Liz Phair has just released a new CD, titled Somebody’s Miracle. I’m not saying you should go out and buy it, but you have to respect Liz Phair’s ability to manage her career.
For those of you who did not spend 1991 listening to her widely touted CD “Exile in Guyville,” go buy that CD now. It is about mainstream, upper-middle class women who wish they were beautiful and fun and loved by people much cooler than they are. For men who worry that the album is like a chick-flick, no worries: You can skip to track 14 where she sings about being a sex goddess.
The latest CD is an expression of the fact that Phair never did make it to the mainstream, but she really wants to. And, in a rare moment of reality from a musician, she has confessed to needing to make enough money to support her son. That’s when I started thinking about her CD releases like a career path instead of a pop-rock event.
Her last CD, released in 2003 and ominously titled Liz Phair, was a disaster, trashed by music reviewers across the country. Not trashed like, “track two is insufferable” but trashed like “this CD will kill her career.” Diehard fans were upset that she was giving up her edgy self to make as much money as Britney Spears.
And now, here’s another CD, in the same genre that people hated. I give her a lot of credit for doing it again. The difference between people who have huge success and people who do not is ability to cope with failure. People with huge success are more able to take risks because they have less fear of failure. And then, when this type of person does fail, like Liz Phair, she tries again.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t like the new Liz Phair music. But I like watching her perform what was basically a career change — or at least a shift. And there’s a bit we can learn from her about career shifts for non-rock stars.
1. Don’t let other people steer your career
No one wants to see Liz Phair selling out. But she ignores that. She has the maturity to decide that she knows what’s best for her life, and she has faith in herself to execute a vision, even if people around her don’t like it.
At some point or another you are going to want to change what you’re doing in your work. You’ll have to put up with people around you saying you shouldn’t change. (“Why go into marketing? You’re a great programmer.”) And then you’ll have to put up with people denying that you’ve changed. (“Even though you got promoted out of your horrid assistant job, can you get me some coffee?”) These will be good times to remember how strong Liz Phair is about sticking to her new vision of herself and forcing us to see it.
2. Be true to yourself
Liz is not, in fact, an indie queen, but rather, an accidental tourist on the indie road. Even on her indie CDs she sings about wanting to be rich and famous. So she had to ditch the indie crowd and become her rendition of girl-pop-star because that’s really what she’s about.
It’s much more important for you to figure out what’s right for you than for you to act out a rendition of what someone else thinks you should be — your mom, your friends, your mentors. They can’t know what’s best for you. Be honest with yourself and have the strength to disappoint your fans.
3. Find a new mentor to help you change
Phair is known for her spare recordings that have a tiny-recording-studio feel. (Quote from my mass-market brother: “Couldn’t she afford some recording equipment?”) For her recent CDs, Phair enlisted people who could get her a more polished, mass-market feel.
Part of taking yourself seriously in a new position is getting people to give you coaching on how to look like the new part you’re taking on. Maybe this means bringing your friend’s girlfriend to go shopping with you for new work clothes. Or maybe it means getting coaching on how to speak with more authority. The more you start looking and sounding like the new you, the more people will believe you have changed.