Marriage of Music and Style

When I first began performing in grade school my mother always stressed how important it was to look my absolute best when I was on stage. Whether I was singing for a choir concert in the middle of our local mall or in front of the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall, my hair, make up, and outfit were carefully curated and gussied up to the nines. I’m not sure if it was for me, so I could stand out from the crowd, or more for her so as to avoid the embarrassment of my.. unique fashion choices (I passionately advocated for the bubble shirt which, I’m afraid, never made the cut). I learned that no matter the setting or kind of performance, you always put your best self forward to show respect. Now, it’s important to note that at this point in my life I had been idolizing the stars of Broadway and everything in their world was glamorous. They lit up the stage with their flashy costumes and animated characters, creating a fantasy world I so desperately wanted to be a part of.  Even for performances on TV and talk shows they always perfectly dressed the part, so it made sense that if I wanted to reach that status one day I had better start suiting up!

However, the trajectory of my music career took a different direction and my ideas associated with fashion and music have completely transformed over the years. When I first started performing with Scott, I would always get on his case about what he was planning to wear for a show. Not that he looked bad at all, I loved his ‘real life’ style!! But in my mind there was what you wore in life and what you wore on stage; and the two did not go together. Life dress was normal and functional, while stage dress was elegant and fancy. I would wear heels, make up, and dresses- things I never wore day to day. But Scott didn’t like me thinking that I had to transform into some glamazon to be taken seriously. He insisted that we should just be ourselves on stage and let the music speak for itself. This idea was hard for me to accept. My brain was already conditioned and my stubbornness would not submit to this proposal. So I clunked up on stage in my heels and lipstick and Scott followed behind in his go to blue chords and classic GAP T.

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Us performing at Club Cafe

Although we both had very passionate, yet sensible, viewpoints on the subject of stage style, neither of us had it completely right. Scott was the absolute practical dresser whose style could go from stage to streets without a hint of differentiation; it did not matter to him what was fashionable.  His style was classic and comfort based.  This does not mean he didn’t look good, but let’s just say he wasn’t willing to swap the cotton flannel for a starchy button down (no matter how much I insisted).  I, on the other hand, very carefully selected flashier outfits in order to create a more clear distinction between myself, the performer, and the audience.  A bold lip or glitter eye shadow, dresses, high heels.. all of which I never wore in life, but saved for the stage.  I believed that a stage hosting musicians was no different than a stage that hosts the actors of musical theater and, therefore, stepping onto a stage was like stepping into another world requiring a change of persona.  Dressing for the stage was a sacred ritual I had taken part in my whole life and although my role on stage was changing, I continued to show my respect in the same over-dressed way.

I did not realize what a disservice I was doing to our music.  Instead of using my style to enhance our performance, I was causing a disconnect between Scott and I, myself and the music, and most importantly us and our fans.  There needs to be an intimate relationship between your style and your music in order to create a more harmonious experience for the audience.  As a band, your goal is to create a sound that is unique to you, right?  So why shouldn’t the rest of the package get the same treatment?  Being an indie musician in today’s society means that not only do you have to be the musician, but you have to be the marketing agent and the promoter for the product you are trying to sell.  So if you want your product to stand out, you have to consider the little things you can do to get there and I believe that finding a style to compliment your music is a great place to start.  Now, you don’t even have to be into fashion or have any desire to wear things that are trendy or cool, but, let me put it this way, why do you think no one buys the sad looking bags of cereal in the grocery store?  That may be the best tasting cereal in the world, but without an eye catching cardboard package no one is going to buy it!  That’s all you need.  Something eye catching.  How expensive or how ‘in style’ your outfits are doesn’t matter at all.  What matters is that you find a way to use clothing as a further extension of the message you are trying to convey to your audience.

After moving to New York and watching the beautiful, stylish women catwalk the city streets I realized I had no true style of my own.  I didn’t really have a ‘look’ and definitely didn’t feel comfortable in a lot of the clothes I was wearing which I guess further contributed to my extreme wardrobe choices for performances.  I had an idea of what I should look like, but could not execute it properly.. until New York.  Living in New York has unlocked so many doors within me that I didn’t even know were there.  Our music has completely evolved in the most amazing ways, my writing has become much more rich and developed, and I have began to develop a personal style that aligns perfectly with my personality.  Having the opportunity to watch so many incredibly diverse musicians has drawn me to the conclusion that the more closely the the creative aspects of our personal art forms intertwine, the more cohesive and interesting the product becomes.  The moment this idea clicked is when I saw an electropop duo perform in Brooklyn.  These two tall, slender, pale, beautiful girls walked in the venue during the opening act and I remember staring at them, watching them more than the musician on stage; I just knew they were going to be the headliners.  They were wearing the most unique outfits: one in a bright red track suit and the other in electric blue ‘swishy’ pants and purple crop top.  Both had on chucks and no makeup.  At first I thought how strange it was to wear such an outfit; I would never think to put something together like that.  But after watching their performance it all made sense.  I was blown away by their music and their style and personalities further embellished the incredible experience they were able to create for the audience.  My mindset shifted from thinking ‘strange’ to ‘of course!’.

Style and music go together like PB&J and once you find your personal style and can translate that image onto the stage to compliment your music, your whole persona as a musician, and as an overall creative, will gain a deeper richness and depth.

Chaos ChaosChaos Chaos2

Chaos Chaos-Stage Style Vs. Street Style

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Caroline Smith- Stage Style Vs. Street Style

2 thoughts on “Marriage of Music and Style

  1. I enjoyed this read Rosanna. As I was thinking as I read this that maybe really wants happening to you is that you are just getting older. I think it often takes time to put away the voices of our parents, put away the idea of dressing up for the sake of imitation over truly expressing ourselves. I would imagine this also goes for your writing. As you age and learn more about the world, and certainly just living in a brand new and very diverse environment like NYC is such an educational experience that it cannot help but change you and bring a wisdom you didn’t have before. Thus adding to the depth of your lyrics. As an art form music expresses ideas through audio and ultimately that is perhaps the most important. I think for all serious musicians the visual can usually take a backseat if you enjoy what you are hearing and so being too gimmicky can cost you. There are artists of course who successfully express their art with an equal amount of visual flare but I would still say, that it enhances the music without making it the star of the show. I speak of artists like Lady Gaga, or Kimbra as an example. For “artists” who have generic music and vapid lyrics, image is everything. But I think that the audience always knows when the image is detracting or overcompensating for the music and it’s clear that you don’t want to make that seem like the case either. I do think there is an aspect to performance that brings out a different side of yourself when you are on stage, and I would imagine that “just being yourself” isn’t exactly the right option either. We are dynamic creatures and we present different sides of ourselves at different times. Your music is an expression of a part of you that wants to get out, and so let your clothes express that part of you that wants you to get out too. 🙂

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