It’s almost predictable. As I’m wrapping up a meeting with a new client, they look around my home studio and ask how I got started doing “all of this,” as they sweep their arms around the room in one gesture. Most of the time, I’m sure they are thinking, “I want to do this! How can I get my own home studio going?” Then I contemplate whether or not I should tell the short story, somewhat long story or really long story (because the story is long and wandering). I zigged and zagged a lot over the past few decades. However, with 20/20 hindsight, it’s obvious I really was destined to be doing exactly what I’m doing now; I just didn’t know it until I got here. And every zig and zag somehow prepared me for it. So, I’m going to tell you guys the long story. Now that I’m well into my 40’s I can break it down into decades. Ouch.
Tweens – Teens: I figured out how to multi-track my voice using two cassette tape recorders (this was long before home computers or GarageBand, mind you. And no YouTube videos to teach me anything). I don’t know quite how I figured it out, honestly. Once I did though, I was recording myself singing every song I knew in 3 (or more) part harmony. Then, I started writing my own songs that, of course, had 3 (or more) part harmony. I recorded jingles and songs and stories into my BFF (tape recorder) in every spare second I had. I remember recognizing the beauty of reverb on a warm acoustic guitar at a pretty young age, and wondering how they made singers sound like they were standing right next to you one minute and then singing in a cave the next. I was a drama geek and loved being in plays, competing in various events (even won some in the comedy categories!). I also sang in a trio with my two older sisters where we performed all over town.
Twenties: I decided to be a music major in college because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with music. My voice teacher told me I wasn’t good enough to go for a performance degree (!) so I just went into music education with a choral emphasis. Back then, those were the only options at most universities. I started teaching voice lessons as part of my curriculum (in 1990) and I have been teaching ever since. I must love it.
I spent this decade of my life believing maybe I wanted to be a singer. I studied classical and opera, sang in operas, won some competitions, and started to get pretty good. I was in a cool vocal jazz/a cappella group, I even did some of the arranging and transcription. I wrote some songs that were . . . ok. I recorded an “inspirational” CD (that wasn’t good), thinking the only way to really make music in our LDS community was to make LDS music. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just wasn’t really what I loved to do. I loved to write pop songs—cheesy, hooky pop songs (still do). Still, I performed all over the state trying to sell that CD. It also turns out I had a pretty big problem with nerves when singing in the studio or in front of an audience by myself. My nerves were so bad that it really took all the fun out of it. I decided that being a performer wasn’t really my passion, unless I was singing with my sisters . . .
*I worked at a bank full time for this entire decade
Thirties: I Moved to California with my little sister who was a singer, playing the role of her vocal coach and co-writer. We began working with some producers and learned quickly that losing thousands of dollars on music that never gets heard is pretty painful. We began working with another producer. I worked in collaboration with this producer for most of this decade. We created a music production company. We focused on finding, developing and producing talent we believed had potential. I began recording on an 8-track digital recorder, then graduated to a home computer after a few years, until finally my colleague producer and I were “co-producing” artists. Usually, I was working with the artist on the lyrics and melody of a song, their vocal performance, and backing vocals. Eventually, I started recording them myself. This is when I discovered that backing vocal arrangement, coaching in the studio, and all vocal post production was something I LOVED doing. Meanwhile, this same producer and I wrote a song together that was placed in a movie. This is when I learned how fun and challenging it is to write songs to sync with film/TV. You no longer have to worry about sticking within your own personal sound or brand but can focus just on creating the right mood and feel. I studied and studied the music business as I was now having to review contracts. I feel like I know just enough to be safe and how to answer basic questions for people. I went back to college to finish my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance.
*I worked at a bank full time for most of this decade. I was able to quit the bank in 2007 because I had such a huge waiting list of students. I was able to double my students in 6 weeks which replaced my bank income. It was a scary jump to make but I’ve never had to go back!
Forties: Ok, now we are in the current decade and everything has finally come together for me. I moved back to Utah and started the business, Vox Fox Studios. I gathered vocal students and songwriting students. Though I didn’t have the confidence or the skills quite yet to call myself a recording engineer or a producer, a few people took a chance on me and allowed me to record and produce singles and even full albums. Man, I worked REALLY hard to get them to sound good. I still had a ways to go, however. I spent a few years in an amazing party band and got to travel all over. I began producing their performance tracks and really learned how to hear sounds and recreate sounds by doing this. I still produce their tracks, as well as a couple other bands’ performance tracks. Combine that with a constant stream of music-making clients—YouTubers, solo artists, rappers, bands, and even a cappella groups coming to me to record and produce—my business has become a full-blown music making machine! And guess what I know now that I didn’t know in my 20’s? MAKING MUSIC IS MY PASSION!!! Actually having my hands on the audio and molding it/shaping it to sound the way I want it to sound is what makes me happy.
As I wake up each morning and thank the Lord above that I get to do what I love for a living, I also am grateful for the many bumps, wrong turns and breakdowns that lead me here. I’m grateful that I had to work a day job for about 18 years so that I would appreciate how valuable music-making time is.
So if you are one of those “How do I get my music career going?” people, my advice is not to wander as I did, but to be open to try things until you find the thing that brings you the most joy. The truth is, there is not one clear path to success, and success is going to mean different things to different people. Having a job to support you while you figure it out is not “plan B,” it can actually be a crucial part of “plan A.” Figure out where your true passions lie—be it performing, songwriting, teaching, recording, producing, playing . . . or any combination of these—and then focus on becoming the best you can be at it.
Becky Willard is the owner of Vox Fox Studios in Orem, Utah. She offers a wonderfully tech-integrated approach to voice coaching, while also teaching traditional vocal technique. She also offers other recording, production, and artist development services.