Katie Herzig has perhaps gotten more mileage out of television music placement than any other independent musician. The Grammy-nominated Colorado-native songwriter got her start as a member of the folk-grass collective Newcomer’s Home in the late ’90s, but she’s garnered more recent attention via her solo material. Over the space of three albums, Herzig has managed to blend folk and pop music in a way few other artists are able to imitate, drawing comparisons to the likes of Devon Sproule and Neko Case.
Herzig has also championed online distribution, penning original material released through socially-aware music site Brite Revolution for the past six months. She’s also had her music featured everywhere from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy to Fox’s crime-procedural Bones. Her most recent album, a live album recorded with her touring band, is available until November 1st through Noisetrade as a “name-your-own-price” issue.
Herzig recently sat down to talk to Stereo Subversion about being a die-hard independent, the differences between writing as a solo artist and as a songwriting partner, and the craziness involved in placing a song on television only weeks after writing and recording it.
SSv: How did it feel to be named “an artist to avoid at your own peril” by Paste?
Katie: I thought it was quite nice of them to say that. It was clever, and I definitely appreciated that they said it.
SSv: Billboard wrote of your music: “Herzig’s gifts as a songwriter have stood out due to the fully produced nature of her songs, recorded with care and a bigness that transcends the potentially damning status of just being another girl in Nashville with a guitar.”
Katie: That threw me a bit – I wasn’t quite sure for a minute if they were saying good things or bad things with that, because I’ve had good experiences with the Nashville music scene.
SSv: What do you feel your role is as a songwriter and a producer? Do you feel remaining independent has freed you up to be more original as an artist?
Katie: Production is just as important as songwriting in my opinion. As an independent musician I don’t have to worry about other peoples’ expectations of what my music should sound like, so I can focus on what pleases me as a musician. It’s the only world I’ve known as a musician. I’ve always been able to produce music that works on my terms.
SSv: You’ve written songs for other artists, including “Heaven’s My Home,” which got The Duhks nominated for a Grammy. Does the songwriting process tend to work differently when you’re working on something for another musician?
Katie: Really, there’s more of a difference when I’m writing songs with other people, as a co-writer, because in those cases it can become less personal and more collaboratively focused. On my own I go with my guts and write based on what’s happening with me. It’s interesting though that you mention songs I write for others, because many of those songs weren’t songs written specifically “for” another person. I wrote the songs for myself and eventually they became songs which others found meaningful enough to them to record. I usually focus on writing a song which I would feel proud to record.
SSv: What makes music meaningful to you?
Katie: It’s the music, the songs, which gravitate into my life. The music becomes part of my experience and becomes connected with the way I’ve lived my life. I’m always thrilled to hear how my music has affected fans on an individual level. Creating a meaningful experience between myself and my listeners is what music’s all about.
SSv: How did you get involved with Brite Revolution?
Katie: A couple of my friends are involved in the site, and they asked me if I’d like to get involved. They’re trying to get as many musicians involved as they can, because the idea is to generate constant new content for their subscribers, from independent artists who actually have the freedom to continually create new content. I’ve done it now for about six months, but starting in October I’m likely done with it, because with my touring schedule it’s been difficult to find the time to keep up with the new material. It’s definitely cool what they’re doing, and I’m glad people have been able to enjoy the music.
Noisetrade has been big for me, though. Starting in October, for the first month it’s available, they’ll have my new live-in-studio acoustic album with Claire [Indie] and Jordan [Brooke Hamlin] and I attempting to capture our touring sound from the last couple years together. After that it will be up on Itunes and the like, but I think you get as much value from people forwarding your music to their friends, even if they don’t pay anything. You’re reaching a wider audience.
SSv: Are music fans getting more involved with charitable causes because of sites like Brite Revolution?
Katie: I’ve asked people to join up with Mocha Club before, and that’s been really awesome that people have actually wanted to get involved in things like that. More artists are realizing they can focus on these wider ideas to help others, even while still getting our own music across to an audience. My fans have really gotten involved in things like that.
SSv: British musician David Ford has actually made his MySpace page his only official web presence, saying that life is too short to maintain the many websites musicians are supposed to have as proactive marketers. How important do you think social networking is for musicians today? Do sites like Twitter, Facebook and others actually help, or are they time wasters?
Katie: I’ve found that Twitter can work wonders. It’s become popular quickly, and it feeds into Facebook, which really helps a lot to create a wide online network of fans. Myspace is still a place for people to find the basics, whether to hear the songs or find out about tour dates, but unfortunately everyone prefers their own personal network. So it can eat up a lot of time staying up on all of them. Twitter is the most direct, since there’s no lag between what you say and when people see it. It’s been cool on tour, getting people involved in the moment. Fans are really into it, but it does get a bit exhausting.
SSv: You’ve spoken of musical community as being important in artist development. Does online social networking affect how artists network with other artists in the real world?
Katie: I think it does affect it, especially in artist communities if you follow a specific group of musicians. It can be a good way to stay up on what is happening in that group, but you’re following what you want to follow. I see online social networking as a great resource beyond the usual email list. People who want to follow you online on these networks want to know what you’re doing as a musician all the time, and it’s a solid way to get your music out to this dedicated group quickly. It’s something independents are able to easily take advantage of, but which major label artists aren’t always able to do as well from a personal standpoint.
SSv: What about programs like Grey’s Anatomy? Your music’s been used on many shows over the years. How important is it to market your music to television? Do you ever worry your song will become permanently associated with a scene that ultimately changes the way the music is perceived?
Katie: I have noticed that people discover new music based on how it’s positioned on these shows. But there’s definitely a connection made when a song is used, and usually if they want to use your song you at least get some input in how it’s going to be used. But I know what you’re saying, because I have had a song of mine played over a car crash, so you do have to be aware of how the song’s going to be used.
Chances are, though, if someone’s going to find your music via a TV show and they hunt down more information about you, it probably means they liked it. That’s always a good thing. And when it comes to getting your music out around the world to the right audience, there’s no better way right now for indies to be discovered. There’s always going to be a fine line between being heard for the music and being heard in a commercial setting, and I usually move back and forth between the two.
SSv: Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, your song with Matthew Perryman Jones made it onto last year’s final episode, supposedly weeks after you finished writing it. Even in the digital age that seems pretty quick, there’s got to be a story there.
Katie: Actually, Grey’s Anatomy had been asking me for material for their final two episodes that hadn’t been available elsewhere. Matthew and I had been trying to finish that song, “Where The Road Meets The Sun,” for a film soundtrack, but the song really fit what they were looking for at Grey’s Anatomy. So we pitched it to them and they loved it.
That’s what’s great about today’s music world – you can write something one day, record it the next and have it on TV in a matter of weeks. Still, it did catch me off guard just how quickly everything came together on this one.
SSv: You’ve released several songs since your last album, Apple Tree. Are you currently dabbling with new material, or do you already know what you want to do with a future album?
Katie: I will be recording a new album next year, but I’m not really deeply into new material for it yet, so I’m not sure what the new album’s going to be. I’m still too involved in touring the material from Apple Tree to think much about that kind of thing yet.
SSv: How would you describe the state of today’s music world? Has online availability made it easier or more difficult to find meaningful music?
Katie: I feel there’s more to sift through, but that’s always a good thing. People find good music when they know what they’re looking for and where to dig for it. The key is there are more choices among “blue collar musicians,” a group there’d been no room for in the past. Now I think these musicians are going to become the majority, and it should stay that way for a long time.
SSv: Which do you prefer, writing music, recording music or performing music in a live setting?
Katie: I have always found a perfect balance among the three. I absolutely love recording, and writing always does it for me when I’m in that place. Still, touring and performing live has always felt harder for me and more rewarding. I had to overcome stage fright when I first played with Newcomers Home, but it now feels just so natural to me. And it’s great to be able to connect with fans for real feedback when playing in those rooms. That’s really where you get to finally hear what’s resulted from all the hard work writing and recording.
SSv: You’ve been alternating lately between solo headlining shows and supporting performances with the likes of Brandi Carlile and Over The Rhine. Does it ever get confusing to keep track of what kind of show you’re doing each night?
Katie: It definitely keeps you on your toes. The thing is, it’s a fun challenge when you’re opening for someone else and you have a shorter time to make an impression. You have to play the best material in a short amount of time and then let the headliner take over. Yet when you’re the headliner, you have so much leeway, since the fans there already are familiar with pretty much everything you could throw at them. That can be even more of a challenge.
SSv: Can you see yourself touring as relentlessly as you do now 10 years from now?
Katie: No, I would hope to be able to get the relentless touring done now and then shift to a more manageable schedule down the road. Most established artists eventually get to where there’s a time of the year when they write ad record, a time of the year for relaxing, and you have the fall tour, the spring tour. I love being at home in my own bed too much to be on the road all the time. It’s been a phase I’m in right now, being out on the road taking advantage of these opportunities that come around only so often.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.