Written by Maggie Rose, 2021 September/October Guest Editor
I was an eager, hopeful teenager who had recently moved to Nashville from Maryland to launch my music career when I first flipped through this magazine. I hoped the words written on these pages, from artists like Jeff Tweedy or Gillian Welch, would unlock some songwriting genius within me. I was so malleable at that time. I was like a sponge soaking up the greatness that was all around me in Nashville. I got scorched in a “Baptism by Fire” initiation into the songwriting community of Music City as I tried to hold my own in sessions with writers like Natalie Hemby, Brandy Clark, and Stephony Smith. I applaud my younger self for her courage—or was it naïveté—because I was trying to mask that I was desperately searching for who I wanted to be as an artist, but figured that all I could do was show up with my ears wide open and my humility on full display.
Being invited again and again into that collaborative space by other great artists and writers empowered me and fortified my sense of self little by little. Now I wouldn’t subject you, dear reader, to all the songs that were written in those early days. I do know, however, that the process of creating them shaped the convictions that allowed me to trust my sensibilities as I created my first country album in 2013, which I still cherish. The label I was with at the time folded and I was suddenly independent. But those who continued to rally around me encouraged me to explore the more pop, country, rock, and R&B side of me moving forward. So with fans at the record labels around town but no deals to speak of because no one knew “what to do with her,” I pushed on and did it my way—by gathering the best musicians I knew to create the soul/funk/rootsy live-in-studio album Change The Whole Thing in 2018.
I concede that it makes sense that every interview around that time contained the question, “What genre do you call your music?” Yet, I never had a satisfying answer that didn’t feel reductive or unfocused. I don’t worry about the answer anymore, though. I do obsess over the music and let it do the talking. Now I know I’ve got so much goodness to wring out from my heart because it has been drenched by the people I’ve met and the music I’ve appreciated along this journey. Lizzo famously declared that “genre is dead” and I’d have to agree, but if collaboration and empathic curiosity remain alive and well, I believe boundary-pushing innovation will always be born from it. I can examine my musical journey up to this point and understand that since there was room made for me in a meaningful way early on in my career, I naturally made room for all the incredible people in my life who have helped me realize my own music. Taking time to listen to all kinds of music and works from a variety of talents has resulted in me making room for all the music within me to come alive.
As I pored over that first issue of American Songwriter in 2008, I loved seeing so many perspectives gathered in one publication. Artists and writers who make wildly different music were still woven together by their appreciation and reverence for the process of creating it. It still seems that the only thing that defines the type of music showcased in this magazine is its merit. Today, when I look at the editorial lineup of this issue, I see that same inclusive and diverse display of artists who are all different but creating music with genuine intention.
I titled my new album Have A Seat for numerous reasons—I know where I belong at this proverbial table and that only I can occupy my seat there. The title is also a nod to the joint effort from all who came together to help me make this project. More importantly, the title is an invitation to anyone and everyone; it’s a celebration of the fact that we are all gathering together to share in the joy of music once again. Finally, it’s aspirational in that we will all continue to make room for everyone who deserves a seat at the table. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the music industry paralleled the format of this magazine just a little more? If you’ve been gathered around the American Songwriter table for a while or if you have just pulled up a chair, we all came here for our love and respect for “the craft of music” and there’s plenty of room for that.
Maggie Rose | 2021 September/October Guest Editor