“Nowadays the music industry encourages independent musicians to build their own audience before anything else happens.” (Mary Spender, BBC Bristol Radio Interview)Mary Spender is a British singer-songwriter who has gained significant notoriety not only because of her beautiful voice, unique guitar style and excellent songwriting, but equally as important, she has found a way to leverage social media to her advantage. As evidenced by the quote above, she understands that the present day music industry demands that independent artists build a following as a pre-condition to any investment or support from record labels and other industry players. Her Youtube channel is currently supported by over 26,000 subscribers due in large part to the popularity of her weekly show Tuesday Talks, in which she talks about music, guitars, songwriting, interviews music industry personalities, and generally covers a wide range of interesting music-related topics.
Ms. Spender is about to embark on her first headlining tour of the UK, coming off of a 4-date tour supporting Mike Dawes last month. I have tickets to her show in London on March 22, and she has gracefully agreed to a pre-show interview with me, which will be part of a short documentary on women in music and the gender-based challenges they face.
Mary is 27 years old and started her music journey at the ripe age of 15. So although she is still young, she has amassed significant experience, which she has applied with astuteness and wisdom that goes far beyond her age. Her ageless maturity has led her to find perfect balance in a juggling act that includes creating great music, establishing a relentless presence in the form of her Youtube persona and show, and remaining consistently accessible to colleagues and fans to ensure no opportunity goes unconsidered.
Although I am old(er) and a seasoned musician in my own right, I have found many lessons to be learned from this talented young musician. Here are some highlights of what I admire in Mary’s approach:
1. Have a visions and stick to your guns. In typical formulaic brand creating fashion, Mary has received advice from record labels that she should drop the guitar playing and just be a singer, an advice she was chosen to ignore in favor of following her heart and vision. In fact, it was her unique and very identifiable style of guitar playing that initially caught my attention, and I would have considered it a tragedy had she chosen to ignore that part of her artistic personality.
2. Be humble. In a recent interview with BBC Bristol radio, Mary mentioned that the fact she is about to go on tour as a headliner, and the privilege and rarity it represents, is not lost on her. Rather than constantly looking beyond at the next step, she chooses to enjoy and savor the moment, learn from it, and use the experience to launch the next step. Regardless of whatever her ultimate goal may be, her enthusiasm for where she is in her career is contagious.
3. Capitalize on existing tools. This is perhaps one of the most brilliant sides of Mary. She found a way to use Youtube, a tool that is accessible to anyone with a computer or smart phone, in a very creative and original way to enhance her music career. While the focus of her show Tuesday Talks is her activities, there is nothing pretentious or self-centered about the show. She always comes off as humble, curious, gracious and grateful. This not only makes her very likeable, but more importantly it gives the viewer a sense of connection and affinity with her that is often absent in an industry plagued with primadonna egos.
4. Understand the importance of relationships and networking. Mary is constantly collaborating with other so-called Youtubers to create interesting and diverse content. She is also an expected and welcomed presence in international trade shows such as NAMM and Guitcon. She makes herself accessible not just to industry players, but also to fans. Mary doesn’t know me, yet in the recent email exchange I had with her where I asked for the interview, I offered to help her in any way I could if she ever chose to tour the Northwest USA. Her response was: “Hello, well of course I'd be more than happy to be interviewed by you and I'm wondering whether we could meet before my London show? Thanks so much for coming!!!! To be honest I think I'd love to take you up on your offer for Northern Californian shows too!” Anyway, simply, yes to all of this and thanks for getting in touch.” Her response made me feel like I was speaking with a friend.
5. Develop a unique voice. Not everyone is going to be superbly talented as Mary is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put to practice some of her means and methods. Rather than practicing to become yet another guitar wanker doing diminished minor scales with sweeping arpeggios and finger taps at 500bpm, Mary focused her development as a guitarist in a style that truly suits and complements her music and singing. Her percussive right hand approach allows her to maintain a catchy groove in the absence of a drummer or percussionist, and choosing to finger pick instead of flat pick allows her to combine rhythm with tasty melodic lines. Her guitar tone is as warm and comforting as hot cocoa, as is her voice. I can think of few guitarists in history that if I hear them in a song I have never heard before, I know it is them. Eddie Van Halen, Mark Knopfler, Michael Hedges, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt come to mind. I will not say that Mary is at the level of these players chops-wise, but her style is as unique, distinctive and readily identifiable as any of them. That, alone, is a gigantic accomplishment as a musician; one I admire and respect immensely.I am clearly impressed with this talented artist and I sincerely hope she is able to establish a fulfilling and sustainable career in this very tricky music industry. I urge you to seek her music out and give it a fair shot. You can visit Mary’s website, where you can find music, bio, videos, tour info and shop for merchandise and music at www.maryspender.com. Let’s see if together we can facilitate a U.S. tour for her. You can start by liking her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MarySpender/.
Thanks for reading! And see you on the dark side…