Rachel Platten: Singer, Songwriter, Hospital Volunteer
By Michelle Golden
Love music? Always wanted to become a musician? Teen Voices' Michelle Golden got the chance to speak to Rachel Platten, a New York City singer-songwriter, pianist, and beatboxer. Alongside singing and pursuing her dream, Rachel volunteers her time to Musicians on Call, a non-profit organization that delivers the healing power of music to patients in health care facilities.
How did you get involved with the music industry?
I used to sing in high school and I've sung since I was little. I sang in choirs and I was in musicals as well as several a cappella groups. I was always singing and writing poetry and oddly not putting them together. When I was in high school during my senior year I fell in love with Tori Amos. My sister once asked me "Why don't you try to play one of the songs?" I had been playing classical piano since I was little. So we went downstairs to my piano in my family's living room and my sister sat on the floor while I figured out how to play "Ghost" by Tori Amos." It came so easily and I felt so natural doing this—as if it was what I supposed to be doing all along. It just clicked! It seemed like the most beautiful thing in the world to be able to play and sing at the same time. To express myself like that felt like nothing else. That was my first time playing and singing. After that I started writing and in college I sang in a band and from there I realized that this is what I need to do with my life100%. I needed to forget about the international relations major I was in the midst of; I needed to write songs and figure out how to make a living as a musician.
What inspires you and your music?
A lot of it is when I'm writing a song because I'm trying to work out something with myself or something is confusing me or [there's] some emotion that I need to express and I need to somehow say it." And oddly, I would think that poetry comes first; but for me, I think music comes first and I just need to play because I have a melody in my head that has been haunting me for a couple of days--sometimes in my dreams. I'll wake up and all of a sudden I have this song that needs to be created. Everything from movies, to novels (I read so much!), and language really inspires me. My boyfriend loves music as well and he's always discovering new bands and turning me on to them. So he's addicted to finding the next big thing and he's always on music blogs that I didn't know exist. It's a combination of things that inspire me to write a song.
A lot of people think your music is very happy and uplifting. How would you classify your music?
I don't write the songs on purpose to be happy and uplifting. It's funny because I'm realizing that the songs I have written most recently are a way for me to help people with the music and the lyrics. I'm in a phase with my writing that I don't really want to make people sad. I'm in a really good phase of my life—I'm really understanding of what I'm supposed to be doing. I feel full of positive energy and I think I want to spread that so maybe subconsciously I'm bringing that into my music because I want other people to feel like that too. I want my music to be therapy.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about Musicians on Call and how you got involved?
It's one of the most beautiful things that I think I am blessed to do with my music career because this [kind of ] career is so self-absorbed—you're constantly thinking about what do I need to do for "me" next? How can I help out myself? And early on in my career I realized that I needed to be able to help people more directly, not just as a songwriter. I started looking for charities that involved music and I found Musicians on Call and it seemed like the most beautiful thing. I started doing [work there] and it was just incredible. People ask me what my favorite concert was and there was this one time that I was singing for a young girl and she had cancer and it was just me and her and knowing that I uplifted her for a little bit, for only a few minutes, but it was one of the most wonderful things. It felt like I got to really give something without receiving anything back. I made her happy and that was important. And it's really an important thing that I do it and I love it. Hopefully, I will be able to continue it throughout my career.
Can anyone get involved with Musicians on Call?
Yes, absolutely. They have programs now in" New York, Philadelphia, Miami," and Nashville. If you are in any of those cities you can get involved and if you're a musician, you can apply to be one of the performers/musician on call. It's just a process of them finding out what your background is and how long you've been playing. You can also be a guide, if you aren't a musician but want to be involved. You go with the musician throughout the hospital and the guide goes to the room first to ask if the patient wants to listen to some music. That way, the patient doesn't have to feel like he/she is insulting you by saying no. Sometimes patients are tired or are recovering from an operation, so the guide asks first.
Why did you pick Musicians on Call?
I liked the idea that it was a really action-oriented thing. It wasn't just a big party to help raise money or a concert to help raise money—which is really cool too—but this is more direct. This is you helping someone one on one. No fancy clothes, no shiny lights, no press involved—it's just you and the patient. I like that idea of everything stripped down and not receiving the kind of attention that you usually get when you're doing a show. I didn't want it to be like that for me. I really wanted it to be just being good to someone and not needing to get stuff back for it.
How do you think teens can express themselves through music and how have you been able to do that?
I wish that when I was a teenage girl, I had known that this was a possible career. I think during the teen years, there's a lot out there about what you're expected to do. In high school where I'm from, I wasn't encouraged as much as I wish I had been." I wish I had known about a magazine like Teen Voices! Don't ever let anyone or anything or even your mind tell you that you can't create music or that you can't create art. It's just a trick that our ego likes to play on us to be mean. It's a bunch of crap. Like anything, it's just time, practice, and experience. The more you play, the more you sing, the more you create, the better you get. I was terrible when I started writing songs. I spent years and years and years playing back songs and writing. The beginning is really important and not judging the beginning works. The beginning is a piece of art that you make. The first beginning pieces of art are your children, in a way. They are new and fragile and if you judge yourself first, you'll never go back to it. Just believe in yourself and don't let your head get in the way and don't let anyone get in the way--just be fierce. Music can be one of the most healing things (and art in general) and for teenagers to be able to express themselves is a good thing because there is so much pressure about getting into college, SATs, grades, friends, and I can't even imagine what it is like with Facebook. Being able to have a world where you are just creating where it is just you and a piece of art you are making is so healing, at least for me. Being on Facebook too much makes me crazy so I have to go play piano, or write a song, and step away from the world where I'm looking at what other people are doing—you know, just get back to where I am. It's the most unique and the most honest thing because it's just you. You're creating something that already exists in the universe—it's a very powerful thing.
What do you find yourself writing about most in your songs?
I write about so many different things. I walk around New York City and everyone is trying so hard. It's hard to walk around here and get on the subway and get off the subway and go to work. I walk around and see faces here that are so tired and some look down. And not to sound cheesy but I see the beauty in how everyone is just trying to do the best they can. Some people in New York don't look at one another in the eye or care about one another and lately I've been looking at it differently—people are just tired and they are trying their best. They are trying to be the best person that they can be and it is hard and confusing. I want to write songs that hopefully wake us up. We're all in this together. We all have the same struggles no matter who we are, no matter what race, or socioeconomic status—we're all trying to find out what our purpose is here. I've been writing a lot about that lately.
Why is it important for a teen girl to find that one thing that she is passionate about and run with it?
If anyone has told you that something you want to do is too hard, that's the most ridiculous thing. Everything is hard to do. Any career that you choose is going to take the same amount of work and the same amount of hours. You might as well do something you're passionate about. Just because people around you don't necessarily do what your heart is telling you you are meant to do,doesn't mean that you can't do it or that it's wrong. I don't know any musicians from home and no one in my family is an artist. My dad used to ask me "What are you doing? You have a degree from a good school. You can't go into the arts." But it's so crazy. Life is hard. You're going to have to work hard at any profession you choose. If you love what you're doing, it's not going to feel like work. You're going to feel happy to play and that is what I think the goal of our lives should be: Find something you love to do so when we're working hard it feels like we're playing and it feels like we're really doing something the universe wants us to do. That, I think, is the most powerful thing you can do: Follow your heart and follow your gut. Follow your passion.
How can teens help out their community through the power of music?
Music is healing. The most special thing about being able to play music is that it makes people happy. It makes people feel better. You can take that anywhere. You can go to a nursing home—there are often pianos there—and ask if you can play or put on a concert for people. You can put on a concert in your city and donate the money to a charity you believe in. Putting on a show also makes me believe that life is fun and there is joy in following your passion!
What do you suggest to teen girls who want to get their music out there?
After six years—or longer--of trying to make it in the music industry, I got signed to a record label and they are going to put my record out in April. It took that long, but it doesn't mean you can't do it. There are so many other ways to get your music out." You don't need a label. Just spread your music on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Myspacethere are so many cool websites and ways to get your music out to the world. It feels like it is hard to break into the music industry, but when I started I just concentrated on building my fan base. Try to reach out to people. I would highly recommend that before you reach out to any bigger contacts and trying to get attention, just keep putting on shows and keep doing what you're doing well. If you are making music that is excellent. People will come. People will keep coming back and telling their friends and that's the most powerful thing you can do—build your fan base and build your army. Let the industry come to you because if you are making good music, it will come. Just concentrate on making the band, your music, and the live show sound the best you can.
Listen to Rachel Platten on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rachelplattenmusic
To learn more about Musicians on Call go to: http://www.musiciansoncall.org/site/PageNavigator/home." "
Tagged as: female authors, female leaders, female singers, powerful women, Rachel Platten, self-expression, volunteering, women leaders