For many, Miami University is a desirable campus for pursuing a career in the arts.
With endless opportunities ranging from musical theater to steel band, it’s no surprise that Miami is home to several talented artists. In fact, Miami’s graduating class of 2010 featured aspiring country singer-songwriter Ashley Brandenburg.
While she studied middle childhood education at Miami, Brandenburg lived what she called a “Hannah Montana” lifestyle, splitting her time between Oxford as a student and Nashville as a performing artist.
“I would go into classes and then leave on the weekends to go to Nashville, like, ‘Hey guys, I'm meeting with Sony Music Nashville this weekend. I'll see you Monday. Our record label wants to meet with me this weekend,’” Brandenburg said.
After winning a local singing competition and recording demos of her music, Brandenburg caught the attention of the Vice President of A&R at Sony Nashville, who put her on a path to success. She signed with an independent label in 2012 with whom she wrote and recorded two studio albums, one of which debuted at No. 40 on the iTunes country charts.
By 2015, the music industry started to change. Streaming was on the rise, and independent labels like Brandenburg’s were hit hard.
“I decided to part ways [from the label] in 2015 because they couldn't pay me any more,” she said. “And I'm like, ‘Well, I'm not gonna write for you for free.’ So I write for myself now.”
Brandenburg was convinced that she would never make music again.
She had her first child the year after and developed a serious case of writer’s block. With her new life and a changing music industry, Brandenburg was ready to move on, and for eight years she remained absent from the music scene. But this all changed last summer.
Brandenburg and her family were among the many who missed out on tickets to Taylor Swift’s record-breaking “Eras Tour.” In order to make up for this, Brandenburg and her family stood outside the venue that evening to catch a glimpse of the show. They were in time to hear one of the opening acts’ soundcheck, and it was at this moment that Brandenburg remembered her passion for music.
“I don’t know what happened,” Brandenburg said. “But I heard her opener sound checking her songs and I was like, ‘Dang, I always wanted to do that ... and I was like, let's do it. Let's just go. Let's try it again.’”
A few months later, Brandenburg had written and recorded her newest EP, “Golden Age,” a reflective, personal and optimistic collection of five songs that explore various stages of Brandenburg’s life.
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Some songs are positive and comforting, such as the EP’s title track, “Golden Age” whereas others, like “Bad Time” and “Nobody’s Favorite,” are more vulnerable and address the more challenging aspects of life. With that, all of the songs are guided by the concept of a “golden age” – how we find comfort in enjoying good times in the moment and reflecting on them afterwards.
The EP was recorded in Nashville with the help of Grammy-Award winning producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Scott Sax, who Brandenburg collaborated with on her first album. In contrast to most of today’s contemporary music, “Golden Age” was recorded using live instrumentation with some additions made in post-production. Only three people were present in the studio at the time of recording, which lasted a mere two and a half days.
“[Sax] liked to do it live … So I was playing keys and then he did drums. We had a bass player there. Then we just did super basic stuff,” Brandenburg said. “And then after I came back home, he added drums, guitar and piano on top of the keys that I did.”
Categorizing Brandenburg’s newfound sound has proven to be a challenge. However, she notes Taylor Swift, HAIM and Fleetwood Mac as her main inspirations for “Golden Age.”
The result is a succinct, yet moving musical experience that features thoughtful songwriting, dynamic and lush performances — all complemented by a unique palette of instrumentation blending folk, alternative, electronic and Brandenburg’s country pop roots.
“Golden Age," which was released on Friday, Nov. 10, marks a new beginning in Brandenburg’s career, and the start of another golden age in her life.
“This is the golden age,” she said. “...You're gonna go through hard times, but you're gonna look back into the good pockets of life and be like, “That was it. That was the good stuff.””