Indie Spotlight: Emily Merrell
Indie Spotlight is a content series by Indepreneur dedicated to highlighting the successes and stories of our Indie community members.
Each month, our staff selects students and clients from our community to interview and gain insight into their journey - the challenges, the setbacks, and the major wins!
This month, we'd like to introduce you to Emily Merrell.
December 3rd, 2020 by Graci Phillips
Hi, Emily! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today! For those who aren’t familiar with you, give us the Emily Merrell snapshot.
It’s my total pleasure - thank you for asking me! I’ve been a full time professional musician for 10 years, but I’m pretty new to really focusing on my original music. I got a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Jazz Studies from UNT between 2007 and 2012, recorded and released my first album “Embark” right after graduating, and then relocated to Utah. Since then, I’ve done a LOT of teaching, both private lessons and at a few different universities here in UT. I manage and perform in a wedding/cover band, and have a podcast with weekly episodes. And most importantly, I write and perform my original music! My second album Masks came out in May 2020.
There’s a quote I especially liked from your bio, “Emily is known for her extraordinary time management skills, candid professionalism, and immovable desire to empower everyone she meets.” With teaching, a podcast, your performance band, your own music, and the various other projects you’re part of--how do you do it all? How did you develop such disciplined time management?
It’s funny you’re asking about this because just this past weekend I taught a class on this exact subject to a bunch of music majors. The truth is that I think I partly came this way - I love being productive more than truly anything else. That said, I’m always honing my time management skills and trying to think creatively ABOUT my time. One little thing I try to do is ask myself each morning “what kind of brain do I have today?”...Sometimes I have a really deeply creative brain, sometimes I have a business brain, sometimes I have an errand brain, sometimes it’s a busy-work brain. And I try to look at my to-do list and choose items that will work with the sort of emotional/mental state I’m already in. If your schedule is flexible (as I imagine many of ours are as artists), it’s a great way to strategize your time!
So I know one of your passions is your podcast. Where did Artifice come from and what has hosting that been like for you?
I LOVE my podcast so much. Haha. I’m always fascinated by people’s behind-the-scenes goings on. I love to know how people got the way they are, what is easy for them, what they struggle with, what lights them up. And of course, the word “Artifice” has “art” in the title, so it feels fitting for a podcast in which I interview professional artists about their inner workings. It’s a true joy to meet and deep-dive with a brand new person every week. It inspires me so much, and feels like a gift to me
I’ve heard that you’re also about to start beta testing an in depth songwriting course! Tell us a little about that course and why that felt like something you wanted to do?
YES! Oh my gosh thank you for asking about this.
I’ve been teaching music lessons for about 10 years now, and I SO OFTEN have students who are really beautifully creative, but don’t have a strong foundation in theory. So over the years, I found myself designing a songwriting curriculum and method that will work for actual beginners, and would really focus on an individual’s creativity and sort of empowering the student that way. As my method got more and more...methodical...I realized it could translate really well to an online experience (hooray for passive income!). I’ve been wanting to do this for years, but will all of my gigs cancelled this summer #covid, I finally had enough time to make it happen! I’m already in beta testing with a group of about 10 students. Modules 1-3 (of 8) are finished, and I’m hoping to launch the full course in April 2021!
How would you articulate the experience of being an artist as well as someone who teaches? How do the two play into each and what are the advantages or disadvantages about having these two different sides to your art?
This is a tough question for me...For me personally, teaching ABSOLUTELY feeds my mind and soul in a very artful way.
I am so inspired by my students, and finding creative solutions to their unique challenges gives me additional daily reasons to think outside of the box. Furthermore, when your “day job” is teaching music, you basically get paid to practice a ton! I’m always singing what my students are singing, playing what my students are playing, etc. It keeps me on my toes!
But the unfortunate disadvantage is that it just isn’t really sexy. Haha. I’m still struggling to figure out the branding on this one...
When thinking of your teaching and all the other projects you’re part of, how different is your approach with your own music in relation to all the other music you work on?
Hmmm. I don’t think I really see them as different at all. I think that’s sometimes why it’s hard for me to carve out clean spaces for each in my branding.
I guess the thing that’s really special to me about my original music is that it isn’t specifically FOR anyone else. Of course I hope that lots of people will love it, but when I’m teaching, or interviewing a guest, or performing in a wedding/cover band, the task at hand is really focused on someone else. And when I’m writing/singing my own music, I can just lean into what really feels most magical to me.
It’s unbound. A bit reckless, even. Haha.
With all that you do with music, how did you come into Indepreneur? And how has it changed your approach to your personal music and/or your various music businesses?
Oh my gosh. I love Indepreneur so much. I joined just over a year ago (I think October 2019, or maybe late September). I had just gotten the masters back from my album, and was feeling at a total loss for how to market the album well.
I saw a fb ad for Indepreneur, and then BINGED Creative Juice for 10 hours to and from my wedding gig that weekend in Montana (literally 20 hours of Creative Juice in one weekend). And I signed up for a year membership as soon as I got home.
I think I mostly love how much there is to DO. If one thing doesn’t work, there’s so much more to try. There’s so much more to learn. I absolutely haven’t figured everything out (sometimes I feel like I haven’t figured anything out), but I am so high on how much I’ve learned in the last year. I have a million new skills. I just can’t imagine that I won’t eventually find my groove with marketing.
And in the meantime, I genuinely am just psyched to keep learning stuff, trying stuff.
Let’s talk about your most recent project, Masks! While I know the album was done far before the pandemic, the release came at such an interesting time in the world. What brought you to putting Masks together and how do you think it parallels (if at all) with this “new normal” that we find ourselves in?
The timing of this one...geez. Yeah! So, I wrote “Masks” over a 3 year period during which (1) I was coming to terms with the fact that my mom was clinically narcissistic and that there was a hell of a lot of trauma I needed to process around that (2) My mom was diagnosed with, battled, and ultimately died from a terminal form of brain cancer (3) I realized I had been raised in an actual cult… So I was thinking a LOT about Masks in terms of people and institutions presenting themselves in a non-transparent way. And I was also thinking about all of the other (non-malignant) ways that we wear masks as people -- for protection, for play, for art, to bring out a true “self” not easily seen on the surface (for example, drag). And I wanted the album to capture all of that. And I think it does!
As far as whether it parallels our new normal...I guess so! I mean, I don’t think anything dramatic has changed about what it means to be human. And I think it’s essentially human to wear masks (for better or worse). But I’m looking forward to a time without literal daily mask-wearing. Haha.
A little birdie told me that you’re already working on your next album! What can you tell us about this newest musical endeavor?
Ah! Yes. I’m so excited. I already have a brand new album fully written, and am in the recording process right now.
I’m not ready to say much about it yet, but I can promise that it is as big and broad as Masks is #conceptalbum, if a little less centered around the specifics of my life.
And...it’ll (hopefully) be ready for release late in 2021.
Thank you so much for taking this time with me! So finally, how can people keep up with all you’re doing and stay up to date with what’s next?
Thank YOU! This has been so much fun.
My podcast “Artifice” is in all of the places, my website (and mailing list OF COURSE) is at emvocals.com, I’m on facebook , and IG … I think that’s it!
About the author:
Graci Phillips is Indepreneur's Community Manager & Indie Success Specialist. Graci is part of our Nashville team and specializes in providing resources and solutions to our members, community building, and highlighting success stories within this incredible community.
If you are a member of our Indie Community and have a story to tell about your journey as an independent musician, reach out to Graci at firstname.lastname@example.org! We're always looking for new stories to share. If you aren't yet part of our Indie Community, you can get access to our entire library of music business trainings, our entire suite of exclusive discounts on partner products and services for musicians, our 4000+ private community of Indies, and weekly live stream Q&A's and coaching calls by signing up for INDIEPRO!
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