When I started my freshman year in college, my dorm roommate and I were like soulmates. With all of the wonderfulness that Ryann has brought and continues to bring to my life, she also introduced me to some of her own amazing friends.
One of those people is Rachel Wong.
I knew that Rachel had been in choir with Ryann, which meant that she liked to sing and perform just like we did. When I started to see videos on Facebook of Rachel singing with her guitar, I saw right away what real, raw talent this girl has. Over the years it has been a pleasure to watch Rachel grow in her music. She is an inspiration to all who have the desire to reach out and take a hold of their dreams.
So let me introduce you to Rachel Wong, a mid-20's gal with a career in marketing and a life in music.
Like many musicians and all around music lovers, Rachel says that her love of the art developed when she was young.
"Music has always been a big part of my life. I started piano lessons when I was three, taught myself guitar in my early teens, started choir in middle school and drums in elementary."
Rachel says that she gains much of the inspiration for her style and lyrics from the music and musicians she grew up listening to, such as John Mayer.
"I remember listening to his song 'Split Screen Sadness' and found myself moved to tears. I had to have been a freshman in high school when it came out, but I just remember thinking, if I ever write a song that deeply honest and beautifully painful, I would be so fulfilled."
For her own songs, Rachel says that she finds inspiration simply by listening closely to the places and people around her.
"There's so much that's beautiful and inspiring about the people and things around us. I like to take that extra 10 to 15 minutes to really listen to the trials and triumphs of my loved ones and reflect on my own struggles and victories to write honest songs." She finishes saying, "I'm not going to lie though, sometimes if I watch an interesting movie or show an idea pops up in my head and I go from there."
Ain't nothing wrong with that! As Rachel has grown in her music and gained momentum with fans, she has had great opportunities to share her talent with large audiences. She has had successful auditions with The Voice and American Idol, but Rachel said she felt those experiences were not all they are made up to be.
"I've had some experiences with American Idol and The Voice and while I think those shows give great exposure to artists who wouldn't otherwise have that chance, if you're a songwriter, you do sign over a lot of creative licenses for that opportunity."
"I think my experience with Ford's Gimme the Gig contest was definitely a huge highlight for me so far in my career. What I loved about the Ford contest was that they celebrated our independence and artistry from the get-go. We competed with our original compositions, we all met and were mentored by grammy-winning judges and got TV exposure."
As a Vancouver, WA native, Rachel says that she has had some pretty incredible performance experiences closer to home as well.
"Another really great moment for me was my 'Letters to You' CD release last summer in Portland. I've played in front of crowds of hundreds before but being able to perform with a huge number of friends and family singing along is an unforgettable experience. Live performances are the really the best part about writing and performing music."
Like any profession, being a professional musician can bring along it's share of stress. As an independent artist, Rachel admits that she has experienced the lack of funding and lack of resources.
"As a solo artists I don't even have the help of band members to write the music, perform, book shows or manage press and promotions. Eight out of ten people who want to 'hire' you for a venue will ask that you play for exposure or pay to play, which is just unfortunate for people really trying to make a life out of doing what they love."
Additionally, Rachel fights a whole different kind of fight being a woman of color, paving her way through an industry still rich with prejudices and unrealistic expectations for female artists.
"When you know you'll be on TV or shooting a music video or scheduling a shoot, you want to make sure you're going harder at the gym and watching what you eat, which I think is unfortunate because there are many men in music that can easily get away with the scruffy not so tone look and still be successful. "
"As an Asian American, I definitely feel pressure to stand out in some way when I'm in front of producers because there just simply isn't any representation of mainstream Asian women artists in the industry and only a select few men."
Luckily, Rachel has figured out how to navigate through the maze of showbiz and how to recognize the difference between becoming "the next big thing," and and doing something that will make a difference.
"Money is great, but it doesn't come with you when you pass on. You're remembered by your impact on the world and I hope that my music leaves behind a little piece of my heart with whoever is willing to listen."
Of course, Rachel doesn't spend every waking hour creating music. I order to keep balance and peace in her busy life, she makes sure to take time to look within.
"Lately I've been meditating a lot! I know, I'm such a hippie. I have to say, spending a few minutes every day to mediate really does the mind and soul so good. We're so caught up with social media, texting and just digesting mass amounts of technology daily." She says, "It's really good to take the time to just be with yourself. I work in marketing and design and being an independent artist these days means you have to be actively part of the social media rat race. For me, meditation keeps me grounded and positive."
Surviving mainstream media can be rough. Thriving in it can be even more difficult, but it seems that Rachel is well on her way. When I asked Rachel what she might say if she could talk to herself when she was just starting her career as a musician, she said,
"Believe in yourself. I think we all fear the possibility of failure. Especially when it comes to your dreams. When I released my first album in 2010 I was still working full-time in corporate marketing. I was trying to do what I was supposed to do instead of where my heart really led me. I told people I did music on the side because I didn't think I had a real shot and trying pursue music full-time. I do think there is always risks in this industry but that's also why it's so exhilarating."
I think that there are many people out there who, like Rachel, may have put their dream to be a musician on the back burner because of all of risks that you can face when stepping out to strive for something you truly want. Rachel's advice to other budding and hopeful artists is,
"Don't be discouraged. We live in a world where we're constantly having to justify why we do something. Told that dreams are just that, dreams. But we all have the ability to choose happiness and do what we love. Trust your heart and trust yourself."
I think that those are words to live by, no matter what your goals and aspirations are. Now here comes the best part: where you can hear this girl sing!
"I'm currently writing and demo-ing out songs for my third album 'Getting There.' The entire process for creating this album is actually kind of new and refreshing for me. It's the first time that I've decided on a theme for the album and have been writing songs to go along with that. I'm also working with a booking rep to possibly do a West Coast tour with a SoCal artist. Summers get pretty busy with festivals and outdoor shows. 2014 is going to be a busy year for me!"
Get more information about Rachel Wong's new music and upcoming show dates on her website rachelwongmusic.com. You can also find all of her music on iTunes.