How should Bobbie Allen’s music be characterized? Stumped, she turns to Wikipedia. “It says here I’m an indie-pop alternative artist,” she says, laughing. “I guess that’s about right.”

Allen’s hesitation to define her music may stem from the circuitous path she took to becoming a recording artist. Despite a successful career with a leading consulting company, she found herself increasingly drawn to the music industry.

“Music was always a safe harbor for me growing up,” she says. “When things were miserable, I turned to music; when things were great, I turned to music.”

Allen taught herself to play guitar and write songs. And although she had always loved singing—her vocals have been described as “low,” “smoky,” and “strikingly wistful”—she struggled with stage fright. So she forced herself to sing at open-mic nights. “At first it felt debilitating,” she says, “but I had a strange compulsion to keep trying.”

Allen felt freer when she adopted a recording name, Young Summer. “I liked the idea of adopting a name that would give me the flexibility of performing as a solo artist or as part of an ensemble,” she says. “Then I realized it also helped me feel less vulnerable.”

As she gained artistic and professional success, Allen felt she was ready to quit her day job. Her songs have since appeared on the soundtracks of films, commercials, and such television programs as Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, and Revenge. She released an extended-play album, You Would Have Loved It Here, in October 2016, two years after issuing her first studio album, Siren.

Allen credits her English professors—especially poet Nikki Giovanni—with giving her the confidence to forge her own artistic path.

“Nikki said if you haven’t made a mistake, you haven’t done a damned thing with your life,” Allen says. “She also urged us not to take ‘the stink of the earth’ out of our art. I think about that whenever I’m writing a song. Am I making it better, or am I eliminating an important element of failure? If I become too safe, I’ll lose what’s creative and interesting.”

Giovanni’s name appears in the liner notes of Allen’s albums.

“I hope people are moved by my music,” Allen says. “You make art for yourself, but then you realize it resonates with others. When people tell me my music helped them through a difficult time, it feels wonderful.” Once she made the commitment to the creative life, Allen adds, she kept being presented with remarkable opportunities. “It’s been exhausting but worthwhile. Often, I think: I’m so meant to be doing this.”

Written by Paula Byron