuff. It's just not part of their thought process. I wish I could say there are many managers, agents, and label people who will be there for you from stage one, from just hearing your demo, and who will want to go hard and fight for you. I hate to say it, but they're not out there. If if they are, there are very few, and they are stretched thin! This is a calling for more people that are willing to take risks, follow their passion, and not just the pay check. Sounds unrealistic, but I've lived it. Be honest with what you want at the end of the day. Who are you? What is your purpose and what do you want? How do you want to effect people with your music? What are you trying to accomplish. Once you have answered that for yourself, then all else falls into place with the work ahead.

To learn more about Meghan's work, visit The Revivalist, and follow Revive Music Group on Facebook and Twitter.

By Meghan Stabile, Compiled by Boyuan Gao

Feature photo by Eric Sandler