Getting Back to Basics with Cellist Lindsay Mac

Brit Woollard
December 19, 2008
Alumna Lindsay Mac offers advice about making music and navigating the industry.
According to Mac, there are three "gems" of life: control and accuracy; confidence and presence; and love.
"With simplicity, there is more focus and a clearer message," Mac says of music.
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard

Folk singer/songwriter and cellist Lindsay Mac visited Berklee's tightly knit String Department for an intimate luncheon and discussion on November 20. The group gathered around, snacking on pizza, while Mac talked about her life's journey and answered students' questions. An icon for string players around the world, Mac's visit was an inspiration.

The Berklee (and Dartmouth College) alumna has released two albums, Small Revolution and Stop Thinking and toured extensively including nearly 300 dates her first two years on the road, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview Tour (28 shows in 28 days) and the Falcon Ridge Festival in 2008, as well as the 2008 International Folk Alliance.

Mac plays with, listens to, and is grounded in simplicity. She encourages musicians to get in touch with simpler music to open their minds. "With simplicity, there is more focus and a clearer message. It is more effective and appealing," she told the group on her recent visit to her alma mater.

Mac touched on four main topics: three "gems" to live by; the beauty in simplicity; how to market yourself successfully; and what she did and didn't get out of her experience at Berklee.

As Mac put it, the "gems" are control and accuracy; confidence and presence; and love. Control and accuracy includes being able to play your instrument in tune and in time, she noted. "Confidence and presence are about knowing you are in control, and therefore more relaxed," she added. "By practicing this, you will be able to give a more authentic performance."

Meanwhile, Mac put the most emphasis on love: "Without love, a performance is not worth seeing," she told the group. "The performance is a special gift of an artist to an audience."

Mac also shared some advice for the business side of things. Marketing yourself is about doing your homework and being genuine at a performance, she said. If you contact the wrong people for business and marketing related reasons, you appear incompetent. "Do your homework. Find out exactly who you need to contact, and speak to them directly," she advised. "Furthermore, it's not enough to write or call; try to meet with them in person if possible."

Marketing yourself on stage requires being genuine and pure, she added, advising against making sales pitches during a performance. "It ruins the mood and creates commercialized emotion. If people like you, they will ask you-there is no need to tell."  

At Berklee, Mac gained valuable skills that have helped shape her music. "I gained a better sense of harmonic chord structure for writing songs and a good editing eye," she said. "I learned to simplify my focus on a message. I was surrounded by a community of people living with passion."

But, of course, she's had to figure out a lot for herself. "I definitely did not get all the answers. I didn't know how to book a tour, work with press, market successfully, or become financially feasible," she said. "I had no direction and was forced to form my own. I didn't have anyone telling me 'you should do this.'"

But Mac is grateful for these challenges, which she credits for empowering her to take control of her career. "I learned to be self-demanding, and learned to become my own personal overseer and career director." With two CDs under her belt and a coveted gigging schedule, Mac is undoubtedly comfortable in the driver's seat.