It’s difficult to be an independent anything in the time of the corporatization of society. Corporations are the consequence of capitalism and they infiltrate almost every institution of the state.
A relentless type of capitalism has become even more prevalent in recent times. Or perhaps we are just more aware of the corporation, and its consequences in a new era. I think the former is true – from the reduction of the number of banks to the corporatization of higher education.
Many of us have accepted this brave new world, sometimes intentionally, but mostly by what we consume. How we spend our dollars and our time make us complicit in the system; sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. There is one area however, which still leaves people uneasy to think of as becoming corporate – art.
We like to think that our art should be pure. And by that we mean it should not be shackled with the dirtiness of the corporation. I contend that this is a romantic version of history and an unhelpful oversimplification in our time. Many people who work in creative fields often admit that knowledge of skills in the business of making art, does not destroy the art. Indeed, it might even make better artists. It just takes more work.
But to be an independent artist has always required more work. It is not unique to our current economic and socio-cultural parameters. But in the time when the artist can be constructed by capital, fundamentally, as opposed to art, fundamentally, the independent artist is perhaps more admirable.
In that light, I have had the pleasure of seeing Amel Larrieux perform live, as well as speaking with her over the phone. I can say that she is a beautiful soul whose power and strength lies in her softness. This is evident in how she talks, sings, and goes about her business – all of her business. From Amel, you learn that not only does the independent artist exist in 2015, she thrives.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
Amel Larrieux: My mother would tell you she knew before I did. She says as a baby I would wake myself up by singing, and she would stand outside the door listening to me.
Can you tell me about the role music played in your childhood?
AL: I grew up around a lot of artists in the West Village of New York City in the early ’80s. Music has always been a part of my upbringing, even later as we moved to Philly. Dance was actually was at the forefront until I quit at age 13 when I was at a performing arts school in Phily. I decided to became a vocal major – I wrote my own songs even then. It was very natural to me.
When and how did you “break” into the industry as a professional singer?
AL: I have to say I never really had a plan. I was flimsical and disorganized at 18 years old. I knew I loved music and I wasn’t sure about school but I had no real plans. I ended up getting a job as an assistant to a music publisher and I was pretty bad at that job. And just before I was about to be fired, I ended up being introduced to Bryce Wilson, who is a producer. That led to a demo, then a record deal at Epic Records, and so it began.
Becoming an Independent Artist
How did you make the transition into being an independent artist?
AL: I think being an independent artist is similar to having your own business. I wanted to be my own boss and in charge of my own ship, as they say. It’s very different from being part of a label. You have a lot more work to do but also a lot more freedom.
What is the most challenging aspect of being independent?
AL: I think the reality is you have to have some start up money to begin. It’s more work and it’s different work from artists who are signed to a label. I will say I have an excellent team and I’ve been very fortunate because my husband who is also my partner, takes care of most of the business side.
What do you think is the one thing people should know if they are trying to follow in your direction?
AL: I think people should know that I don’t do everything. And if it comes across that way, it’s false. I’ve tried to do more than I can before and things end up suffering. So it’s best to let a good team that is your family, that becomes your family, work according to their strengths. I have to stress too the importance of financial stability. It would have been near impossible to work independently without that backing.
The Business away from the Music
You recently came up with a wonderful new hair and skin product – Beautiful Us – which I received at your concert in Chicago and I absolutely love it. Can you tell me more about how you came up with the idea for it?
AL: It’s a funny story because I ignored it for a long time because I would always get asked about my hair. And I didn’t want to be the singer who focused on her hair, her looks. But I would make all these concoctions and my husband was the one who eventually encouraged the idea of coming out with a product.
What have you learned from the process?
AL: One thing that is certain is entrepreneurship is key, and it’s something that is understood all over the world. Going from an idea to a product requires more steps than I would have ever imagined. Again, I’ve been blessed to have a strong team because there were many times I wanted to just be done with it.
Who is Beautiful Us for?
AL: It’s for everyone really. The product is made for all hair types and all skin types and I like to think of it as something that brings people together – you can see it in the name.
Amel Lerrieux: Away from Music and Business
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a singer?
I’d love to work with children and music in some shape or form. Children are my other great love, and I’m working to combine my love of music with working with disenfranchised children.
If you could give young people who want to follow your path or go their own path one piece of advice, what would would that be?
I would say it’s really important to put out good vibrations into the world. I think the vibrations you give off, catch up with you. I think it’s important to think of what you do as a service – if I’m not serving people, there’s no point. So if you’re not serving people in what you do, you should probably do something different.