We had the good fortune of connecting with Maddi Mae and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maddi, do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
When folks consult me about their music and careers, I have plenty of technical advice to share about musicianship and career management. But if I were limited to share only one affirmation with a peer, it’d be this one: “Treat yourself like a friend.”
In a business that constantly challenges our self-esteem and self-efficacy, it’s easy to get swept up in the hustle or to get knocked down by the stress. I’ve seen too many folks drop out of the music industry because of physical, mental, and emotional degradation. We’re pressured to market our suffering, advertise our bodies, and promote our crafts in increasingly brief intervals of instantly gratifying content for the entertainment of others. Constantly engaging in that work can program us to think of ourselves as commodities, as objects, as products. Often, I see folks turn to substance abuse and self-harm as a way to numb the hurting human inside and power through as the artist – a mechanical being hellbent on success.
That’s just not the way we work though. Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Our end goals as musicians often center around self-actualization (creativity, purpose) and esteem (respect, recognition, freedom), which are the two highest tiers of Maslow’s pyramid. Before we can genuinely access those facets of our development, we’ve got to first meet our physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), then our security needs (health, resources, etc.), and then our needs for love and belonging (friends, family, intimacy, connection).
If we’re treating ourselves like products, we’re often ignoring those first three levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy in pursuit of “success.” But by treating ourselves as friends, we treat ourselves like humans, in need of – and deserving of – care and compassion.
When I’m treating myself like a friend, I take time to rest, to heal, to refuel. When I’m treating myself like a friend, I pay better attention to my personal growth, my career progress, and my victories – no matter how seemingly small in comparison to others’ big expectations. When I’m treating myself like a friend. I reframe success to be less about fame and fortune and more about health and happiness. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I continuously learn new ways to be a better friend to myself.
I’ve achieved more in my most recent years of treating myself as a friend than I ever did before. I’ve been investing in my health and happiness outside of my career, and my career has blossomed because of it. In the past few years, I’ve played a few hundred shows, recorded and released my debut album (Quiet Corners), and opened my own brick-and-mortar lessons studio (Maddi Mae’s Sound House).
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I was brought up among the Blue Ridge Mountains in a family that would be better described as a bizarre four-person evangelical Christian cult. I got started in music at five years old and soon became a child country gospel guitarist/singer/songwriter, spending a dozen years putting my “God-given gifts” to good use in valley churches.
Home abuse turned to teenage homelessness. Completely brainwashed and traumatized, I was not prepared for life outside of the family. I spent years in a near constant state of shock, retraumatized by dark happenings I’d rather not share but that I was especially vulnerable to because of my upbringing. I suffered for years, struggling to make sense of my past and of the world. I abandoned musicianship for a while, afraid that it was an identity forced upon me rather than one I chose for myself.
But with no god, no kinfolk, and no answers, I kept coming back to music. Songwriting became prayer that answered itself. I’d prompt a song with a question and let the answers come out in the lyrics and music. I grew so much through writing hundreds of songs that will never see the light of day – songs that gave voice to the seemingly unspeakable and shed light into the seemingly unreachable darkness.
This year marks a full decade of me supporting myself off of music and music education alone. I’ve now played well over 500 shows – solo and as a member of psychedelic and folk rock bands. In September 2020, I released my debut six-song record called Quiet Corners, recorded with Kyle Millers of the band Tow’rs.
Music blog Two Story Melody said of the record, “Amid Maddi Mae’s succulent vocals and the infectious, simplistic artistry of the song’s folk tone, the most compelling aspect of [single] “Here Right Now” is its sheer confidence. “Here Right Now” exemplifies a brutal honesty and proud transparency that begs for a spot alongside [Julia] Jacklin on Spotify’s “Badass Women” playlist. [The song] rests at the corner of persuasive rhetoric and equally compelling melodies— it’s an utterly powerful track.”
Music blog Ear to the Ground said of Quiet Corners, “Sounds like something you could have heard late one night in the early 60s bringing down the lights in a honky-tonk . . . This is what should be on country music radio, but we’re happy to claim it over here in the indie Americana world.”
In January 2021, I opened my music education studio, Maddi Mae’s Sound House. While I’m actively navigating the music industry – constantly challenging myself to earn new skills and knowledge – mentoring other career-oriented musicians gives me the opportunity to synthesize and share what I’m learning effectively. And with students who aren’t hell-bent on a music career, I’m genuinely happy to just spend time sharing music with them because I understand firsthand how music can be a safe space for big personal growth. Whether a student is exercising their brain and body by learning a new instrument, digging deeper into their thoughts and feelings through songwriting, confronting fears to find their singing voice, or just trying to make more space for peace and joy in their life, I take pride in offering Sound House as a safe place for that growth.
I’ve made it this far professionally for a couple of reasons. The first, as brutal as this sounds, is that I had no other options. Music was all I had ever known, and music was the only way that I could make enough money to support myself while also accommodating my needs as an individual living with the very real effects of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The second reason is that I have worked my ass off – to earn and maintain the knowledge and skills necessary to be a musician and music educator, and to keep myself healthy and happy enough to do the work well.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve been to Los Angeles once. When I was there, I chowed down on some Southern Thai cuisine from Jitlada, spent an evening lounging at Will Rogers State Beach, and caught a show at Zebulon.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to give a shoutout to Katherine Ayers, the woman who helped me get my first job as a private school music teacher when I was nineteen years old and wholly unqualified for the position. She (I think unknowingly) gave me a launch pad for my career, and I’ve now spent an entire decade supporting myself with music and music education alone.
Jennifer Gail Gray, Gina Nilce, and Bob Adamek