Labor of Love

It is now 2.33 am on a Wednesday morning.

I’ve been chatting off and on with homieloverfriendartistdude for the last four hours while he records masterpieces in whatever region of the world he’s in and I write (or at least try to) songs here at mi casa in Brooklyn. Every other creative I know is up working and hitting me from time to time. While the world is sleeping, we are all up working, writing, recording, producing, performing, mixing, editing, designing… creating.

Truthfully, I feel like throwing the Macbook Pro at the wall in a fit of frustration. The Reason? I’m on deadline and have come down with a severe case of writer’s block. When this happens it terrifies me. It’s like I’m staring down the barrel of a gun  watching my whole life flash before my eyes. It reminds me of my mortality and that my gift for singing and songwriting, if not nurtured, can go away.

The pressure to produce within the entertainment industry is overwhelming. When you make the decision to make your love your labor, it changes things. I remember banging on lunchroom tables and writing songs locked in the downstairs bathroom of my house—the only quiet place in a home brimming over with kids—imagining stadiums full of screaming fans and videos in heavy rotation. I wrote daily and would spit rhymes for free, for the hell of it, because nothing compared to the magic of how a slick 16 bars made me feel.

Soon after making the decision to pursue a career in music  I rudely awoke from my delusions of grandeur to the business of music. An industry reminiscent of the wild wild west where anything goes and only the strong and steadfast survive. Relationships are everything! Your team will make or break you and you must be the best at your craft or you’ll fail miserably.

We’re all fighting to either be relevant or stay relevant. Some artists, such as myself,  struggle to maintain a balance between being commercially viable and what is artistically sound; others could truly give a fuck about artistry and follow the trends. We gotta tip on the tightrope (well put Janelle!) You have to find a way to be innovative and edgy enough to standout in the musical landscape yet accessible enough not to alienate your audience. Pop producer Dre Knight, formerly of The Narcotics now of Starclub, always says to me ‘Young! We’re not making music for ourselves.’

I shudder at that quote; it haunts me every time I pick up a pen.

Once you decide to sell your talent, your main goal is now to create a product that can be competitive in the market (in this case, one that is over-saturated with crap) and hopefully, in an ideal world, create something that can also contribute value to society.

The last time I had a severe bout of writers block while walking the line, Santigold introduced me to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I swear by it. It’s a rigorous program that’s designed to inspire, nurture creativity and break the dam that holds back your ideas. Though time consuming and intense, it works.

My career that I’m building with my talent is labor of love, but like any marriage you have to continuously do things to keep the fire lit. I do things to remind me of how much I love to make music, how much I love art and how much I adore my talent. In order to persevere I have had to separate the business of music from my heart’s dream. When I obsess about the records, the trends and the money, I go blank. I know that if I concentrate on the labor and forget to hold on what I love… I will lose, lose myself, lose my gift, lose my way. And for me, losing is not an option. I have to “win win win no matter what!”

Finally, I have a fool proof formula… I love.

I love so hard that any obstacle; writers block, hatin’ ass record execs, unforeseen malfunctions, are forced to buckle under the force of the power of my love. How much I love my team, my dream and my labor. I have finally learned how to thrive within a labor of love.

So whenever ever I get that throwthemacbookproupagainsttheceiling feeling, I inhale the goodness in the air around me and say “I am an artist, hungry and ambitious yet driven by contributing beauty to the world. Inspiration, I’m ready for you now.”

image/ Itaysha Jordan

Last 5 posts by Malene