I was adopted before I was born and although I was very blessed by having my parents, I have a desire to do something to help the foster system. There’s unfortunately a point where children are considered too old to adopt and I don’t think it’s right for any child, no matter the age, to feel unwanted. It sounds cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to create a system of boarding schools for children in foster care who have had trouble being placed that will be a rehabilitation center and an opportunity for the kids to find their “family” within the walls of the academy. I’ve always been a strong believer that blood doesn’t always make family and sometimes the family you create is much stronger than what you may have been given. I want everyone to have that opportunity.
I had the pleasure of interviewing singer and songwriter June Aja. Raised in the heart of Alabama, June Aja has had music in her heart since the early age of three years old. Noted for being a “mix between Lauryn Hill and Pink,” June Aja grew up in the gospel choir and began opera training at the age of thirteen. Although she played violin for five years, she had to make the decision of which path to take upon being accepted in a preparatory fine arts high school for both voice and violin. Choosing voice, this lead her into classical training in which she received scholarship to Pepperdine University for opera. After graduation and many songwriting sessions, June Aja realized her true calling was within mainstream music; therefore, hanging her hat from classical music for the time being. June Aja is now pursuing a career in mainstream music, both as a singer and songwriter, with full force. After meeting many influential names in the industry, June Aja decided to take matters into her own hands and, with the help of her music manager, produced a demo simply using a MacBook Pro. Being pulled in many different directions and realizing that you must start out by taking the initiative in order to make it in the industry, June Aja and her manager decided to stop waiting. With the hope and continuous faith in their passion, they continue to strive every day towards their main goal: to help change the world through music.
Thank you for joining us! Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up singing gospel and jazz and began opera training at the age of eight and again at thirteen. I played violin for five years at that time and was accepted into a preparatory fine arts high school about two hours north of where I grew up for both voice and violin. Due to this, I had to make the decision of which path to take and I ended up choosing to study the voice. This led me into classical training that resulted in me getting a scholarship to Pepperdine University for opera. Although I love singing opera and even incorporate that into my original music, I felt an urge to move forward in a pursuit of mainstream music where I’ve been able to express myself and life experiences through my writing. I couldn’t pass the opportunity by and risk having any regrets that I didn’t give my music a chance.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Life has such an interesting way of happening and sometimes it’s so natural that it feels like it was meant to be. I think the most interesting thing that has happened, aside from the typical producer stories, was that my music led me to becoming Jewish. I was introduced to the head Rabbi over at the Stephen S. Wise Temple, who then introduced me to my mentor Cantor Nathan Lam. Through this connection at the temple, I have had the opportunity to become a part of services held, ranging from small groups to thousands of people and also have had the chance to record with some of the biggest names in music and sing alongside celebrities and famous songwriters. I found comfort and a sense of belonging as a part of this temple and through the Jewish community. Because of this, I have since converted to Judaism and am continuing to be a part of the music and community of the temple.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was a server at a restaurant when Clive Davis came in and I ended up having his table. (Side note: my first name is Whitney, but I go by my middle name June Aja because there is only one Whitney.) Mr. Davis walks up to me and says, “I hear your name is Whitney, but I’m going to call you Mariah for the sake of today’s lunch occasion.” I freaked out a little to myself and went about doing my job. I was incredibly respectful and made sure to treat him and his family like regular people. When he was leaving, I approached him and asked him if it was alright to ask him a question. He agreed, so I asked if there was any advice he could give for an aspiring singer-songwriter. He told me to never give up and keep going after my dream. I thanked him and he went about his way. Well, one of the managers saw me talking to him and got incredibly mad. He marched me straight to the back and gave me two write ups for “speaking to the celebrity.” I would’ve never made Mr. Davis feel uncomfortable, but I guess my manager didn’t realize that even though he knew me. Whatever — almost lost my job and I didn’t care.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently working on completing my album and have plans to slowly release new material in my live performances. I also have begun incorporating opera into my live music and although it has been terrifying, I’ve also begun playing piano at my shows. Dancing has been a dream of mine as well that has finally begun to manifest, so that’s something to be on the lookout for with upcoming videos and shows.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is incredibly important because we’re all on this planet together. Firstly, any exposure you have of other cultures and ways of being expands your personal awareness and perspective.
Secondly, representation of other cultures outside of yourself helps for people to find commonality and have the ability to connect with other people. This helps unite us.
Thirdly, diversity is incredibly important in the entertainment industry because it shows us that while our cultures, certain beliefs, dress, etc. may be different, it shows us that we are all the same. We all love. We all need to survive by eating food and drinking water. We all believe in something bigger than ourselves. We all bleed the same blood. The only thing that separates us is our ego and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we’ll get to a place where we can unite.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.Do not expect to be given anything because you are immensely talented. The worst thing you can do is to sit around and not work as hard because you believe that someone will just “discover you.” I made this mistake a lot in the early years and I didn’t prioritize correctly. I have no regrets, but I definitely would like to think that I do things differently now.
2. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t overwhelm yourself, but it’s so imperative to continue to practice on your writing and skills in general — you will constantly surprise yourself. For me, the feeling I had when I stepped off of that stage after conquering a fear of playing piano in front of people inspired me to do so much more.
3. Do not compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. The biggest thief of joy is comparison and I cannot tell you how many times I made myself feel awful because I saw someone else doing something I knew I could as well. You are right where you are supposed to be. Continue to do the work and have unwavering faith in yourself, your team, and your music.
4. You will be told no more than yes. That does not mean that you’re not talented. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy. It just means that the timing isn’t right. I worked with some major writing camps and made some great music that was never picked up. Go back to the drawing board and continue to work on your craft. When that yes comes, it will be so worth it. You’ll laugh at the “no’s.”
5. No matter what, be kind to yourself. You are unique and your path is your own. Make sure that your motivation is in the right place and you’ll go so far. Once I created my last EP and was working with a team that was so incredibly supportive, I realized that there was no way I could go through my life without at least trying. It’s in my blood and that’s the motivation behind why I do what I do.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Do the work, but don’t try to do too much. Diversification is the key to life. If you work a day job like me, you understand how time gets away and you sometimes will find yourself panicking at the end of the day realizing you hardly have enough time to eat, get ready for bed and walk your dogs, let alone post on social media or create content and edit videos. Fiverr is a great utilization for video editing, you can find SSM (social media marketing) at a low price for a trial run, etc. Also, be kind to yourself. A lot of the burn out comes from the pressure we put on ourselves, so be kind.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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 was adopted before I was born and although I was very blessed by having my parents, I have a desire to do something to help the foster system. There’s unfortunately a point where children are considered too old to adopt and I don’t think it’s right for any child, no matter the age, to feel unwanted.
It sounds cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to create a system of boarding schools for children in foster care who have had trouble being placed that will be a rehabilitation center and an opportunity for the kids to find their “family” within the walls of the academy. I’ve always been a strong believer that blood doesn’t always make family and sometimes the family you create is much stronger than what you may have been given. I want everyone to have that opportunity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a few people that I’m immensely grateful for. Tiana, to start, has been my biggest advocate and supporter not only as my personal manager, but also as my family, which is sometimes difficult to come by according to friends of mine whose families don’t necessarily support their decision to pursue music. She has picked me up off of the floor, dusted me off, and encouraged me to get back out there when I wanted to give up.
My boss sponsored my last EP — she’s always believed in me and has been great support. And of course, there’s my mom and other friends and family that have been amazing and also kept me in check and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “You are the music while the music lasts” by T.S. Eliot. I love it for its multiple meanings. Outside of the obvious musical metaphor, I love that it expresses that you are this life as long as this life lasts. It’s a way of saying to live your life to the fullest because it is you as long as you have it. It reminds us to continue to chase the things that drive us, love hard, and make the best of every situation.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
As an upcoming or beginning artist, we’re constantly compared to successful artists styles and genres with who we sound like and one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received is that I reminded them of P!nk. I’ve been a fan of hers for as long as I can remember. Of course, the love started off with her voice because she’s obviously an incredible, unmatched vocalist and as I listened to her more, the love grew to her songwriting.
Now as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had the opportunity to see what an amazing person she is as well. She stands up for what is right, manages a successful career as both an artist and a wife/mother, and does it all while remaining true to herself, beautiful and a bad ass in general. I’ve always admired her and would love to be able to bask in her greatness for a little bit and ask her what are her secrets to success.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find a couple of my tunes on iTunes and I’m also on all of the usual sites- Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (although I’m hardly ever on that one). My Facebook has all of my upcoming live shows and you can also sign up for my email list on my website to come see all of my amazing musician friends in action. I love to meet new people and discover other upcoming artists.
Email: [email protected]
Thank you for all of these great insights!