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Life & Work with Kari Lynch

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kari Lynch.

Hi Kari, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I’ve loved music, singing, entertaining, and creating from as early as I can remember in my life. I was always listening to music and singing for my family, writing and acting out skits, writing poems and short stories, and living inside my imagination full-time growing up. I was about 7 years old when I began to write my own music and when writing music became everything.

I performed my first original song called, “Do You Love Me” (and yes, I remember every word) shortly thereafter and I was hooked and convinced that writing songs and performing them was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. And, I’ve been writing songs and performing them since! Writing has always been my way of figuring out the world around me. If I don’t understand something, I write about it to try to understand it better.

Writing has always brought me clarity and connection with others, and it’s consistently been my outlet for dealing with difficult moments, situations, and hard times throughout my life. It has been my constant saving grace.

I grew up in a very small town in Michigan called Clare, MI, was very involved with theater, music, and sports. My hometown is so special and supportive. I loved growing. up in a small town. Sometimes I wonder what opportunities I might have had earlier in the music industry if I grew up in a bigger city, but I honestly think the community my small town provided truly helped shape me into the type of artist and person I wanted to be and that feels priceless to me.

When I turned 18, I moved to Grand Rapids, MI. In Grand Rapids, I studied music at GRCC and studied writing at Grand Valley State University, where I ultimately received my Bachelor’s degree in Writing. Grand Rapids is also where I started playing my first, real live shows and where I formed my band, the Kari Lynch Band, an Alt-Country/Rock Project. I love Grand Rapids. That community has always been so good to me and it was a great place to get started.

But I always knew that I had to move beyond Grand Rapids at some point, to put the feelers out musically and go be a small fish somewhere.

I’ve been performing with Kari Lynch Band and also performing solo Kari Lynch shows since 2009/2009. I began as a solo artist only but then realized that I also really loved creating and collaborating on a project with others. Kari Lynch Band is a band project, with a heavy focus on songwriting, rock, and alt-country. My solo Kari Lynch project is more singer-songwriter, Pop/Rock-based. I feel really fortunate to have and get to do both. They are both incredibly important outlets and projects for me and it’s really wonderful to get to explore the different facets of creating within both projects.

I bartended and served at various bars and restaurants throughout my life, starting at age 14 and I also had a bartending job when I was getting started in the music industry. In about 2011, I quit my job and decided to pursue music full-time. I just wanted to remove the safety net and honestly go for it. It was really scary and very rough financially at first, but eventually, I found a balance and was playing 6 nights a week, hundreds of shows a year, and not having a “day-job” allowed me the time to write during the day, play shows at night and travel booking tours across the country. I was able to start making a name for myself, learn how to tour and play in front of different crowds every night and live a life focused on being a musician. I’m forever thankful that I took that chance on being a full-time musician when I did.

Around that same time (2012), I began making monthly trips to Nashville to connect with other songwriters and meet as many people as I could. I basically just went back and forth from Michigan to Nashville every few weeks. I would play a run of shows in the midwest, then head to Nashville for a week or two to write, then go on a tour somewhere, then back to Nashville, etc. I maintained that cycle for about 3 years, slept on a lot of couches, in my car, really crappy motels… you name it.

I finally was able to make the move to Nashville in 2015. I had always known that I wanted to end up in Nashville for some measurable amount of time and I’ve always been grateful I was able to make the move. It forced me out of my comfort zone and into a whole new world of music and other musicians, challenges, different inspiration and it made me a better songwriter and musician all around just being in a new environment and around people I could learn from.

I’ve been very fortunate and worked very hard as a fully independent artist to release several singles, EPs, albums, music videos, and other creative projects, and play some awesome stages throughout my career so far, opening for several incredible artists including Kacey Musgraves, Mat Kearney, Little Big Town, Don Felder (formally of the Eagles), Alabama, Kelsea Ballerini, Brothers Osborne, Charlie Daniels Band, Josh Turner and many more.

I’ve traveled the country several times playing shows throughout and released several singles, EPs, and albums, completely independently, acting as my own booking agent, manager, PR person… all of it. It is very tough when you’re completely independent, you are your “team” and you’re faced with a lot of additional obstacles because of that. But I have enjoyed the freedom of not being stifled creatively in any way, and getting to do things my own way and on my own terms, so far.

As far as music releases, I released my first Acoustic 5-song EP back in 2009 called, “One Happy Love Song”. It landed in the number two spot on the iTunes ‘New and Noteworthy’ list at the time and stayed there for a couple of weeks, which was such a huge boost putting music out into the digital world for the first time. Since then I have released several singles and EPs, both solo and with the Kari Lynch Band. My first full-length solo album, (recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville) “Little Games” was released in 2016.

“Sweetheart,” the initial single from that album is really special to me and has been one of my favorite songs to perform and connect with others through. It resonates a lot with people who can often hear their own story in it. The official music video for “Sweetheart” is one of my favorite projects I ever created and collaborated on with a production team. I got to shoot it back in my hometown at the High School I attended, my cousin played the lead in it and absolutely crushed it, it was just such a special project to go back home and create with the people I lived that story with.

In 2019, I released another full-length album called, “The Other Side”, this one I released with the Kari Lynch Band. We toured that album until the touring stopped in 2020 due to Covid. We recorded it at Ocean Way Studio in Nashville and had to work so hard to be able to make that album happen. I’m so proud of what we created together.

In 2020, while off the road, I began writing my most recent solo album project, to be released in 2022. The first two singles, “Cigarettes” and “Monsters” from that project were released in October 2021. To date, it is my favorite creative process I’ve ever had with an album, recording, and co-producing with my best friend Nathan Stone in his basement studio and our little two-person team.

I got so much time off the road in 2020, which was scary at first, but after the dust settled, it allowed me the time and space to really sink into my creativity these songs, come back to myself as an artist and writer outside of the hustle of touring and all of the work and stress this industry brings and just create something that feels special and like it deserves to take up space in the world. That’s a really nice feeling.

I am still living in Nashville presently (East Nashville) and I love it here. There are so many wonderful and beautifully creative people in this city. You can feel it in the air here and that’s one of the things I have always loved about living and creating in Nashville. I love the community here of like-minded and hard-working creatives and the sense that everyone is kind of working on building something.

It’s inspiring. Nashville can break your heart often as a musician, but it’s a special place, and those challenges and letdowns the city can throw at you are almost always catalysts for great art.

I’m still writing and touring/playing shows/recording, going on about 13 years as an indie artist. I tour with the Kari Lynch Band and I also play solo Kari Lynch shows. Additionally, I do creative free-lance writing projects, artists consulting, and website building, and I have a mobile position as an executive assistant at HB Concerts INC.

I’ve always worked on both sides of the music industry and I’ve gained a really interesting and valuable perspective doing that.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. Being an Independent artist comes with many challenges. Knowing that your main source of income (playing shows) could all end tomorrow (hello, 2020), the stress of trying to keep up with people who have way more resources than you, the constant up and down and high highs and low lows of this job really can be devastating.

You’re expected to keep up in a very fast-moving industry, doing everything yourself. It can absolutely get daunting, exhausting, and feel hopeless sometimes. When all you want to do is create and have the opportunity to share your music on a large scale with others, it’s tough constantly feeling like you’re trudging uphill while having to think of new creative ways to get your voice and music heard and then continuing to feel “looked over”. And you really do have to have a thick skin and believe in what you are doing.

You hear the word “no” way more than you hear “yes” and you’re constantly putting your creative self out into the world for judgment. I think you have to be a little off the wall to actively decide to put yourself through the madness every day and pursue a career in entertainment.

One challenge I struggle the most with is being able to have the amount of time and space I need to create, write and produce music and other creative projects. It gets really difficult sometimes playing so many parts and having so much behind-the-scenes work to do. I’m always writing, that creative part of my brain literally never turns off, it’s almost annoying sometimes when you just wish you could quiet your brain for a little bit as it spins on relentlessly.

Being able to find space and time to just get to be an artist and sit down and hash out all the voice memos, quick guitar or piano parts and iPhone notes entries, creative project ideas, merch ideas, etc. Is definitely a little bit disheartening and difficult sometimes. Those are the days when I wonder what it would be like to just get to be an artist and not have to spend so much energy on all of the other parts wearing so many different hats.

I truly am very grateful when I reach a goal and know that I did it, working from the ground up, without anyone handing me anything or telling me who to be. It’s a good feeling. Chasing any job/dream that is a little left of center is always going to have its challenges. As long as I am happy and doing something that leaves me feeling fulfilled and like I am putting something good, real and worthwhile out into the world, I feel like I’m making progress.

It took a long time to get to a comfortable place knowing who I am and what I want as an independent musician, artist, and creator, but it makes getting there that much sweeter, and it’s worth all of the work, tears, hard days, great days and everything in-between getting to wake up every day and do something that truly brings so much joy, fulfillment, and meaning to my life.

I’m still learning every day and I hope that I am always learning, for however long I get.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am an independent musician, songwriter, writer, and executive assistant at HB Concerts INC – producers, promoters, talent buyers company. I specialize in writing – my degree is in professional writing from Grand Valley State University.

Being an independent artist who has always done all of my own bookings, promoting, management, marketing, etc. Forced me to have to learn many skills just by being thrown in the ring, having to do it, because no one else was going to do it for me. But, as mentioned, it’s given me a unique and valuable perspective as an artist in the music industry as a whole. I’ve learned many valuable skills that I might otherwise not have learned, and being able to juggle so much gives me a deep appreciation for goals reached and special moments in my career.

Playing my original music at live shows and getting to watch and feel people connect with it in real-time is one of my absolute favorite parts about what I get to do. I get so much joy from it. And connecting deeply with my fanbase (which always sounds so weird to say, because so many connections with people who listen to my music feel so much deeper than that), is one of my biggest joys and strengths. Early on, an audience member at one of my shows said to me (after the show) that they felt like they knew me only a few minutes after I walked on stage.

They felt like they were watching and rooting for a friend. I’ve carried that with me since. I want every single person in the audience at my shows to feel that no matter if it’s a huge festival with thousands of people or a small listening room of 100 people. I am the same person on stage as I am off and that’s always been really important to me. I want people to feel that, to have fun and allow themselves to be fully in the moment and a part of that very special connection during my shows and really any time we are connecting.

It’s always the greatest compliment when someone shares with me how they have connected to my music and made it their own. I think the connection is just the most awesome thing about music.

When I really sit back and think about it, I’m very proud of everything I’ve accomplished as an indie artist. Most people think I have a manager or booking agent or record deal and they are always very surprised when I tell them I don’t and I never have. I learned early on that if you want something, you just have to make it happen, you can’t wait for someone to do it for you or you’ll be waiting forever. My mom would say, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”. I’m not against being signed or working with a manager/agent. I would welcome it, but it definitely has to be the right situation and that person/team/situation just hasn’t been present in my life yet.

I’ve also never just done something simply because it’s the popular thing to do. I think that sets me and my music apart. Has it also made the road longer and much more difficult? Absolutely. But it has made everything so much more worth it, and I don’t have to sacrifice myself, my art, or who I am for 5 minutes of fame or for something that I don’t really care that much about or a persona I would have a hard time maintaining. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I speak my mind often, and leave everything on the table when it comes to creating. I can do the work that needs to be done, but I’ve never been good at faking it and I wouldn’t want to be.

I think most people can see through insincerity and feel when something isn’t genuine.

Pursuing music was never about “getting famous” for me. Of course, I want to be established and well-known, just like anyone else pursuing a career in music/art. Being more well-known means getting to play better venues/shows all the time and reaching larger audiences with my music. It means opportunities. It means to support and help. I’ve poured my entire life into my music and chasing my dreams and goals, trying to put something worthwhile into the world while I’m doing it. Music, writing, and creating are the heart of who I am. So of course being able to maintain this career by reaching more and more people all the time is the goal.

But my main focus has always been on creating music and art I am proud of, writing songs I love to perform and that will last, growing and being able to hear and see that growth and never abandoning myself to pursue this career. I’m never going to be for everyone and I’m never going to do the thing that’s cool just because it’s cool, I’ve learned that’s going to make it more difficult, but that’s ok. If my heart’s not in it, it’s not for me and that’s ok.

My music, my writing, and my art have always been better for it. I’m happy that I can pursue work and make and share music that I genuinely enjoy and love, and that I get to be proud of it because it comes with no disclaimers.

What sort of changes are you expecting over the next 5-10 years?
One of the biggest things I have watched shift and build over time since I began a career in the music industry is the music industry’s dependence on social media. It’s pretty crazy how important it has become to not only be creative and write great songs, look great and perform great, etc, but to also create and post great content, constantly.

I think social media is awesome for its connective value and the ability to reach people you may otherwise not have been able to reach. But I think it’s also super harmful to creativity when the goal is to produce mass amounts of work with the emphasis being on quantity and a quick buck, over quality and honest, great material. If it were up to me, creatives would spend way less time on social media and way more time writing, experiencing nature and life around them, working on their craft in a tangible way.

It’s unfortunate to me that incredible artists are often overlooked simply because they don’t spend every waking hour trying to learn the constantly changing Instagram algorithm, creating the next best TIKTOK trend, or paying for followers to make their page look more legitimate, etc. We lose the best art focusing on those short-term, 5 minutes of fame goals. I think you have to keep a healthy balance and relationship with social media as an artist and constantly remind yourself that social media is a tool, it’s not reality and does not, and should not, determine your abilities, qualifications, values, superiority, or talents as an artist.

Digital will of course continue to remain popular and will likely only become more important, we are a digital reliant world after all. But, I will say that I do see a lot of burnout happening and a longing for simpler times/music and production that doesn’t all sound exactly the same, artists who aren’t exact replicas of the artist who was just on stage before them, artists who sound the same in live as they do in the record, just real authenticity and honestly written music from an artist who’s worked for it and who’ve lived what they are singing and writing about in real life.

The heart of me wants to believe that we can hang on to creating more simply and with purpose a little longer yet before the digital world consumes all. Long live print!

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Image Credits

Eric Ellis, Katie Kessel, and Taylor Churchill

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