“So… What’s next?

by INEZ

This question used to bounce off the corners of my mind as I struggled to make sense why the things I had just presented were never enough. Or. Why did people always want to know what you’ve got cooking? I’m sure people are just excited to see things pick up for me, but I never felt like replying with anything other than, “I don’t know yet.”

I am a creative, but I’m also a student of those who came before. Being a musician and an audiophile, means I’ve spent most of my life listening, absorbing and dissecting. It seems like growing up we were ok with getting a new album from an artist we loved every 2 to 5 years. We would gnaw on the good bits and play our favorite albums compulsively front to back over and over again. Now, a new single is digested in a 48-hour cycle and tossed. They want more. And more. And more. This ravenous desire of music fans seems insatiable. I’m an old school artist in a class of new school technology and social media. I’ve learned not to rush mine, but that doesn’t mean the worry of not “releasing content” doesn’t sway me. It can. Though I try to lean back into my past to help guide my artistic compass.

My first albums got their wear and tear. I could remember being embarrassed at not having the newest cds out, as one, I depended on the grace of my parents money to purchase cds, and two, though I didn’t know it, my obsession with certain albums was really a form of curiosity that would later lend to my arrangement, production and songwriting skill sets. I didn’t dare ask Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle to, “hurry up and make another ‘Survivor’”. I’d gladly wait until 2006’s, Destiny Fulfilled, like the patient die-hard I was. You don’t rush great art.

I’m certain music fans don’t know what it takes to create something meaningful. Far beyond the catchiness of the distorted, filtered 808s of now, but truly sinking into the emotions, humanity and life experiences necessary to create pieces of art. The hours of revisions, sessions with musicians, mixing, mastering, recutting, sitting with demos, etc. All for someone to either love it or decide to skip the arduous labor of your heart, voice and mind. All for the first 48-hours after release to wane and for you to settle back into the quiet room you emerged from. The next release of someone else forcing their way through the same hole, sending yours to the background. This is the new normal.

This is why real is a requirement. Because even in the fast-paced, hyper consumption, something real cuts through like nothing else can. When the intention is pure, when the subject matter reflects the human condition, when the melodies, harmonies and percussive elements all synergize into a complete work– the listener knows. It gets stored in the deepest part of themselves, and they will return. It doesn’t matter if it’s on-repeat for a week straight, or something they come back to fall in love with six months later — real matters. The time spent will never be a waste. The cycle of consumption will not erase the intention or the art. While you may not have 7 years to create like Solange’s, “A Seat At The Table”, your seat of intention, always remains ready for you to take it. Sit and craft.

The intention behind my first album, “Voicemails and Conversations” was to document navigating my experiences of loving Black men through my teenage years to early adulthood. A project that had to change because my ex-partners who had originally decided to take part in the conversational aspect of my album, all bowed out. With a lack of participation I choose to still present an audio diary of the way I learned, loved and lost; focusing on the all encompassing bits of love; romantic, platonic, familial and self. Awarded a $10,000 grant, I took 2 years to create a reflection of myself, while painfully finishing 55% of the album in the two weeks before the release date.

Going against what I knew to be true of making great art, I rushed the landing. I desperately wanted music out that people could listen to and I told myself that if I kept hoarding little slivers of undone music, that I would never put anything out. On December 3rd, 2019, I displayed the album cover. As the buzz grew, I was locked in my bedroom, mixing, writing and recording away, 18 to 20 hours a day. It was the hardest thing I’d put on my body to that point, but the damage to my confidence and mental health was the biggest blow. I was trying to prove my talent, but at the expense of my body. I was teetering over the edge of exhaustion and mental breakdown. Getting the cover of the Pittsburgh City Paper, our local alt-weekly publication, pushed the excitement of the album over the edge. I couldn’t let them down. So I kept going despite not having much left to give.

On the morning of December 19th, 2019, I barely had 20 minutes after finishing mastering the album before I had it uploaded to Bandcamp and released to the world. Scared, exhausted, I hit my second wind. I was so proud. 21 tracks of MY story, my hands, my heart, my voice. I was smiling. Until I got a call that rocked my world, my mom was in a car accident not one hour after I released the project. Speeding to the scene praying that she was ok, that everyone else was ok, opening the ambulance door and collapsing to my elbows trying my best to stop hyperventilating. She was alive, she was scared, but alive. She looked at me and said, “I feel so bad that this happened today. You worked so hard, Danielle.” I remember yelling that I didn’t give a damn about the album I just released. “You’re my mother. I only get one of you.” The drive to the hospital, breaking down entirely at the sheer weight of everything, but still relieved she was alive and aware.

Admitted and stable, I later left the hospital and made it back home that evening. Somehow, finding the mental capacity to upload the album to my digital distributor for it to become available on major streaming outlets. I’d made it to the finish line. A short lived victory, as the following days revealed my masters weren’t “loud” enough. Dilemma. Do I take my album off of streaming platforms and fix, or do I end up going through all of this to hate the end result? I decided the former, I re-mastered my album the evening of December 21st and re-uploaded. Mom was home resting, and things slowly returned to normalcy.

The following days filled with praise, streams, and growing awareness of the talents of INEZ. There are 100 things I would change and things I still beat myself up over, but 150,000 plays and counting, imperfections and all, I did the best I could at that time, by my truth and my gifts.

Many people who fell in love with my album had no idea of how tumultuous the album creation process and the days surrounding the release were. Some may never and that’s ok. I know that the intention I had for each record, each mix, each lyric line, is what has brought and what will continue to bring success. Whether someone loves “Heartbeat” or chooses to skip, I put my all into my music to make sure it gets to the heart and ears of someone who needs the sonic affirmation. If “Pull Up” or “Reload” are too aggressive or braggadocious or if they are played at disrespectful levels on repeat, I know the intentions behind each song release are real and true to me.

This year, as I begin the creation of my second album, with WYEP’s Pittsburgh Artist of the Year for 2020, a new fellowship secured, and an artist garnering new supporters each day, the consumption timeline worry is afterthought. I’m settled into what I want for myself and who I wish to become as a creative. This go-round, I’m still proving things to myself while having fun, learning and experimenting. So when someone asks me, “What’s next?”, I smile, because I still may not fully know. I just know I won’t be rushing to give them an answer or a product until it’s what I truly feel best represents what I feel aligns with the next iteration of INEZ– and that’s ok.