Platten has rolled with the twists and turns of fate, but with a consistent passion and goal in mind. An early interest in international relations and music brought her to Trinidad, where music has a heavy influence on daily life. Rachel followed her instinct and found herself on tour with a soca band, singing back-up in front of crowds of 100,000 people screaming and throwing confetti. "I was hooked," she proclaims.
Platten eventually returned to the states to get some formal training. She enrolled at Boston's famous Berklee School of Music and began formal piano, voice, guitar and songwriting classes. By the end of just one semester at the school, she had gathered several musicians, found an affordable recording studio in Boston, and recorded three or four songs she had written. Platten explains, "The demo wasn't great, but it served a purpose. I began sending it out to college radio stations, and basically giving it to everyone I could..."
In the chaos of touring and building a fanbase, Platten has recognized the importance of prioritizing and staying organized. Aside from her indispensable Blackberry, Platten has a few tricks to stay focused. "...In the beginning of every day, I do a mental run down of everything that I want to get done that day...I make a couple goals for each day, big and small, and then just chip away at them." Platten also uses her Blackberry to keep a calendar. "I have begun to set reminders for where I'm supposed to be, and it has helped tremendously."
It is hard getting anything new off the ground, especially in the world of entertainment. One of Platten's greatest frustrations was hearing the world "no." As she explains it, "Hearing that someone wasn't as psyched about my music as I was...was hard to come to terms with. Okay, so I guess it makes sense, there are six billion people in the world and not every one is going to dig what I'm doing, but on the flip side, with all those people...there are definitely going to be some that LOVE the music I make. The trick was to find them... I overcame that feeling of disappointment by staying focused on the music, on the reason I was writing songs, on that awesome feeling you get when you're on stage, and remembering that I was trying to reach people on a bigger level than me and my feelings. I started to realize that performing couldn't be about my own ego, or I wouldn't be able to reach anyone. So I've gradually been learning to let go of the need for approval and just give people what I can, and hope it reaches them in some way."
Keeping the dream is hard to do when the journey wears you down. You need to be a bit ruthless. As Platten explains it, "When I get determined about something, I am really stubborn. So I just didn't let it go. Through all the 'no's', 'you're not good enough's'...I just kept the visualization of my success in my head. ...I visualize myself achieving my goal. I make it so real that I can see every detail, the sounds, tastes, visuals, etc... and I literally just imagine it and meditate on it for about ten/twenty minutes whenever I can. I find that the process of believing in myself is the greatest possible engine..."
Platten pushes ideas forward with a healthy dose of impatience. "Instead of waiting for a big booking agent, I called up places myself, pretended to be my own booking agent, and just talked myself up. It was pretty ridiculous...but hey! It worked! After two months, I opened for Rusted Root, the Strokes, and got voted Best Vocalist in Hartford! And I was still my own booking agent. Shhh..."
The stories behind bands are particularly interesting. After graduating from college, Platten had become well-known in the Connecticut music scene. However, she had higher aspirations an realized the need to start fresh in New York City. As she recalls, "this was possibly the scariest thing I have ever done...starting from the ground up. I had absolutely NO contacts, connections, etc. I didn't even know where to meet other musicians."
Her searching brought her to many auditions, meetings, and random places with random people. Rachel goes on to share just one of the many stories that led to more stories, more gigs, a growing fanbase, and a promising career in music...
"Matt told me to meet him in the West Village on Bleeker Street that night and promised he would introduce me to 'who I needed to know.' ...He took me to a tiny place with candles and a big bar called the Village Lantern. It was there I met Papa Guyo and Jon Fritz and Tanya. I was blown away. There was this sweet old guy who looked like papa smurf mixed with the hulk, sitting down with a table full of crazy shakers, and weird percussion toys that I had never seen before. He had a suitcase in front of him and had a kick set up, the suitcase was the kick drum. But it made the most INCREDIBLE sound. And the guitarist....damn! He was making his guitar speak, it was crazy...and Tanya, I had NEVER heard such soul before.
I asked Matt if he would introduce me to them. Five minutes later I was on stage singing 'Give me one Reason,' and I guess I did well.
This is another thing that has helped me get where I am. Balls. Serious balls. I do not get embarrassed or nervous. I mean, so what's the worst thing that could happen? I make a fool of myself and never go there again. Who cares what the twenty or so people in that bar think of me?
After I sang, papa guyo asked me for my number, and before I knew it I was on tour with him and his crazy funk band in St. Barth's for two months.
After that, I continued singing with the funk band, then did a stint with an all girls rock band that was signed and pretty cool, but that fell through, and eventually I called up the boys from the funk band and told them I was starting my own thing and would they join me? So they did, and here I am, just writing, building the fan base and getting more and more excited about turning this crazy dream into a reality!"
With all the background, hard work, and multiple sources of inspiration, Rachel Platten has a pretty simple mission. As she describes it, her mission is "to access something higher than myself with my music, to create something that isn't forced, but natural, to move beyond the ego part of it, and purely write and perform from my heart. Essentially, I hope to be able to give something to people that's bigger than just a song. The collaboration between performer and audience, when pure, is the most real high I think we can access. ...I have traveled a lot and I've learned that you can communicate on such an intense, deep level, even if you don't understand each other's cultures, simply through playing music together."
It's this drive, this desire to more easily access and bring people to this high, that motivates Rachel Platten.
Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.