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From Wallflower to Frontwoman

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black and white photo of a woman playing guitar on stage with a band

Lily Fontaine, frontwoman of indie bands English Teacher and Eades, shares her personal experiences of coming up in the music industry, and how her health has impacted her.

Written by Lily Fontaine, Youth Music NextGen Contributing Writer. 

At 23, I am in two signed bands (Eades and English Teacher), freelancing as an arts writer, DJ and music adviser, and assisting at a sick record label. I often worry that people think I’m doing what I love because companies are desperate to meet their diversity quotas since 2020’s blackout Tuesday. That, or just through ‘magically’ knowing the right people.

The truth is I’ve spent the past ten years immersing myself in music; exploring every corner of it to find the cross-over between what I enjoy and what I’m good at, despite the barriers I’ve faced to a career in the industry.

This is the part where you’re thinking I’m going to talk about my gender or my racial heritage. It’s true, they’ve definitely played a part in my experience. I didn’t even consider starting my own indie band until I got to university, despite being a musician and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the genre, because I never saw that as space I could occupy.

I could also talk about not being able to afford music tutoring or equipment and other financial issues. But, for me, the biggest barrier I’ve faced and am still having to hurdle multiple times a day, is my health.

young woman standing against a wall filled with pastel coloured balloons

Not many people know that I have a pretty severe social anxiety disorder. Before starting medication, my body would betray my inner feelings of social discomfort. In the song Sunglasses by Black Country, New Road, he describes walking down the street in his ‘high-tech, wraparound, translucent, blue-tinted fortress’. That was me. My eyes would often involuntarily water when crossing a stranger on the pavement.

In high school, I quit choir and musical theatre because I was more afraid of the rehearsals than the stage. The number of times I have hyperventilated in the green room, not because I’m about to sing in front of people, but because I had to speak to the sound engineer, is more than you’d believe. When I spoke at my first conference, for Leeds label Come Play With Me, I was fine chatting to the chair during the panel - but trying to introduce myself afterwards was a nightmare.

With my symptoms now under control, I can feign confidence in new environments with new people, which is essential to a career in music. It is an industry, like most, that relies on a vast but tightly connected network of scenes, collectives and tastemakers.

The most valuable bit of advice I can offer is to get yourself involved - it is the only way to get yourself seen without having buckets of cash or a parent who used to drum for The Clash. Organisations like Come Play with Me and Music Leeds, that Youth Music invest in, have played a huge part in supporting me to get where I am today.

English Teacher - R&B

R&B By English Teacher. Produced/Directed by Douglas Frost. Edited by Lily Fontaine.

Come Play With Me, started supporting my band English Teacher after hearing our music through Leeds Conservatoire and Music Leeds: Launchpad. They put a call out for artists, I applied and got rejected, but stayed in touch and was offered the chance to speak on one of their early careers panels, then to release a song with them, then to write for them, which led me to write for Youth Music. Each of these opportunities terrified me, but I took my medication and re-wrote the script in my head that said I shouldn’t get involved.

young woman sitting on a low brick wall with four other people standing nearby

If the thought of getting on stage and singing doesn’t phase you, but the thought of picking up the phone and calling someone makes you want to change your name, shave your head and run away - then what I’m saying is to find a way to make it happen, because every time I have forced myself to say yes to an opportunity that sounds great but makes me have an anxiety attack, the pay-off of meeting incredible people, learning about and experiencing new things, and witnessing it evolve my career, far outweighs the fear of that moment. Find your coping methods and don’t let the situation stop you from trying your best.

Looking back on how I got here, it’s clear to me that forcing myself into situations that my gut says yes but my body says not-a-chance, has got me to a point where I am doing what I love. That, combined with working smart, working hard, giving it time - and I’d say most importantly, faking confidence in situations where my instinct would be to not attend in the first place.

I genuinely believe that, with this mindset, anyone can get themselves involved in a career that makes them happy, and with organisations like Youth Music, Come Play With Me and Music: Leeds working tirelessly to break down the barriers that exist in the industry, it’s only becoming easier.

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