“So you wanna be a rock and roll star / Well listen now to what I say / Just get an electric guitar / And take some time / And learn how to play” – The Counting Crows
Musician Nataly Dawn wanted a career in music, but as we know, it’s a lot of livin’ on nickels, eating processed meats from cans and the odd psychedelic. Well, Nataly Dawn was having none of that. She didn’t sit around waiting for a label to sign her, groupies to glom or barter for weed. As an unknown songstress, she sang and strummed her guitar into being a YouTube sensation. It all started when she was a senior at Stamford University and part of the musical duo Pomplamoose with Jack Conte. Her dad called her and said, “I think you should give your music career a chance. I’ll give you six months to make things work.”
What would you achieve if you had 24 weeks to do it? I talked with Dawn and she clued me into how she made the music sing.
Dawn: It’s not that I didn’t want a music career. It’s that I didn’t think it was something one could do and still be a responsible human being. My parents gave me six months to start making a living in music by myself. We were more prolific in that time than we’d been all along. When you get too comfortable, you stop putting stuff out so much.
LS: In music years, six months is zero minutes.
We started to strategize. We’re not so much a band as a start-up. Pomplamoose is a start-up. Nataly Dawn is a start-up. That’s why we’re able to function. We had 10,000 subscribers – these were people we had never met who were buying our music online. We realized this was a way for us to maybe make a living as artists if we kept putting up videos on YouTube. We went to NYC and produced another artist’s EP – her name is Julia Nunes, who we discovered, if you search her name on YouTube, came up for The Beatles before they did. This was before their actual videos were online, because she covered all their songs. We had a revelation that we have to do popular covers. We decided to cover ‘Single Ladies’. It was the perfect time to cover that song. It was right when the VMA’s were broadcasting, when Kanye made an ass of himself. We put it right up on YouTube. Artists need to start taking advantage of technology and thinking about what is current, that’s how they’ll get their music out. It doesn’t mean you’ll be covering ‘Single Ladies’ for the rest of your life, but you do have to start somewhere.
LS: How do you run your music business?
If I’m ever not doing something while I’m holding a bagel, that means there’s something wrong. It involves me and my team busting our asses all the time. Some artists feel that their workday starts when they get on stage and it ends when they get off the stage. My workday starts as soon as I can plug in my laptop and start editing videos together. I start Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming and blogging. We run into people who are technically in far more successful bands who are living way more uncomfortably and on the road all year. Jack and I set out to be musicians and we became YouTubers. Funny this is, YouTubers live far more comfortably than musicians. We also own all our music and make all the decisions. I knew that when I saw our tour itinerary, we were in for one hell of a drive. I wanted to travel in comfort and style. I was able to get Hyundai on board and they gave us two brand new Santa Fes and covered all of our gas money.
LS: You’d be surprised at what you can get if you ask for things. How did you work that?
I know, right? People ask me, “How did you open for Ben Folds Five on their last tour?” I said, “Well, I called him and asked if I could.” It was the same thing with the CEO of Hyundai. He’s a really cool guy and has stayed in touch with us after we did some holiday 2010 spots for them. He’s really amazing for wanting to invest in artists.
LS: What have been some of the other benefits to having grown your fanbase online?
We really have been so fortunate to have grown such a fan base online. I can do a ‘Stageit’ show. Example: we were supposed to do a show in Toronto, but we weren’t able to get there. I put up a video on YouTube and said, “Sorry, Toronto, we’re not going to be able to see you, but we’ll put up a show on Stageit.” It’s pay what you want. The amazing thing about Stageit is that you can tip as the performer performs. By the end of the show I had made $1,300 from the 200 people who showed up online.
LS: That’s amazing.
Dawn: I know. Feel free to call me anytime if you have more questions, I’ll be here, bagel in one hand, the other on my computer’s keyboard!
Photo credit: Jeffrey Marini