Miki Speer is a musician and songwriter, who works to bridge the gap between grief and hope through both music and words. And she was just getting into the swing of things as a performing musician this past year when she ran into what she aptly calls, “the dumpster fire that is 2020.”
Speer currently is hunkered down in in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where she is taking online classes in songwriting and audio production at Slam Academy, and hosting a weekly show on Facebook live, The Healing Half, when she’s not doing her (now remote) day job.
I talked with Miki about her music, grief work, and the unique challenges she’s faced as an emerging musician during a global pandemic.
Why do you focus on grief in your music?
When I was 13 my mom died and I spent the better part of a decade—up to like 23—not thinking I had a problem. I thought, “I'm fine, I'm a normal 13-year-old,” and I just kept going. And throughout that, you know, my dad got remarried. It was really bad and then they got divorced.
So when I first started writing music, I was in denial that I needed to process my grief. It wasn't until my brother-in-law passed away from suicide when I was a junior in college (I got married super young) that I was able to kind of get out of my own way. And I was able to write a song for my mother-in-law about grief. And that was “See Me.” That wasn't even about my mom—it was whatever I could do to try and make my mother-in-law smile a little bit after such a devastating loss.
You know, they always say “double down on your niche?” It just kind of felt like someone slapping me across the face being like, there's enough love songs out there and half of yours aren't even real! They're just songs you thought sounded cool. So why not sing about something you actually know about? Which is loss and hardship.
What role do you think music plays in helping others processes their own grief?
Music is so, so powerful. And that's why I have musicians on my [Facebook live] show, The Healing Half. I thought, if could just have a spot where people can just sing their most inspiring, hopeful song, that's a gift.
I’ve learned mindset is absolutely tied in with grief, but it could be for a lot of things: confidence, body image, you name it, it's all important. It's a muscle. And if you're not flexing it and strengthening it every day, it's going to get weaker. So it's like, the more music you can put in your life that encourages you to think and pause and feel, the stronger that muscle is going to be. I always say, sprinkle in a couple of sad songs into your playlist that kind of remind you, “Oh, yeah, like I need to remember this was part of life, too.”
And as we get older—this sounds so morbid—but the older you get, the more people are going to die. And just like how like mindset is a muscle, grief is a muscle, too. I lost my grandma recently; she died a couple months ago. And it was my first death after all this journey. Not that I'm "there" by any stretch, but I know what the book would say now, and I know the right processes of grief. I know the right way to handle it, when an emotion comes up. So this is the first loss that I'm really trying to be like mature about—like, I need to step out of the room because I'm going to cry rather than just push it down.
The more we can address grief and learn how to address grief, it's only going to help us throughout life. Music absolutely has a role. I can't I'm so honored to be part of that. I can't wait to put out more stuff to help people.
I had started getting out, doing open mics. I was finally like, okay, I'm in the songwriter groups. I'm doing it. And then covid, right?
I was like, okay, what's my next jack out of my little card deck that I want to do? I I've always wanted to be a talk show host. I'm passionate about music, but I’m also passionate about mindset in grief, and helping people through that and sharing people's stories. So I was like, well with COVID, let's do an online show— and The Healing Half was born, and it has taken off, which has been such a blessing.
As far as the live show, I've got this weird little like cult following of 10 to 20 people who watch almost every episode live, which is such a blessing and an honor from someone I've never met before. They just really have said they appreciate taking this a quick timeout out of their week to strengthen that muscle. It's like a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of thought-provoking stuff, and then you can move on.
But half of my episodes aren't even about grief. They're about disappointments or other forms of grief and fear, and all that stuff. Some of the responses are like, “wow, someone who's not 70 is talking about this stuff.” A lot of people in the grief industry are a lot older. And so I see my role as hopefully being a millennial voice for it. I would love to kind of be that voice for people all over the world. I would love to just say, Hey, we're all grieving. And I want to be there for you. Because I've been through it.
What are some of the challenges you've faced being an emerging performer in Minnesota, besides what's happened with COVID-19?
I would say the biggest challenge when I look at the pattern of all of it was believing in myself.
It’s amazing how much as women, especially as we get older, it seems like this weird, ticking time bomb—which is all bullshit and we shouldn't worry about that at all. But you know, it's like, I love music, but what about kids? And my job? The “what if” spiral just sent me on this little hamster wheel that resulted in nothing.
And I didn't grow up in the music scene in Minneapolis. I'm a suburbanite, which I understand is both a privilege and not a privilege. I'm a suburbanite and I'm 26. I'm married, which is not “cool,” according to late night bar scenes and stuff. And of course, the fact that I work a normal eight to five job doesn't jive well with open mics on Tuesday night that start at 9:30. So that's definitely one thing, that as things start to open back up, I'm going to have to figure out. And if I were lose my normal job, I can't do this [music].
I'll be performing some music, but it's really going be more of a performance with breakout questions and breakout sessions. I think why we decided to try and do it in person is because it will be more like a grief group. People will hear, they'll listen, they'll feel and then they're going to turn to their group and actually get to know other grievers.
We contemplated like, should we just do a Zoom meeting? But since my target market is 55-plus for a lot of my work (that's been the generation that likes it), Zoom’s just not enough. There's something about baring your soul, especially if it's a fresh loss, over a computer that you just don't get the body language, you don't get the feedback back from the group. And that can make you feel really lonely.
It's summertime, it's Minnesota, people want to get outside. We're very blessed that my dad lives on a lake that has a beautiful, flat, shaded backyard. So we can get outside with elbow room, and make sure you keep your distance and wear your mask. Everything will be laid out super professionally, so no one touches anything. It’s mostly for the fans to be able to get to know each other actually and do this workshop in person and get the feedback, and their six-foot [apart] hug.
It’s so hard, because when people hear the word “Christian,” immediately they think Westboro Baptist. I want to be very clear, I do not agree with that. It’s just one of those things, where I was kind of scared… It’s such an integral part of my life, but unfortunately, when people hear Christian, they just assume I hate gay people.
But you can't be everything to everyone. And so on some level, I just was like, you know what? I believe in God. God is so important in my life. It’s such a part of why I have joy and why I'm able to move forward. If people are worried about my beliefs, they can absolutely ask me, I'd love to talk with them, but I want them to know that you don't have to believe everything I do. And if you like my work, great! Everyone's welcome, this is absolutely not an exclusive thing. But I can't hide that, because I don't want to be disingenuous. If they’re put off by someone who has a strong faith and they bring their own assumptions into it and assume I'm a judgmental person, I can't change that. That was a huge barrier for me, to talk about it. And then I just eventually just released that.
I think people are just going to have to understand it's a package deal. My lyrics will sometimes reference God and sometimes they won't. And truthfully, with grief, how can you talk about grief without talking about a worldview, right? I've got a Muslim friend, and when I talk about God and all this stuff, it really resonates with her. And I'm like, great, that's awesome, I love that. And so, that's just my hope, if I can just get people to think about it and lean into whatever that is for them and hopefully enrich their lives.
But as an artist, someone who's insecure in some areas, that was really hard to accept that some people might not like me. Of course, some people aren't going to like you. But I think especially for women, we want everyone to like us because if they don't, what does that mean about us? That must mean we did something wrong. Just getting out of that mindset has been really hard.