Losing Ones Self
The relationship between an artist and producer, collaborator, or bandmate has always been emotional. There are countless stories of strained relationships in music that ironically have created some of the best music in history. Stevie Nicks has spoken out about her emotional relationship to Lindsey Buckingham her collaborator and ex. They spent years in the studio barely speaking to each other but resulting in one of the biggest selling albums of all time. She speaks about emotional abuse resulting in drug addiction stealing years of her life she wishes she could get back. Joe strummer used to get physically hit by his producer in order to invoke more emotion to get his vocal takes. Michael Jackson even tried to get Quincy Jones name removed as producer after winning seven grammies for his album Thriller saying he produced it.
Swizz Beat & Alicia Keys, Gwen Stafani and bassist Tony Kanal, Lily Allen & Mark Ronson. The list goes on and on. The tension and love hate relationships between creators has been a true staple in some of the best music of our time but also resulting in heartbreak along with deep scars.
I moved across the country for a boy I had fallen for who also happened to be a producer, songwriter and an artist. I felt so lucky I had found someone who understood the career I had chosen and also created music that I liked and could envision myself singing on. A few weeks after settling in we began to work on my first EP together. He had far more experience and success so I looked to him for guidance and complete control. I took every suggestion and felt I was learning at a rapid pace thanking him constantly. As weeks turned to months our personal relationship grew and soon we were living in a house together working out of a studio he had build in a bedroom. As both of our careers grew so did the pressure. I began to feel differently. I started to feel in debt to him for all my success. He had introduced me to my manager, used all the musicians from his previews projects he even got my Major Label Record deal after playing an A&R my video at the end of their meeting while my internal team had been shopping for weeks with no responses. I felt all my success was because of him and in some ways it was. Still we continued to make music together. Things became harder as my career kept climbing. Watching other amazing artists come to my home to work with him started to take its toll on me. I remember tip toeing to the door to listen to what they were making wondering if their music was better or if he preferred to work with them over me. Working with someone gets extremely personal. You share childhood stories, deep secrets. It’s the producers job to try to understand an artist in a short period of time to challenge them and help deliver their vision. As my insecurity grew I began to become frustrated and over compensate. Not having many new friends I felt completely isolated. There were signs littered in my lyrics. “ Came to California but now I don’t know why.” “ You’re blind, I cant get through to you.” “Constantly dissatisfied.” But we never discussed anything. Frustration turned to anger, arguments, resentment on both sides yet we continued to make not just good but great music together. MY album received critical acclaim but I had never felt worse about myself as an artist or musician. Waking up together and going downstairs for 12 hours a day then eating dinner in front of the tv became the norm. I felt guilty for feeling bad. Was I just too insecure to hack it? Was it all in my head? Favors, and hard work turned into brutal resentment on his part and my feelings were never validated instead looked at as juvenile. But we continued to work and still knew we loved each other and wanted to make it work. There are many stories of directors bullying actors to get award winning performance and I wondered if maybe I needed this emotional turmoil to create good work trying to disregard the effects it had on me. As a second album began to take form we found ourselves working in separate rooms and I spent more nights away deliberately to avoid arguing or bringing up suggestions of what I wanted for my next record.
I truly believe his is one of the best producers of our time. Reminding me of the giants like Quincy Jones who cares about the entire production with vocal deliver, lyrics along with the arrangement. I feared I couldn’t work with anyone else so I didn’t. A trip to Italy to save our personal relationship and then a few weeks to work in a studio outside of Pisa to give us new hope didn’t help. We only came back with great music and more scars. His energetic attitude towards working with me began to seem like a life sentence and I lost my voice to fight back with direction too afraid he would end our relationship.
If you’re an artist or performer, you were drawn to this life for a reason. You yearn to be seen, heard, valued. Maybe you want to make a positive impact on the world. You want to connect with your audience through your art and you want to be rewarded for your work. These are all very human aspirations—healthy yearnings to live the life you feel you were meant to live.
But how do you get there from here? You need those people who can see you, believe in you, and help you rise to your potential. But that was not my reality anymore.
My label had lost belief in me due to sales, my manager was exhausted, and I feared my boyfriend had lost faith too. I had lost belief in myself. I had no more emotional integrity left. Sometimes there are obvious signs—bullying, manipulation while others signs ease slowly into their abusive behaviors. You may find yourself in a situation you don’t immediately recognize as abusive, and it can be heartbreaking to face this truth. Sometimes its yourself that inflicts the most pain.
Unable to write any lyrics for my sophomore album I spiraled into deep depression feeling trapped and utterly alone. I struggled with huge amounts of guilt feeling as if I should be grateful and lucky to be living my dream wondering if I was the problem and everyone else thought I was just emotional unstable and immature. Our love was gone and what started as an exciting endeavor together with someone I admired and thought was my musical and life soulmate had vanished.
Months passed and he continued working while I escaped into other things to distract myself. One night drunk, I stumbled downstairs to a closet I had put a small mic in to hide and just started free styling. Emails I never send, notes in my phone began spewing out lyrics to the beautiful music we had made together. IT felt almost as if something just gave and it all came crashing out of me.
A few more weeks as strangers passed and finally one night he ended it. Relived to not be the bad guy I knew I would be able to leave with my hard drive and also numb knowing the end was coming.
Six years with the man I though I was to marry the man who helped me create music I love with lyrics all about our relationship was finally over. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t go through all this with him would I be be the artist I am today. Would be as strong as I am now. Would I have realized I know how to make music by myself and work with others. Do you need pain to create art? Do I?
We haven’t spoken since that night and I went on by myself to complete what Ive been told is my best work yet.