Betty Reed’s Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned EP Inspires Empowerment To Move On
“Even though the subject matter of most of my songs is serious, I mask it with an upbeat vibe — it’s this veneer of cheeriness that you feel you have to project in order to feel normal.” — Betty Reed
“In my song, HER is short for heroin and tells the story of breaking free from a toxic relationship. The story has a happy ending… the guy gets sober, and the girl has found the strength to move on with her life. But I think this song is relatable to anyone who has been in a relationship with someone who is not fully committed to them.” First single, first impression. What message do you hope fans take away from your debut release?
Although I wrote and released “HER” two years ago, I think it could have easily fit into my new debut EP, Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned, theme-wise (not musically). This reoccurring theme of learning from mistakes is a thread that runs through many of my songs — messing up and making stupid decisions, but then taking valuable lessons from the experience in the hopes of not repeating those mistakes. And even more importantly, the message of becoming a better version of yourself…stronger and wiser. In “HER,” the woman in this story is faced with the dilemma of staying in a relationship where her partner seeks solace somewhere else, in this case heroin. Should she stay or should she go? But the “her” in this song could have easily been another woman, or work, or some other distraction — so I think the message is universal.
The Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned EP, produced by Bill McDermott, includes six songs to inspire empowerment to move on from past missteps and take control of your life and your future. You have a wrist tattoo, a Sankofa, that “expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress.” What are some resources you’d suggest for someone struggling to regain control?
I try very hard to stay positive and make positive progress. It’s probably why the Sankofa symbol resonated with me when I first learned about it. As for advice on how those are struggling to regain control, I only know what has worked for me. First and foremost, a good therapist. I feel lucky that I have a phenomenal therapist who I meet with every other Wednesday. Whether I’m going through a rough patch or in a good place, it feels good to have a safe place in which to air your feelings and work through issues. Don’t be afraid to talk to your parents. When I was younger I was less likely to talk to them about my issues — I was afraid they would either dismiss me or try to fix me. But, if everyone agrees to be honest and non-judgmental (yeah, I know, harder said than done), then I would say lean on your parents for help. Family is important to me, so knowing that my parents have my back is very reassuring. I’m also lucky to have a few friends who get me and love me for me. And although they have busy lives, I think they would want to hear from me if I was ever in a very dark place and needed help. So, I would encourage people to reach out to friends. I know there is a stigma around taking antidepressants. But depression and anxiety are physiological, a chemical imbalance, and there are medications that can help. But it’s trial and error until you find what’s right for you. What’s working for me now might not work for me a year from now, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. And for people who don’t have a strong family/friend network or are nervous about seeing a therapist, there are many mental health organizations out there, like Mental Health America.
“Karma” is a song about good karma — getting the good life you deserve after breaking free from a cruel relationship. “The opening lines of the song reflect that sense of being stuck in a verbally abusive relationship, where you are made to believe that everything is your fault and you don’t deserve better, so you stay in the relationship.” How did writing this song help you move on?
Verbal abuse doesn’t necessarily have to come from a partner. It can be perpetrated by a family member, even a so-called friend (think “Mean Girls”). Sometimes I think abusers abuse to feel better about themselves, so it’s not always about control, but about their own sense of inferiority. When victims of verbal abuse are constantly being put down they begin to feel small and meaningless. Over time, you start to believe what that person says about you and then self-doubt creeps in. I’ve never been in a verbally abusive relationship with a partner, but I have been belittled by someone close to me and it definitely chipped away at my self-esteem. Writing this song validated my decision to keep that person out of my life until such time that we can resolve our differences.
Your performance name is a tribute to your late grandmother, Betty Jo Reed Dill. The song “Let It Out,” co-written with Evan Knutila, is very special to you because your grandmother would say ‘let it out’ if you were feeling sad. How else has her love of music, art, and nature influenced you as an artist?
My grandmother, Betty Reed, was what you would call a free spirit, and she found solace in simple things: art, music, nature. Her life wasn’t easy. She married young, raised five kids, got divorced later in life, and struggled with cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Either she was cheering me up or I was cheering her up, and that made me realize how important it is to rely on people to get you through rough times. I think that’s why many of my songs are about finding one’s way to a better situation when you feel stuck or in a dark place.
Overcoming social anxiety. “The chorus of my new song, “Happy,” is the affirmation to myself that even on dark days, I know that there will be happier days ahead… and I will find success in life. And if I can hang onto that thought, I can get past the feelings of anxiety about what the future brings.” Besides songwriting, what brings you happiness?
If no one is around to cheer me up, songwriting is a great outlet for thinking through the stuff that is bothering me. So I derive a great deal of happiness just sitting by myself with my journal and attempting to write a good song or two. Having a close-knit family definitely brings me happiness. I know I am lucky in that respect. My boyfriend brings me a ton of happiness. I recently wrote a song called “The Reasons Why” — it’s a quirky list of reasons why I love him. But I would have to say that the number one thing that brings me happiness is performing. So the past two years have been kind of tough when the venue is my living room and I’m trying to build a fan base through virtual performances. I’m finishing up a new project and after that I plan to spend time reaching out to bookers because I need to get back in front of live audiences again.
How would you describe your writing and recording process?
My writing process is different every time I sit down to compose something new. Sometimes I start messing around with the guitar and hit upon a melody, sometimes I start writing lyrics about something I feel strongly about, and sometimes a tune pops into my head and I think of lines that would match that melody. If I begin the process by writing lyrics, the rhythm — upbeat pop, bluesy, moody, ballad-like — comes to me rather quickly. Then I’ll pick up the guitar and start thinking about the chord progressions and melody. When I feel I’ve got something special, I start to refine it. Does the song need a bridge? Is the hook strong enough? Is the chorus memorable? I’ll get advice from friends and family. I’ll even test it out on social media. When I feel I have a body of material that is ready for recording, I seek out producers who share my vision of the song. I had a fair amount of material prepared for Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned, but sought advice from my producer, Bill McDermott, as to which ones felt right for this project. Together, we whittled down the choices to the six tracks you hear on the EP.
Can you tell me a little about this Billboard NXT Competition, sponsored by Samsung Galaxy?
I entered the competition this past fall by singing a cover of “Out Out” on TikTok. The contest was billed as a singing/songwriting competition designed to discover the next great unsigned artist. Out of thousands of entries, they chose 12 contestants to compete in weekly singing challenges which culminated in choosing 3 finalists and eventually a grand winner, which will happen in December. I didn’t make it to the finals, but it was a lot of fun to participate. I think it was a very innovative concept, especially as brands try to find compelling and authentic ways to use TikTok.
Challenge 1: Original song, “Without You,” an uplifting track about going for what you want: “When somebody tells you you can’t, you tell them, ‘I absolutely can.’”
What’s ahead in 2022?
In late January (or early February) 2022, I will be releasing an acoustic “reimagined” version of Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned (with one bonus track). I loved the production and instrumentation on the album, but wondered how it would sound with just an acoustic guitar and a percussionist. I also wanted to see if I could push the songs in a different direction and re-introduce them with more of an indie singer/songwriter vibe because this is the direction I want to take my music going forward. I worked with producer Evan Redwine on this project, along with guitarist Nate Dugger and percussionist Josh Hunt. Since I got down to Nashville, I’ve dabbled in pop-country, electro-pop, EDM, indie-folk, and pop-rock, but I think it’s time to pick a lane! So I’m working on new songs now — in the indie singer/songwriter space — and my goal is to produce three demos in the spring of 2022 and shop them around to record labels in hopes of landing a deal and getting another EP or album out by the end of 2022. In the meantime, I plan to reach out to venues and bookers and try to drum up some local live performances.
Betty Reed is a graduate of Berklee College of Music with a BA in vocal performance. Her expressive vocals and clever…