Career and life lessons you can learn from Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire is one of the biggest musicians of all time. She’s won Grammy awards, Academy of Country Music awards, and has sold over 75 million albums worldwide. All of that success earned Reba an estimated $95 million dollar fortune and got her the title “The Queen of Country Music” by fans and critics alike. Throughout her 40-year-plus career, she’s done it all – and made a lot of good decisions and mistakes along the way.
While you may not be a singer dreaming of stardom, you can still learn from Reba’s career and apply it to your dreams, your job, or your life in general. Keep reading for stories about Reba and the lessons you can take from them.
Take every chance you can
Reba’s big break didn’t come from being discovered at a mall by chance or putting a video on YouTube that a producer saw. In fact, the internet wasn’t even invented when Reba started her career. Instead, she sang the national anthem at a local rodeo in Las Vegas in 1974. As she sang, the audience loved it. One person took notice – a record producer. He offered her a contract, and she immediately took it.
This big break, though, may not have happened for Reba if she only tried to play the “right” kinds of gigs. In those days, singers got discovered by singing at church or at places known for producing great singers, like the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee. If Reba had waited and passed on the opportunity to sing the national anthem at a small rodeo in Las Vegas, far away from her home state of Oklahoma, we may not know Reba the way we do today.
Reba would later talk about this event fondly, saying it was the moment that started her career. And she only got it because she was willing to take the opportunities that came her way. While the opportunity didn’t look like the “right” one at first, it gave her the chance to sing, which was her passion.
By taking the opportunities that came her way, whenever and however they did, Reba got more and more practice. Eventually, as was the case with this rodeo, the right people just happened to be there. It’s a lesson that works for any experience or dream – take every chance you can and eventually you will be successful.
Plan your backups
Reba is one of the most successful singers of all time. Despite firmly being a country singer, she has fans who generally don’t like country music. She’s a multimillionaire many times over and travels the world. But, as with any dream, she took a risk to get to her level of success. Just in case the risk didn’t work out, Reba was educated to be a primary school teacher. She continued her studies and sang at night or on weekends, taking the opportunities she could.
The entire time she worked to build her career, Reba was also building a backup plan. If singing didn’t work, she was going to become a teacher. In fact, she almost did. But then she got her recording contract and started to sing full-time.
Despite never giving up on her dreams, Reba was also realistic that sometimes dreams take longer than planned to happen. And if that was going to be the case for her, she wanted to have a backup so she could sustain herself while she continued to work on her dream.
No matter what your dream is, you should always have a backup plan. That doesn’t mean you give up on your dreams, though. Having a backup plan means you have a way to support yourself or something to fall back on if you hit hard times while pursuing your dreams. Having a backup plan allows you to continue working on whatever you want in your spare time, knowing that you can still survive and sustain yourself in the meantime.
Do what you have to do
Another successful singer from Oklahoma, Garth Brooks, famously sang Do what you gotta do, one of his biggest hits. It was a song about taking action to make the kind of life you want and not waiting for anyone else to do it for you. He started his career 10 years after Reba started hers, but this song could have easily been about Reba. When Reba started her career, she sang in any bar that would give her a spot. She wasn’t selling out stadiums and no one would do her any favors. She had to take what she could get – and do what she had to.
When you’re first starting out on any project or journey, things can be tough. For Reba singing in bars, she likely faced small crowds, bad sound conditions, and drunk people making a nuisance. It’s a far cry from the stadium tours that she would do in her career, but it’s how she got a start.
The nights performing in small bars to few people were a test of her resolve, but showed that Reba would do whatever it took to succeed. Those performances also gave her the chance to try new things, practice, and use the concerts as rehearsals for the future.
Now, Reba gets adored by fans wherever she goes. But that wasn’t always the case. She did what she had to in order to get the exposure she needed to succeed. She eventually got a record deal singing the national anthem at a rodeo in Las Vegas, but the “right” person could have been in any one of those bars she sang in.
After Reba’s first big hit, she released her first music video. The video was for the song Whoever’s in New England, and it came out in 1986. Back in 1986, MTV was hugely popular and they showed new music videos at the end of the night’s programming. One night, Reba’s video was scheduled to air right after the credits of a popular late night TV show.
Reba and her team were so excited that the video was going to be released, they had a watching party. They stayed up late, watched all the way through the credits… and then an Aretha Franklin music video came on. Reba would later share this story in live concerts, telling the audience that Aretha Franklin, who at the time was a massive celebrity, pushed Reba out of the music video order because she was more famous and MTV wanted to show the more famous person’s video.
Despite the disappointment that her video didn’t play first, the team kept the TV on just to see if they would play Reba’s song next. They didn’t. The team kept waiting and hoping. Then Reba’s video came on. It was the last video of the night, not the first one as they were initially told, but it played. The team celebrated anyway, since it was the first time Reba’s music video ever got played on TV.
Even though the video played last, not first, the team celebrated the win. Because it was a win. A small one, since they were hoping for first, but a win anyway because it was the first time her video played on TV. And that’s the lesson to take away: celebrate any wins you can.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
When Reba got a record deal, she focused on gospel and slower country ballads. That’s what the audience heard when she sang the American national anthem – a very hard song to sing – and thought audiences would love it. But Reba didn’t do very well with her first album. Or her second. Or even her third and fourth. Something wasn’t quite clicking. People loved Reba when they met her, but her music wasn’t selling very well.
And then one day Reba was talking to a songwriter friend of hers. He wanted to play Reba a new song he’d written for another singer. It was called Can’t even get the blues, a song about a woman whose boyfriend left her so many times that she didn’t even care. She couldn’t even feel sad about it.
The song was upbeat, sassy, and had almost a rock vibe to it. The songwriter didn’t think Reba would ever record it, since he thought she only wanted to do ballads, so he never showed it to her seriously. But when she heard him playing the song, she wanted to record it. In concerts later when she told this story, she told the audience that she said Can’t even get the blues could be her first number one hit single. And it was.
Reba took a chance on a new sound – moving from ballads to an upbeat country tune – and it worked. It took her making four albums with similar sounds before she tried something new, but she did and it was wildly successful. Can’t even get the blues is the song that “put Reba on the map” and gave her the star power to record her later mega-hits. It’s a lesson worth remembering: if you never take chances, you may never grow into your own potential.
You don’t have to be the first to be successful
Reba has over 30 number one hit singles and has released over 30 studio albums. Her career spans over 40 years and people frequently refer to her as one of the best singers of all time. To create all this success, Reba works with songwriters to develop original songs. She even tried to write a couple, though she doesn’t see herself as a songwriter.
However, not every hit single is an original Reba song. In fact, many of her top hits such as Fancy, The night the lights went out in Georgia, and Because of you are covers. Despite the fact that Reba didn’t write or perform the songs initially, many people consider these to be classic Reba songs. She’s even won awards for them.
This shows that you don’t have to be the first person to do something in order to be the best. You can come later on, put your unique spin on it, and make a global impact. The original singers of songs that Reba covered are incredibly successful in their own right. For example, the original singer to do Because of you is Kelly Clarkson, who has sold over 25 million albums worldwide.
If you aren’t going to be the first person, it doesn’t mean you have to disparage everyone that came before you. Instead, put your own unique spin on it. For example, when Reba covered Beyonce’s If I were a boy, she made it a distinctly country sound instead of copying Beyonce’s pop sound. By doing the song differently, people can be fans of one, the other, or both. They aren’t competing against each other.
Expand your horizons and branch out
Reba is known as a singer, and for good reason. She’s won multiple awards, sold out tours, and has sold millions of albums. But Reba has also done Broadway, TV, movies, modelling, merchandise, and more. She’s a multi-faceted business woman who understands how to branch out and expand her horizons.
Branching out for Reba started in movies with Tremors in 1990. Reba had just started to become famous, with songs like Can’t even get the blues, How blue, and Somebody should leave topping the charts. Instead of resting on her laurels, Reba decided to try her hand at acting in a feature film. She credited her growing up on a farm in Oklahoma with how she could handle the dusty, hot movie set. And she said that having coaches help her while singing made her ready to take feedback from a movie director.
Similarly, she tried out Broadway, acting in Annie get your gun in New York City in the early 2000’s. Critics loved her performance. It was somewhat similar to singing because she was singing on stage while acting.
She then continued the trend, acting in her own hit TV show Reba and launching a line of clothing with department store Dillards. These expansions not only helped Reba stay relevant, it also gave her more creative outlets – all of which made her more successful. This lesson is great for anyone looking to achieve more of their dreams. Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and branch out. You never know what may happen.
Be yourself and you’ll be more successful
Despite Reba’s first hit single being the spunky Can’t even get the blues, she always loved to sing ballads and love songs. So even though she got successful singing upbeat songs, she continued to perform love songs and ballads, adding them to her records and singing them on tour.
A few years after Can’t even get the blues took the number one spot, Reba decided that she was going to release an album of the music she liked to listen to and sing. She didn’t want to follow a specific formula of upbeat songs just because that’s how she got her first number one. She wanted to put out her kind of music. The result was her 1984 album My kinda country. It gave her two number one singles, with one of them being a ballad: Somebody should leave.
After that album came out, it sold over 500,000 copies. Reba released another album shortly after, but it didn’t get her any number one hit singles. It wasn’t until she went back to her roots of singing love songs and ballads again that she got her next number one hit single: Whoever’s in New England.
From then on, people started to listen to Reba when she said she wanted to sing ballads and love songs. And when she did, she continued to produce number ones. In fact, 23 of her over 30 number one hit singles are ballads and love songs, proving this lesson true: when you are yourself, people will find you and you will be more successful.