The show was starting in 20 minutes. I had already taken up my normal post for whenever I play the Bluebird Cafe. My preferred spot in the round is the chair that faces the big windows and the front door, so naturally I claimed it the moment I walked through the door. I was fiddling around for my lip gloss when one of my girlfriends came up beside me.
“We really should take your photo in front of the Bluebird before the show.”
Earlier that week, this same friend had suggested to me that I should create a new Instagram account. Something solely dedicated to my music. Something where people could discover me as an artist and see what I’m all about.
Due to multiple delayed projects, it had been years since that kind of spotlight had been put on me, so the thought of putting it on myself seemed like a daunting task. With the lack of anything big in the near future then, I was uncomfortable with the idea. Also, I was unsure of how to go about any kind of “re-branding” and honestly, thought no one would actually care so I’d rather not embarrass myself. Oh, and another big thing …
I was now going by Ray Williams.
The change came about when I was filming a docu-series in Detroit a couple years ago. The label liked the idea of “Ray” because it suited the persona they needed to fill better than Rachel. I mean, my friends & nephews call me “Ray Ray” so it didn’t seem like a radical change. However, with the project still unreleased, it was a change I was open to but in no means was it ‘official’ anywhere yet. A brand new Instagram account would be the very first declaration to everybody that it was Ray, not Rachel. It was a big deal and I almost let fear get the best of me on that one. Eventually I let up and told her I’d be down for the experiment if she was offering to help.
One year ago today:
I like to call this photo “If You Build It, They Will Come”, ha.
From that night on, every trip back to Nashville had one afternoon of Instagram. My friend and I would drive around to different locations with a back seat full of clothes, shoes, and makeup, me changing right there in the car…snapping a ton of quick photos on an old iPhone.
The 1st month of the new account, I was newly engaged and back in a snow-covered Michigan. So I’d lock myself upstairs and sing till I had no voice, while playing guitar until my fingers didn’t work. All in an effort to capture the perfect, one-minute video of me singing a cover song in front of my vanity lights. And if I had clean hair that day, well, I might even record two.
And with every post (and thought-out hashtags), we started to see the followers increase. I felt confident enough to start renaming and re-vamping the other social media accounts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and eventually, my website all together.
One month after The Bluebird/New Account Created: Lyft
Around Thanksgiving of last year, I got a mass text message from Lyft. The text called for any local drivers or passengers that are musicians to send their music in and possibly win free recording time at a new facility called MusicTown Detroit. Considering I was always back and forth to Nashville, I didn’t need the recording time, but the submission process took about 30 seconds from my phone. So I sent it off and didn’t think twice about it.
A week or so later, I got an email telling me that I’d be chosen as a finalist for free studio time at MusicTown Detroit. I didn’t have a band in Michigan, I didn’t even have artist gigs up here yet. Any musicians I knew, I knew because they played for the artist I sang backgrounds for. But as luck would have it, the guitar player I used down in Nashville was visiting his family in Michigan for the holidays, so I was covered. (Love you, Shane Sanders!) They filmed & recorded the two of us performing a handful of songs acoustically in the studio and told me I should have the final video by the New Year. The next morning, I got a call from the studio engineer telling me that some folks from Lyft saw my video footage from the day before and wanted to know if I could come play their Lyft Christmas Party … that same night. It was so last-minute that I almost didn’t even attempt to make it happen. Thankfully I did. We did the show later that night and on my way out from the party, I met a couple folks from the corporate office for Lyft who wanted to talk to me about teaming up in some way in the new year.
Throughout 2018, I have represented myself in conference table meetings with one of the most popular apps in the country. I have vocalized my vision and needs to the ones at the top of Detroit’s biggest radio stations. I’ve been featured on Channel 7 WXYZ and Channel 4 WDIV, with no sounding board but myself. I’ve performed for WYCD’s Hoedown at DTE Energy Music Theater, the Ford Firework Celebration, and Monday Night Football. I’ve made two appearances on the legendary WSM 650AM and my video performances on 104.5 WOMC and 99.5’s HomeGrown Happy Hour have all surpassed 10K views each.
All of this without releasing any new music of my own. All of this within the first 6 months of 2018. All of this while still singing background vocals on stage for other people and recording countless demos in the studio for other songwriters.
Then came September.
Releasing my single, “Sing Me Home” was exciting in it’s own right, but coupled with a Single Release Show sponsored by Lyft, 99.5 WYCD, and MusicTown on the rooftop of Hockeytown Cafe was insanity. The first “local artist” in Detroit to have an event partnership like that.
I somehow managed to keep my head above water with the techy people & the corporate folk, musicians & radio/television personalities, with no representation or management. And you know what? I did the damn thing. I had a great show. A successful release. And I miraculously found myself a Showdown champion that was inducted into the WYCD Hall of Fame after 5 consecutive wins.
I don’t write this blog to brag about myself or boast my accomplishments, that is not my point. (Besides, I’m still getting used to the fact that anyone would even care to read this blog right now, ha.) I write this as a testament to the difference a year can make if you let it. If you leap and you trust it.
I also write this to bring attention to the friend that encouraged this plunge – who still gives me social media suggestions, still drives around to snap photos of me, including the photo she took of me that night at The Bluebird Cafe exactly one year ago …
Well, she is the same girl who co-wrote “Under Your Spell” with me, and her name is Whitney Madlom. She came to me just over a year ago because she wanted to start writing songs and didn’t know how to go about it. Her bravery to explore a new facet of her creativity, having no prior songwriting experience, really inspired me last year and we’ve since written more than a handful of songs together. It was her countless pep talks of me giving “the artist thing” another dedicated shot that has gotten me here… well, us here … with a song that has been viewed/played over 20K times in the last 4 days. Surround yourself with good people, y’all. It makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Love you, girl.
So with all that being said…
Happy One Year Anniversary to Ray Williams!