When I first came to Nashville back in 1993 I was writing for a syndicated music series for TV called, The Road. I met many incredible artists during the run of the series that primarily showcased country, folk, and Americana artists.
Back then there was a singer-songwriter outside of the mix for that show that I had hoped and prayed to meet one day. It was someone whose work I’d been introduced to just before the move to Music City while living in L.A. Her name is Margaret Becker. She’s someone whose vocal pipes suggest a mix of Annie Lennox and Kathleen Battle, whose rich, prayerful, no-nonsense lyrics rival those of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joni Mitchell, and Nanci Griffith. The lady can also bang a guitar to blue blazes, scorching and torching as brilliant-bright as Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Singer + Songwriter + Producer + More
The DoveÂ® Award winning, GrammyÂ® nominated singer’s career in Contemporary Christian Music has spanned more than two decades, and she’s still going strong as a performer, lecturer, producer, and author.
By the way, I did meet her. She’s turned out to be even more charming and humble than I imagined. I recently had the chance to get her to share her perspective on a career that has grown as needed in her passionate pursuit of the Creator and how He is expressed through her life and music.
The Q + A
SSO: What are the biggest differences between Margaret Becker hitting the streets of Nashville in the late 1980’s and Margaret Becker writing, speaking, and performing today?
Becker: Oh my gosh-what are the differences between someone in their early twenties and someone more than halfway through their life-there is not enough room to even start. My highlights in brief? I’ve seen it all, and as a result, the things that truly matter to me are fewer. Music is an expression of deeper things, things that are meaningful in the moment, but surely will move and change to some degree. As a result, music has taken its proper place as a temporal expression with some eternal ear marks.
I have branched out quite a bit. Book writing, speaking, even teaching. I have fallen in love with people again, (most of them anyway,) now that I don’t have to please them in order to eat.
Very little scares me, not because I am so secure or without need, but rather because I have seen cycles of life in several different ways at several different times, and the result is to know that God is ultimately going to do what He pleases–with and without our permission. That is a terrible, peaceful realization that takes the pressure off in many ways.
The Singer’s Challenges
SSO: What have been your greatest challenges as a vocalist, how have those challenges changed over the course of your career, and what has worked for you in meeting them?
Becker: Good question. Staying healthy is the biggest one. For a few years, we ran a tour that was 13 days on-one day off. Vocally, that tour told me a lot about myself. I learned that my classical training was gold. The only struggle I had in that rigorous schedule was fighting colds.
Stylistically, it is important to have a vocal signature, but not to the point of repeating things that are so stylized that they are dated. It’s a delicate balance. Historically speaking there are a few people who have managed it quite well. Bono. Sting. They would be the examples I would look to to keep signature, while remaining ahead of the curve.
Advice On Image
SSO: What advice would you give an artist on defining or establishing their “image?”
Becker: Start with authentic. Find what is “authentic” and perhaps could sustain “timeless” about you, and begin there. Again, Bono is the marker here. He is always uniquely himself in all imaging, although he is on the leading edge in every photo shoot. Even though he looked awesome in a mullet, wouldn’t you be a little scared of him if he still had it? He was bald when appropriate and edgy . . . the shades . . . no shades . . . leather verses blue jeans . . . through all of it-he was uniquely Bono because part of his first impression on us was that this is a guy who is going to subtly surprise us. We will be challenged by his sense of style. Having met him and spent time with him, I can tell you that this is authentically him, in fact, it is an earmark that is indigenous to his personality. That is what every artist must discover about themselves-discover and maintain in an emergent way.
SSO: Talk about the singer vs. the songwriter in you in terms of how you choose material, create material, and then perform it?
Becker: When I am choosing material, I am seeing a “set.” Where will a song fit into a set? How will it emotionally play out to the audience? Will it assist me in leading that audience to point “x,” whatever that is for me? I assimilate with the live setting in mind, especially in today’s ‘single’ environment. We are at the point in music buying where the song is king again as a result of mp3 downloads. This makes the top to bottom CD experience a little less potent and important. The songs have to do something all by themselves. They can’t be reliant on placement within a project context. This truth makes the live environment the place where you can control placement and emotional journey, so that is how I decide what will serve the purpose.
Mastering The Mix
SSO: One of the programs that Brett Manning has been working on for over a decade focuses on MASTERING MIX Why is it so important to develop the mix, and how has that part of your voice served you and changed over the years?
Becker: Hmm. The mix. I used to play clarinet – for a second. I could never get beyond B-flat, the equivalent of chest voice-without compromising the tone and execution of the instrument. It was like a brick wall, an impossible jump that made me more afraid each time I publicly had to attempt it. I never could make it out of the sub-b-flat ghetto, and as a result, never progressed.
There is a place like that in each vocalist’s range, where it is akin to walking on squishy, scary ground. You never quite feel confident, and subsequently, you don’t have the same depth of expression in that place. If you walk there too long as someone who is frightened, or just hoping for the best–instead of walking confidently–it becomes a liability that can limit your range of expression. Unfortunately, there are a lot of singers who exist like that. You need everything you can possibly have vocally, so you can surprise and emote. If you can’t use your head voice because the path to get there is mushy-then you won’t go there, and your songs will get boring.
Yes-that bridge is key to having an interesting expression verses a mundane one. It should be as seamless as possible. It is worth every second you invest in perfecting your confidence there.
For The 411 On “Maggie B”
For more information on this amazing artist, visit www.maggieb.com or check her out on Youtube, Facebook and MySpace.