A more conscious audience
Treya Lam on artistic self-worth, making sense of chaos, and cultivating a supportive community
By Siena Oristaglio
Recently, we taught a workshop on artist sustainability to the current fellows of Joe's Pub's Working Group. During this workshop, we had the pleasure of working with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Treya Lam, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her work, finding self-worth as an artist, and creating a more supportive audience.
How would you introduce yourself as an artist to someone unfamiliar with your work?
I am a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and artist that creates soulful chamber-folk music, scores and site specific performances. My first record Good News was created by an all womxn musical and production team and features lush arrangements of songs inspired the element of air: change, collective awakening, spring. I use Nina Simone inspired piano, meditative guitar, spacious viola and my voice to balance feelings of despair with light and joy, explore themes of connection and the universal experiences in my own work and with collaborators from a variety of disciplines including: movement, film and theatre. My work draws inspiration from stories of the people, solitude in nature, lessons learned during personal growth and by exploring work from artists and activists of the past and present.
What is one thing you’ve done that has helped you to build (emotional, mental, spiritual, or financial) sustainability as an artist?
For as long as I’ve been building a musical career, I have periodically take a hard look and reflection on the purpose behind the pursuit. As an introvert who is constantly working through issues of self worth as well as other mental health challenges, it is often challenging to carve out an authentic space in an oversaturated industry that generally celebrates the shiniest stars. The only way to work through this and stick to the marathon is to remember why I create music in the first place - to process and make sense of the chaos, to connect with and inspire others to help create a more compassionate and balanced world. I also have had the fortune of finding an incredible therapist who is also an artist herself, she helps me work through the internal hang ups that have kept me from moving forward.
If you could imagine a fantasy tool or service that would enable you to improve the (emotional, mental, spiritual, or financial) sustainability of your art practice, what would it help you to do and why?
The greatest thing that could happen for artist sustainability is creating a more conscious audience. There have been major disruptions to creative industries across the board and while artists have been adapting and navigating this new world, audiences should also learn how they can best support artists they love, especially emerging artists. Independent musicians have to wear so many hats these days: creating work; booking, promoting and performing live shows; producing audio and visual content; business and project management; building and maintaining an online presence; designing and selling merch, financial planning, billing and receiving, navigating the world of grants and residencies and trying to figure out how to keep an audience engaged in their career. It would be wonderful to have a service that includes a living evolving conversation that could educate music lovers on how to proactively support their favorite artists in a variety of ways on a platform that allows them to contribute to their financial, online, and career growth.
What artists are you most enthusiastic about, and what did they do to help you feel that way?
Nina Simone is my example of the quintessential artist. First off, her musicality is out of this world and I deeply admire the fact that she believes that an artist should reflect the times. Many of her songs expressed messages and convictions that were necessary to empower the oppressed. Simone used her extraordinary gifts to create a platform that changed society for the better and her music continues to have an impact.
Andrew Bird, I’ve been following this artist for about 10 years now and it has been a treat to watch his career evolve and develop to where he is now. Bird was one of the first classically trained artists I came across that ventured beyond the classical world to forge his own path as a genre defying songwriter and composer. His creativity extends into his business choices and I love how he’s created a path that is his own that seems to suit his music. Some things that won me over: Echolocations: Canyon - a site specific film and EP that was recorded in the natural acoustics of a canyon in Utah and reading about the “Quietest Show on Earth” an incredibly intimate concert he put on in Joshua Tree that involved a two hour hike and raised money for the National Park Conservatory. He participated in an online video series called Cemetery Gates that took place at the Greenwood Cemetery Chapel that was stunning. I also had the pleasure of being in the audience for his performance at Riverside Cathedral, Prospect and Central Park, Carnegie Hall and with the NSO at the Kennedy Center. I’m astounded by his ability to maintain intimate personal performances in large world renowned venues.
Feist won me over at her performance at the Prospect Park bandshell one summer. Her band was touring The Reminder - one of the first albums from a living and current artist that won me over as a developing songwriter. I appreciate that she is a long game artist, creating at a pace that is connected to her personal growth, taking her time in a time where everything is moving quickly. I've recently realized that it is challenging for me to capture my strengths as a performer in screens, mp3s and other mediums that make it easier to spread far and wide and quickly. Feist's live show demonstrates a similar sentiment, her records are great but her live show is even better. I imagine that it is a difficult task to capture the magic of her live performances but she has partnered with wonderful video directors who are up to the task. I particularly enjoyed the documentary Look at What the Light Did Now, her partnerships with La Blogoteque, Mason Jar Music and the continuing involvement with 37d03d Fest artists like Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner (artists I recently had the joy of performing with as a member of the Resistance Revival Chorus).
What are the best places to find you and support your work?
The best place to find and support my work would be experiencing a live show and sharing our music to your friends and family, word of mouth is so important these days. You can hear my record Good News on all streaming platforms including Bandcamp and purchase physical copies on my website www.treyamakesmusic.com or at my shows.
Online I am most active on Instagram (@treyalam) - using the platform to share upcoming shows throughout New York City, to connect and grow with other places around the world and as a place to share thoughts and words of encouragement.
While I appreciate that social media has created a way for musicians and artists to connect and build with a wide range of people and communities around the world, I’d prefer to allocate more time to working on my craft rather than keep up with ever changing algorithms and digital marketing strategies. If I was not pursuing a career in music, I would honestly not be as active on social media - it is wildly addicting and too easy for me to waste hours of my time scrolling endlessly. It would be helpful if my followers could repost and share my content to their audiences (organic reach over paid posts any day). The hope is that staying on top of my online presence and email list will eventually make it easier to dedicate more time to creating powerful live experiences and recorded media.
Treya Lam is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose cinematic songs and compositions are built on dynamic classically trained piano, ethereal vocals, meditative guitar and lush chamber-folk arrangements. Their debut album Good News was created entirely by womxn - headed by Kaki King who produced and released the record on her label June 2018. Lam is one of five artists selected for the 2019 Joe’s Pub Working Group residency and an active member of the Resistance Revival Chorus. She frequently performs with the Big Quiet and is developing a musical as an Associate Artist with the eco-theatre group Superhero Clubhouse. Lam seeks out extraordinary venues and has performed original music at the Prospect Park Bandshell, American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Gardens, Madison Square Park, Garfield Park Conservatory, MoCA Museum and the New York Public Library.
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