Five young, creative gurus teach you how to be amazing
From the magazine: ISSUE 90, Feb/March 2014
How to get on a TV singing competition: Holly Henry
On a whim last fall, I started watching NBC’s The Voice, the show where Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton aren’t judges but upbeat “coaches” of aspiring singers. Expecting to indulge in some loud, bland TV, I was caught off-guard by contestant Holly Henry’s bewitching whisper, her voice sounding the way a falling feather looks. She reminded me more of a Brooklyn artist on a cassette label, and as it turns out, the 19-year-old Minnesotan has a charming DIY bent too, with a thriving YouTube page featuring indie-leaning covers and a Bandcamp full of sweetly fragile originals. Only now, unlike your run-of-the-mill self-releaser, Henry’s stint on TV has netted her 30,000 Twitter followers and a following in the Philippines. Here’s how she got there. dc
Do It for the Right Reasons
I never really did music with the mindset of getting better. It was always just sort of like, A-ha, this is the thing that I like to do. So I would practice a lot, but I wouldn’t really call it practicing, because it was just something fun I’d be doing.
Quality over Quantity
Before I was on The Voice, I probably had 5,000 subscribers to my YouTube channel—a pretty solid fan base. The songs I post there, I play them for a long time first, because I like to put really quality videos up. You’d be surprised—the videos look pretty cheap, you know? I just make them with a webcam and a mic that plugs into my computer, then put some reverb on, but it’ll take me like six hours to finish because I want the take to be perfect.
Have a Back-up Plan
I auditioned for The Voice on a whim, at an open call in Chicago. The audition’s really short—just the first verse and the chorus, a cappella. I did “Train Song” by Feist and Ben Gibbard, but then they wanted me to sing something else. I wasn’t expecting to do another song, so I was like, “Okay…” and sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Louis Armstrong, which was really random. I don’t know why I chose it.
Know Your Audience
On my YouTube channel, it’s more about making a good cover, whereas with my audition, I knew I had to show a unique quality in my voice. I’m sure they hear a million amazing singers, so they’re not even looking for a great voice necessarily, but one that’s interesting. Don’t go in there and imitate Adele, try to stand out.
Define Your Own Success
I honestly don’t want a lot of fame. I can barely deal with what I have. It sounds pathetic to say, “It’s really confusing and stressful that people are following me online,” but I was seriously wigging out. Plus the whole big stage, the big performance—I realized I don’t fit into that. Now, I’ll definitely be happy just releasing stuff myself. The show helped me a ton, though, because people have found me. Now I can still make a living at this even if I don’t want the bright lights and the camera.
How to get dressed: Mike the Ruler
With his encyclopedic knowledge of emerged-in-the-1990s designers like Rick Owens, Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang, it’s safe to say that Mike Hope’s sartorial taste is wise beyond his years. Just 13 though born in the year 2000, we’re making him an honorary ’90s baby—the budding designer and tween New York fashion critic can be spotted backstage at Hood By Air fashion shows and is often gifted designer duds months before they hit stores, all of which he shows off on his popular Instagram, Mike the Ruler. We asked America’s trillest teen to help us look sharp. dd
If you’re a kid that’s just getting into fashion and feeling overwhelmed by all of the brands and styles, just relax. Do your thing. If you want to be stylish, be stylish.
What Would Biggie Do?
Since I’ve liked music my whole life, I started looking at what my favorite artists and rappers wear for inspiration. Usually, I listen to a lot of classic gangster rap, like Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Dr. Dre. But it was A$AP Rocky that put me on to Hood By Air, and now Shayne Oliver, its founder, is my number one favorite designer.
Know Your Vibe
In the morning, when you’re getting dressed, it’s important to pay attention to your mood. Sometimes I don’t necessarily dress fashionable. Like, when I’m happy or in a crazy mood, I’ll wear something colorful, but if I’m regular or sad, I’ll wear dark.
I’m very into reinterpreting how a piece is meant to be worn. Like a women’s shirt or sweater, I’ll wear as a kilt. Make items your own—be interesting, but don’t go overboard.
Balance with Basics
It’s good to have a couple of statement pieces that are crazy and really stand out from everything, but balancing them with plain white T-shirts or low-key items is essential. Like, one day I’ll be wearing some basic jeans, basic shirts, and then I’ll throw on a crazy fur jacket to elevate the look.
Accessories: Use but Don’t Abuse Them
Personally, spring and summer are more about big accessories for me. I like to wear a lot of bracelets, but never more than three. I suggest wearing hats that stand out. My personal favorites are from Gypsy Sport.
Dress for Less
Honestly, on my own I couldn’t really afford most of the stuff that I wear. I wear a lot of used and secondhand items, and designers give me stuff, too. But if you want the look for a little money, I recommend thrift, consignment and discount stores like Tokio 7 and Century 21 in New York. And, of course, eBay has everything.
Know Your Limits
I like to be adventurous with the way I dress and stand out from the crowd, but everyone should have their limits. I’d never wear anything with crystals, studs, spikes or sequins—basically nothing embellished. Also, I hate yellow and would never wear khakis. Knowing what does not work for you is as important as knowing what does.
How to start a popular music blog: Disco Naïveté’s Jarri Van der Haegen
Belgium’s Jarri Van der Haegen, 23, is a lawyer by day and a blogger by night, running Disco Naïveté. He started the site as a teenager, and with his knack for identifying soon-to-be stars at the amorphous intersection of pop, electronic and R&B, he’s built it into a reliable destination for zeitgeist-defining sounds. We asked Van der Haegen to give us tips on how to make it as a blogger. dd
Keep It Simple
Apart from a few friends helping me with design and coding, I’m just doing it all by myself. I’m not trying to optimize the website, I don’t do crazy marketing, I’m not doing any SEO [search engine optimization]—I don’t even have ads for revenue. My readership is just whoever stumbled upon the site and likes it. I want people to feel the DIY spirit of my entire effort, and if they just find the blog by themselves, they’ll be a lot more loyal.
Blog like Nobody’s Watching
In the beginning, it can be very hard, because when you check your blog’s statistics, all of 10 people visit it in a day—it’s just you, your mom, your aunt and your friend. Of course it’s nice
if people read it, but think of a blog as something personal, like an online journal to keep track of what you’re listening to and what intrigues you on the internet. To get to the point where people reply or give their opinion on what you write and discover, you have start with something you like.
Go with Your Gut
Deciding what gets posted on Disco Naïveté is very simple for me: if I like it, it gets blogged, and if I don’t like it, it doesn’t. It’s weird to describe, but if I put on a new song and it gives me that special feeling instantly, that’s it—that’s when I know it’s good.
Broaden Your Own Horizons, Too
With that said, as a blogger you have to force yourself to listen to things that you wouldn’t listen to normally to help [refine] your musical taste. In the site’s early days, I listened to a really broad selection of all kinds of music to figure out what I liked. Now, I’ve narrowed my interests down to pop music, but I’m currently forcing myself to listen to more electronic.
Don’t Be a Pop Snob
Regardless of how many new artists you listento, you can’t neglect pop culture and its influence on indie music. A lot of blogs that champion new artists tend to turn up their noses, but I’ve always thought of Top 40 artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna as important to the indie landscape, too. There are always bits of pop to be found in indie, and indie is starting to reflect pop, too. I think it’s important to see what the Katy Perrys of the music world are doing and have a balance between the two.
Once you’ve got some momentum, making new contacts and building relationships is crucial, and oftentimes the first step has to come from you, the blogger. Thankfully, most bands are really appreciative when you reach out. Just be friendly, introduce yourself, tell them you’re a fan, tell them how long you’ve been doing it, why you’re doing it, where you’re from and what you like about their music. Music publicists are always quite keen to share stuff with new bloggers, too, because they want to expand their territory. Just be yourself, and from that point onward, it gets easier.
How to be a rap producer: C-Sick
Charles Dumazer, aka C-Sick, moved to Chicago from France when he was a kid. At 17, after teaching himself production, he entered and won Red Bull’s Big Tune Beat Battle, which landed him in the studio with rap veteran Nas. He’s 23 now and still at it, with recent production credits for King L (“Val Venis”), Fredo Santana (“WAR”) and Lil Twist. Here, he offers a few tips on how to make it as a producer. dd
Keep Your Gear Simple
I like to keep my setup super basic. When you’re just getting into beat-making, pretty much all you need is a laptop, headphones, some good monitors and studio software. I’d say 70 percent of what’s on the radio is made on FL Studio. That’s my foundation. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?
I started out making juke music, which is big here in Chicago. After hearing Kanye West and Just Blaze for the first time, I switched to rap. But I still listen to other genres. Coming from France, where they play African and Caribbean music on the radio, I remember hearing a lot of music from all over the world. That’s great when it comes to sampling, because I know where to find different sounds and styles to integrate into my craft.
After you get a good handful of solid beats, make some old school beat tapes to push your music around and get your name out there. Word of mouth is still the best promo: the music is going to speak for itself. Take advantage of social media as a way of connecting with rappers, and get some up-and-coming people to flow on your music. Having rappers on your beats early in the game is helpful because it teaches you how to put a full song together—how to build intros, hooks, bridges and sequence a track.
Be Confident, but Polite
Sometimes I collaborate with rappers on beats, which is pretty exciting. Usually, I’m pretty low-key with my feedback on their verses, but when it comes to the hook, I definitely give my input, since it’s the most important part of the song. Remember: it’s your record too, so say what you got to say. You just have to be nice about it, with all due respect.
Study Up—and Not Just Music
If you’re going to pursue music seriously, I would suggest that you stay in school and take a business class. Music can be risky: look at how many producers started and dropped out the game. Everyone knows that this industry is shady, and you don’t want people to cheat you, so get to know the business. Find a mentor, someone with experience in the whole industry; that will only help in the long run. Learn the piano, too.
How to take good photos with a cheap camera: Olivia Bee
Olivia Bee is something of a precocious upstart in the photo world. Initially garnering attention from a Flickr account in her early teens, at 19 Bee is the go-to photographer for big brands, like Hermès and Nike, seeking a look brimming with youthful energy. She explained how to be a pro shooter on a budget. dd
Passion over Pixels
The first camera I ever had was a really shitty Sony Camcorder that also took digital photos. I think it was 0.13 megapixels, some ridiculously small amount that isn’t even real anymore. If you’re picking up a camera for the first time, don’t be concerned with the tools; it’s all about the moment. As you keep photographing those moments and the sorts of things you like, you’ll develop a gut feeling for the tools and you’ll know how to use them with your eyes closed. The camera shouldn’t matter right away, because better tools will come.
Don’t Stress About the Mess
If you have a junky camera, don’t be afraid of the weird, shitty images. Embrace the noise and grit of those images. Perfect pictures are boring! I don’t care if pictures are blurry or grainy, just as long as they have feeling inside them. Each photo is an opportunity to convey something unique, and the possibility for mistakes is exciting—just as long as you don’t make the same mistake every time.
Love Your Subject
What really helped me out was taking pictures of things I really cared about, places I cared about. That’s how I came to really love taking pictures. For the last five months, I’ve been doing tons of commercial work, but nothing makes me more excited than when I take a beautiful photo of someone in my life that I really love.
Hone Your Eye
It’s super important to fine-tune your eye, and for that, it’s good to look at the work of different photographers and see what you like. It helps you to be more progressive and know what other things are out there. When I started taking pictures, I didn’t really know any photographers, but after a few years I discovered Annie Leibovitz and Ryan McGinley and really, really loved their work. Knowing their photos was really useful.
Think Hard About Art School
I didn’t go to art school, because I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to make and I just wanted to make it. I was so sick of being at high school and not having time to take as many photos as I wanted, so I didn’t go. Art school is great for a lot of people; I think it just depends on what kind of person you are. I’m the kind of person that really hates being told what to do, but I’m not totally ruling school out forever, either—I might go later in life, for some other discipline.
Stretch Your Legs
It’s great to look at other kinds of art when you’re a photographer. When you paint, draw, sculpt, decorate your room or even put together an outfit, you’re constantly thinking of composition. When it comes down to taking a photo, those things will already be engraved in your head and you’ll have a natural sense for it. I’d encourage new photographers to get out of their comfort zone—take a road trip, see different cultures, listen to different types of music. There’s so much to learn and so much to do, you might as well experience it all. I know that eventually I’ll get really bored with taking pictures. I’m only 19 and I’m only human.