My musical journey thus far: Why I play music but try to separate myself from the music industry


Photo Credit: New York Public Library photostream

They tell you good things take time.  I can see the beauty in waiting for the right time in my life.

I began writing songs at the close of my college career in my one-bedroom apartment in east Texas.  I still remember my first open mic, shaking hands and the honest statement before I sat down saying “I am not a professional.”  But I began to write and play and create in a way I never had before.  Shortly after college, I moved to Austin, the live music capitol of the world.  At 23, I wanted a music career.  And at 24 and 25 and 26 and so on.  I wanted to find the person who would help me launch my career.  I wanted to go, move, meet everyone I could.  Someone once told me “I had the fever.”  It was funny, but it was true.  I observed an industry guy at South by Southwest one year with my business card, wanting to drop it into his briefcase at his side, hoping it would be discovered and appreciated later.  But I now wonder whether my fever rested in the actual love of music or the pursuit of fame and fortune.  I confess at times, I really became stary-eyed for the hopes and dreams and pursuit of being something wonderful to the world.  In those early twenties, I had an innate desire to prove myself to a world that I believed did not understand me, family included.

Since that time, I have grown to realize some things about myself and the industry as a whole that have shaped me.  I’m not totally jaded and walking away, but that’s probably because I haven’t gone deep into the recesses of the music industry abyss.  I always thought dancing on the sidelines would hold me back.  And in a way it did.  I was never willing to sacrifice my faith, my dignity, my conviction or my vision for what others were willing to sell it for.  I respected myself, my conviction and my art.  And I wanted my music to sell itself.  And I knew that those who sacrifice more and faster would get farther down that career road faster than myself.  But I still refused to follow the path of least resistance.

Throughout my stint in Austin, I began to meet various musicians, booking managers and mentors in the field.   Flaky musicians, waiting for producers who never showed at coffeeshops and disappointing recording experiences were all the continual existence of my world.  The music industry and its people began to manifest themselves as saturated with addiction and selfishness.  I saw people who had fallen into difficult times.  I also saw good families falling at the feet of the music god while neglecting the spiritual welfare of their children.  My heart hurt when I lost friends or felt rejected.  Most importantly, God began to open my eyes to an existence that began to look empty and fruitless.  But in my heart, I felt pulled by a passion that I could not deny.  I knew I had this gift of writing songs, connecting to people and inspiring others on a daily basis.  I will always remember my continued grappling with my talents while questioning who I was supposed to be in God’s kingdom.  I also remember struggling with why others were living my dreams and the near tears I held back once when leaving a show for wanting it so badly.  In my heart, I longed to be doing what I loved and what I knew I was good at.

Somewhere around 26 or 27, I arrived at a monumental conclusion.  If I was ever to make a career of this music thing, I would not be able to follow the same path the others had followed.  I didn’t feel comfortable playing in certain atmospheres, so I was picky about where my performances occurred.  I was highly selective about band members, because I knew that people you spend copious amounts of time with will undoubtedly affect and change you.  I never wanted a manager who didn’t understand my vision and direction.  I also began to realize that trying to get recognized by a record label might not be my best course of action unless it was an an ideal label that respected its artists.  Rather, I decided to become an independent artist.  I would self-produce an EP and create my own “cabinet” or network of trusted designers, printers, booking people, photographers, artists and videographers.  I would be able to control what I created and the image I would ultimately project into the world.  This would force me to become creative in both revenue generation as well as promotion.  I realized after a conversation with a band manager that I would be viewed as either a pioneer or a purist who was holding onto the way she believed about certain things.  Though challenges were undeniable, I still felt compelled to try.  I had grit, and I knew with some hard work, something could be achieved.

I have often felt that even if I did fail at this, I would still be happier than never having tried.  With a father who started his own business and a grandfather who was a gifted salesman, I felt like it was in my blood to pursue an entrepreneurial path.  Now thinking about business plans for my music, I am challenging myself to see things as truly beneficial or not.  I have both 3-5 year goals as well as short-term goals.  My current goal is to complete my first EP by the end of August and have it mixed, mastered, packaged and ready for all of you by mid-September.  I am blessed to have Michael Estok and Vibe Dial Studios for this.  After the release of the EP, my next goal is to play 4-6 shows in various cities in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia to begin this train down the track.  All aboard.

I want to create something meaningful and relatable.  I believe in my vision of a career of writing, playing and singing music while involving great people along the way.  But I guess the larger theme of what I’d like to do is to change the musician stereotype of self-centeredness.  Throughout my endeavors, I want to incorporate the aspect of service into my character and my business model.  By spreading revenue to positive organizations as well as helping with benefit shows and selecting service venues to play, I believe this will help keep me grounded and give back to communities small and large.  I believe in the need for more musicians to perpetuate a healthy perspective by viewing our gifts as something we’ve been given.   And they are gifts we are forever indebted to share with the world for good.  May we never forget that God bestowed us with gifts to enjoy for ourselves and for others.

So now, here I am at 28.  Five years after I began writing my first songs.  I hope at this point, I have a better head on my shoulders than once was there and a little more savvy in the way things work.  I know I have much to learn and will always be learning.  But here’s to future goals, projects and endeavors.  Let’s all work to have the best attitude and be both thankful and effective with the gifts we’ve been given J


Into the studio we go!


Photo Courtesy:  State Library of Queensland

Tomorrow is the first day of tracking for the EP with Michael Estok and his adorable wife.  We’ll record in his renovated East Nashville basement to create something really natural and cool for all you great people who so kindly support me.  Thank you for what you are doing to encourage me.

And I’ve been thinking about what will come after the completion of this project, after an EP release party with an enchanting location, and after I have a product in hand?  My challenge will be to figure out an unconventional way of touring and performing in venues I love around the country.  An even bigger challenge will be to creatively generate revenue and build a group of people I can inspire and connect with on a continual basis.  I would appreciate any prayers from anyone regarding wisdom in decision-making.

But, I want you to be a part of what I’m doing, because honestly, we cannot really do anything in our lives alone.  We all need each other.  I would love to hear your very own ideas, advice on any of your recording experiences, what you would like out of an EP and if there things that you would be interested in merch-wise?  Music is for me, but it’s meant to be shared!

Stay tuned for new music and future show dates 🙂  And keep doing good things and looking up 🙂


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Thank you, Tift Merritt


Today I listened to an old NPR interview with Tift Merritt.  I haven’t heard something this real and encouraging from someone in the music industry in a long time.  She said “The spotlight isn’t that interesting of a place.”  She went on to say how the m

usic industry is a self-centered world- not music itself- but the industry.  And she just didn’t want to be like that. 🙂  Thank you, Tift.

She has won my heart, my respect and my applause.  I loved her music before, and now I love her even more for her humble and honest approach to art.

You can check out the interview and music I heard on NPR’s World Cafe.

Have a wonderful Tuesday folks.  And let me know if you have heard any other encouraging musician interviews as well that you’d like to share!


The Best in Show: 5 Concerts that rocked my world

Reminiscing over some of my favorite shows in the past five years, I began to see a pattern in what made me truly connect to them and think of them fondly.  I came to the conclusion that it was summed up in two words- atmosphere and heart.  True, it was the music and the people and the hype and the crowd singing along and moving to the beat, but at the core of it all- an incredible atmosphere and the realization that the artist or band truly loved what they were doing resonated deep within me.  Memories are built on pictures, and pictures come to my mind when I float back to some of my favorite music performances of all times with some of my favorite people of all time.  Below is a list of my top 5 in the last 5 years and why:

 1.  Railroad Revival Tour– This show was hands- down one of the greatest concert experiences of my life so far.  My brother and I had tried to get tickets to see them where I lived in Austin, but it sold out insanely fast.  So, we quickly decided a road trip out to the west Texas town of Marfa would be our destination to see Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.  I could gush, but I’ll save it.  First, my undeniable obsession with vintage trains was met with sheer excitement when I discovered that they would travel by them to each stop on the tour.  As if that wasn’t perfect enough, they performed in Marfa at an airstream trailer Hotel called El Cosmico, where you could stay for the night in any one of the airstreams, Indian Tepees or campsites.  Nothing can compare to bouncing and singing and smiling with my younger brother as our favorite band played an incredible show on the eve of Easter Sunday.  In this West Texas heaven, as a crowd of people moved to the music, an ethereal cloud of dust rose above it all, making the atmosphere completely magical, albeit probably terrible for our lungs.  To top the perfect evening, my brother and I sneaked backstage and met Marcus Mumford, Jade from Edwarde Sharpe and Willy Watson from OCMS.  I’ll never forget it.  I don’t want to, and I’ll tell my kids the story of me and their uncle travelling to see one of our favorite bands and the music that will live on forever in our hearts and on our stereos

2.  The Head and the Heart at Cannery Ballroom in Nashville this spring.  This show was a breath of fresh air for me.  The atmosphere was not so much of the pull as the genuine love of music that seemed to exude from every player onstage.  They just seem to be a group of kids hanging out in the park, dancing to the beat of their own drum and playing with more passion and heart than I see in most bands today.  With Charity (who I might add used to attend church with one of my gal pals back in Seattle) belting it out on Rivers and Roads, the crowd was in awe.  It made me remember why I want to be involved in music.  No matter how old I am or where I may be in life, I will always be a songwriter.  And that means even if the world never hears a single note or word- you are who you are.  It doesn’t make you any less of an artist someone told me just because the world doesn’t know who you are.  Meeting Terry, the keys player outside, was awesome.  And then, several days later, while en route to my then restaurant job in Brentwood, I saw two members of the Head and the Heart crossing the street.  I rolled down my window and said “I love the head and the heart.”  They turned around and smiled thankfully.  I’ll never forget it.

3.  The Belle Brigade–  This brother/sister duo became one of my favorite finds of South by Southwest 2011.  My best friend, Kayla, and I, saw them perform several times.  One was at Cedarstreet, in which I was nearly capped in the jugular by a security man because I wasn’t wearing a wristband for the event.  We also saw them at South by San Jose down on South Congress, where the most raw and natural happenstance occurred.  Something went wrong at the end of their set regarding the power, so Barbara, Ethan and their band came down off the stage and into the small crowd.  Donning guitars and genuine smiles, they did an incredible acapella version of Losers, which is one of my brigade favorites. Oh, and just a little tidbit of interest for you- not only are these two related, they are also fortunately the grandchildren of great composer, John Williams.  The icing on top of this is that Barbara used to drum for Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley.  Words cannot express how much punch mingled with heart the Belle Brigade packs behind their awesome indie/folk/pop sound. Not only did they have a killer performance, the joy and energy they project in a performance is flung off the stage right into your heart.  Kayla and I had met Barbara the day before.  And when she saw us standing near the stage at our 3rd and final experience of them at South by SouthwestKGSR morning broadcast, she did something quite endearing.  She looked at us and made this really hysterical awkward face and started waving.  Kayla turned around, unsure to whom she was directing the wave.  When she realized it was to us, we both waved back, and I threw back my own crazy face for her enjoyment.  She was so real, so genuine, so happy to be herself.  When we talked to her afterward, she put us on the list for their upcoming show back in Austin.  Though we weren’t able to attend, we sent cookies to the venue for them.  We even heard from them on facebook about it.  They love their fans and show it, and who can’t help but love a genuinely appreciative artist.

4.  KGSR morning broadcast during South by Southwest 2010-Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Grace Potter is a female rockstar. End of story.  But when she walked into the lobby of the Four Seasons that morning bright and early in her vintage pink frilly pajama nightgown, I fell madly in musical love.  Her amazing voluminous hair and pipes to boot, combined with Catherine Popper (previously the bassist for Ryan Adams and the Cardinals) and her dapper dudes clad in vintage robes, were picturesque.  This girl strutted her stuff and rocked the crowd surrounding her in this living room setting in the Four Seasons lobby.  Sadly, the next year, they moved this broadcast into one of the event rooms, so it no longer has that same feel.  Should you have the itch to see this rock princess, she (and I) will be at the Ryman Auditorium October 12-13 for a two-night stint.  Be ready to have your world rocked, because you can expect it from the illustrious Miss Potter.

5.  The last one, like a good record, is a repeat.  Mumford and Sons at the Ryman Auditorium with Dawes opening.  Dawes is one of my new favorite bands. Why? Because the lead singer has the gift of being a thought-provoking lyricist as well as writing perfect melodies to match.  Since they only sold 2 tickets max in pre-sale and regular sale, we had to get creative with seating. Being down on the Ryman floor singing Dawes at the top of my lungs with Bradford and rocking our harmonies will not soon be forgotten.  Nothing compares to shows at the Ryman, and any musician is fortunate to play that stage.  If you’ve never seen Mumford, I highly encourage you to take the opportunity.  Their lyrics and anthems are truly larger than life, and they play with a world of heart and enthusiasm.  At one point they played the famous Paul Simon cover, The Boxer, which was completely intoxicating.  That song has graced Jerry Douglas’s new album, because Douglas plays on the tune as well.  Much like Douglas, anything Mumford touches is pure gold.  He is currently the king in my eyes of the folk/Americana music world.

cheers and happy wens-day,

leah marie