‘A Young Man Approached Me and Told Me My Music Had Kept Him From Taking His Own Life’
We interviewed Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Rachael Sage
DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Rachael: My proudest moment so far has been when a young man approached me at a show in San Francisco and told me my music had kept him from taking his own life. While the details of why are too personal to share, let’s just say nothing is more gratifying – and humbling – than knowing something you’ve created has helped remind someone why they want to live and endowed them with renewed purpose.
DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so what happened and how did you deal with the experience?
Rachael: Yes, I was very badly bullied in an all-girl grammar school between 2nd and 6th grades; basically the entire time I attended that particular school. It was 5 prolonged years of emotional and often physical abuse that was, sadly, enabled by the adults at the school to whom I confided, and unfortunately it never really got better. However, through all of it I had things outside of school that helped to define my mostly positive sense of self-esteem such as ballet class and my songwriting. I threw myself into both and the worse “regular school” got, the more intensely I applied myself to my extra-curriculars and couldn’t wait until the bell rang and I could go to New York City each day to do what I loved. I did complain to my parents but they felt helpless and didn’t know how to improve the situation. Finally, in 6th grade I came home and simply refused to go back. At that point, thankfully, they “got” it and we all agreed the next year I would switch schools. Better late than never!
“The worse school got, the more intensely I applied myself to extra-curricular activities”
My next school was the complete opposite, co-ed (which immediately seemed to foster a kinder environment) and the staff and students had a much more holistic, transparent relationship which inspired responsibility and curbed meanness. Positive values of compassion and encouragement versus meanness and bullying were openly discussed, and kids were held accountable for negative behaviour – which was far more rare. It was truly an exemplary place, almost like a young college, and knowing the difference between the prior torture and relative heaven of a positive learning environment helped me appreciate it all the more. I thrived there, and I will always be grateful I basically was given a second chance to become a happy, expressive young person, at age 12.
“I was very badly bullied in an all-girl grammar school between 2nd and 6th grades; basically the entire time I attended that particular school”
DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the music industry?
Rachael: I have always been the kind of person who strived for success and to achieve very concrete goals. Likewise, I grew up with a very feminist mother who taught us the history of women who had trail-blazed so we could have the rights we do as women, and encouraged us to continue to be part of that history. She set an example by being a leader in our synagogue and pushing for women to be able to have the same honours i.e. rights as men within our temple service, and later on she encouraged me when I wanted to be the first girl to perform my entire Bat Mitzvah service, without help from the Rabbi or Cantor. So by the time I grew up, it was normal to me to lead by example versus dwelling on the negative of what has transpired before, and I’m sure that much of that is why founded my own label, years later. So in short: yes I’ve always been aware of the challenges of being female whether as a producer or a self-managed artist or a CEO; but I’ve tried to never dwell on any of that or use it as an excuse. The only way change happens, it seems to me, is by embracing exactly who you are, what you have to offer, and standing up for yourself and your vision every chance you get.
DtL: Have you ever experienced sexism/stereotyping in the industry based on gender? If so, how did you deal with it?
Rachael: Yes, I have…an internship in my teens, in particular, was fraught with sexism and I had a very intimate look at how it thrived in the music industry at a very young age. But I’ve also experienced competitive, negative behaviour – perhaps even more so – from other women! Women, like girls, can be incredibly petty, cruel and dismissive of each other’s talents and I think the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge it, not engage in any of the negativity, remain singularly focused in your purpose and show others at least as much respect as you hope to receive.
The other power one has is the choice to never work with a certain individual again, if they really seem to be sexist and offensive; I’ve made that choice a handful of times and chalked up the experiences to “growing pains”. As long a you learn from them, there really are no mistakes. But if you know someone will dampen your voice, water down your vision or dismiss your ideas simply because you are a woman and you walk into that situation repeatedly for whatever reason, well…then you may need to look deeper at the root of why you’d choose an oppressive situation. Is “success” really worth that kind of degradation? In my 20’s I had lower self-esteem, but I would do my very best to never remain in a a sexist work or personal environment now.
DtL: What advice would you give to young people who might be experiencing bullying?
Rachael: I actually recently wrote a piece about this exact subject, wherein I strongly encourage young people to tell an adult they trust (whether it be a parent, religious leader or teacher) what is going on – as well as to channel the emotional pain they are feeling into a hobby or something they love to do. I never really could figure out how to STOP the bullying admittedly; so really, my only hope became my own family protecting me, which eventually they did. You can read my story here.
DtL: What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Rachael: The most exciting thing I’m working on right now is a video for my single “Try Try Try”! It’s almost complete, and I can’t wait to share it because it features a world-class ballerina named Abigail Simon who’s danced with American Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Ballet. It’s so exciting to see an incredible dancer bring my music to life – and to integrate ballet with performances by myself and my live band. Look for it soon on my YouTube Channel!
“I think I would tell my younger self to give myself a break”
DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Rachael: The older I get, the more I believe it is a myth (perhaps for the self-help, therapy and morning talk show businesses) that we “overcome” our challenges. I think I will probably be facing and struggling with my challenges in one way or another my whole life, by addressing them through my art…and that how you move gracefully through them, in spite of never really overcoming them, is what defines your character. Nonetheless, here’s a short list:
– Perhaps due to a self-diagnosis of ADD (which certainly runs in my family), I am and have always been terrible at keeping organised, in general. However, I have taken on a lot of responsibility running a record label and helming my own music career. Therefore I have to work very diligently and consistently to keep my business in order, my home environment reasonably uncluttered, and my mind clear. I suppose I do this primarily by limiting my social activities, making sure I have enough “free” time to reorganise as inevitably I become disorganised, eating healthfully and sleeping enough as when I am overtired is when my mind becomes too cluttered to make sense of my external environment.
– I don’t love being a boss, but it is a necessary aspect of running a company and being the leader of one’s own career. I find it extremely challenging, ongoing, but I also know that the inverse i.e. being told how to be, what to do and how to do it less amenable to me. So I suck it up, push myself through the uncomfortable challenges that arise in that role, and remember that the reason I do it is to grant myself the privilege of being a creative artist and nurturing other like-minded, creative artists as well.
– I am often lonely and it is hard to maintain long-term romantic relationships. I have come to realise this is simply part of the lifestyle I have chosen, voluntarily, and that the people I know who also tour and have found complimentary partners may not also run a business; the combination of the two seems to be what is particularly challenging not only for me to balance but for someone else who loves and misses me to accept, due to the sheer workload and that I rarely “shut it off”. On the positive side, I’ve had many short-term relationships, loved and been in love often, and written many songs about it all!
DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Rachael: I would tell myself to get more sleep and be sick less. I used to literally make myself sick because I had so much drive and wanted to please everyone. I think I had mononucleosis three times…and they said you could only get it once! I was a very stressed-out, young overachiever and I didn’t have enough fun. Part of this was certainly because I was bullied – but part of it was also because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best at everything I tried. Granted, my parents had very high expectations too – but nonetheless I think I would tell my younger self to give myself a break, and take a nap once in a while haha! I probably took a year or two off my life just worrying about the repercussions of getting a bad grade, which seems insane to me now. Especially in the field of music…well, it simply hasn’t been relevant. If anything, I should’ve been listening to more of my Dad’s old ’45s!
‘I Don’t Believe It’ taken from the EP ‘Home’ is released November 18th through MPress Records with all the proceeds going to Ditch the Label.