Carrie Mullings was fed up with managing musical acts.
Though she’d represented a number of successful artists, big egos in the industry and a lack of commitment to the craft by some had her at wits end, she says. She was ready to move on.
That changed when she heard Bahrain-born reggae singer Elaine Shepherd perform at JunoFest in Vancouver in 2009.
“When she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Oh my god’,” Mullings says. “She moved me. It wasn’t the song she was singing or the chords she was in. It was how I felt when I heard her voice.
“That’s when I started rethinking my decision.”
After her performance that night, Shepherd asked what it would take to get nominated for a Juno and discovered she could submit her own music.
“That very moment I decided I wanted to win one — the next year,” said Shepherd, who’s also known as Lil’Bit.
She accepted Mullings’s challenge to record an EP and come to Toronto. Within a month she had laid down some tracks and left Vancouver.
Shepherd didn’t win her Juno the next year, but she did win the Most Promising New Artist Award at the 2010 Reggae Music Achievement Awards.
A year later her determination paid off. She won the 2011 Reggae Recording of the Year Juno for her single “Likkle But Mi Tallawah.”
Shepherd has collected other accolades since, including a second Juno nomination in 2013.
Her success hasn’t come easy, she says.
“You have to motivate yourself and make sure your always working because no one else will do it for you,” Shepherd says.
Her life is completely sporadic, she says. A typical day might include waking up early to make appearances on radio, followed by teaching and writing music while working on her line of handmade hats and scarves before hitting the recording studio in the middle of the night.
“It’s great because you make your own hours and answer to yourself … but that’s also the hard part,” Shepherd says.
In addition to everything else she does, she’s also now partnered with Mullings to operate Rebel Vibez, the record label she’s signed to.
Shepherd’s determination and drive is what sets her apart, Mullings says.
“The lack of dedication for these artists to take on their craft full time was frustrating to me,” she says. “To see them take on a day job and do their art part-time was difficult because I was trying to do music full time.
“That’s why Elaine and I really connect, because we both take music as a gift and don’t take it for granted.”
Shepherd also takes her relationships with people seriously, she says.
“If they know you, they’ll want to support you even if they’re not familiar with your music,” she says.
That’s what happened with 23-year-old bartender Angela Zeppieri, who first heard Shepherd’s music when she performed at her restaurant.
“She was so sweet and funny,” Zeppieri says. “We talked for a while afterwards. After that I started following her on Instagram and bought one of the hats from her site.”
Shepherd is currently working on her second record, which she hopes will get some attention at the Grammys in 2015.
“She is the strongest contender to be the next big reggae artist, and she will be known around the world,” Mullings said.