My Life – The Remix: Re-telling my Story One Lesson at a Time
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
On one Friday afternoon in September 2017, I was told--despite tirelessly working way above my paygrade--that I was to report into a position just one level above me. It left me no chance of a promotion or a decent raise. It was actually a demotion, a slap in the face after everything I poured into that job. What was I to do? “Like Groundhog Day”
I told my brother that I would go to HR to tell them off and he said “what’s that going to do? You’ve been complaining for almost 3 years now. It’s like Groundhog Day.”
After many tears and mental debates, I handed in my resignation that following Monday. October 6, 2017 marked the last day I would hold a full-time salaried position—a highly visible, high-pressure role at NBCUniversal that was financially fruitful, but made me hungrier for a different life.
I thought my career was the best compromise, a 9-to 5 job that was in entertainment. But deep down, I think I always knew it would come to a head. The real “compromise” came in the form of long hours and little sleep, high stress and low patience. With every day where I had to bite my tongue at work, my creative voice begged to get out…and it finally did.
How did it come to this?
“Music Can Always Be a Hobby”
Way before a life of presenting to network big wigs, agencies and advertisers, I was (and still am) a singer. My first memory singing was jamming along to the likes of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” I always liked songs with some sass, a huge reflection of 5-year old me. Unlike a lot of fellow artists I’ve come to know though, I wouldn’t say I came from a musical family. Don’t get me wrong, my family enjoyed music, but without me the Baldwin piano my father bought would’ve been expensive house décor. Over the course of my childhood, I played piano, recorder, clarinet, violin and guitar. Singing however, always felt the most natural. Still, I was too shy to sing in front of people outside of family.
In my sophomore year of high school, I finally decided to join the choir. Being around passionate people, absorbing their energy, and doing what I loved made me forget about the shy kid I once was. I grew up singing pop songs, but was rewarded solos I never thought I’d pull off (“Summertime” from Porgy & Bess, Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling” and “Sinner Man” to name a few). I came out of my shell big time, and I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Senior year hit, and I had to think about my “future.” I applied and got accepted to Queens College, fully intending to become a music major. However, at the strong urging of my family, including my parents, I was encouraged to go another route so that I could get a “real” job. “Music can always be a hobby,” they said.
I graduated with a B.A. in Sociology, and aside from a few electives, I abandoned music completely. It was all or nothing for me. I didn’t want to do it at all if I wasn’t going to make a career out of it. When you’re 18, the future is scary. My parents sacrificed a great deal to make it in America and this was my way of honoring that sacrifice. I didn’t want to struggle like they did. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to fail them.
Fast forward to the day I resigned--I texted my mom telling her what I’d done, and she simply said, “It’s ok. Your dad and I support you.” All those years of fear ended in a simple realization—they were always going to support me. I just needed to be brave enough to speak.
“A Little More Swag”
The year I quit my job I had already been fulfilling my “New Year’s Resolution” to get back into singing by signing up for vocal lessons at a well-known NYC vocal school. I found a mentor in a working session singer and vocal coach. She’d sung behind the likes of Mariah Carey, Madonna and Sara Bareilles. I thought she’d be everything I needed to launch the singing career I was hoping to secure. She really convinced me that I had what it took. Then as fate would have it, a few weeks after I left my position, she left hers, taking on new singing projects. She handed me to the owner of the school, which sounded great in theory but not so much in reality.
“I know you come from an introverted culture, but that is not going to work for a soul-singing crowd.”
“You have to sound like you grew up singing this way (re: R&B), even though you’re studying it. But you also don’t want to sound like you’re studying it either.”
“Nicki sung such high praise about you, but I always felt you needed to be more ‘beguiled’, you know, have a little more swag.”
Constructive criticism is one thing, but she threw a ton of shade for someone paid to help me. All the songs I presented to her were R&B songs from the late 80's into the 90's, and she never asked why I love those songs. She swiftly suggested other songs instead. We also never had an in-depth discussion about my culture. The only thing she knew was that I was Filipino. And if we're going to talk culture, it’s known that Filipinos LOVE to sing. We also never had a discussion about where I grew up (Jamaica Queens) and how pervasive R&B and hip hop/rap was and still is. I stuck around for months because she was well-connected, but it didn’t matter because she wasn’t well-intentioned. So I left.
Unfortunately this wouldn’t be the last time my identity and artistry would come to light in this way.
In April, I was one of fifteen singers selected for a weekend intensive with Natalie Weiss, a musical theater actress, and most famously known as the host of the web series "Breaking Down The Riffs." I was always a little curious about Broadway, so I decided to try it out and see where I could fit in. We were to provide a selection of both musical theater and radio songs. We ultimately went with a song I was comfortable with, "Until You Come Back To Me" (Aretha's version), to get feedback from Natalie and two well-known NYC agents. They loved how I sang, said I needed to take up acting (fair enough), and that I could be a "really cool, fun and quirky package." The feedback so far seemed positive, then one agent suggested I look into roles by Ann Harada. She is known for her comedic roles in "Avenue Q" and "Cinderella" to name a couple. She’s older, quirky and…Asian. Now, no offense to her, as she's great at what she does, but not sure how he could’ve made that connection from what I sang? Out of all the actresses he could think of, this was his only frame of reference for me?
Then the other agent asked me what musicals I liked ("Waitress", "Beautiful", "Jersey Boys"). I told them I could see myself more like Keala Settle (who originated Becky in "Waitress" and sang "This Is Me" from "The Greatest Showman"). Her characters have had a level of both sassiness and vulnerability that I resonate with. It was then Natalie nodded her head happily in agreement. The feedback overall wasn’t that bad, but what came through loud and clear was the continued under-representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in the music world, whether in pop music or theater. Since then I’ve gained more confidence to not let others dictate my narrative. I should tell my own story, and sing my own songs.
"This is The Remix"
Each of these moments played on my worst insecurities—the need to look successful, be accepted, and feel more desirable. While walking away from these experiences may have looked like “quitting,” truth is I never quit on myself.
Over a month after I left my full-time position, I landed my first contract assignment. I continue to thrive as a contractor two years later. I now have a supportive vocal team behind me. Best of all, I’ve met a ton of new people who’ve re-inspired me to unapologetically be myself.
I AM successful. I CAN sing R&B. I AM an artist. I’m a full-figured Filipino-American woman who will not be put into a box. If my life was a song, the core of it remains. With each new day, I’m refining the melody, adding harmony, mixing and mastering as necessary. Originals are fine, but often times, remixes are better.
Equal parts left and right-brained, Maribel Malit freelances as a media/market researcher by day, and by night she works on her musical craft. In any given night she’ll either be taking vocal lessons, be out in the NYC open mic scene, recording vocals or supporting other like-minded artists and creators. When she’s not on her grind, Maribel enjoys staying in with her dog Bullet or channeling her inner badass at the boxing gym.