Country Singer Shai Littlejohn Learned: Every Career Can Have A Rewrite

If Hollywood gave us another Elle Woods spinoff, it would be called Legally Country, starring Shai Littlejohn. Miss Shai traded in her law career for Nashville, discovering she loved the freedom in performing and songwriting. Her former colleagues are bound to be sour when they hear her hits on the radio.

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What left you disappointed about the legal profession ― a safe fallback choice for society ― that made you pursue your music?

I can tell you a laundry list of the shortcomings of the legal profession. I never liked hierarchy. I didn’t like being tied to a desk. I didn’t like the obsession with title, advancement, and billable hours. I could go on. But when it really comes down to it, the disappointment came from failing to create a law career that worked on my own terms and not from the legal profession itself. I found myself competing for positions that didn’t even matter to me. I never wanted to work for a “boss,” but I wasn’t mature enough, when I first started out, to realize that you should be aggressive about creating your own path and defining what is important to you rather than waiting for someone else to give you opportunities and advancement. You can be an employed lawyer or you can be an entrepreneur lawyer. I should have been an entrepreneur sooner.

What from your past law school and career experience has helped you in the business of being a country artist?

From my legal career representing both individual clients and companies, I know that business people generally only want to get involved when there is some potential payback. Friends help you. Business people aren’t there to help you. They are there to make money, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. So, if they see that you can make money, they might just want to get involved. Even though your art is important, nothing runs and grows without resources, and money is most often one of them.

From negotiating deals I know that everyone has an objective. The best partnerships come from two sides coming together to help each other reach their objectives. So given my experience, it’s rare that I take the approach of asking people to help me. I don’t approach labels to sign me. I pay my players. I pay for the services I need, or I do it myself. The quickest way to becoming a music business casualty is  not making sure that the people around you are compensated. Venues and promoters see it all of the time. If you don’t pay bands, freebies only last for so long. No one will be loyal to your venue. It is awesome when you meet people who don’t expect to be paid for every little thing they do. It makes me want to give them more. But most people are looking for cash.

How can someone get over his or her fear of performing their first song for an audience?

You don’t. It takes courage to perform in front of an audience, and courage is something you do through fear not without fear. Many top acts say that they are nervous before every show. Nerves may never go away. Some of the best remember when they’ve been booed. For me, nerves start to go away once I get started. Performing is supposed to be fun and it is a growth process, so I try to let the audience see me have fun and join in. One last thing about nerves: preparation helps. You’ll be less self-conscious and enjoy the moment more when you know you are prepared. Rehearsals are just as important as the show.

How has moving to Nashville shaped your songwriting?

We’ve got the best songwriting community in the world here, so you pay detailed attention to songs more than you would elsewhere. You notice when you hear something new and exciting versus the same old melodies with different words. I learned to craft my songs better and to add more images. I also dig deeper to find more creative angles on ideas. I wrote a new song called “I Don’t Do Crazy” that will be out this fall. I thought of about five different ways to write that song, and I finally settled on what I hope is the best one.

What was the very first time you went from regular songwriting to pouring out your entire heart onto the paper?

I was probably in Nashville a full year before I realized that I was not putting my entire heart onto the paper. I was saying things that were clever but not being direct with my emotions. I wrote a song called “I Wish I Had You” which has a strong melody but the lyrics came off as non-commital. I rewrote that song with a co-writer from London and changed it to “Want You.” We kept the melody but made the song a little more direct. Wishing you had something versus saying you really want it and gotta have it are two different things. I am going back in the studio on that song soon.

What do you want to accomplish over the next year?

I had the opportunity to play a couple of festivals this year, and that was a blast. The stages are larger, so you get to move around and express yourself in different ways. I want to book more shows on the festival circuit for next year. I want to write better and better songs that people want to hear and promote to small market radio so that I can reach more music listeners in 2015.

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