In order to live your life to the fullest, you have to follow your dreams and your heart. Growing up, I was taught how important it is to have faith and not let obstacles keep me from achieving my goals, no matter how big they may seem. My parents always told my sister and me that we could be anything we wanted. Looking back, I see why they were so adamant on us pursuing our dreams. They missed opportunities in their own lives because they didn’t have faith. Now they both work jobs they don’t enjoy, but they have always been confident that my sister and I will accomplish great things in life and most importantly to enjoy every minute of it. As a senior majoring in Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I’m balancing the practical life of school with my dream of being a musician, and my parents couldn’t be prouder.
I sing in a group called Lily Monroe with my older sister Christien Cain, who is a UIC graduate with a B.A. in Criminal Justice. The group was officially formed in 2008; however, we’ve sung together our whole lives. It is hard to classify what genre we fit into, but R&B would be the easiest way to put it. Some of the influences for our sound are Michael Jackson, Janelle Monaé, Led Zeppelin, Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, St. Lunatics, Trey Songz, Drake, and Kanye West, just to name a few. Christien and I are both classically trained violinists, so the ways in which we structure our vocals are similar to the various parts in a traditional orchestral arrangement. Each song is performed with intricate vocal arrangements that often lead listeners to believe that Lily Monroe is only one voice instead of two. We pride ourselves in having such a tight harmony.
We’ve performed at various open mics throughout Chicago, but we didn’t start recording until recently. It started with us doing a few hooks (choruses) here and there and eventually we started working with another aspiring Chicago musician, Boogy. After doing two hooks on songs for one of his mix tapes, he agreed to help us start putting together a professional demo. Up until that point, the only recordings of us singing were videos on YouTube.
The process of recording is still a small issue. Boogy and I are both full-time students, while my sister works full-time in the corporate world. Our schedules are hectic, so trying to find time to record, perform, study, write papers, and remembering to sleep gets hard. Finding the balance between passion and priorities takes practice. For us, it is not rare to be leaving the studio at 2 a.m., just in time to get a moment’s rest for an 8 a.m. class the following morning, or having ideas for a new song running through your mind, while trying to focus on a 12 page paper that’s due by midnight.
My tuition costs almost $5,000 a semester, but it costs me nothing to record. Because of this, school has been my number one priority. It gets tough when there is movement with my music career because I am tempted to put school on hold to see where music will take me. At the same time, there’s a fear of never coming back to school, and I’ve come too far in my college career to quit and let all the stress, headaches, and papers be for nothing. Given the economy today and the hard work it takes to become famous as a musician, I know there is going to be a lot of hard work in my near future, but I am putting my best foot forward for both, regardless.
Fall 2010 is slated to be my last semester at UIC. I have been working through this spring semester with the comforting thought that I am almost done with my degree. About a month ago, we received word that Umbrella Music Association is interested in signing my sister and me as artists, as well as songwriters. While this is an independent label, it still is a big step into Lily Monroe’s future. It shows that other people are willing to take a gamble on us and that other people have faith in what we’re trying to do. We are also about to shoot a video for our leading single, “Nerdy Boy,” and start performing again at larger venues throughout Chicago with our U.M.A. family. U.M.A. also has a radio show on 88.9 every Saturday from 8pm-10pm, showcasing all of the talent on the label. With all of this happening towards the end of my semester, it’s hard to focus on schoolwork.
My plan has always been to work on my degree until something happens with music. With summer quickly approaching and plans being made for how to market Lily Monroe, I’m watching my dream unfold before my eyes. The closer I get to graduation, the more unsure I am about what types of careers I will pursue to bring me happiness. The safe bet is starting to seem risky and my outlandish dream is becoming more of a practical reality. Either way, I will get my degree next fall and continue on towards reaching my dream.
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Also, visit Lily Monroe on MySpace!