Name: Erin Austin
College & major: Oral Roberts University, Music Performance
Past jobs: Gosh, this will take a minute. I think I’ve started businesses since I was in kindergarten. I started with trying to make and sell lava lamps that my friend James showed me how to make. If I remember correctly, which I probably don’t, I believe I tried to take pre-orders but only got one or two. I didn’t know much about tenacity at that point. I’ve done everything from working as a hostess to lifeguarding on Martha’s Vineyard to nannying to working as a client specialist at J.Crew to working at an Ad Agency. I’ve worked in production from video/motion to photoshoots. I had an organizing business for homes and businesses, I co-owned a recording studio, I started a bookbinding business with one of my best friends, which she still runs. I’m a professional singer for anything from churches to choirs to commercial work as well as writing for commercials. I started a band. Gosh, the list could go on!
Current occupation: Musician, Ok Sweetheart
How did you get involved in music performance? I started performing at a very young age and would make up performances as a little kid for my parents. I started taking piano lessons at age 4. I must say that I was just in it for the stickers. I didn’t really have the natural talent for it or the patience to learn at that age. I started studying opera at 12 and focused on classical voice until 24. At 25, I decided to write and perform pop/rock music full time. It wasn’t until I was around 28 that I actually had to get good, and my first record came out that year.
How did your college major influence your career field? It gave me a great foundation of technique. It also gave me an understanding of music theory. This helps a lot with writing the music behind the tune and words I sing. Knowing theory also gives a common language to communicate to other musicians more efficiently.
Where do you find the inspiration for your music? I’m inspired by whatever I open myself up to. It can be anything from a conversation to the trees.
What do you love most about being a vocal artist? I like being able to produce a sound that people listen to and that makes them feel something.
What obstacles do you face as a woman in your field? Do you have to worry about things that male performers might not even need to think about? I think that men don’t have to be afraid of aggressors as much as women do in general, so that bleeds into the entertainment world as well. My experience is, it’s a very male-dominated industry. And, as an entertainer who is learning business, it can be a rough landscape.
Do you think women in music are typically overly sexualized for marketing purposes? Why or why not? Yes. I’ve actually had people tell me they want to dress me in clothes that show more skin than I’m comfortable with. I do what feels good to me. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more. I think, in my field, image is important. I want an image that’s sexy but age appropriate. Sexy doesn’t always mean as close to naked as you can get. Confidence is sexy. Being a badass songwriter and singer is sexy. Being healthy and fit is sexy. Taking care of yourself is sexy. I do think it goes both ways with men and women in the entertainment industry. It’s an overly sexualized industry.
What advice would you give to girls considering a career path in music performance? Figure out your values. It doesn’t matter how you were raised or who’s around you now. What matter is what resonates with you. Figure out what YOU value and what’s important to you and what will build the kind of life you want. I want to be healthy and live past 100. So, I go to the gym. I have to watch my drinking and can’t make smoking anything a habit. I value my friends. I put time aside of the people I love. Whether it’s brunch or a dinner, I take time for them. I value my romantic partner. I take time to give him the kind of love he needs. I value my word. I work at following through on what I say I’ll do, and I try not to over commit. Importantly, I try to let my “yes” actually mean “yes.”
Those are just some things I think are important. Also, work hard. There’s no way around it. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have discipline to practice and learn or a stick-to-itiveness to make good habits that help support a lifetime of building your skills, then it’s impossible to build a lasting career. Grow a thick skin. You are not your art. You created it and now it’s separate from you. If someone critiques it, take that critique as something outside of you and don’t take it personally but do learn as much as you can. You’re going to be really bad at whatever you’re learning for a long time. If you listen to the naysayers, learn and listen to the yay sayers to help encourage you and keep refining, you’ll get to a point of relief. You haven’t arrived then, you’ve just become viable. If enough people like what you do and want to support it, you’ll survive and then thrive. Surround yourself with good people. You can’t choose your family but you can choose everyone else. Make good choices. My dad used to say that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at the 5 people they spend the most time with. Those folks are their key influencers. Make good choices.
What do you typically wear to do a show? Do you aim for comfort, style, or both? Both. I love clothes and do put a lot of thought into it.
Any favorite websites? Zen Habits is the landing page on my web browser. I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books…NPR KUOW in Seattle is a go-to morning favorite, “You Made It Weird,” “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” “Freakonomics,” “This American Life,” “Snap Judgement,” “Planet Money,” “Mystery Show” and TED talks.
Looking back, what general life advice would you give to your former high-school self? I would have loved to have figured out my own values then. I really tried to be a good person and do things perfectly. I just didn’t know what that meant for me. I tried really hard to live up to other people’s expectations on me instead of finding things that truly resonated with me. Values are what define your life.
Any other words of wisdom? Know that there is no “arriving.” It’s all experience and response. You can’t always control what happens you can only control your reaction to what happens. Work towards reactions that you’re proud of. I’m kind of hit or miss on this but I’m working on better reactions.
You can view Erin Austin’s latest music video for the song Safe below; every view raises a dollar for cancer research through Project Violet at Fred Hutch.