How the hell do I do THAT?
I stood dead center of the Cordoba Guitars booth, staring up at an huge poster of a pretty brunette with a classical guitar, sprawled out in the backseat of a convertible. She looked so happy and confident, and I remember wondering if she was even a musician.
It was four years ago, and I was NAMM, the world’s largest trade-show for music gear. Imagine Guitar Center, times ten thousand.
I hadn’t exactly snuck in, but I wasn’t exactly invited, either.
My first year there, I spent all three days walking around the thousands of vendor booths, trying out guitar after guitar, dreaming of an endorsement deal. It made me feel so needy. Like, will you take me? Will ANYBODY take me? I didn’t even know what I wanted in a guitar; I just wanted to be wanted. For someone to tell me I mattered.
I felt tiny.
My second year at NAMM, I was fresh off the heels of signing an amazing endorsement deal with Fender and Guild Guitars. And guess what? Instead of feeling tiny, I felt like a massive raging impostor. Like, who the fuck just gave this janky self-taught singer-songwriter/babysitter an endorsement deal? Did they know who I was? HADN’T THEY DONE THEIR HOMEWORK?!
When I saw other bands showcasing, I felt a little kicked in the gut.You still don’t REALLY belong here, the chatterbox in my head told me.
I remember stopping in the Marriott Hotel to watch the bands play in awe, wondering, again - How do I do THAT?”
I still felt like a fraud - but ONE thing had changed. I had an endorsement, so I didn’t need another guitar. I stopped going from booth to booth trying to win over companies. What I did want was friends. So one night, I took a few drink tickets and started offering them to strangers. I made it a point to really listen in conversation, instead of waiting for an opportunity to jump in and talk about my music.
I walked away with two new wonderful friendships that I maintain to this day.
This year, I applied directly to NAMM. Out of 600+ bands, I was accepted as a showcasing artist. Booked twice on two of the biggest stages at the conference (including that Marriott stage). For a conference that draws over 90,000 people. I was STOKED!
Then Fender contacted me about playing on the Guild stage. Twice. The Fender team would be there to see me play with my trio for the first time ever. Then…I got nervous. For better or worse, if they didn’t know who I was then, they’d definitely know now.
I prepared like crazy. Watched hours and hours of live production coaching videos and set up two-intensive rehearsals. It freaked me the fuck out, but I emailed my bandmates telling them we were going to prepare a set fit for an audience of thousands. I was sure they’d think I was batshit, but I had to get past that fear if we were ever going to grow.
Instead, they showed up to rehearsal just as stoked to get their hands dirty and build a new show.
I was determined to do a great job of representing Guild, but most of all - I was done playing small. Done throwing together set lists at the last minute and sort-of improvising my way song to song. I wanted a polished, fucking killer set. I wanted to know I had done everything in my power to create an experience for people to be engaged and have fun. I wanted to build a show that changed people’s lives.
After years of feeling like the underdog, I arrived at NAMM to strut the floor in my bright turquoise dress and favorite boots, beaming with pride.
A few minutes later, my drummer sent me a photo from the Fender showcase room floor. Sitting right there, next to my D-55 and Richie-fucking-Havens (the man who became a legend after slaughtering an impromptu set at Woodstock because Sweetwater got stuck in traffic), was a poster of ME.
I was humbled. Even though I still feel like I’m in the early stages of my career, the impostor feelings had totally melted away. Instead, I thought; wow. I’m doing it. The possibilities are endless. Not only does Fender believe in me - but I believe in me.
If there’s anything this experience has taught me, it’s that it takes courage to believe in yourself.
A few minutes later, I grabbed a copy of the new Guild Catalogue to take a look through all of the guitars they’d be producing for 2014. I knew it would include one of the shots I did at the Rebrand Photo Shoot, but I had NO fucking idea that it would be…
Check this out: Guild called me THREE DAYS before I had the Rebrand PhotoShoot to see if I had any new shots. Later they told me it was only because I had amazing, professional new photos that they used me in the front fold.
The moment I flipped open that catalogue, I knew none of this was a coincidence. The photo shoot, NAMM, my entire journey: I was exactly where I was meant to be. Even as a budding artist, every tiny step and misstep was a part of my path. I belonged. I’ve always belonged.
I’m still learning. The trajectory is insane. But I’ve stepped into a new phase of my career as an artist. I’ve done the grunt work.
No more sneaking through the back door. No more walking around, asking what I can GET.
Now it’s about what I can give you.