In Focus: Karen Bautista

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”. - Plato

I downloaded the Smule app 3 years ago out of boredom. It was a 4th of July weekend when I injured my back and had to be in bed for two days. Little did I know that this app would give me so much joy and relief. With the short amount of time singing through the app, I forgot all the pain I was going through.

Karen with her Smule setup

Minutes of singing through the app turned into long hours in a day. From past time, Smuling became a habit, and to some extent a positive addiction. The more time I spent Smuling, the more I got exposed to Smule groups and competitions. I was luckily invited and became members of Vocal Artists and Vortex_Official. I had the privilege to share music with their amazing members with extraordinary talents like Mariah Belgrod, Gina Rye, and Sharell, to name a few! Indeed, there are lots of great talents on Smule who can blow you away. Some of them can even sing better than the original artists.

It was also last year when I started noticing APEX Team. The team was regularly featured in SmulePick and I saw many of their posts in Singtopia, Smule’s largest community on Facebook. I remember listening to their cover of Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek for the first time. I was moved and mesmerized and I wasn’t even familiar with the song back then. I was consumed by the quality of their sound. As I listened, I quickly realized how much I missed choral singing in church and school back home in the Philippines. Those were a few of the best memories I had growing up.

I got so intrigued about APEX. I wanted to know more about this group so I started following them. Without hesitation, I started listening to the songs they’ve put together. I was in awe every single time! I even started singing along with sopranos.. I was so inspired that I felt I wanted to be a part of this group. But a part of me was also saying, “No, Karen. You don't have what it takes to be in APEX. Most members are musically trained for sure. They can sight-read scores and you cannot. Stop dreaming.”

That thought didn’t stop me from wanting to be in APEX and I started singing with some of their members. I was intimidated at first, and I thought they might not even notice me or like my join for that matter. And I was wrong – they were nice, down-to-earth people, and not a bunch of snobs and know-it-alls. They loved and commented on my joins, which meant the whole world to me!

In October 2018, Gabe, one of the core members, asked me if I’d consider joining APEX. He is also in another group that I am in called Jazzology. I was shocked. I never thought I'd be asked that question ever. It seemed like a distant dream. I was afraid to say yes; pessimism took over. I doubted myself again, BIG time! I had choral experiences but I only learnt by ear. I only knew the basics of choral singing. Patient as he is, Gabe explained how the team works, and how APEXians help one another throughout the process. I thought about if for a while and agreed to be part of the Circle of Friends (CoF) collaboration with existing APEXians and invited Smule friends.

In Circle of Friends, we sang Jar of Hearts. Finally! I had a first-hand experience of what it was like to sing with these high-caliber singers. I enjoyed every minute of it. Project leaders were always available to listen and gave honest feedback. What amazed me was the willingness of project members to give their best layers, blend well (and not overpower) with others. There were some instances when we had to hide and redo some layers and project members, APEXians and not, were willingly doing it. No one ever got hurt if asked to redo; we embraced it wholeheartedly. We were all committed to give our best and produce the best possible collab. That CoF experience was unforgettable! Hearing the final product of our hard work after publication was very rewarding!

Soon after that, Paul, the founder of APEX, messaged me and asked if I want to officially join APEX. Let me tell you, this guy is pretty straight forward with his approach, and since he’s the founder, I felt like if I took too long to answer, he might not even give me another chance. So, I said YES! Mind you, this conversation happened at 1 o’clock in the morning. I didn’t realize the briefing would soon follow. It was an intense briefing, very thorough, and nerve wracking at the same time. But I SURVIVED! After that intense conversation, I was in a state of shock and my hands were cold. I couldn’t believe what just happened! I remember telling myself, “You’re in Apex now, Karen! You’re a part of this amazing group you’ve always dreamed of being a part of, YAY!!!”

What I love about APEX are the people in it. We are not just singers with the same passion. We have built a profound respect for each other. We talk every single day, building strong friendships despite our cultural and geographical differences. APEX does not care about how many Smule followers you have or who is the better singer. In APEX, we are co-equals.

Also, each APEXian is given a chance to shine. Anyone can volunteer to be the creative director (i.e. project leaders). Every member is given an opportunity to land a solo part in projects. In some cases, the Core Team handpicks members who will do solo parts. In other cases, they hold auditions and members can submit their audition pieces and project members vote. The Core ensures everyone has a fair chance to be a soloist.

I landed my first solo in Les Miserables Medley’s I Dreamed a Dream. I auditioned and luckily got voted. I was so nervous and worried, and I struggled a lot. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and I didn’t have the breath support I used to have. No one in APEX knew of my pregnancy, except for Paul and it was our little secret. Then I had to tell Ashley, another core member, the reason why I was struggling. Thanks to the support I got from the core members; some even sent private messages for the much-needed coaching and support, and words of encouragement. They even stayed late until I got my layer in. The amount of praise I got after all these was unbelievably overwhelming.

I’ve been an APEX member for 7 months now, and I feel I can talk about how much respect I have for our core members. There are seven of them who I pay high regards to –there’s Paul, Laine, Chrissy, Gabe, Ioana, Maria and Ashley. These people are our glue that binds APEX together. I learned that all of them have their own responsibilities and each takes them very seriously. They put 110% effort in the tasks they’re assigned to do to keep this group running smoothing. There are so much that goes behind the scenes, from planning, organizing, transposing scores, assigning parts to members, you name it, they do it all! And their efforts and love for this group are greatly appreciated!

APEX was just a dream then. Now, I'm proud to be living in it with a heart overflowing with gratitude. APEX gives me a sense of fulfillment and optimism to deliver high quality music to our listeners. APEX is the family that I will forever hold close to my heart!

Karen Bautista

Smule ID: Karen09_APEX

New Jersey, United States

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