If you've ever lived in Los Angeles or watched an episode of either The Voice or Entourage, then you can tell the entertainment industry is pretty cutthroat. And beyond the highly competitive nature of the business, it's also dominated by men, presenting even more obstacles to women. As Digital Music News reports, music streaming companies "have been routinely accused of treating artists poorly through duplicitous contract structures and low payments," which has resulted in a "low-trust environment" with "very little reliable guidance," and not to mention, the rampant displays of sexual harassment and assault against women.
But at the heart of the music business, is, well, music, something that brings people together, moving us to the point of goose bumps. So how do we create an environment where young, vulnerable artists can grow and flourish? Well, one talented musician is paving the way. We sat down with Tamar Kaprelian, singer, songwriter, and founder of Nvak, a nonprofit organization that supports, finds, and develops young musicians, to hear what it takes to make it in the industry, how she persevered despite major setbacks to redefine success, and the importance of female mentorship in her industry and beyond. Get to know her for some serious career inspiration and motivation below.
How to Turn Setbacks Into Opportunities
"I'd always been interested in music. When we moved to L.A., I realized it was the perfect opportunity to get in the music business since that's where the entertainment industry was based," she tells MyDomaine. And it didn't take long for others to notice her potential, as she was discovered at a high school fundraiser. Her career developed quickly, and while she was going to class and maintaining her routine as a student, she was also going to the studio every day.
Aside from the excitement embarking her career as a musician, she also realized how important art education is and that she didn't really have any good mentors in the industry. Both of these realizations not only made her who she is today, but they heavily influenced her professional endeavors.
My whole career has basically been a constant rediscovery.
When she won an award for her cover of a song by One Republic, she got signed to Interscope, but the man who represented her left the company, which meant that everything she had been working on came to a halt, which while disheartening, also inspired her to switch gears and rethink her role in this industry. After a setback like that, it's hard to imagine how you'd start all over instead of feeling defeated. But leave it up to Kaprelian to see this roadblock as an opportunity. "I never went to college, and that's always haunted me in the back of my mind. So I decided to apply to Columbia and moved to New York," she tells us. It also opened her up to a new perspective: "Education is important because it eliminates desperation as an artist. It gives you a sense of self."
After studying English and comparative literature, she decided to compete in Eurovision 2015, a major international songwriting competition, and she won. The experience allowed her to spend more time in Armenia, where her family is from.
Getting a Second Wind for Her Career
Being in Armenia inspired Kaprelian to get to know the culture through interacting with youth. She explains that the base level of talent in the country is extremely high because most kids, even 3-year-olds, learn how to play instruments. "There's a lot of talent," she says, "but not as much of a way to find and nurture the talent. And the youth there doesn't think that a career in arts is something they can do. They've been told they need to get into science or tech to actually make money." And that's when she discovered her passion for using her talent as an organizer and as a musician to mentor youth and build communities, and that's how she decided to start Nvak, an organization that "goes to developing and politically unstable countries to teach, nurture, and discover" talented children, especially young women and girls.
Though she launched the program two years ago in Armenia, she's now dedicated her efforts to making it a full-time program on a global scale.
Her goal? To create the same organic DIY music scenes, open mic nights, collaborative songwriting circles, and rehearsal rooms that she had access to as a budding artist. But it goes beyond music too. Kids go to the physical building, Tumo, "to learn about robotics, coding, clothing making, and filmmaking," and it's growing more and more by the day.
Kaprelian goes on to explain that arts education is underfunded everywhere you go, which is why the organization is going to introduce a pop-up in Jerusalem. It's in a region "where you have three different religions interacting with each other through music" and as she's been preparing for this new installment, she's been able to witness the connecting and healing powers of music, which is just another reason mentoring has been so rewarding.
The kids get just as much out of this as the educators, if not more.
And when we usually think about the Israeli-Palestine conflict, we know the stakes are high, and things get complicated quickly. And while "all of this is so heavy," Nvak provides an opportunity to "alleviate, even if it's temporary, this constant stress and anxiety, through art and creating together." Plus, "the kids get just as much out of this as the educators, if not more. It's really gratifying."
How to Stay Motivated and Perservere
It's easy to see how a setback can result in a groundbreaking realization or look like a means to an end in retrospect, but we were curious as to what she would tell aspiring artists and young female musicians who are experiencing something like she did as a young woman at the dawn of her career.
"To persevere regardless of the shit that tries to get in the way of where you want to and need to be," she asserts. She goes on to say that, "unfortunately, a lot of the things that happened to me earlier in my career were out of my control and they were under the control of males. So regardless of how much work and time I put into that, my future was still in the power of men." But to combat that reality, she's focused her efforts on empowering young females and giving them the tools to organize, learn, grow, create by mentoring them so that they "won't be afraid to speak up."
Next up, she's applied for a TV competition in Armenia and she's submitting songs that some of her students at Nvak helped her write, which will hopefully be able to launch their songwriting careers.