Hannah Hickok ’11 and Maggie Kraus ’12 of the folk duo Hannah & Maggie met in the Smiffenpoofs, got their start playing on campus and released their first album even before graduating. They followed Fine Being Here (2011) with Muscle & Bone (2012) and, most recently, In the Company of Strangers (2014). Curve magazine has called their sound “both familiar and inviting, with voices that harmonize together perfectly.” The singer-songwriters explore ideas of home, family and relationships in their music. They’ve found some success but have yet to make it big, which is no easy thing in this business. Here, they discuss the ups and downs of chasing their dream.
Maggie: Playing at Smith was definitely something that gave our music momentum. We played at coffeehouses, fundraisers and department events whenever the opportunity presented itself, and we rarely strayed off campus. I think the first time we ever played in Northampton together was when we opened for Dar Williams at the Iron Horse, and the formality of that show felt like a pretty drastic shift from playing in a Smith house.
Hannah: Ever since Maggie and I started playing music together, we envisioned an ideal career path that goes something like this: play tons of shows, write tons of music and work, work, work until we “make it,” aka we get signed to a major label or book that one gig that changes everything. This is the old model of having a music career, the kind of success story artists used to tell. To that end, for the first few years we played music, we treated our career like a sprint: releasing an album a year, touring for months in my old station wagon, sleeping on couches and air mattresses from New York to Oregon. As we’ve gotten a bit older, we’ve realized how unsustainable that is. We both have rents to pay, partners at home whom we love and want to spend time with, day jobs and other commitments that are important to us.
Maggie: We signed a recording contract in 2013 with a student-run label based out of the University of New Haven. The experience was complicated and trying at times, and ultimately it informed our decision to obtain the rights to the record and dissolve our agreement. We’re back to doing everything on our own, which is definitely a breath of fresh air.
Hannah: We asked ourselves, what do we truly want from our music career? The answer was we both love our musical friendship and enjoy playing tunes together. And it became clear that treating our career like a sprint—trying to cram in every accomplishment we could so that someone “important” would take note—was not only magical thinking but also a surefire way to suck all the fun out of what we do. So, we’re switching into marathon mode. That means committing to fewer gigs and getting the most out of every gig.
Maggie: We would spend two weeks negotiating a gig with a venue, six weeks promoting it, eight hours traveling to it and only 45 minutes onstage performing. The exhaustion was really starting to set in. We agreed to set aside more time to get together and write, putting just as much energy into creating as we had been putting into performing. So far, it’s been a welcome change of pace.
Hannah: We’ve accepted that we’re not going to be famous tomorrow, or even next year. But we’ve also realized what a terrible measure that is of our “success.” The best measure we have is whether we’re still having fun playing music together. As of right now we are, and we’re doing everything in our power to keep it that way.