Epic Ryan Middleton
Life Out Loud
In my day to day life, I’d have to say that I’m an introvert, but when I’m on stage, that changes. So that’s always something that I paid attention to and how I’ve known music is what I’m supposed to do with my life. When I was little, my dad put me and my sisters in a girl group. The reason he did that is because he said he saw something in us, he saw the passion, he saw us bouncing around the living room and learning choreography from music videos and me singing and he kind of tuned his ear to it and said, “Hm I see something there.”
As I continued to pursue music as I grew up, my dad would tell me, “You know what, you’re the exact same as an adult that you were as a kid. You would go do the little performances I would have for you guys. Then you’d come home, you’d go to your bedroom and you’d shut your door and play with your Barbie dolls all night. You wouldn’t want to see or talk to anybody.”
It’s kind of the same in my adult life because when I’m singing or performing, things of that nature, I leave it all on the stage. I put everything into it. So much so that I get home and I kind of get under a blanket and just zone out for a little bit. So that’s been a big sign to me too in regards to music is doing something for me. It’s another side for me where I’m able to really express myself.
I went full-time with music in 2008. That was the time I got in the girl group Sophia Fresh and signed with Atlantic under T-Pain’s Nappy Boy Entertainment umbrella. That was a really big change for me because I was pulled out of my home environment in Texas. What was supposed to be a three-month project turned into a three-year project – something I wasn’t expecting. We moved nine times in three years. And that had to do with sometimes being wherever T-Pain was so he could executively produce the project. Sometimes it had to do with just being closer to the label. That was a LOT. It was a lot.
I was freshly engaged to be married. So I was like ok, let me go knock these three months out and it’ll be fine. That was definitely a transition for me, but lots and lots of prayer and lots of just kind of being confident in the fact that this is what I was meant to do helped me put one foot in front of the other. That in addition to just learning the industry as I went along and what was expected of me was a lot of suffering.
I think the first lesson that I got had a lot to do with working with others. Everything happened so quickly. Literally, I got a phone call one day and I flew out two days later to move. Because that happened so quick, I went from a 9-5 world to the music industry in two days. I was kind of accustomed to the day to day routine of ok, you go to work and then you go home, you refresh, you get rested, and then you go back to work the next day. Well that doesn’t happen in the music industry. You go to work and then because I was in artist housing, the party’s still going when you get home at the end of the day. I was used to going in the room, refreshing, sleeping, just kind of getting my energy back. Sometimes that wouldn’t come across as genuine as I meant that. Sometimes it made a lot of my colleagues feel as if maybe I didn’t want to be there.
That was a really tough lesson for me because I love people. I really do love having fun. I was just kind of in self-preservation mode. Very early on, I learned that I need to give a little bit more of myself in order to make things work. Because truth be told, working with others is where a lot of that magic happens. Giving yourself even outside of recording, giving a little love, a little attention, a little conversation and investing in personal life and in others’ personal lives had a lot to do with the chemistry that’s created once you actually start working together.
My husband (because we got married) already knew firsthand what an introvert I was when it came to my personal life. I remember calling him after a meeting was held specifically to inquire whether my interest in being in the group was still there. I believe at that time, it was because I would spend a lot of time outside of studio or rehearsal time to myself. For me, it was recharging from all of the energy I had put out that day, but often times, it appeared as if I didn’t wanna be around everyone else. My husband gave me some tough love that day. He said, “Look, I hear you, but you gotta do more. You gotta dig a little deeper, go out there and give a little more. Yes, even after work hours.” I cried my eyes out because my motives were so pure and indeed I was still so interested in being right where I was with the group. I just had no idea of how to translate that, balancing it with my need for personal space. Dealing with your personal stuff, changes going on with my family back home, missing my husband and trying to rise to the challenge of filling in an old group member’s shoes is not something that I wanted to do during work hours. It stops the creative process, ya know? So I was trying to compartmentalize those issues, but I believe the expectation was to do work AND life together with my new colleagues and that was difficult to learn, but that was some of the best advice he had ever given me.
So that was a lesson I had pretty early on and just believing in yourself and staying extremely prayerful. I think my prayer life went to like a thousand in those days because if I wasn’t prayed up by the time I left home, I could feel it.
I can recall when I first became keenly aware that God was always watching after me. It was when I got my first lesson in the saying, “Everyone may not dig you and many that you admire may let you down.” I had a fellow vocalist, someone I admired so much, speak so horribly to me one evening in response to my giddy greeting. He/She said, “Oh, I don’t fool with you. I don’t even talk to you.” Humiliation was an understatement. The comment was so shocking and out of the blue that my manager at the time overheard it and attempted to offer her empathy without trying to make a scene while the person still sat next to me. After excruciatingly saving face all evening, I went back to where I was staying in Ontario that night, bawled my eyes out and prayed myself to sleep.
I was awoken by my phone ringing early that next morning. It was a mentor of mine calling in desperation because he said I was on the heart of both him and his wife in their prayer time that morning and God put it on their heart to call me right away. It was so prophetic that God had sought me out that way, that I documented his words to me immediately on my laptop:
Imagine that... God sought out lil ole ME? In hindsight, I couldn’t charge it to this unnamed celebrity’s character... He/She could have been having a bad day. Quite frankly, I do the same to God daily in how I respond to Him out of anger or frustration, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t smirk a little when the said celebrity sought me out five years later asking for a little favor. And I ask the same things of God even though I treat Him so poorly. I am grateful for His mercy and for those He sent to cover me that instance.
Now, it’s so liberating to be stepping into my solo career. It’s so liberating because being a part of a label and a bigger machine has its benefits, certainly. But now, not only having the creative freedom to say what I want content-wise, but literally making every single decision based on who I am authentically. For my first video, I had a chance to put my husband as the love interest in the video, which is just so not playing by the rules of the music industry. It just felt so good because it felt like I was telling a true story of who I am. The song was about him and I got to show that to fans. I’m like why not? Why not give them exactly who you are? What are we doing here? Do you really wanna have to continue a fake narrative on stage? Because once it starts, it just keeps going. So it’s been really liberating to just be Crystal and to be ok and to not be so afraid of what people are gonna think if they find out who I really am. It’s great. It’s wonderful.
I’m hoping to be able to carry out that sense of authenticity where everybody can see it in the full EP as well as performances and all the visuals that we’re looking forward to giving everyone. We’re trying to do it different. We’re trying to give real R&B, classic R&B again, but you’re gonna get some 808s and some beats and stuff behind it and things to ride to. I’m hoping that people can feel that authenticity that makes them want to be that much more authentically them. I’m just really grateful to be able to tell my story. I’m hoping that others can do the same and just feel ok about it and just say you know what, this is who I am. She did it.
I take my cue from others who’ve done it. I remember watching Tamar Braxton get up and accept an award and she had such a real moment because she was up there and she was like, “I’m 37 and I am not gonna quit.” She just had this out loud moment. I had that as a cue like yeah, I’m out here, I’m in my 30s and I’m not gonna quit. I am gonna do it my way. I’m gonna tell people who I am. I’m gonna tell them how old I am. I’m gonna tell them how long I’ve been doing this and what I’ve learned on the way and I hope it would make people want to do the same in wherever it is that they are. I’m doing it with God and I’m doing it unapologetically and I’d like to hope that this EP would give people permission to do the same.
Listen to my self-titled EP now on Spotify.