If you want to be a professional musician, 90 percent of what you will do will not be music, said Juneau resident Marian Call, a professional musician. Many songwriters set out on the road toward a full-time musical career, but most of them don’t last as long as Call has.
In the last 10 years, Call has spent 90 percent of her time managing her self-employment as a songwriter, releasing 10 original albums in as many years. She has been traveling and performing for almost as long, including multiple European tours. Today, she is a shining example of how hard work and dedication pay off. But her musical career had an unlikely beginning.
After spending her childhood learning music theory and performing, Call studied music in college but abandoned it after graduation believing that she had no use for her degree. That break from an activity she had sustained since her childhood landed her in a depressed state until she discovered how other musicians were succeeding as independent artists.
“I thought I had to play weddings, be a music teacher or get signed,” Call said. “I didn’t know you could be a songwriter with just a few fans and not millions.”
Call was thrilled to find that there was support and a market for independent artists, and in doing so she identified music as the necessary element of her life that had been missing. She started writing and performing the songs she felt compelled to bring into the world. Thanks to a blossoming social media culture, she was able to connect with others who liked the same things she did. This boosted her fan base and led her to quit her day job to pursue music full-time. Call attributed much of her initial success to happenstance, but she credited her faithful fans for keeping her going for so many years.
A decade of songwriting has refined Call’s style from complicated compositions to more concise and simple progressions. Her subject matter also has shifted from biographical topics to observations about the world and other people.
“Once you write a song, you have to listen to it 10,000 times in tiny chunks,” Call said. “That means you have to really believe it … so I really try to write things that are true and that I think are useful to me to say over and over.”
Call’s inspiration comes from numerous sources, but she described her songwriting process as one of unearthing from within. She said she hopes her self-discovery may be useful to her listeners “like a cliff crumbling and a useful piece coming off.”
Originally from Washington, Call spent a few years in Anchorage before changing her address to the capital city seven years ago. However, most of her time as a Juneau resident has actually been spent on the road. Now, after close to a decade of living as a touring musician, Call has settled in the capital city for real. She has gone from playing over 100 concerts a year to limited touring.
Call continues to compose and record songs, although she isn’t working toward a specific new album goal at this time. She’s currently working on a variety of compositions, including one about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series and another about a bear and a moose who fell in love. She also has one about what it feels like to bundle up and go outside when the weather is less than ideal. In a different vein, she is also diving into electronic composition. Future work could revolve around Alaska history, a research and writing process that Call sees as a way to really get to know her new home.
Call records and edits her songs in her downtown apartment, or in other studio locations when she can secure them. She has managed to record, edit and release new songs online on a regular basis. As important as her music and melodies are, Call said the lyrics are the most important part of her songs and she takes special care in crafting her words.
“There’s a degree of letting go of control when you let a song out into the world, which is why you really have to make sure you’re saying what you mean,” Call said.
These days, Call is focusing more of her efforts on composing and recording since she isn’t booking months-long tours anymore. She also has her eye on becoming a more regular part of Juneau’s music community, although she doesn’t know exactly what that will look like just yet and she’s giving herself time to figure it out.
“I’ve been here for seven years but have been gone for most of that,” Call said. “I feel like a relatively new musician in town.”
She has been breaking the ice by volunteering at local music events and taking opportunities to connect with other local musicians. It’s quite a change of pace for Call, but it’s one she is embracing as she continues to pump out the jams from her home studio.
“I feel like I’m a musician almost incidentally because it’s so much a part of my life that I can’t imagine not being one,” Call said.
Learn more about Marian Call at www.mariancall.com.
• Libby Stringer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.