Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

March 12, 2019 News » Cover Story

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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Page 6 of 9

  • Jeanette Bonnell

The music vet chimes in on the keys to an enduring musical career.


As part of this special package, we couldn't resist sharing with you 10 sound strategies for long-term success from singer, songwriter, teacher and performer Kate MacLeod. With 50 years of experience playing the violin and fiddle, 30 years playing Celtic music in and around Utah and a thriving solo career that's taken her all over the world, MacLeod knows of what she speaks. If you want to know what it takes to make it in this rapidly changing music game, her time-tested wisdom is worth heeding:

Diversify at your own peril (but own it if you do).
"In the commercial music world, they want you to do one thing. If you're really famous, you can depart from that and people won't give you too hard a time. But if you're not famous, it can actually derail you. For me, I'm never so worried about things like that. My whole career has been backwards and upside down anyway. In Utah, I'm known for playing the violin and fiddle; outside of the state, I'm known as a songwriter. Last year, I made my first recording of violin and fiddle, and that confused everyone in the country. It's almost like this strange dual personality. But I decided, 'Well, I don't care—I'm going to do this anyway.'"

2. Use Utah's geographic isolation to your advantage.
"Utah is very isolated from the rest of the music world. It's difficult to work out of here, and people don't believe something really great is going to come out of Utah. If you want to get somewhere, you usually have to move. But there's great talent here—always has been. I did other things for a long time; I worked at the Violin Making School for 10 years, and it was a hard decision not to pursue that professionally. Then, I got into being a full-time musician very gradually. But being here in Utah did allow me to really understand who I was as an artist. And that's because I wasn't in a music city."

3. Listen to your successful friends.
"That's one of my rules: only take business advice from people who are actually doing what they want to do successfully. A friend of mine who was on my first recording had been on Atlantic Records in the big world, and he said, 'Don't move to Nashville, Kate. If you do, they'll just want you to be like a Nashville musician. What you're doing, that's your strength.' I really believe that's true."

4. Let your craft evolve.
"My songwriting has always been in the folk music vein. When I perform, most of the time it's with an acoustic guitar. I've been compared to the Carter Family, but my inspiration comes from everything: things I read, stories people tell me, an experience my friend went through. My favorite thing is writing about other people's stories in a very poetic way. I did an entire collection of songs I wrote inspired by books and put on a live concert at Ken Sanders Rare Books. My fiddle record, Deep in the Sound of Terra, is full of songs inspired by the landscape here. Last year, I was an artist in residence with the Quakers and I spent my time composing peace-motivated inspirational music."

5. Don't listen to the so-called experts.
"So many people say CDs are dead, but I still sell just as many as I used to. As long as I put out projects that have a cohesive theme to them, it really does call for some kind of product that's not just singles. Ken Sanders published a book of my music for Deep in the Sound of Terra; hopefully my next project will be designed in a book, as well."

6. Find a balance.
"I raised three kids. As a mom, I couldn't do everything. I really had to choose how to spend my very little spare time. I'd think, 'What am I going to do with it?' I couldn't do two or three things, so I did what was most important to me: playing music. The songwriting came out of that."

7. Pay attention to your relationship with your instrument.
"Even after 50 years, the way I play the violin and the fiddle has changed. In the last couple of years, I've noticed a huge amount of freedom has opened up in my playing. In the last year alone, I've actually gotten better. I pick up my violin almost every day and play a new melody. I have more fun with it. I always have, but it's a concept that changes. You have to learn how to connect with your instrument and make that relationship with it really enriching."

8. Don't be afraid of change.
"Coming from Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City has always felt like a bit of a small town for me. So I appreciate the recent increase in population, only because I came from that. Buildings being built don't freak me out; I go, 'Oh, new people!' It makes things more interesting. On the other hand, I've had friends since I moved here; it's a very close-knit community, which is nice. When your friends go that far back in life, they become really good friends. You can do that here pretty easily."

9. Be your authentic self.
"One reason I don't play Celtic music all the time is that it's just natural for me as an American coming out of the culture that I've lived and grown up in to play music that's American-based. Yes, it's informed and influenced by Celtic music, but to be my authentic self, I can't make a living off of music that sounds like it was going on 200 years ago. A lot of my friends do that because that's their passion. But to build a career for myself, my writing and my performing has to be in moment—in the now."

10. Learn to love music.
"The thing I like most about teaching music is helping young people learn to play music so that they will always want to play music. I want to make sure my students are in love with it. That's actually a quicker route to getting better. My friends and I became so proficient because we loved playing. We didn't have any goals of becoming good. A lot of young people today see someone doing something on stage and say, 'I want to be able to do that.' Well, that may take a few years. You have to find your happy place with the music you love. A lot of people skip over that part. I grew up learning in the classical model, and I bucked it quite young. I was highly criticized by my teachers, who were trying to prepare me for music conservatory. That was quite traumatic for me and took years to get over. But I loved the violin and all the things it could do. I wasn't only interested in classical music, but I couldn't articulate that until I became an adult."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.


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