I am Lyla Illing, a radio producer – turned singer-songwriter. I am 25, I’m from South Africa and I currently live in NYC.
In my early 20s, my appetite for the arts bubbled over into a blossoming career in entertainment & radio in South Africa. I worked as an on-air and content producer for some of South Africa’s biggest household names in the media industry. My “true love” was always music, and I had every fantasy fulfilled of meeting all my music heroes through working in the media, but just “meeting” them, and not “working/collaborating” with them, started to eat away at me. Hosting my music heroes for radio interviews and at events was mind blowing, but it was not how I wanted to “work” with them, I wanted to either work with these people from a “music” perspective or walk my own journey in music, now that I had access to all these people in the music industry.
I realized that I had to make a change in my career. While I worked as a radio producer on a breakfast show in the mornings, I spent my evenings performing my music at local venues in Johannesburg, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get “noticed” back home, and my attention was divided in too many different places.
In 2017 I put my radio career on hold. I threw a backpack and guitar over my shoulder and moved to New York to see if the grass really is greener, on the other side. I started chasing a career in music as soon as that airplane touched down at JFK. I had no actual “plan” in place, but nothing could stop me from taking this giant leap of faith. Having to work side jobs to fund my music ventures, and the combination of feeling homesick, as well as the “fun” adventures of traveling in a new country has been some of my biggest distractions & challenges, but I am still in a much better position now, then I was in South Africa (musically-speaking.)
In the last year I have performed at venues in all corners of NYC, released an album through digital platforms, and have received major support from South Africa in all my music ventures. My songs have enjoyed airplay on the radio back home and I am currently recording independently at Atlantic Recording studios in NYC. I have just released a new single “Baby is my Statue” and have an upcoming performance at New York Fashion Week in September.
Q&A with Lyla
Q: What has been the best lesson that you have learned along your journey so far?
A: I am the girl who has been turned away by Idols, The Voice and America’s Got Talent, but I am also the girl who has been trusted with the honor of performing the National Anthem of my country (South Africa) on international television in a 48000-seater stadium, in Washington, DC earlier this year. My biggest lesson I’ve learned is that, you can’t let other people’s opinions of you, limit your goals and the way you see yourself. If you believe that you are good enough, then you have to keep looking for your “in.” You can’t let 10 “no’s” get you down. If I stopped trying, just because all these talent shows turned me away, I would have been making a mistake.
Q: Why is this the best lesson that you have learned so far?
A: This has been the most valuable lesson to me, because I learned that sometimes you don’t get what you want initially (like failing at talent shows) but now I know that it all happens for a reason. It has taught me to trust the process. I mean, being given the opportunity to sing the National Anthem on TV, was a million times more fulfilling to me than a spot on any talent show would ever be. I think you have to ignore everybody. Want to change your name so it fits in with your “music image?” - do it. Want to move away from your friends and family so you can figure out who you are and what you want to “sound” like – do it. Be selfish, and ignore negativity. Trust your vision.
Q: What advice do you have for a fellow entrepreneur who is experiencing the same issue that you dealt with?
A: When it comes to achieving goals, take your time in the “long run” but work hard every day – don’t be hard on yourself if music is not working out for you in the first couple of months, even the first couple of years. Keep setting smaller daily goals, like emailing your music out to venues or labels & PR agencies. You have to commit to building your music career the same way an athlete would commit to training for a marathon. You have to keep on creating new music, building your online following, playing live shows, and searching and applying for interview/performance opportunities, on a daily-basis.
Even though I had music contacts in South Africa, deciding to move to America and starting from scratch again has been much more of a rewarding experience. In the last year I have managed my music career independently. I’ve booked all my own shows, secured interviews with big publications like People Magazine, and handled the process of the digital distribution of my music.
It takes a lot of discipline, and after a year of doing it myself, I am in the process of getting representation, because it does get a lot to handle. But getting your hands dirty and doing things yourself doesn’t only show that you are willing to put the work in, it also gives you the opportunity you figure out who you are, so by the time an agency or label comes around and wants to represent you, you know who you are and you won’t let anyone tell you what you’re supposed to look like and sound like.
Q: What drives you to continue along your journey?
A: Let me put it this way - When you write a song, you get to show someone what they look like through your eyes, what they feel like in your mind, what they sound like when your fingertips hits an instrument.
Recorded in 4 minutes and 13 seconds, you get to capture and tell the story that replayed in your head for hours on end night after night, to the point that it was unhealthy, and obsessive. And you finally get to show it out loud, the only way you know how to. You show them how you experienced them, and then in return, you get to experience the anxiety, of not knowing if they might turn on a different station or song and ignore your voice, your advances, ignore the way you told the story of them in your mind. You don’t know.
But at some point, maybe even a year later, you finally sleep a little better at night. At some point, you find an ounce of peace in the possibility, that just, maybe, without you ever knowing, they’ll play it out loud on repeat, long after you’re gone, and think about how you made them feel too, and smile or cry a tear for you.
And I think that’s why I do it. I think that’s why I write music.
My point is – if you are trying to build a career in the music industry, it has to come from the right place. If you are chasing fame, you will be left feeling empty after your one-hit wonder. But if you are making music because it’s in your D.N.A. then you will feel fulfilled during the ups and downs, and you are more likely to keep going even when things aren’t quite working out yet, because you have passion, and there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.
Q: What is your favorite motivational quote?
A: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." - Martin Luther King, Jr.