When I was young my grandmother gave me a little Casio keyboard for Christmas. I taught myself to play by ear and was soon pecking out my favorite Taylor Swift songs. Soon thereafter I started using those chords to start writing my own variations of love/break up songs…although at 12 years old I had little material to work with having no breakups or even boyfriends at that point. With an audience of my dad, sister and a reluctant cat named Lucky Star (my toughest critic), I began to put on paper all the things my shy self could not say out loud.
These verses and songs became my alter ego. It became a deliberate process to write about things that had happened at school or in my life where I always felt like an outsider where I feigned interest in things like field hockey and the Jonas Brothers to fit in. The truth was that all I really wanted to do was write songs and listen to Sheryl Crow in the car with my mom. Music became my own private refuge from middle school awkwardness. A place that was just for me and my thoughts where none of my fickle and judgmental friends were allowed in.
LEARNING FROM THE INTERNET
When I was in 8th grade I stumbled upon my uncle’s beat-up old guitar in my grandparents’ attic and binged on YouTube guitar chord video lessons immediately. I wrote my first real song soon after with my fingers still sore. Yes, I thought at the time, I can do it all myself. No need to interact with annoying teachers or basically anyone. DIY became my thing. I grew up in a family of athletes and had to learn how to do everything, from tuning to restringing to playing chords by scouring Google. This is where I learned everything, including basic chords. I was so shy and introverted as a kid (well, actually, I still am) that I never would have even considered trying to start a band or asking anyone to collaborate or help. I wrote songs to clear my head and express myself. It wasn’t anything I was doing for validation or attention. In fact, it was the opposite, staying up late feeling anxious and writing lyrics in my bed didn’t feel cool at all and sharing any of it with the outside world was petrifying.
FIND YOUR SOUNDING BOARD
It wasn’t until I switched schools after my first year of high school that I felt like I was finally able to reinvent myself. I met a friend who was a songwriter and musician at my new school and he was really the first person I asked for help recording my music. I had no interest in recording techniques or production, I basically just wanted to write.
We would sit for hours after school tracking guitars and my vocals piecing together my first full recorded project. I began to develop my own sound and vision of who I wanted to be as an artist. Having a trusted friend help to simply augment that vision really felt right…my first collaboration!
NETWORKING, NETWORKING, NETWORKING
Soon after college I started working with producers in Philly and New York and immediately felt drawn to those who had also been self-taught. Some had reached out to me on Soundcloud and others had been introduced by mutual friends. I thought I might as well take sessions with anyone who wanted to work with me—I just wanted to get experience in studio.
Honestly it was difficult for me to relate to those who had classical and formal music training because I was so unfamiliar with that world. I wasn’t able to talk about keys and cadences but I was able to talk about the sparse production elements of a Frank Ocean song or obsess over the insane imagery in a Phoebe Bridger line.
FOLLOWING YOUR ARTISTIC VISION
I ended up signing to an indie record label and moving to New York. Once again, I just met as many people as possible and networked my way into meetings!
The label was run by a former music manager who believed in me and my vision. It became clear from the start that he cared more about me growing as an artist and making meaningful projects than just putting something out to get streams and attention. Though we were aligned on all the right things, there was still a bit of a learning curve. When the label wanted to bring in a big creative agency to direct my artist project I suggested we just spend the money hiring my friends to take photos and videos. I knew I wasn’t going to feel comfortable listening to strangers tell me how I should dress or what I should post on Instagram. I spent practically my whole life figuring out who I wanted to be as an artist and what I wanted my artist self to look like—no one was going to be able to dictate it to me.
I realized early on I was going to have to begin to say no and make my ideas clear and concise because obviously no one is going to read my mind. The label listened and we started hiring my friends to do a lot of the creative work. The first video I made was with my best friend’s older sister. She rented a VHS camera and we just ran around getting footage where we grew up in Philly.
More recently my label wanted a music video in a short period of time for my song, “Someone.” This particular song means a lot to me. I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and I was heartbroken. I had gone on a few bad dates and just felt really lonely. I wrote “Someone” in hopes of manifesting the sort of love I wanted to find. Also sort of as an ode to the post breakup love and support I was rediscovering in my friendships and family. I started making Pinterest mood boards and asked one of my friends if he would act as my love interest in the video. I wanted to keep the operation small. This song came from the bottom of my heart, the video had to come from the same place.
AMPLIFYING YOUR TRUE, AUTHENTIC SELF
Pursuing music has been an odd path, to say the least. It can feel very strange to have little separation in your personal and work life. My “artist persona” is very much who I am but largely in an alternate ego form; it is me putting my emotions on blast. Constantly challenging myself to be more and more vulnerable can be exhausting, but at the end of the day it’s what has helped me grow and what has helped new fans connect with me on a deeper level. It has introduced me to friends who have become family. It has given me a voice when I felt like I had nothing important or worthy to say. My art is what connects me back to the little girl tinkering away on her Casio keyboard, figuring music and herself out at the same time all by herself.
In February, Brooklyn, NY-based alternative pop singer-songwriter ANNA SHOEMAKER released her second album, Everything Is Embarrassing, which marked her debut release with BMG. Shoemaker became a SoundCloud sensation with her viral mashup of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and Chance the Rapper’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” which she recorded on her bedroom floor. The track caught the attention of key tastemakers and fashion mogul Steve Madden. Shoemaker then signed to 5Towns Records in late 2017 when she was chosen as Madden’s Emerging Artist of the Year, leading to the release of her debut EP, East Side, in 2018.