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Latin GRAMMY Nominee Leslie Grace: How The Pandemic Has Changed My Creative Process
In a brand-new editorial series, the Recording Academy has asked its membership to reflect on their their career journey, the current state of the music industry and what we can do to collectively and positively move forward in the current social climate. Below, Latin pop performer and Florida chapter member Leslie Grace shares her open letter with GRAMMY.com readers.
Dear fellow creatives,
A good friend once told me, "every challenge is but an opportunity for growth." I’ve never come to understand that more than in the last six months of my life. Correction—our lives. What a doozy it’s been. For most of us, we can agree that there have been a number of challenges. Rather than list all the challenges we’ve faced to some degree or other, I’d rather use this space to share an area of my life I feel I and, in some ways, all of us have been granted to the opportunity to grow: MEANING.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t one of the millions of people trying to guess on a daily what all of this chaos "means" for us, as a people, as a planet, as spiritual beings and as creatives. Newsflash: I’ve spent most of this COVID summer trying to figure it out and I still ain’t got it! But in my search for meaning, I did find something else almost just as satisfying—my need for meaning.
As humans, we all have the remarkable capability of creating and imposing our own meaning to whatever life presents us with. It’s the reason people make a hobby out of visiting art museums and walk around insisting they know exactly what Basquiat "meant" with pieces like "Hollywood Africans" or know exactly why the Mona Lisa is smiling. HA! It’s why the internet is flooded with countless forums on the symbolism found in movies like The Matrix and how it nods at the validity of an alternate universe. The jury’s still out! It’s also the reason why one song can mean so many different things to so many different people from so many different walks of life. The Eagles' "Hotel California," for example. I digress!
To some people, the importance of meaning isn’t something they spend too much time pondering. To artists, however, it’s the whole point. Meaning is the sole purpose of the artist and what they create. For an artist, the art is almost always less about what is created and more about how and why they’re creating it. It’s about the journey from something seemingly insignifican—a feeling, a thought, a story—to something magnificent: a hit song, a number one album, a mixtape about Alexander Hamilton turned record-breaking broadway musical/movie (sorry, I had to).
My point is, we’ve known forever that the stuff of life is found in the journey, not the destination. That fulfillment is found not in where we’re going, but in how we get "there," and why we set out to go in the first place. Or at least we’ve said that a billion times in hopes that we’d someday believe it. But what about the idea that where we’re going is determined by how we get there? The idea that the journey is not only better than the destination, but that if we’re honest, the journey actually determines the destination. And if we’re talking longevity here, the journey never ends until we do. So the journey’s all we’ve got! So why do we so easily overlook and underrate the journey as it pertains to creating? (When I say "the journey," I mean the little details in our creative process that either make the time spent making something exhilarating or excruciating.) What leads us to believe that how we feel throughout our creative process (the journey) won’t bleed into our work (the destination)?
As a multi-hyphenate artist, starting at the early age of 16, I spent years compromising my "why’s" and "how’s" for the sake of the "what." It's only recently that I’m figuring out that whenever I am conscious of the best "how" in the process of creating, it usually yields the best result out of every circumstance, be it a writing session, a read of a scene, or even a brainstorming session with my team. That being said, in so many ways, our industry encourages that most creative conversations start with "what are we creating?" rather than "how do we want to create today?" Maybe it’s because we haven’t had a strong enough "why?" Maybe we’ve drowned out why we originally set out to create in the first place in order to just create something. Whether conscious or not, we've let productivity trump the need for meaning in our creative processes. I must admit that on many occasions, I’ve allowed the pressure of being "digestible" halt the most meaningful and original of my ideas dead in their tracks long before I can even express them. Now, by no means am I saying it doesn’t help to have a game plan when creating, but our need for knowing what we’ll create before we even begin should not be so great that it supersedes our need for why and how we’ll create that day. Our longing to make beautiful art consistently that we can share and hopefully monetize should motivate us to be precious with how we make it in a way that makes us feel good in the process. Trying to anticipate or will our art into being "something" in advance can very well be what gets in the way of the result we’d like in the end.
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Days like today, it’s the little things that bring me joy: cooking up un pollo guisado that reminds me of home and pairing it with a nice cold @MichelobUltra Pure Gold as the sun goes down in LA Prouder than ever to be Dominican-American! Happy Hispanic Heritage Month from me to you #ULTRAAmbassador #PuroOro
What’s that phrase people use in politics? "The end justifies the means." In the case of songwriting and many other creative processes, I’ve found that the end never justifies the means if the means have no meaning other than to get an end. Which begs the question: Have we as creatives been more interested in making something that can be easily categorized, more than we are interested in expressing something new, authentic, and thought-provoking? Are we really in the business of making art or in the art of making business? I for one think we should be concerned with both. Are we taking full ownership of our processes when we write, arrange, produce, create? Are we allowing our ideas to flow more than we are manipulating them to be something different before we’ve even given them a fair shot? Are we building on or chipping away at essence? Are we holding a marketing meeting in the studio before we even write the song? We should keep asking ourselves these questions frequently.
I’ve been having this conversation more often with myself and other fellow creatives as we step into some new habits thanks to the major opportunity set before us by this global pandemic. We definitely did not invite it but we are making the best of what it’s brought out of us. We’re coming back to the familiar (yet almost forgotten) feeling of creating for expression's sake because merely speaking words wouldn’t be enough! We’re remembering what it is to create in a safe space with people who invite vulnerability and how much our art benefits from that. We’re allowing art to be the process through which something is made, not from nothing, but from a feeling, before we call it "something." I think we’re all returning to ourselves, in a way we haven’t in a long time, however whole or broken we may be, and finally creating from that place. I think we’ve all gone fast and far enough only to realize that it’s always been how we do what we do that gives us meaning, not what we do.
And if all of this is just my reasoning with chaos for the sake of finding some kind of meaning, well then I think I’m well on my way and that’s a marvelous thing…
All my love and light and blessings,