A Career in the Tune of Life

August 2015

By Nick Macksood


On stage Dana Williams’ long, wavy hair and her tall, thin frame give her the appearance of a weeping willow. Somehow her gentle swaying posture and her soothing voice produce a rather commanding stage presence, arresting your attention for the full length of her sets. Yet off stage Williams has a much easier time blending in. Admittedly shy, Williams does not attract attention with her clothes or her appearance. It wasn’t until she had graduated from college two years ago that she became truly comfortable performing her own music. Even still, fans and musicians alike constantly tell her that she will be the next big thing. As for Williams, she’d just like to release her next album in September.

Fame in the music industry is a fickle thing. Call it circumstance, destiny, chance, whatever you’d like, but the fact is that a successful solo career–as the industry defines it–is an ephemeral journey. There is a long road of the most talented musicians who never make it to the front of a major stage. Star power exists. It is an ego–a SUPER ego–one that is ambitious to the point of solipsism. It’s also a certain look, style, and an overflowing sense of self that translates into a marketable image. Williams does not have that ego. She absolutely has the drive to succeed– indeed, thus far she has–and more than most her age, she understands the amount of work that being a full-time artist entails. But most importantly, she is smart enough to know that the industry’s model for success is often an empty one. When asked what a meaningful career would be, Williams told me, “Success to me is being able to support myself with music and continue to do what I love.” A successful career, whatever that might be, will be on Williams’ terms.


Which is to say nothing about her deserving merit. A voice is the most angelic of instruments and Williams’ voice is hauntingly pure. Catch her at the right venue and her voice hangs in the air, filling every crevice of the room. Many of her songs center on love: lost, found, breaking hearts, and a broken heart. For all that redolence, Williams’ music evokes a dreamlike sensation. It’s easy for Williams’ music to bring you down. In fact it happens a lot. A recent show at Alex’s Place, Williams shared with the crowd that she gets a lot of messages from fans saying, “I loved your album! But it made me really sad.” She admits that’s not her intent. If you listen closely, Williams’ voice on those tracks is uplifting. It’s comforting, the way a mother croons to her child.

 In that sense, her work is somewhat of an extension of her own musical upbringing. Williams’ father was a musician himself, doing some solo work but mostly making his living as a guitarist for acts such as Michael Jackson and Madonna. Williams told me that early on, “I saw the way that people were moved” by music, that there was never a time when she hadn’t thought of being a musician one day and reaching her own audience. True to her style, Williams eschewed her father’s pop roots and took to the likes of Billie Holiday and Carol King as she began to write her own songs at 13 years old.the lonely one album

Williams is a native of Los Angeles but has lived around the country from places like New York to Martha’s Vineyard where she attended the Tisbury School and continues to maintain her island connections. Once a young performer at Alex’s Place, a teen center at the YMCA, she now mentors young musicians who have the very same ambitions that Williams had when she was their age

She’s come a long way since then. Williams has climbed her way high enough up the indie music ladder that she can now focus on her solo career full-time. Her debut EP, “The Lonely One” came out March 2014 and only months later Williams was a contestant on ABC’s Rising Star, eventually reaching the final four. By the end of the year, Williams was featured in one of Apple’s Christmas commercials entitled “The Song”. Now, after a year of shows, the writing process and life, Williams is preparing to release her second EP due in September.
In that regard, one would think that Williams has already led a fulfilling career. And at only 25, how exciting it must feel to have a lifetime to ebb and flow with your music, your audience, to shape it and to be shaped by it. But as gratifying as Williams’ career is currently, it would still be nice to see a personality and a voice as charming as Dana Williams’ to pull it all off and strike the golden ratio between success and autonomy. For that, we’ll keep waiting.