Person of the Week
Part of the purpose of humanity is to be creative and to create art. Real art is all about your inner truth. Beyond that I believe that art is incredibly valuable for connecting cultures, for promoting international dialogue and for helping social causes. It’s immeasurably valuable. Listen to your gut. Keep going.
1. What led you to the mission of being a singer, artist?
It took me a long time to figure out what path I was magnetized to as a person. I have always been singing since I was a young child. It was always something from which I got a lot of joy. I also took a lot of pride in singing.
When I first graduated from Yale in 2011, I decided to work in online advertising. This seemed at the time to make a lot of sense. It was something I was good at. It could be a source of good pay. It was a field where I would have a lot of opportunities. I thought, “Oh well. I’ll do that.” But I found I wasn’t satisfied with this at all.
I found I was spending a lot of time with an amateur acapella group that I was singing with at the time in New York City. I realized that I was much more passionate about the music I was doing with that group than the job I had. I ended up deciding to go to music school. I wanted to learn my craft and see if this was something that I would be able to do.
As I went to school, I found I only grew more and more passionate about music and more and more single minded about what I thought was important — to be a creative person, to create something that people will value forever, something that will survive past me. It was a passion I had always had. In my personal journey, it took me a while to realize that. Once I did, it was worth it.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
When I first decided to be a musician, I felt a lot of guilt about whether it was a selfish thing to do. I think a lot of artists feel this as well. But what I have come to realize and discover over time is that art is greater than all of us. Part of the purpose of humanity is to be creative and to create art. Art can change the physical reality in which we live.
Beyond that I believe that art is incredibly valuable for connecting cultures, for promoting international dialogue and for helping social causes. It’s immeasurably valuable. A lot of people like to put price tags on the value of art in our society. For instance, many people argue that the National Endowment for the Arts gets too much funding. I would respond by saying that you can’t measure the value of art. Art is the most important thing to the survival of our species. I really think that art is the purpose that we have as people. I mean that in the broadest sense of the term. Art includes any type of creation that a person creates in their day. Even having a child is art. Art is that big.
3. What was your best day being a singer, artist?
Throughout school I felt I was never as good as I wanted to be. I wasn’t as inspired or technically perfect as the standard I had set for myself. But right at the end of my last semester at Berklee, I was in this one class with this professor. His name is Larry Watson. I was in this class with Larry Watson and it was a performance class. There were a few singers and a full band. We spent the entire semester learning soul, Motown, and R&B songs. We had these two big final performances. One was on the main stage at Berklee in the performance center. We only did one song in that performance. The next day we had our class’s recital. This was full hour long set of music that we had spent all semester preparing. (Note: Ian just finished two years at Berklee College of Music.)
What was amazing was that throughout the class, the entire focus was on being natural and getting out of our heads and letting whatever happens happen on stage and being spontaneous. I had practiced a ton. I had learned a lot of things from this professor.
In the past when I got on stage, I was full of adrenaline and I was pretty nervous. But this time I found that when I got on stage I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew every note of every song. I knew the exact order of words for every song. I was completely prepared. It allowed me to play and be present. There was one moment when I remember where I was singing backup for someone else. We were all dancing and doing choreography. It seemed like time slowed down for a moment. I could look around at all the musicians and everybody was playing together. The drummer was keeping the beat. The guitarist and the pianist were comping over that. There were backup singers singing their parts. Everything seemed so slow and everything was just perfectly in synch with each other. I was perfectly in synch with that. I was totally present in that moment. I could tell that the audience was enjoying it. I was enjoying it.
I wasn’t self-consciousness. That reminded me of why I loved performing in the first place. If you are that connected to your art, then you bring the audience with you. That is what a good performance is. That was my most significant performance experience where I thought I was really professional. I felt like I was really ready.
4. What was your worst day being a singer, artist?
A little earlier, about a year and a half ago, I was auditioning for two different acapella groups on one weekend. It was callbacks. One of the groups was the best in the country. The other one was a local Boston group that is really fantastic.
I was horribly sick. I could barely make my voice come out properly without coughing. I had auditioned the year before for this first group. I didn’t get in the year before. This was my last chance to get in. I really wanted to sing with them.
I white-knuckled my way through the entire audition. I was so nervous. I was resigned because I knew there was no way I could do what I needed to do. I was sick. That is a lot of pressure to put upon yourself as an artist. The more you try to force something to happen as a performer, the farther you get from doing that.
I had my callback for the group I wanted to join. I was miserable. I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do. There was a little interview. I knew it had gone badly. I knew there was no way I could sell myself. I basically had to give up on that opportunity right then and there. That was really disappointing because being in that group was something I wanted to do very badly for artistic fulfillment. This group is amazing. After all that, I slept the rest of the day. Later I got my rejection email. It hurt but it wasn’t unexpected.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
As a performer I know by now that whenever I want something an audition is just an audition. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t. Fortunately it was really good for me that the next day, I had a callback from the other group. The other group was amazing as well. I wanted to be a part of this group.
What I did was sleep all day and take care of myself. The next day I did what I had to do to be prepared for this other callback. I spent hours warming my voice up. I slapped myself out of my bad mood. I prepared myself and took a saline solution and everything I could for my sinuses and cough. I was dead set on doing well on this callback.
I showed up and I was so miserable but I didn’t let anybody know and I didn’t say anything to them. I kept a brave face even though I was exhausted and wanted to pass out.
It was an hour and a half callback. They had us learn parts and compete against each other in different ways. Even right before I sang, I was doing nasal rinses in the back room and nobody knew what was going on. Then I sang my heart out and put my whole self into the audition. I wanted to make up for my performance the day before. I did not want to let my mind get in the way. This time I consciously said, “Screw it!” I threw myself into the callback. (To see Ian Janer’s YouTube channel videos, click here.)
I did amazingly. I ended up getting into that group. That was the group that I was able to stay in for a year until I left Boston. I have recorded an album with them. We gigged all over Boston together. So it was a huge success.
For anyone who is an artist or performer, the best thing anyone can do is get into another audition, keep your head up, keep your eye on the prize, and keep going for what you want. If you keep going, you’ll forget all of the failures. You just need to get one of those things to succeed.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to be a singer, artist?
Don’t judge your own work prematurely. Ira Glass from This American Life on NPR Radio is known for saying. He says the first thousand of things you make – if it is a thousand songs or a thousand stories or poems or paintings – you’re going to find a reason to hate them. They won’t be good enough. And then over time if you keep practicing and keep doing your art, you’ll learn to love what you are doing and you’ll find what it is that you love about your art – what you love about painting, writing, music. Plus you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process. (To listen to Soundcloud audio recordings of Ian Janer, click here.)
Keep going. No matter if it is good or bad, keep going. Listen to your gut. A lot of time artists will do things to try and impress other people or do things because they think it is what someone else thinks they should do. Real art is all about your inner truth. You need to listen to your gut. If you feel something in the pit of your stomach that is saying you shouldn’t do something – like being in a group that you just got accepted into or doing a gallery opening with someone you’re uncomfortable with or if you are not ready and you know you are not ready to do something – you should absolutely listen to your gut. You should follow those instincts. Your artist can speak through you in ways that your mind won’t necessarily understand.
On a more practical note, I’m into the twelve-week program on the book, The Artist’s Way. The book is great at unlocking creativity and helping people who are kind of blocked as artists. It can help people open up. The book is by Julia Cameron.