I really want to make music for the person in the back of the room. The person that feels like no one sees them or feels like they’re the only one that’s ever felt that way. I’ve really realized through songwriting that so many people feel the exact same things. But because we live in a world where we have to appear like we’ve got it all figured out, we feel like freaks if we’re honest about it. My songs are the place I feel safe shining a light on the parts I have trouble communicating in conversation. They’re where I can pass a note to a listener to say, “you’re not alone.” Connection really brings people together. I think that’s why I want to do music so much. I wrote “The Actress” about my own struggle with depression. There’s such a stigma around mental health, but I really want to be open about my own story to help lessen that stigma. Silence is what keeps people sick. I really think mental health should be treated the same as physical health.
As a part of our series about Stars Making a Social Impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Emma White.
Emma is a country music recording artist and co-founder of Whitehouse Records. Her song “The Actress” addresses her struggles with her own mental health and hopes others can find some relatability in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up in Baltimore, Maryland as the youngest of three. My mother is a photographer and songwriter, and my dad works at the University of Maryland, specializing in addiction. I grew up immersed in music, sports, school and was called a “pool rat,” as I used to arrive at the pool at 10AM and leave at 10PM. I was on the synchronized swim team, jump rope team, basketball and baseball team. I have really fond memories of growing up with trips to Ocean City, MD and having crabs on the back porch. I always knew music was my end game, but was kind of into everything as a kid.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? Can you share the story with us?
I grew up in a pretty musical family and started singing and writing songs for fun at an early age. My mom and I wrote songs together. Entertaining has been a passion my whole life, from acting to songwriting to musical theater. My grandmother was one of my first music “teachers” too. She was an actress on a TV show called “Route 66” and a songwriter. I really fell in love with entertainment because of the two of them.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I used to have quite a bit of stage fright. When I first sang the National Anthem in front of a large crowd, I was about 8/9 years old. My knee was shaking uncontrollably and it was the opening day for the local little league. The audience was mostly all boys from my elementary school and a few of them in the front row made fun of me while I sang. Even when I got off stage, and other kids and parents said I did a great job, I just couldn’t shake the embarrassment I felt. I was kind of “one of the boys” at that point and one of two girls on my little league team, and decided I wanted to sing that year. My “cool” stock felt like it had plummeted after that incident.
For a few years after, I stopped singing publicly. I was terrified. The boys I had crushes on were laughing at me! It was the worst feeling as a little kid. I remember even when I got compliments, I was convinced people were just trying to be nice.
After a few years, I decided to go back to performing and made it my mission to sing the National Anthem in a stadium. I auditioned for the Orioles and performed the anthem for the first time at Camden Yards. The fear was still there and I actually got sick on my way to the field. But I pushed through it somehow and it went really well. I proved to myself that I could do it if I could just get over the intense fear and anxiety.
I haven’t thought about that in such a long time — how those different events affected me so much. What I learned was that everyone is always going to have a different opinion about what I do, but I can’t let their opinion be more important than my own. It’s so hard to do because we all need validation sometimes, but it can’t keep you from doing what you love. It makes me sad that so many young children are so free spirited growing up, but once they hit a certain age they have to “be cool” and have to act differently.
Now in everything I do, if I’m afraid of something, that’s a cue for me to absolutely do it, and not worry what other people think. At times, I’m my worst critic, so I’ll often have to tune out my own voice and do it anyway.
In our work, we often focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Body — Whenever I’m getting too stressed or feeling scattered it usually has a lot to do with what I’m eating/drinking and if I’m getting exercise. I’ve started to make my physical health something that comes first, rather than last, because it sets me up to do everything else so much better. I’m not perfect with it, but try to find a balance. Physical activity can force you into presence, because you have to pay attention. So if you’re stuck in your thoughts or negative thinking, it’s a helpful way to get out of that.
Mind — I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately on spirituality and vulnerability. All of it really ties into mindfulness, which is really helpful to take a step back and reset. Observing what’s happening rather than immediately reacting to it.
Heart — I use prayer to practice gratitude and keep my feet on the ground. It helps me realize in the midst of chaos, that there is a lot to not take for granted. I like to talk to the universe/my creator; I like to think of it that way, like there is a force that has our back even when our minds are working in overdrive to figure things out. My family is a big part of the heart department. During quarantine, even though I’m living alone and in another state, I have really welcomed the time to do Zooms/facetimes with my family. I feel closer to them even though we’re not physically together.
Ok super. Let’s now move to the main part of our discussion. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
I really want to make music for the person in the back of the room. The person that feels like no one sees them or feels like they’re the only one that’s ever felt that way. I’ve really realized through songwriting that so many people feel the exact same things. But because we live in a world where we have to appear like we’ve got it all figured out, we feel like freaks if we’re honest about it. My songs are the place I feel safe shining a light on the parts I have trouble communicating in conversation. They’re where I can pass a note to a listener to say, “you’re not alone.” Connection really brings people together. I think that’s why I want to do music so much.
I wrote “The Actress” about my own struggle with depression. There’s such a stigma around mental health, but I really want to be open about my own story to help lessen that stigma. Silence is what keeps people sick. I really think mental health should be treated the same as physical health.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause? Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Managing my own mental health was such a long and private battle. It has been such a big part of my life, that I want to be open about it. Especially if it can help someone else. The best messages I get are from people that feel the same way I felt in the song, and it makes them feel less alone.
A friend of mine passed away that I didn’t know was struggling at the time. I wish I had known. I really think openness and acceptance could save lives. When people feel like they’re the only one going through something, where do they go, who do they talk to? It can create such an isolating environment, when the opposite is what is needed to get healthy.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- The gatekeepers are people just like you. I grew up idolizing so many artists and music executives to the point that they almost weren’t human. But they’re really just people too, like you, who dreamed just the way you are. It’s important to remember that if you’re afraid to reach out to someone you might want to work with. I think sometimes people think things are out of reach that really aren’t, but fear keeps them from trying.
- Find your tribe. This is something I’m still working on, but I feel like I finally get it. It’s really helpful in music to find your crew that you work well with and create community.
- Your work is not who you are, it’s what you do. My work is my greatest love at times, but sometimes if you focus too much on a singular thing it can have the opposite desired effect, and kind of ruin it.
- Don’t mold to the genre, let it mold to you. When you first start in music, you often do some magical stuff you don’t even realize because you’re so green, so new. When you start to be taught how to make music or you try to fit in, it can hurt the art, and sometimes prevent you from making art. I have a few songs now that I’m like I know this sounds different, but it’s what I actually like. That’s what I need to stay true to, not a formula I think might work. That’s not why I got into music.
- Don’t network, make friends. In my adult life, I’ve become kind of a homebody and in that, a little less likely to socialize. It’s so important to make yourself just get out and go to things. Especially, if it doesn’t come easy for you.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think it would be a way of normalizing therapy and helping people get access to counseling/treatment. Many times in my own life, access and affording help has been the biggest obstacle and I think it’s an obstacle for a lot of people. It shouldn’t be because it feels so fundamental to a healthy life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Never Give Up” is my mantra. Life can be full of so many ups and downs you don’t anticipate, but if you can hang on through what feels like the worst of times, you will get to a brighter day. It sounds cliche, but it’s so true. What you thought was going to wreck you, won’t matter in ten years, or next week even, and it can be hard to see that in the moment.
What are the best ways our readers can follow you online?
They can follow me on Instagram @EmmaWhiteMusic
I’m pretty active on Twitter too. And of course, Spotify.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!