It’s a 24/7 job. There are so many facets to this job. Of course, there’s songwriting and recording music and music videos, but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes. As an artist, I’m constantly working to promote my songs on social media, emailing them out to radio stations in hopes they’ll play them, trying to come up with ideas for merchandise, and book gigs. Even when I go to bed at night my mind is still swirling with ideas for songs and how to make the next song or video better than the last.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brenda Cay.
Brenda’s passion for music has caused her to push the envelope more than once. Whether it was sneaking a listen to her big brother’s records when he wasn’t around or getting pulled over by the police for wearing her sunglasses at night with the windows down and the tunes cranked, music has always been a way that Brenda discovers new ideas and connects to her feelings. To her own enjoyment (and the dismay of others around her), she’ll practice the same line to a song over and over or have one song streaming while singing another. While this might seem weird to a normal person, this plays perfectly into her everyday life as a singer/songwriter.
Brenda focuses on Country music and her songs are crafted with subtle hints of pop, rock, and R&B which reflect influences from artists Kenny Chesney, Terri Clark and Sara Evans. She states, “Sometimes there’s something deep in my heart that I need to share and other times there’s a shot of whiskey begging me to tell it’s story with a fun melody.” Escaping the stresses of daily life and having fun are common themes, but she is unafraid to tackle more serious topics. Her songs are relatable, diverse and she weaves them like a true country music storyteller.
Brenda had no idea that it would be her songwriting that would forge the path for her to sign with Heart Songs Records in 2020. After signing, she released her “Fragile Like a Bomb” EP which exclusively premiered on Pro Country. It garnered 12 licensing deals and had two tracks featured on Apple Music Hot Tracks (Country). The EP currently has over 1.9 million Spotify streams. She kicked 2021 off strong with two follow-up singles, “Alone With You,” and “Wherever You Are,” which have over 650K streams and the corresponding videos have 100K views.
Brenda was nominated for Song of the Year in 2019 at the Josie Awards for her single, “Joe,” in the Americana/Bluegrass category. She is a member of ASCAP, AMA & The Trop Rock Music Association.
Brenda says, “I’m ready to serve up my songs to the world and will continue working with other artists and bands on their song material. I love to engage with my fans and hope that my listeners will get to know me through my songs and enjoy the ride with me as a writer and artist. Just remember not to wear your sunglasses at night.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for inviting me. Growing up, I was definitely not a girly girl. I was stuck in the middle of three brothers — one older and twin younger brothers. We spent a lot of time fishing and swimming and even did a little hunting. I had to be tough because being the only girl, I got picked on especially by my older brother. Of course, I dished that all out to my younger brothers! Like they say, stuff rolls downhill. Learning to fight for everything has helped me though, especially in this business where having a thick skin is important.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was going through some really tough times and listening to music helped me work through my feelings. I felt like I connected to music in ways I never had before. It was at that point that I sat down and tried to write my first song. It wasn’t very good and I kind of laughed at myself and dismissed it, but over the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’m sure everyone thought I was crazy (actually they probably already knew it), but I went and bought a guitar and started learning everything I could. I love it and I’ve never looked back.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Not long after I recorded my first EP, I was manning a booth at a local wrestling event. Nobody really knew who I was, but I thought I could sell some merch and just meet people because every little bit helps. During the intermission, they came over the loudspeaker and said, “Recording artist Brenda Cay is in the house!” Then they played one of the songs from my EP. I felt like a rock star even though I think I only sold one mug and two EPs. I’m not sure anyone from that night knows who I am even now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was in the recording studio and I got thirsty from singing through my songs a few times, so I downed a lot of soda really fast. As it turns out, drinking a carbonated drink when you’re singing is not a good idea. I was in the middle of singing the next song and burped really loud and totally unexpectedly. The guys in the studio all cracked up! I will probably never live that down, but I’m thankful that I learned that in the studio and not while I was singing at a live show!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the most interesting projects I’m working on right now is the video for my latest single, “Drunk on Country Songs.” I had so much fun shooting this. We spent the entire afternoon on Broadway in Nashville going from bar to bar and into some of the shops as well. I had a few drinks (just to get into character lol). I like seeing people smile and I think they’ll be doing a lot of that as they watch this video and, don’t worry, no shot glasses were harmed in the making of the video!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is important and social media has made our world very small. We have the ability to connect on a much larger scale, so it’s important to know and understand other people and cultures. We are afraid of what we don’t know because it makes us uncomfortable. The more exposure we have to others, the more comfortable we will become. I think it’s especially important in the entertainment industry because we tend to believe the world is what we see on film and TV so that representation needs to be accurate. As a society, I think we tend to look up to and idolize the people we see in film and TV. We look to them to see how to treat other people so if they are inclusive of others, the rest of society sees that as okay and they’re hopefully more willing to follow. Finally, we need more diverse role models. As humans, we are multi-faceted and may identify with someone for a number of different reasons. Having more diverse role models helps us become stronger.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Practice doesn’t make perfect. Don’t get me wrong — practice is important, but I used to beat myself up because I couldn’t play the guitar as well as I wanted. I still spend a lot of time working at it and I try to celebrate every little victory. I have found that if I put a song down and come back to it after I’ve learned other new stuff, I play the old stuff better even though I haven’t practiced it recently. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does give you confidence.
- Because music is art, there is no right or wrong and everyone has an opinion. This still challenges me because I like to make everyone happy. The best example I can think of is having a song critiqued and someone would quote Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank and say, “It would be a crime to waste any more money on it. Take it out behind the shed and shoot it!” Another person would say it’s going to be a hit and that I should focus my energies on it.
- It’s an expensive business to get started in. Someone once joked that it’s easy to be a musician and be a millionaire — you just have to start with a billion dollars. I’m sure many business owners would totally get that because most of the time there is an up-front investment required. I love what I do and I’m happy that my experience in business and accounting helps me with the business aspects of the music industry.
- It’s a 24/7 job. There are so many facets to this job. Of course, there’s songwriting and recording music and music videos, but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes. As an artist, I’m constantly working to promote my songs on social media, emailing them out to radio stations in hopes they’ll play them, trying to come up with ideas for merchandise, and book gigs. Even when I go to bed at night my mind is still swirling with ideas for songs and how to make the next song or video better than the last.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s easy to get caught up with trying to get everything done, but it’s better to lean on the people who are there to help you. A co-writer might help make a song better, or a vocal coach might suggest something vocally that just makes a melody pop.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would say be kind to yourself. It’s great to work on improving but be careful not to compare yourself to others around you. The only person you need to be better than is who you are today. You will get knocked down a lot in this industry and as one of my favorite strong women, Barbara Corcoran, likes to say, “The only difference between the winners and losers is how long you stay down. Stay down as long as you need, but not a moment longer.” Surround yourself with positivity and people that genuinely want to help you succeed. Most importantly, take breaks! Even though I love what I do, I need a break from time to time so I can come back fresh with new ideas for songs and music.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We’ve all been judged or been on the receiving end of hurtful comments and have even lost friendships with those we were close to because the world is so polarized. It seems like a simple thing, but I think about the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Mother Teresa perhaps said it better when she said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We all want kindness and respect, and no one likes being judged. Let’s all focus on that! Do something kind each day. Smile at someone and take time to understand what they are going through. It doesn’t cost anything. It only takes self-discipline to not rip someone apart because you disagree with them. See value in everyone! We can ignite a revolution if we all take this to heart.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that have helped me along the way, but if I have to pick one, it’s the person I’ve been working with the longest. I started working with Brian Brewer about nine years ago. He originally began helping me learn to arrange music for my songs and then I began taking guitar lessons from him. I work with him on a weekly basis and so over the years, we have become good friends. He’s been a co-producer and played multiple instruments on nearly every song I’ve written, and he’s co-written some as well. We share music and laugh a lot, but he’s seen me cry and when I felt like giving up, he’s been there to encourage me. He’s gone above and beyond to help me. He’s also a personal trainer and last fall, he even co-starred in my “Fragile Like a Bomb” video in which he trained me on boxing techniques.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from the movie, “Soul Surfer,” in which Bethany Hamilton said, “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” She said that after losing an arm in a shark attack and while learning to surf all over again using one arm. I believe there are many more talented musicians, vocalists, and songwriters out there than I am, but I will work hard to keep improving every day. Nothing about this business, or life for that matter, is easy, but hard work opens up so many possibilities!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Garth Brooks! I mean who wouldn’t? He’s such an amazing storyteller and entertainer. He has this way of singing a song or talking to a crowd of 50,000 people, but you feel like he’s having a one-on-one conversation with you. He also has a great sense of humor and seems to be a very kind and positive person. I want to be like him when I grow up lol!
How can our readers follow you online?
My website: https://www.brendacay.com/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!