SPOTLIGHT: Raye Zaragoza on the Change of Heart That Funded ‘Hold That Spirit’
Raye Zaragoza (photo by Bolora Munkhbold)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Raye Zaragoza is No Depression’s Spotlight artist for August 2023. Learn more about her and her new album, Hold That Spirit, out Aug. 11, in our interview, and look for more all month long.
It was two weeks until Halloween, but my life was already feeling like a mixture of a horror film and a rom-com gone wrong. I was sitting on my friend Erica’s floor in her Long Beach studio in a staring competition with my phone. I looked at these beautiful photos of me one month earlier, getting engaged at Akaka Falls on the Big Island in Hawai’i. I read through all of the comments. Friends, fans, and family friends that I hadn’t heard from in years commenting their congratulations. The multiple thousands of likes (so many more than any of my music announcement posts would get … ). I read through all of my grateful responses that I commented on the flight home — “thank you!” “I’m over the moon!” “You’re so sweet!”. I stared and stared, until finally, *click*: archive post.
I took a deep breath, put my phone down, and cried. Something so seemingly insignificant as archiving a post felt so monumental. I knew this action symbolized that it was over and everything was about to change for me. And although the details of how and why this breakup went down the way it did are unimportant, I believe that sharing the story of what happened next for me is important — and empowering. Because, after canceling my wedding, I used my wedding fund to fund an album instead.
I have been an independent artist for over 10 years, since I played my first gig at the North Hollywood Farmers Market at the age of 19. I skipped college and a more “traditional” career path to bet on my music in my 20s. I self-funded two EPs and two albums with crowdfunding and waitressing tips. Over the past decade, I have played shows around the world, sung at the UN, played Red Rocks Amphitheatre, lived on a tour bus, and chased my dreams relentlessly. Advice such as “do it while you’re young” and “chase your dreams in your 20s” and “It’s so good you’re doing this now before you have kids” has always driven me. I used to think, “I have until I am 30 to establish my career, and then my priorities will need to change.”
My breakup challenged so many of these thoughts in my head. I started to really think about the expectations put on women, and specifically female artists. It is so common to hear that female artists have “expiration dates,” and that they have to chase their dreams as hard as possible while they are young. I decided to use this course change as an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, to throw away the notion that my career had to be over by 30, and invest my wedding fund into this creative endeavor instead.
So, the $15,000 that my parents and I had collectively saved for my wedding went into my third studio album, Hold That Spirit. At the time of the breakup, my album had already been created (with some badass female collaborators!). So this money specifically went toward album mastering, lawyer fees, promotion, artwork, and physical production. Although this fund did not cover the entirety of these costs, it put a huge dent in what would’ve been a lot to cover on my own as an indie artist. (If only there was more funding for indie artists! But that is a topic for another essay).
In hindsight, it is eerie to think that I was creating the female empowerment record that I needed to hear myself. This record is a collection of songs about reclaiming your autonomy as a woman, discovering unconditional joy, healing your relationship to your body, and holding onto the spirit within during difficult times. It was created as a collaboration between all female musicians, writers, producers, and engineers. And most of the wedding fund went toward hiring female artists and working with female-owned/run businesses. It has always felt funny to me that spending tens of thousands on a one-day event is so normalized in our society, but investing large sums into a business or creative venture is considered risky. Although I do hope to one day have a wedding, I am proud that this wedding fund went toward investing in myself and uplifting other women instead.
I recently saw the Barbie movie, and — spoiler alert — my favorite part of was at the end, when Barbie decides she wants to be a messy, flat-footed human instead of “stereotypical Barbie.” For me, funding this record with my wedding money was doing just that. It was an act of embracing and celebrating where I am now, flat feet at all. In the past, the traditional milestones have made me feel like something was wrong with me. I’ve used age markers, weight markers, and career markers to tell myself that I am failing, or I am not enough. But through this journey, I’ve discovered that we have the power to write our own stories, and to celebrate every milestone — wedding, album, or otherwise. Life can be messy, and weird, but every unique beautiful change and accomplishment is worth celebrating.