Maylee Todd is a Canadian independent singer-songwriter, musician, performance artist, producer, and creative powerhouse. Her song “Baby’s Got It” reached number 10 on the Tokyo radio charts in Japan, where she’s had much success, performing at the Billboard Live Tokyo venue and performing at other prestigious international music festivals like Trans Musicales in France and the C/O Pop festival in Germany. Her music covers a wide variety of genres, including pop, indie-rock, soul, jazz, electronic, experimental and bossa nova. She has a taste for eclectic instruments and sequencers, while her performances demonstrate a flair for both comedy and the dramatic arts. On Nov. 3, 2017, Todd released her third studio album, Acts of Love. Here, she shares point-by-point advice drawn from her career in music.
Working as a multi-media conceptual artist, producer, and musician means I have to wear many hats. I produce my own work, and put on conceptual shows that highlight music, 3-D projection mapping, waccking, installation, and interactive therapy. My interests lie in personal experience and impacting culture in a positive way, with psychology, spirituality and self-awareness acting as the core themes of my shows.
What does it mean to be alive? Do I want to live my life by design, or default? If I’m to be realistic, I know I won’t be able to control my experiences, but I’ll be able to guide my life in a direction that feels purposeful and has meaning to me. With this in mind, I have to be relatively fearless on many fronts. I can’t be afraid of putting work out that isn’t “good enough.” Creative expression and authenticity is the future for humanity.
Here are some navigational tools that I’ve used for this industry:
There are opportunities out there, it’s just a matter of having the lens to see them. I joined the Canada Council for the Arts jury to better understand how the grant system worked. I worked in a music store to understand how music pedals work, and met with industry folks for coffee to hear their learned experiences, and maybe work/volunteer for them.
Be Your Unique Self
Your authenticity has value. There are a ton of people in this world, some are smarter, have more talent, and have more money than you. What will set you apart? Your unique experience, your unique style, and your unique perspective.
I think it’s important to understand your strengths and your weaknesses while developing them. I love that Michael Jackson got different writers for Off the Wall and still wanted to develop his skills by writing and producing a couple of tracks on the record. You can get help, you can be collaborative, and you can also develop yourself as an artist.
Contracts must be clear and concise, there’s no room for assumptions. I book, pitch, collaborate with many people, festivals, and venues. There can be a lot of miscommunication and assumptions. Best to draw up contracts. I always try to be clear in e-mails, but I’ve noticed even that can get messy. I’ve been in this business so long that I’ve found even between friends, sometimes there can be miscommunications. Everyone I’ve worked with has been incredible, understands processes, the bigger picture, and what’s best for the project. I’ve collaborated with hundreds of people, and yet I can count maybe five people on my hand that have been very challenging and take up mental space. With contracts, it’s clean and clear; job description, term, and payment.
This one is so real it makes me want to puke. Some people have decided on their own type of hierarchy. They will discredit years of experience, talent, and hard work for their own issues with race and gender. Get outta there. It’s not worth it.
And If You Don’t Have The Choice, Use The Power Of Wit:
There was a workshop for women that I taught for 10 years, called The Power Of Wit. Historically I couldn’t call out misogyny, or I’d get fired, so I started this tactic. The trick is when you come across a misogynist in power that you can’t call out, you take a stab back with a witty remark that reminds them you still have your power, without absolutely making them feel threatened. It is the weirdest tactic I know. But it has historically helped me navigate through this patriarchal system. Seriously though, just call them out. It’s not the ‘80s or ‘90s anymore. Its 2017.
I’ll always try to invest in projects I believe in, and take more financial risks. It seems daunting, especially if you don’t have money to begin with. I started a savings account for artistic/hobby endeavors. It’s amazing how much money I can spend on materials that don’t bring meaning or substance into my life. Prioritizing has been helpful. For each gig I get paid, I put a little of that into that savings account even if it’s a small amount.
Use Credit Cards That Have Benefits
Point systems are great! I have gotten groceries, flights and a printer from my points card. I make a lot of payments on my credit cards, and pay them off right away so I don’t climb into debt.
Circumstances will change and sometimes things may not go according to plan. Just like in evolution, one needs to be able to adapt to the circumstances. You cannot control everything, and sometimes these changes are gifts. Use them.
I was a personal trainer for 10 years and I used to hear this same line: “I just don’t have the time.” They were just not prioritizing the time. And that’s OK. But you can’t really use that excuse if you indulge in social media five hours a day, or watch Netflix. If you have two minutes a day, you could work on scales on your guitar. Or maybe spend one minute to tune and one minute to practice scales. It all adds up.
Patience and Perseverance
I know I will get there, maybe not next week, maybe not next year, perhaps it will be years from now. But I will get there. You can apply this to everything.
At the End of the Day
It’s all work. It’s producing over and over again. It’s writing 100 jokes a day and maybe one of them is funny. It’s a practice for a reason. Each show is a rehearsal for the next. Life is a work in progress. Data checking and aligning with your value system is important. My mantra is: Living your life by design, not by default, while balancing the art of adaptation.