…I believe that a significant number of us struggle with feeling that we don’t matter or we can’t find our purpose and cycle between giving up and fighting. Our world relies on a matrix of each one of our contributions. So, I pose this hypothesis: If we all gave up at the same exact moment, it would cause a worldwide catastrophe. This illustrates how important each one of us is. We need to know that “every single one of us contributes to the sum of us.” My movement would be called #TheSumOfUs. The other thing I want to say is, I had to find my own voice. I wanted to get straight to heart of things, shine line in the darkest reaches, and be authentic, not plasticized or fake. In this day and age, more than ever, it’s important to find the balance between what is marketable and what is relatable. To be accepting of imperfection in us and in others. I feel so strongly about this, that a phrase came to me in a dream that described what I wanted to convey. We need to be #RawOpenAuthenticReal. We need to be ok with being who we are. Meanwhile, the acronym is #ROAR, which incidentally also describes the voice I wanted to have.
As part of my series featuring the rising stars in the music industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Lia, an award-winning singer, songwriter, pianist, recording artist, and Jersey girl from Philly. She (and her band Sharon Lia Band), just released an album entitled “Beyond Wonderland,” currently on the 2020 GRAMMY® Ballot for Best Rock Album of the year, appeared in Billboard Magazine and just won the Josie Music Award for Best Artist of the year. Her songwriting reflects a journey traveled by many but shared by too few artists. Her music is so unique yet commercially sound. Always getting to the heart of the matter, she and this album are in a word: ROAR- Raw. Open. Authentic. Real. No stereotypical themes, no recycled poeticisms, and no apologies. Under her seemingly tough exterior, there is a genuine warmth about her that can be seen on stage and when you meet her. Sharon, who has been compared to some of the biggest ladies of Rock, has faced many hurdles, including cancer, but has never given up. Adversity has fueled her. When she found her ROAR, she used it to help others. She created a charitable organization called Ladies Who Rock 4 A Cause, supported by Rick Jannotti (guitarist) and Howie Fallon (drummer), and she will tell you a slew of many wonderful people. She is proud of her band, which is a six-piece piano-driven Alt-Rock, Prog-Pop, Rock band pulsing from the Philly music scene. Under the tutelage of their Grammy-nominated/multi-award-winning producer David Ivory (Halestorm, Silvertide, Patti LaBelle, The Roots, etc.) and Joe Lam who have groomed and worked them hard since 2017, this tight unit is making a significant impact. Their gripping performances from opening for Lydia in New York to Firefly Music Festival in Delaware to their most recent performance to a sold-out crowd at the Josie Music Awards at the Dollywood “Celebrity Theatre” in Tennessee are inspiring and moving. This is one band to keep an eye on.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! My piano/music was my best friend. When I needed to express my feelings, I played my piano…and, the music that came out was like giving life to a new world, to new stories or old. Maybe mine, maybe someone else’s. It made me feel like I could create a connection to everything. People, nature, the universe, the past, the future, and the present. I was born with this visceral yearning. Drawn like metal to a magnet, this was the only path that I could be on that would make me feel whole. I had to hear the calling, own it, and then act. The journey has not been easy though.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
She had me at “creation”, probably the most important of all the moments I have had was this first one.
I’d spend hours upon hours at home or in the piano labs at school, practicing, playing and writing (while the girls were out kissing boys or smoking under the bleachers I often joke). I sat alone, happily, with my best friend. Then one day in 12th grade, the high school madrigal teacher told me I should perform my original music in the annual talent show. I was internally puzzled. I did not know I was even on her radar. But it didn’t matter. My answer was a very grateful thank you, but, no.
Some days later, she came to find me in the school cafeteria with the playbill proof in hand. She asked me to reconsider my answer while pointing out where my name should be in the book. I humbly declined…. But then, she leaned in very gently and whispered words that changed everything. “Sharon,” she said, “a creation is not a creation until you share it with someone.” She added “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” I was getting the picture, my music deserved an audience and could only get one if I shared it.
I had literally no rebuttal, she had me at “creation.” So, I did it. Getting my first standing ovation after my performance (which I trembled all the way through) provided the positive reinforcement that I needed. This experience got me to share. It set me on my music path with confidence and taught me something: Music matters, and the act of one person can significantly affect another.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We just finished an album called “Beyond Wonderland” that took two years to create. It’s on the Grammy® Ballot for Best Rock Album of the Year, so we are excited about that. After a short breather, we will start on our next album this December. I wrote a song (literally while I was in my doctor’s office) called “The Sum of Us.” A mathematical play on words about “how each and every one of us contributes to the sum of us.” Yes, that is the hook I just teased, and it’s a message of peace, resilience, and getting up when we have been knocked down and knowing that each of us matters.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have met some remarkable people. Music moguls, producers, writers, fellow musicians, doctors, scientists, cancer survivors, survivors in general. People who teach others just by being themselves.
I have someone who stands out in this category. My friend Al. It’s incredible to me that he seems to be everywhere all the time, knows everyone, makes times for me, and is dialed into what’s going on in my world (even if I don’t outwardly share) no matter what’s going on in his. I’m not a big talker when I meet someone, but I learned I could trust him, and we became great friends.
He is always out supporting other people and exploring places he passes in the process. So many times, I’d see his posts of a cool place he was at, only to find out later that he was on his way to, or from, helping someone he knew in need.
His journey started as the owner of a well-known rehearsal studio in Philly, who saw many famous acts as they rose to fame. I met him through the music circles here in Philly. He assisted me with my last “Ladies Who Rock 4 A Cause” (LWR4AC) event and even brainstorms with us on how and what we can do next. I don’t know he does all he does, but I am awe-inspired by him.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
All of the men and women who fought for change and freedom. People who took risks. Explored. Experimented. Hypothesized. Protected, etc. Those who paid the ultimate price for other’s sake. They are the reason we have progressed as a whole. I am inspired by what they did to make things better, and I owe it to their memory to be someone like them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Some people are not lucky enough to be born healthy, or they get cancer, are struck by natural disasters, or a myriad of other things that make living less than the joyful experience it should be. From a young age, I knew I wanted to help others. After the sudden loss of my 26-year-old sister, the unlikely inspiration of French philosopher Renee Descartes and facing some intense and lengthy battles, including cancer, I really wanted to find a way to make a difference. I started an organization that uses the unifying power of music to help those in need called “The Ladies Who Rock 4 A Cause”. Right now we plan concerts to raise funding for different causes each time. We have hopes to expand beyond the event based fund-raising and to offer services and resources to those in need all year round.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
Thank you so much for saying that. I believe that a significant number of us struggle with feeling that we don’t matter or we can’t find our purpose and cycle between giving up and fighting. Our world relies on a matrix of each one of our contributions. So, I pose this hypothesis: If we all gave up at the same exact moment, it would cause a worldwide catastrophe. This illustrates how important each one of us is. We need to know that “every single one of us contributes to the sum of us.” My movement would be called #TheSumOfUs
The other thing I want to say is, I had to find my own voice. I wanted to get straight to heart of things, shine line in the darkest reaches, and be authentic, not plasticized or fake. In this day and age, more than ever, it’s important to find the balance between what is marketable and what is relatable. To be accepting of imperfection in us and in others. I feel so strongly about this, that a phrase came to me in a dream that described what I wanted to convey. We need to be #RawOpenAuthenticReal. We need to be ok with being who we are. Meanwhile, the acronym is #ROAR, which incidentally also describes the voice I wanted to have.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Keep honing your craft, be realistic, and don’t get discouraged. Take breaks when you need to. Have your work reviewed, which can be beneficial. Be open to constructive criticism and identify the take-aways from each experience so you can grow. Identify what matters to you most. Do it for the love of it. If you are one of the one/billionths of artists who get major backing, you would be one of the lucky ones…. otherwise, you will have to it for the love of it until you can organically reach your target audience, which is a long road. Parse out the offers people make you; not everyone has good intentions, unfortunately. Lastly, support other artists and use your gifts to help others.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
It’s ok to accept a compliment. In the beginning and totally along the road, we grapple with believing in ourselves. Accept the positive affirmations from those who take the time to give it. We need to integrate this positivity because the road ahead can be difficult.
It’s a process to find your sound, vibe, voice, and your Micro-niche!By the time I started working with our Grammy®-nominated producer (a guy with a proven track record of success), I had already released music that was receiving positive reviews (Fairytales), but was a melding of different genres. From Evanescence type rock songs, to dance tracks to power ballads, I was pulling off different genres, but his advice to “pick a lane” gave us focus. It helped us find our sweet spot, solidified our vibe, and organized our direction. You need a micro-niche so fans can find you!
Be careful of “snake oil salesmen.” When you start to gain momentum, “producers,” “managers,” “consultants,” “promoters,” “lawyers,” “publicists,” “webinar hosts with all the answers,” begin circling around. Sadly, many people prey on the hopes of artists. Educate yourself, ask questions, research everyone before you work with them, and definitely listen to your inner voice when it’s telling you to run.
Build an email list and learn the business of music. Email is king. It’s the line of communication that will be here even if social media platforms go away (and take your contacts with them!). Learn all you can, and leverage that knowledge in growing your career. If you don’t land a record deal right away, as most don’t, you can totally crush it on an indie label, but you gotta know how to market yourself.
Be happy about rejection. Literally, there are billions of people on the planet. You cannot please them all. If someone “unfollows” your page or “unsubscribes” from your email list, be happy. Honestly, you only need the “best of the best” fans. Now, this does take some practice, but if you go back to my number one tip above, collect that positivity to shore up your confidence and never ever give up!
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
You are awesome!! And I would be honored if any of your readers connected with my message, sought out my music, listened, and wanted to communicate with me. Lunch, breakfast, a conversation would be the icing on the cake.
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Thank you for these great insights. This was very inspiring!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts, I am honored and grateful. Thank you for what you do!