Jo Dee Messina
November 26, 2013
Jo Dee Messina is a survivor. She has enjoyed considerable success, earning nine #1 singles, two Platinum and three Gold albums. And she's weathered some financial and personal difficulties along the way. Now, after a 17-year career on a major label, Messina tackles what may be her greatest career challenge of all - a crowdsourcing effort to record and produce her current single, "Peace Sign," and her upcoming album set to be released in early 2014. The Kickstarter campaign was a success in raising the money. Now comes the harder part - getting played on the radio. Here, Messina talks about the Kickstarter campaign and what she hopes to accomplish.
When did you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign?
I was on a major label for a long time. Over the last few years, there was an issue of getting things released, so when I was finally able to record or make a record, I chose to incorporate the people who have supported me for years - my fans. The whole premise of of Kickstarter and this record is to better engage the listeners ... my fans.
Anyone under 25 is quite familiar with what Kickstarter is; it was brought to my attention by my 19-year-old cousin. The key thing is that after I read about it, researched the Kickstarter process ... it's an all-or-nothing deal ... I learned -- when we were in midst of the 30 days we have to raise the money to make the record -- that not many people know what Kickstarter was, so half of our campaign was spent educating them on what it was. It's not like they were giving me money for nothing; they were going to get unique rewards they couldn't get anywhere else for their money, which went into the making of the record.
What kind of rewards are you talking about?
Some people got to come to Nashville to sing on the record. I have done concerts in people's backyards. There was an option to go running three miles with me. They could be a member of the crew. I offered a special meet-and-greet opportunity, which we fulfilled pretty quickly; they came early and met me on the tour bus and we spent some quality time together. They also stuck around for vocal warm-ups and watched the regular meet-and-greet. That wasn't always an option because the shows are so tightly scheduled on the road.
Obviously, you met your goal, but were you at any time concerned you wouldn't?
It was nerve wracking throughout the campaign. I didn't know if it was going to work at all. At the same time, I was literally sitting in a chair next to my mother in a hospital bed. This year I basically lived in a hospital. I was there when we put the campaign together at the end of April ... the fundraising went on in May and June ... and she's still in there today. She has been getting along, but obviously it has been a really tough year to write and make a record ... produce, mix and master it ... then get a single out there and keep in contact with my fans. Now I'm trying to get radio stations to give it chance while I still take care of my mother - there's a family member with her 24 hours a day - and I'm also married and have to raise two kids.
So, yeah, it's long, hard work, but you know what? I'm still very appreciative of everything that has come my way.
Your fans got to choose the songs that went on the album. How did you set that up?
We actually started that process at the end of last year. I started posting snippets of songs on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and asked my fans - especially the people who follow me on regular basis, not the ones who dip their toes in - if they thought that song should be on the record. They chose every song on the record through that process. Remember, this started last year, before any of this happened with my mom. The songs were chosen before the Kickstarter campaign started We had an album's worth of material before we enlisted fans to invest in Kickstarter - and we enlisted them again in picking the first single, "Peace Sign." It was chosen from the 220,000 impressions it got in 10 days.
Was it the obvious choice for the single?
Actually, it was pretty close between "Peace Sign" and "A Woman's Rant" ... something like 52%-48%. I was performing both songs live to see the audience response to pit those two against each other.
The Kickstarter campaign paid for the production of the album. Who is supporting the promotion of the single to radio?
It's me. Ask any PD if he or she got at least a voicemail from me. I've been calling people I've known in radio for a while and people who I consider my friend, and simply ask, "Hey, just give it a shot." I'm not saying, "Hey, why don't you add it at 50 spins." Just play it once ... and pay attention to what your listeners say. Naturally, I don't want them to play it at 2:30 in the morning.
A lot of these stations have a "Smash It or Trash It" feature. Just put it on that and if people don't like it, okay. I've gotten a lot of tests that way. I send lists of all the stations that are at least testing the single to the listeners who have helped me pick the songs on my record, to let them know how much I appreciate them, how much of an honor it is to be played on the radio, and to please listen to the stations listed. There are 45 stations on my new list today.
When you assembled the fans who contributed to your campaign, were you able to derive any demographic info on exactly who these people are?
We do have a really fascinating demo. We're strong 18-25 and even stronger 25-40. We also have info from Facebook, too. We've been able to pull up stats to see where our strongest markets are, how many people we have from there and if we've hit many potential listeners. We're also getting fans from Spotify and Pandora; I think that's where the kids hear my music. I just had a seven-year-old girl come up to me and say, "I waited my whole life to meet you!" "Seven years old? I bet you have!"
That's the kind of research a label promo rep would show radio to get them to add a record. Are you using that data in the same way?
I let the fans know the info after the fact. I'm approaching my friends in radio and just asking them to give it a shot, and if they do, then I engage my fans to say thank you. I use it as a way to show my gratitude for supporting me.
Thing is, you are going up against the major labels, who have more influence and leverage in getting those open slots on playlists. How do you compete against that?
I've relied on my faith a whole lot (laughs). I know it's tough, but I have to believe the people I know at radio are good at heart, and they'll remember the years I spent with them, dedicated to the music. I have always been appreciative to Country radio; I have a history with them, and I've always been grateful to have been a part of their family.
That's certainly a different perspective than what Ronnie Dunn has....
I guess there are different ways to skin a cat. I'd rather come from the side of gratitude as opposed being combative. I really don't know what his deal is; I haven't followed it. I've known Ronnie from being around this town for years, so I have a fondness for him, but this isn't about him. I'm not focusing on someone else's journey. I'm just trying to do my own little thing and hopefully gain some ground.
You have to remember, I'm a touring artist -- I tour nonstop -- and we new need people from everywhere. We're going up to Cincinnati. There's a local company there that wanted to do something with us in town, so we went to local TV and bought some advertising. There are companies that want me to do promotions; I'm not going to turn that down. And when a Spotify or Renegade Radio plays my music, they'll get one of my thank-you calls. Today, you don't have to rely on just one outlet. There so many places your music can get exposure; that's the beauty of music business today. But I also have to say that Country radio is, far and away, the #1 outlet. They're the engine in the car. It's nice to have wheels and seats and whatever, but radio's the driving force.
So how do you define success for this project? Is it Gold or Platinum sales, or something else?
For me, it's just being able to do what I love to be doing, which is being able to tour with my music. I look at someone like a Diana Krall, who tours and has a wonderful career. She's not on the radio all the time, but she built a career where she can go out and do what she loves to do -- make records and tour. That's what I love to do and have wanted to do since I was 13 years old.
I feel I'm just getting started. Now that I'm off of a label, I can write just I want; I can put something on YouTube when and if I want. I could never do that before; I had to have the permission of the label. I now have so much freedom to write songs for soundtracks; publishing and song licensing is not an issue any more. I used to get opportunities to get my music on TV shows, but the licensing couldn't be worked out with the label. There were so many opportunities like that today.
So would you do another Kickstarter campaign?
This is a one-project deal; I wanted to see if my supporters were still out here. For now, I'm just going to focus on this specific project when it comes out. We're still working the single -- and wherever the Lord takes me after that, we'll see.