Amanda Brown on the Artists' Role in Society, COVID-19, and Advice to Young Women [Q&A]
Amanda Brown has had a hell of a career, but she wants you to know she is just getting started. Born and raised in the Bronx, the Puerto Rican/Jamaican vocalist and songwriter got her start as a fan-favorite on NBC's The Voice and has made a name for herself backing up Adele, Stevie Wonder, and Alicia Keys... just to name a few.
With a resume apt to make just about any musician jealous, Brown is one of the most in-demand session and touring vocalists in the biz, but parallel to this work, she has been crafting her own artist career, writing mature, alt-pop tracks like "From Here." Begging questions about self-acceptance and the uncertainty of the road ahead, "From Here," released in October, became the perfect quarantine companion just before the presidential election as the nation stood at a crossroads. Though she originally expected to spend her year on tour busses and backstage, working with the industry's A-listers, COVID-19 allowed her a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stay in and tell the stories of the year through her own artist project.
For Brown, her success as a songwriter and vocalist stems from more than sheer talent (though she could easily find success on her innate gift alone). It is her regimented soul-searching and her living by Nina Simone's mantra "an artists' duty is to reflect the times" that sets Brown apart from the pack as she builds her profile as not just a vocalist for others but as her own artist.
Ones to Watch spoke with Amanda Brown to recap her unexpected 2020, her advice to young women, and her plans for the new year.
Ones to Watch: You’ve been working in various roles as a vocalist/musician for years. How do you approach your own music as an artist differently than the work you do with other acts?
Amanda Brown: When it comes to my work as a solo artist, I don't hold back. What I mean by that is, when it's my show and my recording session, I can do, say and sing whatever I want the way that I want! There's a certain amount of freedom that comes with being a solo artist, accompanied by more responsibility. Whereas, when I am working with other acts, I am subject to the will and vision of those creatives. Not to say that I don't enjoy those experiences and get lost in the music when I'm on stage. Performing with other acts carries it's wonder as does my work as a solo artist and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience both.
You’ve been on the road a lot in the last few years, but COVID-19 this year has forced you to stay home. Have there been any positives to this tough situation?
I definitely miss traveling, meeting new people and playing live shows (while being in the same room as the audience); however, this year has allowed me the opportunity to create music for the sync and licensing world, which I'm enjoying. This year has also allowed me time to myself to think, learn and do things I've always wanted to do but never had the time, like gardening for example. I most definitely had a black thumb prior to the start of this year. I believe I've grown as an individual, for the better. I'm strong and resilient - those aren't qualities I would have necessarily attributed to myself in the past, not because they weren't true but more so because I'd be too shy to say them out loud. Also, witnessing the resiliency and strength of so many others around me has left me inspired and hopeful for the future. Yes, there are many downsides to covid-19, the main one being the loss of life (I lost family and friends this year). With that said, I'm hopeful that we will make it through the rest of this difficult year with the support and love of each other. Community is important and this year has driven that point home for me.
We’ve seen a lot of people lean on music to get them through such a tough year. What do you think an artists’ role is in our society today?
Nina Simone said, "an artists' duty is to reflect the times" and I believe that to be true. Some artists are called to make social commentary, others are called to reflect upon their personal experiences and the experiences of those in their close circles. Either way, I believe art is a reflection of how an artist may be feeling, what they are experiencing and/or what they see others experiencing. Sometimes art is created to help people forget difficult things that are happening in the world - I believe that to be a reflection of sorts. Regarding myself and my art, I'm am learning to honor my feelings - not to silence myself in order to make others feel comfortable but to dig deep, be vulnerable and honest.
You’ve used your platform this year to speak on important social/cultural issues, especially in your collaboration with LACES for the single ‘they say.’ Has using your platform in this way always been a fundamental goal of your career?
I want to be myself and in order to accomplish that, I have to be honest at every turn. I may not share everything but when I do share, I want it to be the truth. Life experience has taught me that certain things should not be tolerated. Sexism, misogyny, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, and any other type of prejudice and discrimination is fucked up and should not be tolerated! We need to stand up to that shit and anyone that seeks to perpetuate those toxic behaviors and systems - I believe that should be the goal of everyone, regardless of whether you're an artist or not. These social and cultural issues are human issues, and they should matter to everyone.
There are many people who grow up, dreaming of a career like yours. What do you think it took to set yourself apart as a vocalist and artist?
Sometimes I think I know the answer to this question and other times, I have no idea. There are things I could list off like me being hard-working, detail-oriented and studious but I don't think those attributes alone are responsible for the career I've been fortunate to have thus far. I have not made it to this place in my career on my own. There have been so many people that believed in me throughout my journey, encouraged me, recommended me for work and supported my music and artistry. I think it may be a combination of qualities I possess, music training, live music experiences and the individuals that helped create opportunities for me. Regarding my success as a vocalist and artist, I think I'm equally indebted to some of those individuals that helped me as I am to my innate propensity for creating music and art and being disciplined within my craft.
What was a turning point in your career that really changed your life?
I'd say being a contestant on The Voice changed the trajectory of my career. It allowed me to perform in front of a national audience weekly. As a result of being on that show, I've had a number of beautiful music experiences playing all over the world and meeting fans of the show and myself. I'm grateful for the platform The Voice allowed me and to those that continue to listen to and support my music after watching my performances on the show.
Do you have any advice for a young woman hoping to create a career in music?
Don't be afraid to experiment in order to figure out what you like. You will fail. Failure is a part of life and helps us grow. No one can tell you what's going to work for you and your artistry. Only you can decide what is right for your music and art and the way that you'd like to create and communicate that art. Trust your gut. No one should make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe EVER! Surround yourself with people that inspire you to be the best version of yourself. A career in music is not easy. Educate yourself as much as possible. Make a list of all of your goals, figure out how to accomplish them and then execute them. You will often be the only person advocating for your vision (until you find your team) - don't give up! If you don't believe in yourself, your gifts and your art, no one else will.
Looking ahead to 2021, what are some of your plans?
I'm ready to release more music and I can't wait to perform in front of an audience. My next live show, I may try to hug every single person as they enter the venue, once it's safe to do so of course. I'd want to collaborate with more female producers and songwriters. I've had lovely experiences working with women over the past three years and I want to create more of those opportunities for myself and others. I'm going to continue to build upon the good habits I've developed this year and pay more attention to my mental health. More gardening with homegrown fruits and veggies. I want a puppy friend next year, so I'll be on the hunt for that little guy or gal. Also, people! I can't wait to see people face-to-face…in-person and without masks or fear of getting sick because it's no longer a big threat. I understand that all of the precautions we're taking are necessary but I'm looking forward to the day when we can all hug and hang out together again.
Black Lives Matter! Trans Lives Matter! Stop Policing Women's Bodies!