There are countless musicians who started in the industry very young, rose to stardom quickly, and suddenly the music stopped. Why? The answer to that one word question is literally worth millions of dollars. However, this week the Weekly Music Commentary features an artist who found a way to return after a very long layoff. Yes, Michelle Branch released her third major label studio album April 7, 2017. Fourteen years since her previous studio album. There may be many reasons why an artist experiences a long hiatus from the music industry. It might be good to examine what happened in Michelle Branch’s case. Prehaps there is a lesson that can help other struggling musicians.
Michelle Jacquet DeSevren Branch was born on July 2, 1983, in Sedona, Arizona. Beginning to sing at the age of three, Branch enrolled in voice lessons at Northern Arizona University when she was eight, and received her first guitar for her fourteenth birthday. After teaching herself chords, she composed her first song “Fallen” within a week of receiving her guitar. She initially attended Sedona Red Rock High School, but finished the last two years of her high school education through home schooling so that she could focus on her music career. To support Branch’s interests, her parents helped her book local gigs in Sedona, Arizona, and later financed her independent album Broken Bracelet.
Parents make many sacrifices for their children. Sometimes, we do things that we feel are right for the child, but later may prove to be the wrong course. Amazingly, the parents of Michelle Branch chose to provide great support in order for her to further her musical career. The young artist definitely possessed talent, but Branch’s parents really helped to jumpstart her music career.
In December 1999, she posted two of her songs on the Rolling Stone website, which caught the attention of both pop rock band Hanson and former Rolling Stone writer and Los Angeles record producer Jeff Rabhan, eventually leading to two gigs opening for Hanson in 2000.
The next year Michelle Branch signed a recording deal with Maverick Records and Warner Brothers, where she began working with John Shanks to produce her first album and major-label début. The album, The Spirit Room, was released in August 14, 2001, producing the hit single “Everywhere”. By the summer of 2002, Michelle Branch was appearing everywhere (no pun intended). I remember her appearing on Good Morning America’s Summer Concert Series. The song was a major hit, and Michelle Branch a young star. “Everywhere” was later followed by singles “All You Wanted” and “Goodbye to You”. Due to the mainstream success of those released singles, The Spirit Room was certified Double Platinum by the RIAA for selling over two million copies in the United States.
Branch continued making headlines and hits even after The Spirit Room. Branch teamed up with Santana, alongside songwriters Gregg Alexander and Rick Nowels, to produce the song “The Game of Love”, which went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Branch’s second major label album, Hotel Paper, was released in 2003 and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and has been certified Platinum by the RIAA for selling over one million copies.
At twenty years old, Michelle Branch’s Hotel Paper would be her last solo album until earlier this year. How could such a successful young artist just not release any music for fourteen years? In an interview with The New York Daily News, Michelle Branch gave the reason for the long period between albums.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision of now. I’ve just been actively trying to put out music as soon as possible for seven years. So this was the first time that I didn’t get held up. In the past, I had two albums shelved back-to-back at Warner Bros., and I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing to get music out. It wasn’t until I got off of Warner Bros. and re-signed with Verve that I could finally get music released.”
Branch’s story is not the first time I heard of a record company shelving a project. In fact, it’s not the first time I wrote about it in Weekly Music Commentary. It’s a part of the music business. However, if you noticed Michelle Branch said she had tried to put out music for seven years. What about the other seven years?
Well, there were other projects. Michelle Branch got an opportunity to venture into acting. She appeared in several television shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Dreams, and Charmed. In June 2004, she hosted MTV’s “Faking the Video” alongside Nick Lachey and JC Chasez. She also appeared in the Rob Schneider film The Hot Chick. Branch began collaborating with her backup singer and longtime friend Jessica Harp. They formed a musical duo called The Wreckers. Their album attempted to combine their respective genres—pop rock and country. It was originally slated for release in June 2005 but was delayed because of reasons surrounding Branch’s pregnancy. The duo’s first single “Leave the Pieces” was released in February 2006, while their album Stand Still, Look Pretty was released in May. Stand Still, Look Pretty was certified Gold by the RIAA with sales of 851,000 copies as of March 2009. The Wreckers split in 2007.
As for Branch’s new album Hopeless Romantic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic calls it “a new beginning on several different fronts”, and writes, “it comes on so smoothly, it’s easy to overlook how the songs quickly sink into the subconscious.” I listened to the album a few times and I agree with Erlewine one hundred percent.
Michelle Branch has learned so much from this experience, and she can pass on knowledge to other artists who might find themselves in a similar situation. She said, “I think you have to always bet on yourself. No one’s going to show up for you except yourself. Those years spent in label purgatory, feeling kind of helpless, I will never allow myself to be in that situation again. At the end of the day, I’m the only one who watches out for me. That’s been a huge lesson that I’ve learned throughout the process.”