I've been a professional singer-songwriter for about 10 years now. What I mean by that is getting paid to do it. I've been in rock bands, country projects, wedding bands, chick groups and indie duos. I've toured across the country countless times, played large festivals, and the tiniest bars you never knew existed. I've performed for audiences of 2 and audiences of 3,000, and have had just as much fun at both. I've worked in Nashville and have written songs with well over 100 different artists, some with big names, some not so much, and have had just as many hits with both (zero.) I've made albums with guys you hear on the radio. I've had famous producers, managers, record deals, and I've been screwed over many times (I swear I have a point here.) I moved to Music City 5 years ago to hire a team of people to do the behind-the-scenes work I was so tired of doing my fucking self. Like many of us, I wanted to solely focus on my craft. This, is the only mistake I've ever made.
After assembling, disassembling and re-assembling my "team" about 5 times, I was ready to pack it all in. I was so frustrated by what I perceived as failures and felt completely lost. I was jaded enough to think that failure meant not hearing my songs on the radio. I was severely depressed and swimming in black holes, having just gotten back from touring with a rock band, which didn't go very well. But that's a story for another time.
This was the point at which I was approached by my dear friend and favorite co-writer, Edward Williams. He was in a similar state of mind and proposed putting together an acoustic touring duo called Whitherward. The way he worded it was, if it's not fun, we don't do it. I thought that sounded pretty good. But with my recent discouragement, my expectations were low, so I was surprised at how smoothly everything came together. It felt natural, as if I woke up and there was an EP finished and gigs booked. What I hadn't realized yet was that this was because we were doing it our fucking selves.
In the beginning, we would often say things like "We need an agent." "We need a manager." "I don't know how to book a tour." I had been so focused on building my team that I lost the zest I had before I moved to Nashville. After a few months, we were approached by two different local booking agents who wanted to work with us. But there were problems.
It's amazing how the universe sometimes gives you exactly what you need. I had been earning extra income by dog walking, and many of my clients were suddenly moving away. So I was broke, but I had a lot of extra time on my hands. One of our booking agents wasn't getting us enough shows and the other lost us a big festival gig because of an unmentionable incident that we had no part of. I didn't understand why I couldn't get my team together. Then the light bulb went off. I said "fuck it," quit bitching and started using my new found time to make some calls and e-mails. After all, who is going to work harder on my project then me?
Soon after, Ed and I had a pow-wow and came up with another rule for Whitherward: No more relying on other people. We became a completely independent 2-person operation. He does most of the recording, editing, uploading, web design, and tech stuff. I do most of the booking, newsletter writing, networking and social media, and we share these responsibilities too. Some we were already experts on (e.g. Ed has his engineering degree) and some of them we had to learn by trial and error (e.g. booking is a bitch). But we kinda just figured it out and it must be done!
Now, if anyone wants to help us, we welcome it with open arms. Turns out, we can't do everything alone, and aren't afraid to ask anymore. But we don't rely on it. We use photographers, videographers and other musicians on our projects, but again, if they fall short, we've got it covered. We often reach out to those willing to spread the good Whitherward, especially when it comes to campaigns, sponsorship, shows and social media growth. But we usually throw in some kind of free download incentive in exchange for this aid. And to those gracious enough to share their couches, beds and meals with us while we are out on the road sharing our music with you, we are more grateful for than words can express.
All that being said, one day we might just become too big for ourselves and will need to hire managers, agents and a label. At that point we will re-adjust our plan. But right now, I'm writing this on our way to Las Vegas from Salt Lake City, to perform the second of our 11 show tour, booked and promoted all in-house. Then we are going home to Denver to record our third self-produced EP, and will be touring full-time this summer. We quit our day jobs, which is both scary and invigorating. We already have 20+ dates booked in July up the entire West Coast, and that is only the beginning. I no longer see myself as a failure and finally realize how lucky I really am. I get to travel across the country performing music that I love for amazing people. This is the most enlightening thing that has ever happened to me. This is the power in taking control of your life. So quit your bitching. Do it your fucking self...whatever it is.
Ashley E. Norton