MiChaela Barker’s STEP Experience

In my STEP Signature Project, I chose to focus on cultivating my artistic expression. My project was to create new music under my stage name of Bella Reign to allow myself the opportunity to indulge in my artistic passions that I am not always able to indulge in during the academic school term. My project consisted of writing and recording multiple songs, a photoshoot, a video shoot, and traveling to multiple venues to perform my music live.

During the creation and execution of my STEP Signature Project, I learned many different things about myself. While writing the lyrics to my songs, I tapped into emotions that I had long ago buried. Listening to music has always been therapeutic for me, but being able to create my own allows me to vent and relieve stress in a positive and non-detrimental way. Pain from failed relationships, familial stress, self image, and broken dreams, I realized throughout my artistic process that there were so many things that I had left undealt with in my heart. Throughout this experience, I discovered that it was ok to be emotional and to let those sensitive topics out. I had already done the hard part; I had survived all of the events that I went through. The final step was actually acknowledging what had happened to me and making an active decision to face those painful times and to get over them. This STEP experience allowed me to do just that.

My view of the world also changed as I was creating this project. Becoming a professional and well-known musician and performer is something that many only dream about. Before this project, I was convinced that I would only be considered a professional if I was to win a prestigious award like a Grammy, perform for audiences consisting of the most well known people, and to be nothing less than perfect. This could not be farther from the truth. I discovered that I am a professional performer because I have passion for my craft and practice often, I perform for audiences and get paid to do so, and I treat each of my clients in nothing less than a professional manner and respect. One does not need one million followers on Instagram or several Grammy’s to be considered a legitimate artist. There is nothing diminishing about not being as famous as those that our society of pop culture portrays. What matters is that you love your craft, you conduct yourself in a professional manner, and that you treat everyone involved with respect. I am no lesser than anyone else because of my current status, and that is what this experience helped me to learn.

At the beginning of my process to create my music and videos, I had to first find a producer to help me record and create my songs. Shaquille Brown is a producer back in my hometown of East Lansing, Michigan who has not only worked with many local talents, but has helped to produce for international pop starts such as Tinashe. He was the first person that I turned to. I showed him the lyrics that I created, and together we were able to mix and master different sounds that we felt went with the flow and vibe that I wanted my music to have. Once I began recording and was able to hear how my voice sounded on each track, I was ecstatic, but nervous. I told Mr. Brown to be nothing short of honest with me. If my music or singing was horrible, I wanted to know. I was elated when I saw his reaction to my lyrics and how I performed them while recording. Having someone of his background and success in the music industry compliment me was so affirming that it continued to push me to pursue my goal of releasing my music to the public, despite any past reservations or nervousness that I had had.

The second person that helped me to make my transition towards greater confidence in myself, my dream, and my craft was David Majors. David Majors is a director who works nationally on public relations and marketing projects by creating websites, commercials, facilitating photoshoots, and directing music videos. He has actually worked with 2 Chainz on music videos. When I gave him my ideas for my video, I had kept things very cliché. I was afraid of branching out and doing something more artistic, because I feared that everything would be misinterpreted. David Majors encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone by telling me to not hide behind special effects, garish outfits, or complicated scenery. Instead, he sat me down in front of a video camera and encouraged me to have a one on one conversation: just me and my audience. Extremely raw and extremely personal. By not hiding behind any over the top features, I was forced to own my creation and to give all of myself to my future audience. Though I was scared, I quickly gained confidence take after take. I expressed myself unapologetically, and was proud to reveal all of the things that I had been through. I hope that by letting my guard down, others will be able to allow themselves to be vulnerable and tell the stories that they have been keeping inside.

The final person who truly affirmed the pursuit of my musical endeavors would have to be Kimmie Horne, the great niece of the legendary Lena Horne. This past July, I was performing in a Jazz showcase in Michigan when I heard that Kimmie Horne would also be performing. Leading up to my set, I had not seen her. Little did I know, as I was performing, Kimmie Horne was watching me from backstage. After my set, she not only came up to me and asked me to take a picture, but to also perform with her at her jazz show. This legitimized my status as a professional performer in my eyes. I had caught the attention of a world renowned jazz singer, and had been identified as someone who was fit enough to take on another large show. I could see my dreams becoming even more of a reality, and I was, and still am, extremely proud of that.

The change that this experience has provided has helped to improve my life both academically, personally, and professionally.  By having a creative and expressive outlet of self care, my academics will continue to do well because I am able to release any stress that I have amidst taking and preparing for classes, and the release of that stress will better allow me to have a clearer line of focus when carrying out academic activities. This also holds true to my professional development. Too often we start receiving tunnel vision where we only focus on what needs to get done and when something needs to get done. By fostering my creative side, I will also be further developing my ability to think outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions to different problems that arise within my field. Lastly, this experience has helped me on a tremendous level personally. I was able to free myself of the chains that emotional hardship had placed on me. I was able to prove to myself that I could pursue both music and a degree at the same time and find happiness in both.

I have learned that just because you are pursuing an academic goal, does not mean that you have to give up your dreams within other fields. In fact, by making time for those other things that you hold very dearly, you are more likely to be relaxed, have greater confidence in yourself, and these things will in turn help you to succeed in your schoolwork and professional life. The STEP Signature Project was not only fun, but it was a learning and healing experience that I truly needed.

 

Screen grab from my "Hotline Bling Remix" video shootScreen grab from my “Hotline Bling Remix” video shoot

 

Album cover art

Album cover art

 

Kimmie Horne and I after performing at a Jazz festival

Kimmie Horne and I after performing at a Jazz festival