What Do You Do When Your Art Gets Stolen

This blog post has been a couple years in the making. It’s a mix of a lot of different stories, with one central theme: my songwriting. I already find it hard to talk about my music a lot of the time—I hate self-promotion for one, and I still at times feel like my even attempting to make something of myself as a songwriter is such a far-fetched and unrealistic dream that I shouldn’t even bother talking about it. But the truth is that no matter what other jobs I pursue or what other endeavors I undertake, my writing is still how I want to make my living. I want to connect to people through my lyrics; I want to express myself through songs. That constant underlying drive has been sitting underneath all of the other exciting life developments of the past couple years—bubbling below my pursuit of a master’s degree, idling throughout my move to Colorado, and waiting beneath the surface of my current (very awesome) forays into cycling guiding and traveling, there is a little voice that’s always telling me,

“You’re meant to do this other thing. Don’t give up on it.”

I have been surprised at the tenacity of this little voice. I am often so wrought with self-doubt surrounding my music and writing that I think I ought to just stop trying. I feel like a fake—who am I to think I can write songs?! What experience do I have?! I don’t even play an instrument! I hate my singing voice!  I have literally no background education in this art beyond my own self-made experience. Back in Atlanta during grad school, I worked really hard to hone my writing and performance skills. I did open mics as often as I could, I wrote with a lot of different local artists, sat in on studio sessions, submitted to contests. I mentored young writers, sidled myself next to some experienced industry folks, and got on the rosters for some really cool gigs. In this manner, I built up both my own confidence and an actual repertoire of shows and songs. I’d go from being so incredibly unsure of myself before a show or an event, to feeling like my words actually meant something to folks who approached me afterwards, asking to work together or asking how they could hear more of me. I shared stages with and worked alongside the likes of  Killer Mike, Janelle Monae, and Jennifer Nettles. To be fair, those artists make themselves incredibly available to local artists in Atlanta! I don’t intend to toot my own horn in the slightest; those moments were fuel for the creative fire in me, and generally the support of my friends and other artists outweighed the lack of confidence I felt in what I was doing. Eventually I even became the manager of a little music venue on Edgewood and learned the ropes of booking and gigging from the other side of the stage. I felt was growing in major ways and I had a good little thing going for myself back in ATL for a while.

Then in 2011 I experienced the worst and most life-altering moment of my music career. I never told many people about it, because it hurt too bad. Unless you are an artist, it can be hard to understand what something like it feels like. I was in the process of writing a new album, which I was very proud of and getting ready to start booking shows. Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google of my name and found that someone had set up a Kickstarter page using my artist name, my photos, a fake bio, and my music, and they were asking for donations to fund a new album. There was all my stuff out online, with some random POS getting paid donations without my knowledge of any of it. I can’t tell you what that felt like, how much of a violation that was for me. My music is my reality—my words come directly from my life experiences. My heartache is mine, my joy is mine, my love is mine. And someone took those things and pretended they belonged to them; like they had experienced that heartache, that joy, that love. They passed it off as their own. And they were profiting. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

A lawyer friend of mine helped me get to the bottom of it, and the Kickstarter page was taken down (still thanking you for that, Will). The asshole who set it up turned out to be an old coworker of mine from when I worked as a waitress. He had just ripped all the stuff from my YouTube page. He is a no-good human being and I hate that I ever associated with him at all. Needless to say, we are no longer acquaintances.

With that burn fresh under my belt, I felt really trepidatious about sharing my stuff anymore. Then in an INSANE show of karma, I found myself unwittingly on the other end of the same exact thing. One night, getting ready to go on stage at Smith’s, the DJ started playing a song. It was my song, one of the new ones. But it wasn’t my voice or my lyrics. I asked the DJ where he got the song, and he told me it was from a new album by a well-known local group. Confused, I called my producer right there, and then the manager of said local group (who I worked with at the Music Room) to figure out what was up. It turned out that all of the instrumentals I had written lyrics to for my new album had been stolen from that other group’s recording sessions. The people that I trusted to help me create my music had completely ripped off another artist. I couldn’t believe it. I left Smith’s without ever going up. Later I worked closely with the manager of the other group to find out where the leak happened, and legal action was again taken to ameliorate that wrong (read: the music thief ate shit). The band was understandably very upset that their sessions had leaked, but their manager understood what happened, and things smoothed over quickly between us with no hard feelings. But I was humiliated. Having just gone through the feeling of having my work stolen, I felt god-awful. I’ve never been that hurt, that embarrassed, that angry.

So I took everything I ever wrote off of the internet.

No more SoundCloud, no more YouTube, no more A. Marie Hill. No more music. For two whole years, I stopped creating. I was so badly hurt and turned off by people that I didn’t want to share anymore. I got into bikes, I got into being outside, I got into other stuff that wasn’t music. I passed the time.

But that little tenacious voice kept on.

In 2014, I left Atlanta and moved to Denver. I was growing restless and stagnant. I knew I needed to create, but I felt like Atlanta’s scene had wronged me. I thought a fresh start in a new music scene might kickstart my creativity and let me feel like I had a new beginning. I moved in July and by August I had found a new writing partner. Matt and I had a type of immediate chemistry that writing partners only dream of—we were pumping out a new song at every session, and by September we were booked to open for Macy Gray. That show will go down as one of my favorites I’ve ever played; we were six weeks new as a band, with maybe eight or nine songs and a couple covers ready to go. The show was incredibly fun—Matt and our drummer Nick were longtime bandmates and as a trio we had a sound and a vibe that was unbeatable for me creatively. Getting to say, “Thank you all, now please welcome Macy Gray to the stage!” is easily one of my favorite moments as an artist. I felt like I finally had my groove back with writing and creating, and Matt and I were unstoppable as we worked to round out our band.

Just a couple months later in early 2015, Matt and I both separately were offered our dream jobs outside of music. I took my current job with Trek Travel, bike guiding around the world. For a while I worked hard to keep writing with Matt from a distance, but it’s challenging to work on a song when you’re not there in person to flow together. I really had a hard time as I slowly realized I might not be able to do both things– that I might be holding back Matt by selfishly asking to keep working together without actually being present to do gigs and write songs. That sucked. I felt like I was giving up one dream to pursue another, and neither was a sure bet, and both were incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Right when I had found my feet again as a songwriter, I was walking away again. Later on, Matt would land his own dream job in Texas. He left Denver and I think he found a better understanding of the position I had been in with the Trek Travel job—which dream do you stick to? Which path do you choose? Which basket gets your eggs?

So that brings us to now.

Denver did indeed reignite my creative spark. Aside from the dozen or so songs Matt and I wrote together, I have been writing more music with more people and continuing to create even as I spend months away from home for my job. My former roommate in Denver, Connor, is a talented guitarist and we’ve got two gems in production right now. My boyfriend Jeremiah is finishing up a degree in recording arts and is himself a producer; the two of us also have some incredible songs we’ve written together. We even set up a studio at home to record and produce more. When I am home, all I have to do is sit down to write and everything else I need is in place. Gigging is hard since I am away from home so much, but I plan to start back in on the open mic scene in Denver ASAP. Jeremiah and I are working on wrapping up a brand new EP, and we’ve got about half of it done as of right now. I sing for guests on trip, I write on my down time, I submit to contests and publishers online. I still listen to that little voice. I still largely doubt my ability to “make it” as a performer, but I do believe I can sell my songs. I want my words to reach people, even if it’s through another voice. Something inside me is sure that all it will take is persistency. Sticking to the plan no matter what else I am doing with my life.

It’s really good to be back. It’s really good to feel like I am still working towards the thing that I know I am supposed to be doing, even tiny steps at a time.

 

Here’s a little sample of what I’ve been working on. Enjoy. 🙂

I Won’t Go, written with Jeremiah

Oh Sister, written with Matt

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s