After 15 years of area performances, folk singer Karen Goldberg has become something of a tradition for Maryland music lovers. But she's also managed to tour a good part of the country performing her acoustic sets and conducting her musical career entirely on her own.

"For a long time I was convinced I had to get a record deal," she says. "That's the only way I thought my career would progress." Like most beginning musicians, she believed that only a recording contract with a major company would enable her to put out records, make more money and travel to interesting places in order to play her music.

"But after a few years of working on my own I realized I was doing all of those things," Ms. Goldberg continued, "And getting a record contract really wasn't necessary to achieve my goals."

Of course it was necessary for her to devote a lot of time to the business end of her work, and less time to writing songs. But an ability to do both has given her a great advantage. "I'm my own booking agent," the 37-year-old resident of Ruxton explains, "I decide where and when I want to play."

Many of Ms. Goldberg's shows are one-night appearances at colleges in the mid-Atlantic area. For these she does a lot of driving, sets up her own equipment, and usually does an interview at the college radio station along with an afternoon sample show to attract an audience for the evening performance.

"I'm virtually unknown at most places I go," she says. But here again business savvy pays off. By sending out tapes and promotion kits to potential sites, and following up with phone calls, Ms. Goldberg has been booked in some very exotic places. Last April, for instance, she played at an Earth Day Festival in Hawaii. In January she performed at the Roof Top Cafe in Key West, Fla., and hopes to play later this year at colleges in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, N.M. "I try to schedule myself at places I want to visit," she concedes.

The Pikesville native also sells tapes and records of her songs at performances. "I take a lot of care with my recordings," she says, and that includes the cover art. On her last album, titled "Solo," the original cover did not meet her standards. After having another made she wrote to everyone who had bought the first and offered them the new one in exchange. "Can you do that with [big-name labels like] Columbia?" she asks.

"If someone was looking to become famous, this might not be the right approach," she says of her one-woman operation. "But I like the anonymity. I consider myself incredibly lucky because I love what I do."

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