"What would you do if you could eliminate fear in your life?" This was the question posed to participants of Yahoo's web series Failure Club - created by Morgan Spurlock - where a group of seven people with big dreams tried to pursue them without the fear of failure. If you're songwriter Elizabeth Chan, the answer to the question is, "write a world-famous Christmas song."
With a bit of an unconventional goal in the music industry before her, Chan allowed the worldwide audience of the Internet to see her journey from its humble beginnings to its triumphant ending of making it into the iTunes Top 10. One episode saw Chan attend our own ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO where she took part in a one-on-one session with songwriter Julie Frost. With her debut EP Naughty & Nice now available on iTunes, Chan sat down with Playback to tell us about her experience, what she's learned, and - most importantly - what's next in her career.
What was your original mentality when you decided to do a Christmas project?
My original mentality came from when I was seven years old. I thought, "I love Christmas music! How can I sing a Christmas song on the radio?" ::laughs:: If you look on my YouTube page, I have a video of me when I was seven. My dad had just bought a new video camera, and he turned it on. The first thing I wanted to do was sing Christmas music. Throughout my journey to writing Christmas music, I watched the video every once in a while because this dream to write Christmas music was a passion I had as a child. I was lucky to have a reminder of myself from the past that this is something that I've always wanted and don't let this little girl down.
What went into shooting the music video for "A Christmas Song?"
It was scary. ::laughs:: When [it was] mixed and I had a final master for "A Christmas Song," I was listening to it on the train. All of a sudden I had these visions in my head of a one shot music video with people dressed in costume. When I got off the train, I started walking around the city and looking at different places. I had never done a music video before, it wasn't something that I intended to do. It was such a clear vision that I knew that it had to become a music video.
How did it feel to hit the Top 10 on the iTunes holiday chart?
I didn't think it was going to happen. I embarked on this entire journey, not even trying to crack the Top 10 on iTunes. I thought that part of my journey would for sure be a failure, but I could count on all the good things that would happen, like the music video and even having an EP as a success. I remember talking to the Failure Club, I was telling them how happy I was. They told me, "But Elizabeth, you have three or four more weeks to go, why don't you just go for it, and why don't you just try and hit Top 10 iTunes?" I had already given up on myself and the universe had proved me wrong. Once it started to absorb, I cried because I thought I would be working all my life to crack the Top 10 on iTunes. Now my song is being played on the radio.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned from Failure Club?
The biggest lesson I've learned from Failure Club is that if you let fear guide you, you'll never see your true potential. The more you believe in yourself and your vision, the easier it will be for it to happen. It's important to have a vision. How you'll get there, you'll figure it out along the way, but if you could see it, then it can happen.
What was your experience at the ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO like?
I had never attended EXPO before, so when I went I wasn't really sure what to expect, but when I got there, I felt like a fish in water. I felt very at home and I was talking to other aspiring songwriters. People would stop and ask me, "What does it mean to be a top line writer?" I was very surprised when I actually knew the answer. It was really a pivotal moment where I realized that I really wanted to be a songwriter for my career and my living. It helped me really focus all these questions and thoughts that I had around being a songwriter and helped me kind of move forward towards the direction that ultimately led me towards writing Christmas music full-time. Being older, I think I was able to balance the things that I was afraid of when I was younger to go through the music industry and give it a second chance.
What were some of the discouraging things you've been told about pursuing your dream?
"You're never going to hit Top 10 iTunes, unless you take my song!" "You're never going to hit Top 10 iTunes because the music industry doesn't work that way." "I've been doing this for 20-something years, what makes you think you could do it?" "Go fly a kite!" The most discouraging thing is people who had no belief system in dreams. If you really feel strongly about something in music, you have to create the masterpiece that you have to create. Everyday there were mini battles to be won, whether it was with myself, or other discouraging people.
What were some of the inspiring things you came across along the way?
If you really believe in something, people who really want to help you will help you. The producer inspired me, and the dance crew, other people who were positive about this dream. It took a village to raise this EP. I had an enormous amount of support. It's inspiring when people want to help you because they feel your passion towards something. My new mantra in life is to further help people. My friend who had a dream to be a photographer, I worked with her on my album. As I got an album cover, she got exposure. We helped each other's dreams.
What's your goal now?
My next record! I am open to what the world brings me.