Author | Speaker | Music Industry Professional
You never know where life is going to take you. I started my career as a musician, touring with an A-list of artists and most notably was the only female keyboardist to tour for about eight years with Barry White. I eventually transitioned into the nonprofit sector with a focus on music education, programming and organizational leadership. In my current career as a consultant, my life is full of balancing bigger-than-life personalities, travel and career-altering decisions. Although many of my clients are established creatives, I have clients who engage my services specifically for the creativity I offer. I’ve built a lot of great experience along the way that I can now capitalize on, however getting to this point had many challenges.
As a young girl, I remember discovering that music brought me joy. I also recall being told I wasn’t good enough and that I would never be successful. It’s painful when the people you admire and depend on the most don’t see your potential. It affects you deeply. You second guess yourself; you stop believing; you begin to wonder if anything matters. You start to wonder if you matter. As a child, it’s almost impossible to advocate for yourself at the risk of being ridiculed or diminished. As a young Black girl, I experienced an additional unspoken layer. It was almost as if my ambition was invisible. I never wanted to think of race as a factor because we aren’t born thinking our race or culture will be a barrier. Eventually, I learned that even when you don’t operate from fear, there is always someone who is afraid for you and those who are afraid that you will discover what they knew all along: that you are greater than you know. As I grew older, I learned to understand the fears and frustrations of others around me. I was warned about what wouldn’t work or what I couldn’t do. I made a determination that I was not going to let someone else's failure influence my decision to pursue my passion.
I grew up in Mt. Vernon, NY, a small, picturesque town in Westchester County, just north of Manhattan and adjacent to the Bronx. Music was a dominant thread in our home. Every Saturday, we woke up to the sizzle of the skillet and jazz. I mean, really great jazz: Lee Morgan, Dave Brubeck, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Bill Evans, and others. The very first song I remembered hearing in life was “Killer Joe” by Quincy Jones. My mother and I would see Broadway shows and visit museums at least every few months. We also took family outings to125th Street and would see concerts at the Apollo Theater. I still remember the sounds of drums, the incense being sold by vendors on the street and the richness of the area. My parents loved culture and giving us experiences.
When I was about eight years old, I discovered the music program in my school and came home with a flute and violin. I eventually started dabbling in piano and began taking lessons consistently by the time I was about eleven. I continued in bands and orchestra throughout school and took piano lessons once a week. My piano teacher constantly challenged me. She helped me with structure and didn’t accept excuses. I wasn’t the best student at first; in fact, I was pretty lazy. I would whine and complain. My parents wouldn’t allow me to quit. To this day, I push through difficulties as a result.
I decided to go to college to study music. I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, so this was a huge deal. Unfortunately, my parents didn't understand the music industry and had a limited scope of career options as a musician. After college, I still lived at home with my parents, and I felt that I was not going to have the freedom and success I craved. I needed a change. I was either going to take a leap of faith or live a life of wishing I had been brave enough to pursue my passion. I decided I wanted to be brave, even though I was afraid, had low self esteem and was not at all confident. I didn’t know where to start. I noticed I had gaps that I needed to fill. I just wasn’t happy. I journaled endlessly to get my emotions and thoughts out of my head, so I could see them and make sense of them. That is when I decided to drive across the country to Los Angeles. I had been visiting the west coast for about the past five years at that point. I decided on a date, pulled the $800 I had in the bank at that time, packed up my car and took a permanent road trip. I was about to Create My Vision.
What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?
Moving to Los Angeles with almost no support, I had a lot to figure out. I thought of everything it takes to market a business or product. I located people I needed to communicate with and learned who the gatekeepers were. It was my goal to get hired as a musician and it paid off. It took a few years before I was able to work fulltime as a musician and I never turned back. I have been able to sustain a career in my industry for over three decades.
What books are you currently reading?
I started reading books about self-development and business while in my early twenties. I eventually earned my MBA, which helped me to solidify my business skills. I love reading books that inspire me to think differently and take action. I am currently reading “Will” by Will Smith and re-reading “Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice” by Dennis Kimbro. I also refer to my own book, “The Art of War for Creatives” which is full of great information to support creatives and creative thinkers.
What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
My best advice for anyone pursuing a career in music or any arts discipline is to be determined and resilient. Don’t quit; be patient and figure it out. Also, build good habits and never give up or abandon your dreams, no matter how many obstacles. When we get into a pattern of giving up, we will make excuses to not move forward with things that we really want to do. If we don’t fulfill what we want to do, we risk ending up feeling disconnected, depressed and dissatisfied. Either way, we have to be accountable for our choices. Why not learn how to make choices that will move you closer to satisfaction? Here are a few simple hacks for you to follow:
● Build Your Toolkit: How well do you know yourself? Where are you stopping yourself and what strategy will you use to move past your hurdles?
● Assess Your Associations: When you surround yourself with mediocrity, you will become mediocre; when you surround yourself with greatness, you will become great.
● Create A Clear Plan: Your plan is your GPS. It’s important to heed warnings, take detours and not get stuck. Make sure you are mapping out your journey. Your path may also shift from time to time, and that is fine. Stay consistent in moving forward and create measurable milestones.
● Seek Professional Guidance. Quite a few creative minds fall short because they try to do everything themselves. Even many professional artists continue to work with a coach and continue to take classes and workshops. Find a mentor, take a workshop or masterclass. Always stay open to learning as much as you can.
I wrote “The Art of War for Creatives” to serve as a guide for aspiring musicians and artists. I was inspired to write it by the young musicians I taught and mentored over the years. I drew upon my entire experience of what worked, what didn’t work and how I was able to push down barriers. For more information and tips , feel free to join my mailing list to receive my newsletter and other resources that I share, which you can find online at: www.charynharrisonline.com. My ultimate goal is to ensure that all creatives can develop to be their best selves and share their creativity in a satisfying and meaningful way.
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