Can White People Succeed in R&B?



Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Dear Fan, I'm a Brooklyn based Soul/Pop singer songwriter. I took a break this year from performing because I grew tired of constantly inundating my social media sites with "PLZ COME TO MAH SHOW" spam and I wanted to write fresh material to showcase. I want to make sure that I enter the new year right as far as hitting my target with all the new content. I obviously want to reach a larger audience and make them believers too. I am reminded, when visiting Pitchfork and other hip music blogs, that the odds are against being a white r&b singer in an industry where r&b is dead. So, how do I keep pushing this boulder up hill and making strides so that I show my talent in the right way? I know Russel Simmons isn't gonna show up on my doorstep and sign me, but I surely want blogs and real music lovers to recognize what I'm about. Confidentiality Requested

Dear Con, First thing: I watched your live video and your voice is bananas. You can sing anything. If you wanted to slum it in indie rock, people would marvel. You could go on any reality singing show. You could keep on doing what you are doing -- but wait, what are you doing? In this one video you are singing Georgian folks songs in the style of a louder Sade -- not quite the same thing as r&b. In this other one it's needlessly auto-tuned party pop. If I were some tertiary A&R scout out on a weeknight at a showcase I would be blown away by your voice/look/poise but would wonder where in the world you fit.

You are going to have a great year, but a few things need to happen. First, you need to toughen up a little. Getting discouraged by no feedback really slowed you up. Also, I watched your "about me" video and the third topic you get to is how discouraged you are by the state of music and why you think you haven't been noticed yet (basically). It's a bad look. And though you are being honest, it's kind of a poisonous attitude. A little bit of "this world doesn't get me" is good, it can motivate your underdog spirit. A lot is like... no one wants to work with you and you are so bummed you take a year off. Read some Pema Chodron and work on your acceptance that you are at the start of your journey and it just sucks most of the time. Also, r&b is still the dominant force in pop music (fun. was the first rock band to have a song go to #1 in 11 years, FYI) and America is still a deeply racist land. Being white is still probably an advantage. So, you know, buck up and don't let either be an excuse. If you want to be Beyonce or the Eastern European Carrie Underwood, stop giving a shit about blogs -- you are not in Wooden Wand. Start trying to do management and A&R showcases, making YouTube videos where you sing current hits in your bedroom, networking with people who can get you doing background singing, hustling your CD to producers who need divas for their demos. If you want to be an indie artist, make a record in your bedroom, just you. Take some cues from the new Angel Olson record. Sing your Georgian folk songs -- they'd work within an indie-folk context. Your voice by itself is so lovely, it needs no production. Throw it up on bandcamp and start trying to ingratiate yourself into that world. You might want to ditch the fancy sweaters for some grubby tee's unless you want indie kids to give you the Lana treatment.

If I were your manager, or, perhaps, your momager, I'd push you towards something else entirely because I don't think your sub-Katy Perry pop is your strongest suit. Have you given any thought to developing as a world music/folk crossover artist? I think you could find a more sustaining career there doing festivals and hooking up with a reputable world label that would be delighted to have a hot lady with a gorgeous voice who can sing in Georgian. Work with what you've got and make it your story. You are much more special that way. Have some simple little band, do some originals, modernize some traditional songs, do "By Your Side" and people would melt. World music also lets you stick around for life. Pop is super fleeting. Get old and do a jazz record and Edith Piaf tribute albums.

I also think you should find someone who can book you to sing at weddings (not receptions), funerals or official events where the National Anthem or Ave Maria is needed; you might just need to make a dedicated website and SEO the shit out of it with "RED HOOK'S #1 WEDDING SINGER" tags or whatnot. Or put together a quiet little combo and try and get a nice restaurant gig; sing in Georgian and people will dig on your exoticism. Plus, you would gain confidence and toughness, as well as have the experience of positive response from a rapt/captive audience. Best of luck, Fan


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