Lights: On Persevering in the Music Business While Evolving as an Artist

“Pop is hard to write, and I think a lot of people underestimate the pop song writing process. It’s very much of a structured format, and to maintain creative excitement within those boundaries is a cool challenge: how can we write a song so simply and so beautifully and so powerfully that by the second chorus everyone can sing it? I’ve always liked that.” —Lights

It’s a stubborn misconception that with pop music, artists are like confections put in a box by a record company, groomed by managers, and a team of corporate taste-makers and marketed for public consumption. Pop music is an art, and its purpose exists beyond commerce, and stars like Lights aren’t contrived personas, but architects of their own creation.

Born Valerie Poxleitner, songbird, songwriter, musician, and comic book artist, Lights started in the industry as a teenager with her shifting and evolving brand of electro-pop, indietronica, shimmer pop, and retro new wave. She lived all over the map with her Canadian missionary parents, before settling in Toronto. She quickly transitioned from working in song publishing to performing, where she made an immediate splash. The North American music festival mainstay’s debut songs were featured in Old Navy commercials. The exposure strengthened her loyal audience base, and she is known for her generosity towards fans, including being open and responsive on social media, extended meet and greets after concerts, and taking the time to sign autographs.

Lights balances the business side of the industry, while achieving her artistic aspirations, and has weathered the road blocks along the way, having to make important decisions while being true to her authentic self.

One way Lights perseveres is maintaining flexibility, and having more than one speciality. She has said the music industry is, “such a fast moving landscape, and you have to stay in front of it. Artists need to be able to do a lot of different things, not just one,” and she credits her rapport with her fans, and the patience in her it has allotted. She doesn’t have to rush out material, and as a result has the space to try new things, grow and evolve.

An early struggle for Lights was what to do when her long-time friend and manger, a popular radio host, was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. At first she felt pressure to stand by him, but quickly executed her intuition and made the move to sever all ties with him. She explained in a statement, “I posted my comments about Jian Ghomeshi the day after he was dismissed by the CBC where I rushed to defend my manager of 12 years. I am now aware that my comments appear insensitive to those impacted and for that I am deeply sorry. This is to confirm that as of now I will be parting ways with Jian Ghomeshi as my manager. I hope everyone can heal from this.”

One early misstep turned into fortune. Her second album, bereft of hit singles, dubstep infused and experimental confused her small record label, and she was dropped as a result, but she rebounded hard and was signed by music giant Warner. Lights felt pressure to perform for the bigger label, but also knew she had to produce a work that she could be proud of.  She said in an interview with the Canadian press, “In the end, the challenge was making them happy and still having it be something I was in love with.”

Her upcoming 4th studio work Skin & Earth is an ambitious crossover media project that incorporates a high concept album about a post-apocalyptic world, accompanied by a comic book serial. A dabbler in poetry and painting, she is a self-taught artist who learned from the ground up how to write and illustrate comic books, consulting with industry experts, and absorbing webinars and online tutorials. She says, “I just knew I wanted to do it and I just kind of figured it out as I went.”

A huge moment of change for Lights was becoming a mom. While she considers it cheesy to write about motherhood, the birth of her daughter Rocket Wild informed her material, and gave her a new context to understand her purpose. “That’s the big change that happened. You have this huge priority that is not music and it’s not success and it’s not fame or money, and that makes all those other things seem so much smaller.”

The experience of bringing her daughter on tour has also increased her advocacy and encouragement of women in music, “I want to encourage it as much as possible, especially with young women. Not only getting into performance and vocals and instrumentation, but production, front of house, audio tech. That is a world that is just not thought of as an option for women. You just have to do your thing and do it well and encourage more women to do the same thing.”

Lights has navigated the music industry for ten years. Her knowledge of the music business and respect she has for the demands of her craft have helped her find an audience and persevere in her profession, all well making a body of work that challenges, inspires her, and allows her to continue to evolve and grow as an artist. Pop Crush when comparing musicians to super heroes, gushed, “If ever there were a pop star who embodied the spirit and strength of Wonder Woman, it would be Lights.”

“As most people do, you have to learn your talent. It doesn’t really just come. And the way I actually found the most efficient in challenging nerves and anxiety was to be calm. Not to panic and not to let it overwhelm me, and not to think of the big picture or too far ahead. Think now, in the moment, this present moment and sit there and revel in it. Prepare yourself emotionally and build yourself up slowly until you walk out and you can own it.” —Lights


Author Bio: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at splitsvilleblog.wordpress.com. She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun

 


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