By Jeff Louderback
It was a life-altering moment for Ashley Martin, an instant when unexpected words evoked emotion that impacted her heart and abruptly shifted her sense of purpose.
The southwest Ohio born singer-songwriter who specializes in alternative country rock had just returned from a tour in the Carolinas and was set to return to the road the next morning. On that seemingly ordinary weekday evening, she relaxed in the living room of the Springboro home where she lives with her husband, Erik, and their sons, David (10) and Wyatt (6).
“I wanted so much to show my kids a hard-working woman who is independent and successful because I thought I would set a positive example,” Martin explained. “So for four years, I performed 180-plus shows and was frequently on the road.
“One night, my kids said, ‘Mommy, can you stay home. We miss you,’” she added. “I thought, ‘Yes, I can.’ I am an independent, not tied to a record company. I set my own schedule and I have developed my own label and have no obligations. Those words moved me to shift my focus. I will never get back these years with my children, so I created a plan where I could continue to carve a niche is the music business and be there for my family.”
For the 30-year-old Martin, 2018 has emerged as a pivotal year. Over the last decade, she has released four CDS and with her band, she has opened for acts like the Zac Brown Band, Band Perry and Trick Pony before sold out arenas, and performed on stage with an acoustic guitar and a cozy audience of what she calls her family of fans at Carver’s in Centerville.
This year has seen her continue those shows with her band, and the acoustic concerts. She is also immersed in growing 2 Worlds Music, the artist development and management company she founded. Now, inspired by what she learned years ago while earning her music business degree at Belmont University of Nashville – where students are encouraged to carve their own niche – Martin is about to debut her latest endeavor. Girl Pop is a first-of-its-kind cover band composed of six professional singers and dancers.
“I’ve made four records, and I could go back for a fifth, but I feel a genuine passion for Girl Pop,” Martin said. “Cover bands are in demand, and there is nothing like this, so that reflects the niche. Girl Pop will feature a full, elaborate production complete with a band, choreography and special effects, and female artist music from the 80s, 90s and today.
“I crave variety. I love it all,” she added. “There is energy with a band in front thousands of people, and on a stage with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone when I can feel a connection with the audience and perform what I want and be spontaneous.
“I still get the rush from that, feel satisfaction from developing 2 Worlds Music and helping other artists, and now there is the excitement of introducing Girl Pop, which is something innovative that we believe will appeal to a mass audience,” Martin said. “And you know why all of it is especially worthwhile? I get to do that without being on the road for weeks at a time, so I am there with my family.”
Family and music are not Martin’s only passions. Horses are her escape. On their seven-acre property in rural Springboro, the Martins have four horses, a number that has grown since her initial request in the last year.
“A year ago, I was set to perform at the KE West Songwriters Festival and then a short concert tour across the Carolinas. I would be gone two weeks, and I told Eric that when I return, I want to either plan on a third child, or have horses,” Martin said with a grin. “When I returned home, there was a barn and two horses. We now have four.”
Martin developed a love for horses as a child. Though her career path has ventured in a different direction than originally planned, she also knew that music filled her heart at a young age. Singing at her grandparents’ feet as a child, she joined the family ensemble when she was 6.
“My dad was the youngest of seven with my grandmother at the piano and my grandfather directing,” said Martin, who was raised in Englewood and graduated from Northwestern High School in Springfield in 2005. “After the family grew and started families of their own, we grew into a 75-piece gospel choir that performed at our home church during the holidays.”
Martin started writing her own songs in a diary. At 15, the fledgling performer/entrepreneur began what she considers her first experience as a working musician. An Elvis impersonator, she recalled, told her that there was money to be made performing at retirement homes.
“I had no idea I could get paid to sing at retirement homes, so when I found out I could, I opened the phone book and started calling retirement homes and booking shows,” Martin said with a grin. “I sang 50s and 60s music, and at many of the shows, I would look up and see many people in the audience asleep. It was a perfect setting to get my start performing solo.”
When Martin graduated from high school, she moved to Nashville to study at Belmont University, which is nationally renowned for its music business program. She learned to play guitar and poured herself into the music scene. It was in Nashville where she discovered that the music business is indeed a business, and that being independent and not attached to a record company is a rewarding route.
“At Belmont, and in Nashville, I was determined to fully understand as many aspects as possible of the music industry so I could be informed and prepared, and find a way to make a comfortable living doing what I love,” Martin said. “Few musicians were specializing in alternative country rock. I felt that country music needed an edgy chick. Country rock was where my heart was, where the songs and stories are.”
Like many artists who call Nashville home, Martin envisioned landing a record deal and becoming a household name for her music. As the years passed, and she earned her degree and performed with well-known acts, Martin discovered that her initial goal would not be fulfilling.
“The ultimate turning point was a discussion with the manager of a male country artist who had multiple No. 1 hits,” Martin explained. “He was touring and working exhaustively, yet he cleared just $40,000. I was making twice that as an independent. Learning the business side, and the struggles of artists, motivated me to create 2 Worlds Music.”
What she calls a “one-stop shop for artists,” 2 Worlds Music has more than a dozen clients, including solo musicians and bands. The company handles marketing and promotions, produces records, books and manages local and national tours, spearheads social media and publicity, and designs websites among other services.
“I just enjoy making a living doing what I love,” Martin said. “I never set out to do this for fortune and fame. I get more reward from bringing projects to life, being a part of something meaningful, helping other artists who have the same dreams and not only setting a positive example for my kids by what I do with my work, but more importantly, being there with them. That is what makes all of this worthwhile.”