How YouTube Popularity Led To Success
Julia Nunes has had a rather unique rise in the music industry. She built her audience on YouTube, and faced some unique challenges doing it that way, but overcame them to become a hit. Below is our interview with her and we think you’ll find it enlightening, in more ways than one.
Julia, Your story is well documented about how you have achieved success in a non-traditional way. How fulfilling is it to you to have control over your career and not have to answer to any record label executives?
Fulfilling is a good word for it. As I become stronger as a musician and writer I’m more and more grateful for the freedom. I have a lot of feelings about a lot of things. I’ve adopted this ultra honest approach to music and whatever else I share with the world and it’s translated to some really meaningful moments on tour and online. More than songwriting, it just feels really good to share Ideas I think are important.
What is most fulfilling to you about your career?
Writing a great song that really says exactly how I feel, is catchy, complicated, individual, and relates to people is the best high. I think writing music, regardless of skill level can be realty cathartic but when you write something you think is great, and other people think it’s great, and you get into a room and sing it together unabashedly loud, it’s a whole new level of therapy.
I know there are artists who have ripped me up with their lyrics and certain melodies so being able to do that for my crowd is extremely rewarding.
And starting from the beginning, how do you think you were able to build your initial audience of ukulele lovers? Even building an initial audience in a niche market can be difficult, but you are able to find over 1000 ukulele lovers. That’s quite a feat in itself. How were you able to build that initial audience?
I think the community of ukulele lovers was already burgeoning before i set foot on youtube but I was doing something very different from the people doing one shot covers of golden oldies. (although i absolutely covered some golden oldies)
I spliced videos together to build harmonies for my covers. I wanted to make beats and play other instruments and I wanted people to see everything they could hear. They got more and more complicated. Eventually that style of video became way more common but I was the only one doing it at the time so people took notice.
How many videos did you complete in that first year to build the audience?
WOW i’ve literally never counted. It was 38, that’s so many. I probably make more like 10 a year now
That is a lot, but I think the work that you put into them really paid off. In January 2008 YouTube featured your video, “into The Sunshine” on its home page. For all the aspiring artists out there wondering how you were able to do that, how are you able to do that? : )
hahaha I had no hand in it but youtube was extremely small back then. There were only a hand full of people creating regular videos. The biggest videos were still mostly cats acting bonkers and babies being cute which were one-offs. As I understand it, my putting up an original that had a lot of layers as opposed to a cover is what made them feature it
So after that initial video was posted, your fan base grew tremendously, however it wasn’t that easy, was it? How hard to that you have to work to build up that audience over time? what goes into making all of those videos? ( I know for myself just making a simple 30 second video is a pain, I can only imagine how much work it was to perform and create a multitude of videos)
I didn’t really think of it as work, I was playing around, avoiding school work. I also didn’t think of it as building a fan base, I was just enjoying the attention, I’ve always been a theater kid so performing is just fun for me.
I also really pride myself on being a great editor. I think a tour announcement video can be borrrring, but if the timing is just right and the shots are juxtaposed to tell the story quickly and earnestly, a categorically bland video is fun to watch. I obsess over video editing, trying to make it the most concise and interesting it can be. Doing something you’re really good at doesn’t feel like work.
There are absolutely tedious sides to my job, but thats more like legal stuff and paper work and owning a business type stuff. Creating the art is fun…
Let’s talk for a moment about the Molly Ringwald comment that she made on Good Morning America, crediting you with inspiring her to play the ukulele. How did she find you initially?Have you connected with her?
What a woman. I think she probably found me the same way most people have found me. I either covered something she was searching for, or a friend showed her something and she just kept clicking because she liked me. We exchanged one myspace message and then we continued on like two ships passing in the night.
And in your junior year of college, you toured on weekends while attending classes on Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays. What was that tour like? was it difficult?
That was me clinging to the more socially acceptable title of “College Graduate” instead of believing that music could be a real career for me. It was very hard, I did not do well in school, I wasn’t really able to hang with friends, and I was pretty stressed. Taking the risk and dedicating myself to music was probably one of the hardest decisions I made as a teenager.
So then you aimed to raise $15,000 by crowdfunding on Kickstarter, but initially you had your doubts. What were your hesitations in going into it and what was the experience like?
Prior to that kickstarter there had been little money changing hands between me and my audience. Some of them bought my CD online or on tour but asking for money for a record that didn’t exist yet seemed weird. Doing a pre-sale for a record didn’t seem weird though, and this was just a pre-sale very far in advance so I went for it.
You ended up raising over $77,000 *on your first kickstarter and $134,000 on your second kickstarter which ranks as one of the greatest successes of all time on Kickstarter. For all the people that struggle with Kickstarter, how were you able to do that? Were there specific steps that you took to achieve that success, and if so, what were they?
I think the steps I took to having a successful kickstarter began years before. Touring, making videos, and connecting with my audience are why I’ve been able to make music. With a kickstarter, the most die hard fans will champion behind your goal, share it with their friends, tell their mom to do it. I think it gave them the opportunity to say “hey check out this girl, she’s great and she’s making an album you can pre-order” which is better than any marketing that exists.
On the album, Some Feelings, you stated that the album “chronicles my realizations about how shitty I let my life get…There are songs about looking back in horror, and looking forward with hope.” For our audience here at RiseUpEight, can you please talk about that and about how you overcame “how shitty you let life get”?
I was in a bad relationship, in a city that frustrated me and made me feel unsafe, making videos hoping to please people but not enjoying myself, and feeling super unhealthy with no idea what to do about it. The realizations about all of those things came after the decisions I made to change them.
I broke up with my boyfriend, moved to LA, and immediately felt better. I slowly started to unpack what had been motivating me; insecurity, grasping for views and social media attention and not having any real fun.
Writing the songs that ended up on Some Feelings reminded me why I love writing and performing. As I’ve leaned harder into the things I enjoy most, I’ve experienced better health, more confidence, and more success. Taking the time to learn about myself was really uncomfortable for me, I had always thought of myself as low maintenance. I didn’t think I really cared about much but that is just how depression manifested in me.
Now I have a better understanding of what I need, what makes me feel good, and I am better at saying it. That has changed my life in a million different ways but especially in music. I feel more able to access the play side of playing music when I’m just doing whatever I want and saying whatever comes to mind.
What words of encouragement would you give to up-and-coming musicians who want to follow in your footsteps on YouTube? Any specific steps that they should follow to become successful?
Do what you find most interesting. If you’re obsessed with something, you’ll feel glad to learn more about it, and do a better job at it. Also, give yourself space to think. Do something fun that is totally unrelated to the task at hand. Sitting down and writing a song doesn’t work for me. They come to me while I’m showering or waiting for a train or driving home from a friends house with the radio off.
For me, taking space from the screens in my life helped me hear the muse in my head way better. Those crazy little ideas floating around in your head are the ones that are special, the ones that give your the urge to try something no one else has tried. They’re the ones that get you noticed
Any last words?
I think the biggest thing in all of this is being good to yourself. I wanna say that the biggest thing is being happy but that’s not always possible, but good art can come from sorrow if you give yourself the opportunity.
Being good to myself means eating lots of vegetables and fruits, drinking a lot of water, moving every day (not necessarily exercise), seeing friends who make me feel completely comfortable, writing in a journal, dancing, and creating a clean/beautiful/open home.
All of that results in an outpouring of songs for me. I wasn’t always so aware of what I needed to you don’t have to be a health nut to be making an effort and that’s what really counts. Feel free to steal my feel-good-list and see if life/the voices in your head shift. They did for me. Check out Radimo.la for more details on that list.
Julia wrote this article about how she was able to get out of the above destructive relationship and into a healthy one. Rather than reprinting the entire article, we suggest visiting the website, because it is recommended reading to get the full scope of our interview with Julia.
Like this interview? We want to know what you think, please comment below.