The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Singer-songwriter and Guitarist, Taylor Tote

Image: © Kostas Lymperopoulos
Image: © Kostas Lymperopoulos

By Leslie Buttonow

With a stage presence, songwriting talent and overall musical sensibility that belie her young years, Taylor Tote is quickly on the rise in the music scene. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter from New Jersey has already been nominated for a dozen local music awards; she’s won talent competitions; had her music featured in a film festival; and has performed in iconic venues such as The Bitter End in NYC, The George Jones Museum and restaurant in Nashville, and the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ (yep, the same place Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi got their start).

As the leader of the Taylor Tote Band, Tote is now poised to propel her career even further, with original songs that evoke a range of emotions, and exciting live shows—all of which bare her soul and showcase her strong vocal capabilities.

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WiMN: Tell us a little about your musical journey. When and how did you begin playing and writing music?

TT: I’ve been singing and performing before I can even remember. I was an only child for a while, so a lot of my time was spent alone trying to come up with skits and performances to put on for my parents. I always loved being in the spotlight, whether it was dance competitions, acting, cheering, gymnastics, and of course singing. But of all those things, singing stuck with me and I always knew it would.

When I as about 10 years old, I began writing music with my two best friends. We had a singing group together and we’d write songs about the boys in our class or my friend’s older brother. We’d perform during recess and almost everyone in our grade would attend. As years went on, I started taking it more and more seriously, signing up for vocal lessons and guitar lessons. I kept writing songs, but none really stuck with me. Looking back on them, they were definitely catchy and surprisingly good for a young girl! My songwriting really sprouted when I was about 16, and I still sing some of those songs to this day! Writing music is honestly still a challenge for me, but it’s something I love and learn about every day.

WiMN: Were there any women who encouraged or inspired you along the way?

TT: There wasn’t anyone who inspired me to become a musician; that just happened on its own. I came into this world doing this, knowing how to do it, and wanting to do it.  But there are definitely a ton of women who’ve inspired me to grow as a performer and as a writer. I really look up to Grace Potter for her stage presence, and Amy Winehouse and Adele for their technique and powerfully honest songs. I heard Stevie Nicks say in an interview one time that she chose not to get married and not to have kids because she loved music too much and wanted to dedicate herself fully to it. I definitely want to have a family one day, but Stevie’s dedication is extremely inspiring.

WiMN: Do you have a favorite place you like to perform?

TT: Hmmm…I absolutely LOVE the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. They’re extremely supportive of my band and I, and always welcome us with open arms. The crowd is always looking for a good time and the energy is electric. I have a lot of other favorite places too, but the Stone Pony is almost like a home to me, and I’m comfortable there. It’s also where I got my start, so it has a special place in my heart.

WiMN: This past July, you performed on stage at the Music Industry’s Summer NAMM convention, and last year, you performed at the WiMN Summer NAMM showcase. What was it like performing for industry folks and other musicians like you?

TT: It’s electrifying yet terrifying at the same time! I NEVER get nervous. I love to perform so much that I’m eager to get up on stage and show people what I’ve got. That’s totally how I felt—but times ten—when performing at both Summer NAMM and the WiMN NAMM Showcase. While it’s exciting and exhilarating, performing in front of people who deal with music, singers, and bands all the time is also scary. They’ve most likely seen people better or worse, and can probably always pick out the note that’s the slightest bit off. People back home or at the festivals where I perform always react well to what I’m doing, and I feed off that. When people don’t react to my music, I definitely get nervous. But when I got off stage at Summer NAMM and received a ton of compliments, it was really humbling coming from people who deal with musicians on such a higher scale than where I’m at.

WiMN: Let’s talk about your songwriting process. What do you find generally sparks a new idea for a song?

TT: It’s generally pretty easy for me to come up with a melody first. Sometimes I’ll have a melody floating around in my head for weeks before even putting lyrics to it, and sometimes the lyrics come to me immediately. When I first started writing, I thought I could only write songs about what was currently going on in my life and what I was currently feeling. I’ve gotten great songs out of doing that, but it really put a limit on my songwriting. I want my music to be honest and relatable, but I’ve recently learned that it’s okay to pull from my past and it’s okay to write about other people’s experiences, too. I’ve been in a happy relationship for almost two years, but my most recent songs are break-up songs. Even though it’s not currently happening, they’re still extremely honest. I’ve felt that way a few times in the past and I’ve talked with friends about how they’ve felt during a break up. It’s surprising how people cope with heartbreak in a lot of the same ways!

More recently when writing, I’ll hum out a melody I like first. I’ll hum the first verse and chorus, and once I like it that’s when the lyrics roll in. A lot of times I’ll just hear a specific line that sticks and I base the story of the song off that line. Sometimes when humming the melody, I find myself humming the syllables and pronunciation of words, so I try to come up with words that match that sound and then continue with the story. My writing process changes often, but this is one that’s been sticking for the last few months.

WiMN: Where do you see your musical career headed in the near future?

TT: Well, I guess you can say I have a “minimum” goal and a “maximum” goal. I at least want to get to a point in my life where I’m making and selling enough of my music that I don’t have to get a second job to support a family and I’m not struggling to find money. But I also definitely want to go as far as possible. I want to record and sell my music, I want to travel the world performing that music, and touch millions of people’s lives. I feel like I’m definitely taking all the right steps in the right direction and I’m growing each day, week, month, and year. I don’t see myself doing anything other than music; I know I’ll be in the industry somehow. I love performing and writing music for myself and other people, and I can’t wait to see what my future holds.

WiMN: Any advice for young women who aspire to be musicians?

TT: Just go for it and be yourself! It’s something people probably hear and say so often, but it’s extremely important. The audience can see when someone isn’t being their authentic self. A lot of people are so focused on being different that they lose who they really are. Everyone is different in their own way, and trying not so hard to be different will make you different in itself. You definitely want to stand out from the crowd, but I think people worry too much about things that are really not that important.

You also have to just keep pushing. I actively follow a bodybuilder named Torre Washington and he posted a quote on Instagram that said, “When a child is learning how to walk and falls down 50 times, they never think to themselves, ‘Maybe this isn’t for me.’” The most successful people have failed multiple times before and were constantly told, “No.” We were all meant to do something, but we’re all going to hit a few bumps in the road. We can’t appreciate anything good without hard times, so just push through them because there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. “Stars can’t shine without darkness.”