NYCS Woman of the Month: Catherine Powell
We’re bringing you stories from women who are chasing their dreams and building a life that they love with New York Country Swag’s, “Woman of the Month”.
Each month, we highlight a different female pursuing her passions. Introducing you to women who are taking risks, working relentlessly and turning their dreams into reality. These are empowering women who serve as role models and should be celebrated.
“When I was two years old, we were at the Jersey Shore on the beach and I was trying to build sandcastles and the tide kept knocking them down and I apparently stood up on my chubby little legs and yelled at the ocean saying, ‘STOP I’m not done yet’. She says I’ve spent my entire life yelling at the world to conform to me.”
Catherine Powell, our first Woman of the Month for 2020 gave incredible insight to her career as the touring photographer with artists such as Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, and Dan + Shay as well as how she got her start running her own magazine. She also was open and honest about how being a fan has given her the driving force and inspiration to pursue her career. Like many of us, she grew up being influenced by the music her parents would play, her mom being a huge country fan of artists like Vince Gill, Faith Hill, and all of the greats of the 90s. In middle school, however, she rebelled a bit and became a huge fan of the Warped Tour scene, bands like Jimmie Eat World, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, All Time Low, and May Day Parade. “My parents, God bless them, were like sure, wear this weird neon hoodie and straighten your bands and put on 7 pounds of eyeliner every day, live your life,” she laughs.
Throughout her childhood, Powell quickly learned that failing at one thing meant she would find another to way to make it work, for example, she knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a part of the music world so she took three years of guitar lessons, which she said went terribly. Her parents sat her down to discuss what kind of extracurriculars she would focus on while in high school to prepare her for college and helped guide her to pursue a career that she would thrive in, even being brutally honest about her ability to play sports, “My Dad, looked me square in the eye and said ‘You are not going to make the team, you are just going to embarrass yourself, find something else’.” she laughs but realizing once again, that those roadblocks eventually opened up to the right path.
Her father, who collected cameras, always encouraged her to take photos, she would wait in line for 6 hours before concerts to be up front with her point and shoot camera to get the best pictures of her favorite bands. At 14 years old, her father bought her a professional camera and told her to just ‘go wild’ and taking the initiative she went to the local venue and told them she wanted to take pictures there. Although she wasn’t making any money, she took that time to build up her portfolio and connections in the industry. Around this time, as she started photographing bigger artists, Powell made the decision to start NKD Magazine with one of her friends. “I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to about these artists that I cared so deeply about and I knew, other people cared so deeply about them too, and so that was the stepping off point. Our goal was for our interviews to go really deep and ask the questions that fans really want to know,” she explains. “We didn’t want to box in a genre, if we like all of these things, there are probably other people who like all of these things as well, why limit ourselves.”
The magazine which was available in both print and digital found a niche with two very different demographics of fans, country music and ‘nerd culture’. She was giving artists and actors that wouldn’t normally be featured in major magazines or publications a chance to really dig deep and tell their story, something that was unique to her brand. She quickly tapped into what she calls ‘the driving force of the entire world’, teenage girls. Proving that their interests and how passionate they are is what drives artists to have a single go number one on radio, to having them sell out an arena tour.
While in college in New York, Powell dug into the country scene before it became as popular as it is now, making connections with publicists and managers when artists would come through to play small shows. She photographed Kacey Musgraves and Dan + Shay at their very first New York City shows, obviously making a lasting impression on their teams. While her magazine was thriving, she always longed to be on tour with an artist and to move to Nashville. While visiting a friend in London, Powell got an email that Kacey Musgraves needed a photographer for C2C and this was only a few weeks before Golden Hour, the album that went on to win Grammy Album of the Year was released. Being a long time fan of her music, she was thrilled she got this opportunity and was then hired for a few more shows and that set the stage for a life-changing 2019 for both Musgraves as an artist and Powell as her photographer. “To be with someone who is going through all of those things, there were so many times when we looked at each other and we were like, ‘This is crazy! What are we doing?!’,” she recalls. “I had been a huge fan of Kacey since “Merry Go Round”, I was a super fan, so to be able to shoot that first show, I was stoked, but, to be able to build this relationship and have it at the right point in time was so serendipitous.”
As they say, the rest is history, winning Grammy awards, being included on the biggest lineups for summer festivals and touring the world, Catherine’s childhood dreams were coming true right alongside Kacey’s. As she continues to explain this huge part of her life, she laughs recalling a professor in college who took one look at her live work in her portfolio and said: “‘Okay, this is great, but where is your real work?” and I said this is my real work and he said, “Alright well this isn’t going to get you into museums or galleries, so I need you to think a little more creatively, commercial photography is not photography.’ That was my first impression at college. I want to contact him now and be like ‘Hey, head over to the Country Music Hall of Fame, that is a museum and my photos are in it.”
As her touring career with major artists was taking off, she had made the decision to have NKD Magazine’s 100th issue be their last. Having one dream come to an end, she was then asked to shoot a campaign for Dan + Shay with none other than pop sensation, Justin Bieber as they readied their collaboration, “10,000 Hours” which is currently sitting atop of the country charts. She also toured with Maren Morris on her GIRL The World Tour and was there to capture the vulnerability that comes along with finding out you are pregnant and having to keep it a secret from not only your fans that you are performing for but the world. “I think it’s just a really exciting privilege and honor to be allowed to be there,” she says. “I grew up being obsessed with artists and music and my whole reason for picking up a camera at the end of the day was wanting to be in the room.”
Of course, when we discuss her favorite parts of her job, its taking photos and getting to see her favorite music live but she has also discovered that connecting with fans, taking photos of them, and handing out guitar picks to the audience is so fulfilling as well. “I know what it’s like to be the kid who is hanging on the balcony, trying to express how much the song means to me and feeling like nobody is noticing how much you are pouring into this, and finding a way to show fans that we all see you and we are grateful for you, that’s what I love.”
As always, we end our conversation on her advice for anyone looking to break into the music industry and follow their dreams. She honestly said “I really think that just be a fan, be vocal about being a fan. At the end of the day, the music industry is so weird, they want to be prepared for a job but you can’t like, say that you are prepared for that job. If you go into an interview for a job where you are going to be asked specific questions where you have to know specific things, you have to prove in that interview that you know those things, that you know how to talk about them and know how to work with that world but in the music industry the second that you say you are a huge fan, people immediately think ‘Oh, is that why you want to work here?’ Like yeah, it is, why wouldn’t I?”
“If you are a fan of someone you root for them, you work harder for them and I think that’s how lives change in this world.”
To keep up with Catherine Powell follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
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