Eastport Dulcimer Virtuoso Is Also Master Of Marketing

Musician Starts Independent Recording Label

July 29, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

Maggie Sansone, a hammered dulcimer virtuoso, is more than a musician, a music teacher, a performer and a recording artist.

She is also a label -- and a growing one at that.

Since starting an independent record label in 1984 to showcase her work, she has put out six of her albums on cassette and compact disc. This month, Maggie's Music released another artist's work.

"I saw the potential (of starting a record label) and thought it would bea great way to get the music out to the world," says Sansone, 42, ofEastport. "If you don't actively pursue marketing, you might have one album, and that's it."

Sansone's music, traditional folk tunes passed from generation to generation, comes from the United States, England, Ireland and Scotland. The music is played on Renaissance-era instruments such as the hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, recorder and penny whistle. Sansone has produced two Christmas albums.

The self-taught musician, who played piano and bassoon as a child and wanted to learn each new instrument she heard, began performing and teaching guitar after graduating from college and moving to Baltimore in 1973.There, she met folk musicians who played Irish music. She picked up the banjo and mandolin. Ten years ago, she added the hammered dulcimer to her repertoire. The triangular-shaped, stringed instrument has become her specialty.

She recorded her first album, "Hammer Dulcimer & Guitar," in 1984 in Oakland, Calif., her home at the time, to sell at concerts.

Rather than seeking a label to produce a relative unknown, Sansone produced herself. She created Maggie's Music, joininghundreds of independent labels that compete with the handful of major record companies dominating the industry. She made her first tape in a weekend for $600.

She found she liked the independence and control of producing as well as playing. And her fans seemed to like thetape. She made enough money to record a second album.

In 1987, after she'd returned to Annapolis, she gathered another group of musicians, researched and arranged music and headed for the recording studio once more. The result was "Hammered Dulcimer Traditions," a blend of hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, penny whistle and guitar in Irish jigs and medieval and Renaissance court dances. The tape's attention-grabbing color cover, designed by Sansone's stepson, artist Ben Crenshaw, gave it a more professional look than her low-budget first effort.

Next came a Christmas tape, 1988's "Sounds of the Season," her first recording also released on compact disc. Its Christmas songs appealed to a broader audience and won a nod from Billboard magazine in a review. Reviews in other newspapers and magazines followed. Record distributors, leery of taking her on in the earlier days, read the reviews and began calling her.

In 1989, she combined her first two recordings on a double album and released "Traditions." Last year, sheproduced "Mist & Stone," instrumental Celtic music, and "Sounds of the Season II," a second Christmas album.

Last spring, the NationalAssociation of Independent Record Distributors chose "Mist & Stone" as a second-place Indie Award winner for best Celtic album of the year. "Mist & Stone" has sold more than 10,000 copies.

"In the beginning you get a lot of rejection slips and send out a lot of free material," Sansone says. "If you have one or two albums, distributors are hesitant. You have to demonstrate you're a growing, active record label."

Now, Sansone has expanded into production of other artists, running her business from an office in her home with the help of a secretary, a bookkeeper and her husband, architect Richard Crenshaw. Earlier this month, Maggie's Music released "Grey Eyed Morn" by Sue Richards, a Celtic harpist who has played on Sansone's albums.

"It helps my label," says Sansone. "The distributors are happy because they like to see a new product every year."

She sells her music at her concerts, as well as wholesale through small gift shops and through about 10 distributors who ship the tapes and discs nationwide. Locally, her tapes can be found in Sam Goody, Tower Records and Recordmasters stores.

Sansone continues to perform on her own and with a folk chamber music group, Ensemble Galelea. The group plays music of Celtic origin; that is, from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Galicia, a northeast region of Spain. Sansone also teachesguitar, hammered dulcimer, banjo and mandolin.

"Things are movingalong now," she said. "The business has its own momentum. The company has an identity of its own."

Sansone will perform at an Aug. 8 art festival in Annapolis and at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which opens Aug. 24 and runs eight weekends.

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