THE LENGTHY ROAD OF A DREAM

Clintonville native creates her first music album
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Contributed Photo Nikki Brooks shows off an application for Broadcast Music Inc., a company based in Nashville, Tennessee that bridges the gap between songwriters, businesses and organizations.

When Nikki Brooks was in school, she didn’t have many friends rooting for her when she pursued her musical passions.

Now, at age 40, the Clintonville High School alum is releasing her first album, “Good Luck Woman,” a labor of love more than five years in the making. Brooks said she’s an unlikely candidate for success, being a middle-aged, married mother of two without a big record label to promote her work in a time when younger stars are in the spotlight.

“I’m 40 years old. I should be washed up by now,” Brooks said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I don’t feel like it’s over.”

“Good Luck Woman” is an Americana album, with each song incorporating different styles. Brooks said there are songs that are jazz, 1950s and 1960s, Christmas, bossa nova, contemporary Christian, gospel and, of course, country.

Music had always been a passion for Brooks, who folks back in her hometown will remember as Nicole Benbrooks. She loved country music, citing Alan Jackson and Martina McBride among her idols.

“I had been interested in music even as a kid,” Brooks said. “Taking piano lessons, being involved in choirs throughout high school like show choir and chamber choir, plays and theatrical things, it was just something my family did. Even in church, we would sing and be in plays.”

When Brooks went on to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for her college education, she still kept doing music on the side, including a stint with an acapella group called Girls’ Night Out. She noted that, at the time, most of the musical groups at the university were dominated by men.

After graduating college in 2002, Brooks wanted to be somewhere different — not to mention warmer — as she moved forward with her life. She eventually found herself moving to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, in 2008 with her husband, Mark Schmidt, and her two young children.

“I love the music scene. I loved songwriting. I wanted to get into recording,” Brooks said. “Of course, everybody was like ‘Aw, you’re just a dreamer. Why don’t you just be normal and get a job?’ I always had a job, but people would say, ‘Why would you want to live so far away from your family?’ It wasn’t the norm to move far away.”

Even after moving, it was difficult to break into the music scene, because ultimately, Brooks’ family was her main priority. She started out going to the Nashville Songwriters Association, where potential music artists could pitch songs on certain nights of the week, planning to win the group over with her talent.

Brooks soon learned that was easier said than done.

“It’s very competitive. They might listen to a hundred different tracks and 30 seconds for each track, and they might pick two or three out of the entire group of people that they’ll pick to pitch an idea to someone like Wynonna Judd or somebody like that,” Brooks said. “I was starting to realize it was going to be really tough.”

Her fortunes started to turn around in 2013 when she met a songwriter and producer named Bo Stottlemyer, who lived in Mount Gilead, Tennessee. Stottlemyer was looking for artists to record demos of his songs, and he eventually took Brooks under his wing, teaching her how to play the guitar.

Eventually, the two started collaborating on how to produce an album. Brooks said she and Stottlemyer had to coordinate their schedules carefully, because she was a full-time mother and only had one or two times during the week when she could have some alone time and focus on her music.

“He recorded me playing this song called ‘Christmas Doesn’t Have to be White’ in 2014, and we had recorded several songs,” Brooks said. “He was like, ‘Let me just set up the camera on the side.’ He wound up making a YouTube video of it, and people seemed to really like it.”

The single was put out on CD Baby, which allowed the song to be on Spotify, iTunes and other music purchasing sites, and it proved to be a success. Next was creating the album itself.

“There’s the songwriting. There’s the editing, the recording, the producing, the video making,” Brooks said. “It’s a long process to do it, especially when it’s just the two of us. It’s not like we have a record label with all these huge musicians helping us. We had nobody promoting us or managing us.”

Another hurdle came up when both Brooks and Stottlemyer both developed health issues. Brooks developed blood clots, while Stottlemyer, who is 75, had to go through chemotherapy for leukemia, but both recovered.

Yet another hurdle developed when Brooks and her husband returned to Wisconsin in 2017 for a job he was pursuing. Brooks said most of the songs had been recorded by then, so Stottlemyer did a lot of the editing work on his own, but Brooks would still need to drive and fly to Tennessee a number of times to help finish the album.

“Sometimes, you just feel like, oh, this is never going to happen and it take so long,” Brooks said. “There were serious problems, and we just thought that this might never happen.”

It was important for Brooks to sound unique, which was why she wanted to tap into a variety of music genres for “Good Luck Woman.”

“You don’t want to sound like what’s on the radio,” Brooks said. “You don’t want to try to sound like somebody else and be making music that sounds like what’s out there, because you’re not going to stand out.”

Ultimately, Brooks has run the race to achieve her dream, but she also wants her children to know that dreams can come true.

“I guess I just want to show my kids that, no matter what age you are, if you have a dream in your heart … don’t give up because you’re too busy or too old or whatever reason,” Brooks said.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: “Good Luck Woman”

WHO: Nikki Brooks

WHERE: The album is available online at Amazon, iTunes and other music sharing sites.

COST: The album costs $9.49 on Amazon and $9.99 on iTunes.

ONLINE: Find out more about Nikki Brooks and her music at www.nikkimusic.net.