Martina McBride Reflects On Her First 25 Years In the Music Industry

Courtesy Photo
Martina McBride

Twenty-five years ago this month, a young singer from Kansas released her first RCA album, The Time Has Come. While none of the set’s three singles cracked the top 20 on the Hot Country Songs chart, the project helped land Martina McBride the opening spot on the Garth Brooks tour that year and set her up for the massive success to come that began with her follow-up album, The Way That I Am. Since then, she has notched 14 gold, nine platinum, three double-platinum and two-triple platinum sales certifications and has won five Country Music Association Awards, four of them for female vocalist of the year. On June 21, McBride will be honored with the Artist Career Achievement Award from trade group Country Radio Broadcasters. Here, she reflects on her first quarter-century in the business.

Looking back on the past 25 years, what are you most proud of having accomplished?

Having some songs that made a difference to people, songs that people could kind of take ownership of and attach themselves to, songs that made them feel something or made them feel like they’re not alone. That’s really the reason why I’m still here.

Was choosing powerful songs innate or something you learned how to do?

There’s always this instinct with me with songs. [It either] moved me or it didn’t. There was really no grand plan to find those kinds of songs. I never set out looking for a song like “Independence Day” or “A Broken Wing”; they just came to me. There’s [been] some times, when looking back, I’ve wondered if recording so many of those songs was a good thing to do, because even though they resonated with people, you want to have a well-balanced [set].

Looking out and seeing the faces of your fans singing those songs back to you in concert probably erased any doubts.

Yeah. After the fact it’s never as scary as before.

You came out at a time when there were so many wonderful, strong female artists on the radio. Did you ever think we would live through Tomatogate, and why did you take such a vocal stand against it at the time on social media?

That interview that I read with that consultant made me mad. I just thought it was so unfair and so arrogant. I’m not a radio consultant, but I do have pretty regular contact with a lot of country music fans, and just the fact that you can make a blanket statement that women don’t want to hear other women on the radio just seemed asinine to me. So late one night [after] I read that, I [decided to] ask some people on my Facebook if that’s how they feel, because if it is how they feel, I’m really out of touch. And if it isn’t how they feel, then I want to know that, too … It was shocking to hear somebody say that and speak for so many people that obviously did not feel that way, so it just felt like the right time to … get the conversation started.

Many artists have endured vocal problems in their career. Has that ever affected you? If so, how did you work through it?

I never really had any physical issues as far as polyps or anything like that that would require voice rest or surgery, but the voice does change as you get older. I went through a bout of bronchitis about five years ago. I went ahead and sang and toured and [grew] into some bad habits that I’m now working with someone to unravel. There are little things that can build up if you don’t pay attention. It’s a muscle, so as [I] get older, I find that I have to sing every day. I used to just sing onstage or just sing around the house or car. It’s like an athlete, so it’s really important to keep [it] in shape.

Interesting to hear that a world-class vocalist like you needs a vocal coach.

There’s a stigma to it nobody wants to talk about. I’m not comparing myself to Michael Jordan, but he had a great natural ability but still needed a coach. I always used to feel like it was a bad thing, like it meant that you didn’t know what you were doing, but that’s not really it all. I wish I had had training when I was younger. I didn’t have any. All I did was open my mouth, and whatever came out came out. I think that if I had had some training when I was younger it would have benefited me.

What’s next from you on your current deal with Nash Icon Records?

We’re recording a new Christmas album. I actually go out to Los Angeles on May 25 and 26 to record that. I’m making kind of a big band, swing kind of Christmas album, kind of classic-sounding [with] legendary arranger Patrick Williams.

Your charity Team Music Is Love supports so many great projects and causes. How do you choose them?

We do a lot of stuff in the towns in which we tour. We look at the need in the community, and usually 99 percent of the time it’s hunger, so we work with a lot of food banks. We’ve also worked in women’s shelters, and we started a music program in Guatemala for young girls they’ve rescued off the street. We also raise money for breast cancer research grants. What I love about it is that it’s not focused on one thing, [although it is focused] a little bit heavily on causes that benefit women and children. It started out as a very grass-roots thing called Team Martina, and then just last year I thought it needed a better name, so we changed the name to Team Music Is Love. It’s just a really inclusive thing that connects people through music.