When do you decide to call yourself a musician?
I am so excited to announce that Steph Barrak’s debut album, Words to Break Your Heart, was released this week, and that she agreed to do a guest blog post about her music, her journey, and what else we can expect from her.
Words to Break Your Heart is definitely a labor of love, an album built from scratch and free of generic and processed musical themes. The first track, ‘Connecticut’, allows us to dive into the album with a driving beat reminiscent of Mumford & Sons, but with an interesting breakdown that then picks us back up and pulls us forward. Tracks like ‘Fossil Tears’, and ‘Painted Face’ emphasize the gorgeous instrumentation that is displayed throughout the album, and ‘Hardwired’ follows suit with a whirlwind of strings and more. The last lines of the chorus sail out beautifully.
‘Robot’ begins with the type of vocals one may expect (and make you smile), but then evolves into a different type of song, steering away from anything trite for a track titled ‘Robot’. “Hardwired’ and ‘Robot’ are definitely standout tracks, in my opinion, but the album is seamless. The songs resonate, so even when a track ends, it isn’t abrupt…it just passes us over to the next one.
I wouldn’t be able to name one major sound that Barrak is referencing in this album, though ‘Oh Lo Lo’ gave me a hint of Modest Mouse, which I didn’t expect, and there were moments of Mumford sounds in there. But the album is honest and there’s clarity in the lyrics. For instance, the lyrics in ‘Married a Robber’ are delightful in the way they’re written and delivered.
And now I give you…Steph Barrak.
Some Questions for Steph Barrak…Answered By Steph Barrak
On creating music and my background as a “musician”…
Creating music has always been something that came instinctively to me. I remember coming up with my own melodies on the plastic recorders they gave to us in elementary school. I remember showing up to my piano lessons excited to show the teacher something I’d made up, while simultaneously feeling ashamed for not making much progress on my site reading abilities. It didn’t occur to me then that what I was doing had a name. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that I started relating to the actual term “musician.”
For all intents and purposes I have no formal musical training. For me, musical creation comes from a deep, personal place, a place very far away from my brain. When it comes to writing music, I have to feel it rather
than think about it. That said, I have a genuine respect for people who have pursued the study of music and one day I’d like to learn more about the craft.
On lessons learned…
While I have lots of learning left to do, there are definitely a few things I know now that I wished I’d known when I first started taking music seriously.
1. If it’s your first time making an album, take your budget/timeline and triple it. You’re going to have to redo those vocals. Session musicians are going to reschedule. Recording over long weeknights and weekends is going to take a toll and you will be exhausted. If you’re planning on releasing physical copies of the album, don’t forget that those cost money. As does any merch you intend to sell at your release party. And don’t even get me started on the release party… The point is, plan for the unexpected.
2. Leverage social media, but don’t go overboard. A social media presence has become crucial for musicians, especially when it comes to engaging with fans. However, keep in mind that every minute you spend on social media is a minute you could’ve spent making music. Of course, there is a fine balance here, one that I still haven’t mastered.
3. Take a step back and ask yourself why you’re doing this. Are you pursuing music to make a profit? Do you see yourself pursuing music forever or are you just having fun playing shows with your band? There is absolutely no wrong answer. The trick is to try and find that answer and then use it to guide all of your strategy.
On the road ahead…
If I follow my own advice (as per question three above) and ask myself why I’m doing this, the answer is always: to create quality original music that I’m proud of. That’s it, and that’s what will inform the choices I make in my career going forward. If one day I actually start making money from the music, then that’s simply an added benefit.