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Sara Hickman

How would you describe your music?

I get called/categorized as: pop/folk/vocals/jazz/rock/adult alternative/triple A/singer-songwriter. I also throw in a lot of picking and classical training, so I guess I'd call myself a porch singer :)

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

I just finished producing an album of nine women. I love to produce, and have been doing that since 1989. As a label owner, I'm in charge of writing, creating, producing, arranging, getting rehearsals structured and back up bands together; I'm in charge of art direction for not only my cds, my other packaging I help art direct through Stingray, a design company I co-founded with four other designers/photographers. I set up mastering, replication, and distribution, whether digital or hard product. I also teach songwriting/creativity classes at festivals and am signed with International Speakers Bureau for public speaking engagements. I oversee contracts, whether I'm licensing (to Martha Stewart, film/tv, American Idol) and I am involved in writing/singing on regional/national commercials, from Wal-Mart, Daisy Sour Cream (I sang on their commercials for 8 years) to Southwest Airlines, etc. I also have served on the board of The Recording Academy and helped with talking about industry related issues in schools, at SXSW and through creative consultanting for other musicians with questions about how the industry works, from copyrighting to publishing to lawyers and management.

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Describe your gear.

I have a Takamine endorsement, so I have about six acoustics. I also have a turquoise Wildcat (electric hollow body) from my Gibson endorsement. I just got a new pedal made by Mark McQuilken that I've yet to try----he's getting different artists to try them and give feedback. I have a 1960's blonde Guild hollow body that I've had about 25 years, and I utilize a Martin, the limited edition 150 year celebration model signed by C.F. Martin, in the studio.

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Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"Yes. I mostly work with men, and I have to speak clearly, directly about what I want. I've learned to be bold and not care what someone thinks because I have a ton of experience and I deserve the right to be heard and respected. I'm fortunate in that I've worked with the best of the best, so I've learned how to speak up, but, in the beginning, it was maddening. Becoming a mother made my job more difficult only in that I am the breadwinner, and I do my best to be a creative mini-mogul AND carve out quality time with my children/husband/family and friends. I think I've managed to do a pretty amazing job. I think I have the respect of my peers because of the body of my work, and the ability to produce quality work. I think the biggest moment for me, as a woman, was one day in the studio, about 16 years ago, I was reaching for a fader to change the level of a single track, and the engineer reached over and slapped my hand. I was aghast, and it showed me that, sometimes, no matter the experience or the aptitude, some men are still going to see you as inferior. I've had to deal with men on the phone that were narcissistic and completely rude. I've had to deal with people trying to fondle me and I have been attacke on occassion---after a show, after a rehearsal. I've learned to be aware of my surroundings, to ask for help loading/unloading gear, and I don't let the actions of a few men measure the value of all men. I can say that there are a lot of women out there who are just as maddening, but that's a different story.

I do know I am grateful that my husband is a stay at home dad, and that he has come to help me run this business, whether answering the phone, helping to set up interviews, set up rehearsals, overseeing our stock and mailing out product to Amazon, etc. It seems more men have their wives helping them then women have husbands helping them, but that will, and is, changing. "

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Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"Yes. When I started, it was me, a manager, a high falutin' attorney and the major label. I actually started my first record as an indie and licensed to Elektra, which was a big deal at the time (thus, I still owe the master). If you weren't on a label in the early 90's, no one wanted your product in their stores because it was all about distribution/sales/numbers. I fought to produce on my first major release, especially when the producer was in Hawaii working on another album simultaneously, and I was left in L.A. putting the record together. I questioned why he was getting paid the big bucks (and getting points) when the engineer and I were actually arranging/doing the work. As a result, I ended up with credit and the ability to produce, fully, the last three songs on that album.

I feel like young women today are more savvy about how the industry works, they are starting younger, getting in bands or doing their own solo thing, much more involved in the business aspects. They've watched and learned from us, whether they are aware of it or not, and it's cool to see them be musicians, not ""women"" musicians. I think that is all we've been asking all along...just label me a musician, who happens to be a woman.

Lastly, I enjoy singing about issues that are important to me, as a woman, that a man may or may not understand, and I think younger women are hip and confident to sing about those issues, too. The level of talent is astounding and flourishing at an unheard of rate. Women help one another, we network, we are a large sisterhood. That's been a big sigh of welcome relief for me, cuz like I said, in the beginning, I was one of a few women working/making it in the industry, and we were all doing our best to have singles/be on VH-1, The Tonight Show, do radio tours, whatever it took to stay at the top of a male oriented game."

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Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"Peter Himmelman once said to me, ""Just be yourself. Don't let others talk you any to anything. The way you are creating is amazing."" And Lucinda Williams brought me on stage when I was stiffed by a club owner to perform before the bar had even opened...she heard what had happened, and at the end of her performance, while the club was packed to the nines, she introduced me as her FRIEND (we'd just met) and had me come up and sing to an awesome, enthusiastic crowd. She shared the moment with me so graciously; I've never forgotten the awe I felt from her unselfishness and caring.

I would say to a woman musician starting out: surround yourself with women you admire, even if only in recordings, and network wherever you can---festivals, conferences...and be yourself....be bold in sharing your work....send thank you notes...ask LOADS of questions...imagine yourself where it is you want to be, and everytime you are on stage, make it your best performance possible. Take constructive criticsm, mull it over, and take what is true that can help you grow. Listen to a variety of music and practice, practice, practice. Keep a journal. Ask to open for women you admire. Don't ever, ever,ever give up----even when club owners say you're fat or an audience doesn't respond or a label turns you down or someone doesn't like your song---all that just makes you stronger. Play music with people better than you. Listen to what people are saying around you at conferences, you'll learn a lot. Take notes. Expand your horizons and never be afraid to try something new with your voice/lyrics/sound/music. There is room enough for everyone, don't let anyone tell you different. And, lastly, you don't have to be a household name to make a career/living on what you love to do. Do what you love. Be happy. Enjoy the moments. Make your songs an extension of who you are....you're the only you that will ever be and YOU MATTER. Thanks, Sara Hickman, Official State Musician of Texas for May 2010-May 2011"

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Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

"The guitar became my best friend at age seven. I could mimic what I heard on the radio, and I started with a strict jazz instructor who taught me voicings, tablature and to think in a broad, musical spectrum. I credit him with teaching me picking variations.

I've traveled the world with my guitar(s), and they help me through good times and bad. I always turn to my guitar to express myself. We're pretty married, I'd say :)"

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