LA GRANDE — Nicole Lewis went from the stages of La Grande to the stages of Nashville, Tennessee. She returned to her hometown for a pub talk Thursday night at Side A Brewing to share her experiences and advice about the music industry.
Lewis was born and raised in La Grande, attended La Grande High School and took music lessons with local instructors, including Peter Wordelman and Lanetta Paul. Lewis was part of local choirs through school and church. When she was 3, Lewis said, her babysitter told her mother she was constantly singing. From that point there was no turning back.
"I've always just loved it so much," Lewis said of singing. "I love melodies and I just love how music sounds. I hear music all the time, even when it is just playing in the background."
As a shy, only child, Lewis said she would go home and sing to herself for hours, putting in hours of practice, although she had so much fun, she said she often didn't mind practicing.
Lewis graduated from high school in 2004 and went off to Gonzaga University, Spokane, to study pre-medicine and minor in music. She used the music as an escape from her studies. She was the first student to receive a jazz vocal minor from the school.
During her junior year of college in 2007, Lewis won a talent competition in Spokane and her music career took off. Lewis said the achievement provided her more opportunities and began opening doors that led her to Nashville and the start of her career as a singer and songwriter.
"I decided to say yes to anything that came my way," she said.
After graduating from college and at the start of her career, Lewis experimented with different styles and genres of music. She played around with show tunes, classical music and singing backup before deciding what she liked best was singing adult contemporary, or Americana, style songs she wrote herself.
"I try to be positive, especially in recent years," Lewis said about her inspiration for songs. "I write about meaningful things to me, relationships beyond romance, obstacles and triumphs."
Her song "You were loved" is about a friend who passed away, and "Smoke" is about relationships and forgiveness.
The connection she makes with people is Lewis' favorite part of her career.
"I think I was born to connect with people," Lewis said. "Doing it with music is powerful and magical. I love connecting with people through songs, and I love the friends I've made and conversations I get to have. I think music can be healing, and when I hear that I've done that for someone with my music, it is so wonderful."
While meeting new people has been a highlight for Lewis, it was the connections and support from the local community she credits for her burgeoning music career. She said while audiences in Nashville and Spokane may be bigger, they are not nearly as supportive and personal as the people she performed in front of in La Grande.
"I am beyond grateful for the support of this town," Lewis said. "Going to Nashville, I had the support of my family and friends, and it just made me feel like I wasn't moving to Nashville alone."
While in Nashville, Lewis has created her brand and marketed herself as a singer and songwriter. Besides producing her own music, she has worked with other companies, including Inspire Kindness and Keep it Kind, and is developing a music sharing app called Crowd.
Lewis said she knew breaking into the industry would be extremely difficult, with streaming services and pirating giving away artists' products for free. With the Crowd app, Lewis said she hopes to combat that issue. Crowd is like a movie theater for music, where songs are released for a limited time and fans can be paid for helping promote their favorite artists. It is still in development, but Lewis said she hopes the app will launch this year.
"We are working to bring the value back into music," Lewis said about Crowd.
During her pub talk, which was part of a series organized by the Eastern Oregon University Entrepreneurship Club, Lewis gave 10 pieces of advice to those who are working on breaking into the music industry, including "show up" and "embrace discomfort." She said there are benefits to trying to solve problems on your own before asking to get something, as it makes you learn to be resilient.
"And celebrate the little victories," Lewis said, "because they are pieces of the entire puzzle."
Lewis said she wants to encourage people to do what they are passionate about and know there is a place in the music industry as long as they are persistent, strategic and work hard.