foreword to "how to be successful in independent music"

Through the years, I have been asked many times in interviews, "What is the best advice you could give to someone coming up, as a musician?" or "What do you wish you'd known about the music business when you were younger?"

My answers to these questions have inevitably varied, depending on where I was in my own journey as a professional recording and touring artist. I vividly remember the afternoon I performed at the legendary Lilith Fair in 1999. Before I played, I was invited to sit on a press panel with very successful artists whose albums had become like bibles to me, and it was definitely intimidating. One by one, I listened to musicians like Sheryl Crow, Mya, Sarah McLachlan and Suzanne Vega describe their processes and also give advice to the younger generation, "coming up". Sheryl talked about really knowing how to play – practicing your craft and being ready for that key opportunity. In light of her own career beginnings as an in-demand session musician and singer for the likes of Michael Jackson, that certainly made sense!

It was Suzanne Vega, however, who – with her soft-spoken voice and unassuming demeanor – grabbed my attention most. Her message was something to the effect of this: "Everyone is going to want to give you advice. Your manager, your lawyer, your parents, your peers. Take it all with a grain of salt, and make music that you love and believe in, foremost. The rest will follow...follow your own instincts and block out all the 'noise'."

Her advice was deceptively simple! How many of us can actually say with a straight face that we don't readily pander to the needs and suggestions of others, when it comes to adjusting our creative vision? After all, we want to connect, to receive approval, applause and ultimately, to please others.

In the years since I sat on that panel with some of the greatest songwriters ever, whose work I've had the pleasure to listen to and enjoy over and over as I've honed my own craft alongside them, I have never forgotten Suzanne's wise words. The fact of the matter is: no one knows the exact recipe for creative "greatness" any more than YOU. That feeling you have when you land on just the right chord that gives you goosebumps...That quirky but entirely unexpected and clever lyric you can't believe you thought of just as you were about to give up...That idea you had to go for a trumpet solo instead of electric guitar, when your producer thought you were crazy – but then later you both agreed it was exactly what the song needed.

The point is, instinct is everything with music. Your instinct to want to create to begin with is something only you can fully understand and channel into what it is you need to say, to play, to sing, to rap. Of course we all must practice and hone our craft for hours and hours until we feel comfortable enough to perform in front of people or these days, stream live on YouTube or Instagram.

But at the heart of every masterpiece is some form of surprise...something unexpected and novel and original. This is why no one else can tell you how to be the best version of you than YOU. We surprise and delight ourselves in private moments all the time, especially during the creative processes of songwriting and recording. Getting to know what makes you most come alive, and therefore what makes you most inspiring and uplifting to others, is most great artists' life's work! No one can do it for you, and if someone tries to tell you they know exactly how you should do it, I say...run! That person may have experience, but they also probably have a huge ego and/or are more eager to play out their own unrealized dreams through you, than they are to truly help you realize your own.

That is not to say that we artists shouldn't learn as much as we can from others, like the sponges we are apt to be, especially when we are young and impressionable. But it is my firm belief – like Suzanne Vega said all those years ago – that the most qualified person to develop and fine-tune your own talent, skill and drive from its raw beginnings into something you can be proud and excited to share with others, is the artist themselves.

I suppose this is the DIY ethos, at its essence. It doesn't mean we shouldn't listen, absorb, learn and reflect. But at the end of the day, we are each curating our own inspiration – by the grace of that ephemeral thing we sometimes call The Muse – into our personal definition of art (or a product, if that's how you prefer to think of it). Whatever the case, it's your or your band's name on that cover! Or perhaps you prefer to leave your name off of the cover altogether..and why not? Only you can answer that question, along with the most important question you will ever ask yourself as a musician: "What music do I want to make, most?"

But please - take my advice with a grain of salt, as you should with everything when it comes to you and your own music career! That's the best advice I can give you.

- Rachael Sage