Just because it's been awhile since our last installment of the Richmond is Pretty Cool series doesn't mean our city is any less so! Here to prove that is volunteer blogger Lillian Liao with a feature on local talent Anna Toth.
“Why I write, why I sing, and why I perform” are the three questions that always linger on local musician Anna Toth’s mind as she navigates her way through maintaining a YouTube channel, performing at local shows, and establishing her position as an original, expressive and honest artist.
Anna Toth’s professional music journey began on December 25, 2010 when she created her YouTube channel. The original goal was to use YouTube as a performance outlet for her already developed talent in songwriting and performance. Making use of an old video camera and a younger brother who could act as a cameraman, Anna filmed her first video and uploaded it onto her channel. This humble background was the beginning of what would become a solid platform for Anna to grow her audience.
“I didn’t know how to act, where to look, or if I should say ‘hi’ to the strangers that would possibly stumble across my video,” Anna recalls of filming her first video. “I was pretty much the epitome of awkwardness.”
Regardless of the nerves Anna felt when filming her first video, the habit of uploading performances is something Anna now humorously refers to as an ‘addiction’. At the end of that Christmas holiday, Anna managed to record three more videos. Just like any other budding musician, one of Anna’s motivating factors is the support she receives from her fans.
“I hate to say it, but a huge motivating factor is the response videos get,” Anna explains.“When you see a video do well, it makes you want to upload another. It makes you want to reach out to more people and see where things can go.”
For four years now, Anna’s YouTube channel has been constantly attracting more and more listeners from all across the world. Her growing fan base has led to the establishment of other social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Social media has allowed Anna to shorten the distance between artist and audience.
“Social media has been a great tool to grow an audience. People feel more connected to you when they see inside glimpses of the songwriting process or of the planning behind a music video,” Anna explains. “When you can share thoughts and updates, it helps keep the idea of your work relevant to people even if you don’t have new musical content 24/7.”
Even though her melodic journey has been largely documented on the web, Anna’s love for songwriting and performing extends far beyond her YouTube endeavors. Behind the screen, there is a young artist whose ambitions are rooted by a childhood surrounded with music and familial support. As a child, Anna grew up singing at open-mic performances with her father at the Britannia Shipyards in Steveston. It was also her father who taught her several chords on the guitar, inspiring Anna to explore her songwriting skills. With a guitar in hand, knowledge of a few chords and an optimistic attitude, Anna wrote her first song in grade four about “an annoying younger sister”.
“Looking back now, I always laugh and blush at this first sloppy and immature attempt to form something with a melody. At the same time I realize that it was beneficial,” Anna recalls. “When you’re a little kid and you write songs, you have more of a support group because adults think it’s kind of cute, and you aren’t as self-conscious about coming across as stupid.”
Even though the writing topics are now on an entirely different level, Anna’s approach to songwriting remains the same as she continues to draw inspiration from her personal life. Anna estimates that she’s been able to write more than fifty songs chronicling her real-life experiences. Reflectively, she admits that the ‘bad’ experiences are the ones that are golden in songwriting.
“It’s a slightly melancholy observation, but I’ve noticed that the songs I’m most proud of are the ones that came from the result of a hurt of some sort,” Anna explains. “Frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak have probably been the most helpful emotions for me.”
In this manner, Anna relates her songwriting process to a form of therapy. Using her personal experiences to help her grow as a musician, Anna puts her stories out for the public to hear in the most vulnerable and authentic way. It is this honesty that is at the core of her solid foundation with fans.
“Listeners can identify sincerity when they hear it. I’ve received the most amazing messages from people,” Anna explains. “It’s the coolest thing to hear that people empathize and that people are grateful for the words that you write.”
This emotional connection with her fans is magnified during live performances. Although Anna has been performing for a long time, she still gets nervous as the bar of expectations are raised higher during live shows.
“You can feel the weight of everyone’s attention and the spotlight makes you very vulnerable,” Anna says. “On Youtube people choose to watch the videos they want and can exit a window as soon as they feel bored, but when you’re performing you realize that your audience has come here to see you and it means that you have to be that much more engaging and entertaining.”
Despite the pressure that exists when playing venues, the possibility of forming a stronger connection with her fans makes the wager worthwhile.
“I’d say the stakes are higher, but the rewards can also be better too,” Anna explains, “When you notice someone crying, smiling, or trying to make eye contact, you realize you’ve connected with them and it’s pretty cool.”
This year, Anna will be taking time off from university to focus entirely on music. Improving as a performer, along with traveling and recording songs, are some of the goals Anna hopes to accomplish during this time. As a musician, Anna Toth is all about striking the perfect balance between artistic expression and forming a long-lasting bond with her audience.
For Anna, the idea of success has a clearly defined meaning: “Success to me means building a reputation of consistent originality, quality, and depth with my fan base.”