How to Build an Independent Music Career

We recently interviewed Rachael Sage, a talented singer, songwriter, poetess and all-around musician.

She’s living the dream: making music, playing gigs, and supporting herself 100% through her music. Her experience will inspire you to work harder, write better music, and take more risks. So pay attention! When you’re done reading her mind, check out her website, MySpace page, and buy her music.

How long have you been at this game of writing music and sharing it with people?

I’ve been writing music at the piano since I was in kindergarten…and I think I started sharing it with people “officially” at summer camp. I was nervous, but it was exciting and definitely a milestone! After that I began to play my own songs at the weekly talent show, which was a pretty big deal for me since I was not popular. It felt like I was finally discovering something about myself that other people might appreciate.

Before that I’d played mostly for myself, my family and occasionally before dance class for my fellow dance-students, before the teacher arrived. So I’ve been doing this a while!

What have been some of the milestones in your career in terms of growing professionally?

Lilith Fair was a huge learning experience, and I still draw on many of the elements I observed as both a performer as well as an audience member, attending the rest of the concert after my own set was over. I was an enormous fan of so many of the acts performing on the bill including The Pretenders, Suzanne Vega and Sarah McLachlan, so it was nourishing musically just to be able to watch and listen to them all at close-range. But beyond the sheer thrill of sharing a stage with my idols, I learned so much about about how I wanted to engage with younger, emerging artists myself, as I evolved in my own career. Everything about Lilith Fair and Sarah’s vision was inspiring, positive and classy on so many levels, yet it was also brilliant from a business perspective, and a successful venture economically. So I learned one of my favorite lessons, in essence: with the right combination of persistence and talent, it is possible to be compassionate and community-minded, and still be successful in the music business.  It might not be easy…but it is possible!

Another milestone for me was opening for Eric Burdon & The Animals in Europe. A friend of a friend ultimately hooked me up with that gig, and I was petrified to say “yes – I can open for a rock/blues legend in a foreign country for audiences that barely speak English, of up to 10,000 people!”  But I didn’t hesitate to accept when the opportunity arose, and it forced me to really get my act together as an artist, at the time. Musically it was very daunting to open for Eric, when I wasn’t sure if his audiences would like me at all; but once I stopped worrying about how I’d go over and committed 100% to the band and the songs themselves, the shows really gelled and the connections with each audience became stronger. I think I learned a great deal about what it feels like to play a show with beginning, middle and end, and not just a “set”. Just by doing it over and over every night for two months, I got a feel for how much to talk, how to transition between songs, how to project to the back of a large venue and ultimately, how to amplify my personality beyond the songs themselves. I guess I learned showman(woman)ship!

Do you support yourself entirely through music, or do you still have a “day job” like so many of us?

Yes, I do music full-time and have for a number of years. My last official day job was also music-related, I was a jingle writer at a music production company and worked crazy hours – sometimes all night – composing and recording 30 and 60 second spots for every conceivable product and service you could imagine. Since then, I’ve continued to do some freelance graphic design for peers and the occasional commercial music commission, but I’ve been touring full-time for about 6 years, and haven’t looked back.

Have you ever had your music licensed? If so, how did that come about?

Yes, I have had several songs featured in indie films as well as on television. I’ve banged my head against the wall over and over trying to get to the right supervisor or director, but in all honesty, anything significant I’ve ever placed has been through some type of personal connection, thus far. For instance, I knew a director of a Lifetime film who was already a fan of my work – so when she requested my material for a made-for-TV movie of course I was amenable and the negotiation was easy.

And as recently as last week, an engineer who worked at the mastering facility I used on my last album licensed a song from an older album of mine for a film he produced years ago that is finally about to be released.

This month my new album “Chandelier” was licensed by MTV, but we’re not 100% sure what songs they’re going to use where yet; supposedly it’ll be featured on “The Hills”, which I’ve never seen, but I understand is a very big show. I don’t even have cable – but plenty of my friends do so hopefully they can TIVO it if we determine my music will actually be used!

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