Freelance Life: Money & the Creative Process w/ Musician Lana Shea

(This picture was taken while sailing this year in Bahía de Banderas near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.)

While Chris and I docked our sailboat in Marina La Cruz in Banderas Bay, meeting Lana Shea was the ointment to my creative soul at the time.

Finally, after months of sailing to remote parts of Mexico, here was a cool girl whose dedication to art looked similar to mine – Lana puts passion over money, and understands the emotional twists and turns that happen when making a living out of your craft. She’s a hustler; like most artists become if they believe in their work.

So, yeah. We had stuff to talk about.

“A hippie chick with a nice flow,” not only is Lana Shea chill – FOR REAL – but her career as a music artist is so unique to what I’ve known in the creative space that I had to learn more. (The opening line of this paragraph is the opening line of “Thyself”, the second track on her debut album, Duality, which just celebrated its first anniversary – Go, Girl!)

Lana’s debut album, Duality released on July 13, 2018. Currently on repeat is, “Just Might Kinda.” Her flow on that song reminds me of Big Boi from OutKast. Check it out, click to sample the album here: BOOM!

Lana is based in Portland, Oregon, which you may notice through her introspective sounds that, in one moment, will make you feel as if you are tucked away in a cabin in the woods and the next, at a party on the beach.

When asked about her creative process as a singer/songwriter, how she separates money from art describes the internal struggle for artists of all walks of life:

In 2018 when I was on the verge of releasing my first solo album, I went through a few moments of panic once it was all set, had been sent to my distributor, and there was no turning back. 

The panic surrounded the vulnerability of having this work out in the world, and I became almost sick to my stomach when thinking about marketing and promoting it. 

Photo: L. Gorge

I thought I may like to quietly make art and not worry about selling. 

Which, I could do. I have that option. I’m totally independent in that I don’t have a manager or label pushing me to make deadlines. So, if I want to make art for myself and not make money off of it, I can. 

But, I asked myself if I thought I should make a living from doing what I feel called to do, and my answer was, Yes. 

I thought how strongly I advocate for other independent artists whose work I believe in and figured I might as well do that for myself. 

Money vs. Art

I do separate the art from money because the art comes first. 

When I’m in a creating mode, there are absolutely no thoughts about career or if something will sell or popularity. 

I think this has to be true to make anything authentic. 

But after the work is ready to come out, I will put my business and marketing hat on and strategize and work from that angle. 

I made an agreement with myself that I would do the best I possibly could at promoting my work because I want to be able to take off the business hat and get back to creating. 

So, that’s what I do: Perpetual artist, occasional businesswoman. 

You come from a very creative and musical background with your parents, correct? What is your earliest memory of music as a kid?

My dad is a jazz musician, so my early childhood soundtrack was hearing the piano as I went to sleep. 

He taught me to sing as soon as I could stand and talk.

There was a massive record collection and between him and my mom. I was exposed to all kinds of music from Mozart to Miles Davis to Bonnie Raitt. He was very encouraging when it came to playing an instrument, but also never put any pressure on it. 

It was always something enjoyable we could do together and still is.

What was the moment you decided to choose music as a career?

I was always playing around with music and performing and writing songs, but I think I can trace the decision to pursue music as a career back to the first time, surprisingly, that I made money.

Right as I graduated from college, I was living in L.A. and auditioned for a role as a guitar-playing singer for a Taco Bell ad. They asked if I wrote music, and when I sent them original songs, they hired me and sent me to my first professional studio to record it. 

It was a fun and exciting experience, and I figured if there were even a slim chance that I could support myself from doing this thing that I keep gravitating towards, I would hurl myself into it.

I haven’t looked back since.    

What was your first win, and what was your first learning experience?

Some of the early wins that kept me going were getting some song placements in TV shows from my first EP.

One was for an ESPN show, and one made it to Bad Girls Club

Besides getting a decent check, the placements were great because they let me know that something was resonating; that a group of decision-makers all said Yes because my music communicated something that added to their story or captured a certain mood. 

Album art for the single, Queen Sh!t.

As an independent musician, there can be a lot of lulls in between the wins.

Early on, I would often find myself wondering if anyone was listening or cared. 

I knew that the inspiration coming to me needed to be expressed, but the hope is that what I’m releasing out into the world is connecting with others in some way and these little yes’ from random TV execs who I never knew helped to cement that for me.  

The early learning experiences mostly came from me being very excited that someone was asking me to do creative work for them, and not being specific about the details until after the work was done. 

It’s all fun and games until the contract comes out. 

I had a few people demand credit for my work, or refuse to put my name on something after the song was finished. I learned that specific details need to be discussed beforehand. 

That’s a tough thing for me to stick to because I love what I do so much, and I’m excited to work with people.

I would much rather ignore all the nasty “business” details and get straight to the art-making. 

I don’t have a manager to negotiate things for me (my one brush with a manager was a disaster and it’s own learning experience), so I navigate the waters of creativity and business as best I can while trying to keep my main focus on the music.

When do you make time to create music? Mainly, writing and studio work?

Great question. Is it me, or is there just never enough time for everything? I think my creating comes and goes in waves. 

I have periods of high productivity and then times where it feels like I haven’t done anything in weeks.

I try to make lists of songs I need to finish or ideas I need to dive into – sometimes they work, and sometimes they were just a suggestion I have yet to get back around. 

The inspiration I can never escape.

A line of a song will come to me sometimes while driving or walking around outside. I have a ridiculous collection of notes and voice notes in my phone of half-formed ideas…

But, the work of sifting through the ideas and bringing things to completion is a mystery that I have solved before, but can’t exactly tell you how I did it.

I’m certainly not the most disciplined of people, and I know a lot of other artists who feel the same way about themselves. At the same time, I try to go easy on myself when I think I’m being unproductive.

I think we can sometimes get tricked into thinking that if we’re not working all the time to the point of exhaustion that we’re going to be left behind. 

I try to remind myself, What am I really here to do? 

As a songwriter, I strive to channel human emotion into lyric and melody, so I better make damn sure I’m living while feeling as deeply as I can along the way.

What is your creative process? Do you have specific days/times you work on your craft?

There are a few different ways I work. 

Sometimes, a large burst of inspiration comes at once, be it early morning, afternoon or late evening, and I am immediately sitting at my guitar messing around with melodies and jotting down lyrics and chords. I’ll push myself as far as I can, often it will be a verse and a chorus, and then I’m exhausted.

But, the idea will be stuck in my head to the point where I can’t leave it alone for the next two or three days until it is, at least roughly, finished. 

These songs can sit around for months without me knowing what to do with them, but at least there is something finished. 

Other songs lay around half-finished for months, and sometimes get abandoned because the energy has left the idea and I can’t re-summon it. 

QUEEN SH!T: This picture was taken near where we mainly hung out in Mexico – at a shipping container turned surf shack at Punta de Burro.

Sometimes, a producer will send a handful of beats for me to write lyrics and melodies over, and I can casually listen until the music sparks something. Then, that song will be off and running, and hopefully, I don’t take too long to finish.

I often think of lyrics while I’m driving; I don’t know what it is about focusing on something else and letting my brain spout lines that really works for me.  

What is the ultimate dream for your music?

Ok, here’s the deal: I don’t know what I’m doing. LOL!

I have done just enough study of Buddhism and spirituality to have a probably dangerous and oddly pieced together notion that attachment is the root of human suffering and so, therefore, I do not want to have any attachment to the results of my work. I just want to focus on the work. 

Unfortunately, this might not be the best route to “success,” yet I still don’t know what my version of success is. 

If I come off the “big picture” cloud for a moment, I can say that I hope to make a comfortable living off of writing songs for myself and others.

Ideally, I’ll write a song – or I’ve already written the song – that will connect with people and take off on its own that I can buy my mom a house off the royalties. 

Sure, there are formal recognitions that sound great, but I don’t necessarily aspire to win a Grammy or end up in the songwriters’ hall of fame. 

My ultimate dream is for my music to be as pure and authentic and connected as possible, to cross the line between personal and universal and create moments where we can transcend our perceived individuality. 

And, if you’ve listened to some of my catalog, you know that it isn’t always serious – My songs can be humorous or angry or lighthearted as long as they are perfectly honest. That’s the ultimate goal for me.  

Your personal style is THE BOMB! Who influences you?

Thanks, babe!  Back at ya!☺ My mom is amazingly creative and makes a lot of my clothes, including many of the kimonos and dresses I like to wear. 

I think I’m influenced by growing up in Portland where the weirdness is intensely celebrated.

Also, I read a quote from Rihanna that said she’ll wear a shirt or a bra, but never both.  

What advice would you tell your younger self?

  1. Vulnerability is a strength, not something you need to try and cover-up. 
  2. You’re not too loud, be louder. 
  3. Put your own needs ahead of others. 
  4. Be controlling when it comes to your own career path. 
  5. And for God’s sake, practice your guitar more!

What are you working on now?

July 13th was the one year anniversary of my album release (Woohoo!), so I have three remixes out with three, incredibly talented and diverse producers:

One is Tv_Tv, a badass house and electronic music producer out of Portland I’ve been working with. 

Another is a very funky remix by Max Kane out the bay area:

And another is with J57

Thank you for sharing your story, mi amiga! xo

For more Lana Shea, visit www.lanashea.com, Instagram, and Twitter. Or, to purchase Lana’s debut album, Duality, click here!

Are you an artist? If so, can you relate to Lana’s creative process in some way? What art do you make? I’d love to know! Please share your thoughts and promote your work in the comments below!

Catch up on the Money Talk series!:

MONEY TALK: A FREELANCE WRITER’S INCOME EXPOSED

MONEY TALK: MISTAKES WE MADE WHEN SPLITTING FINANCES (& HOW WE FIXED THEM)

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