How one indie artist charted on Folk radioAn interview with Monica Rizzio

I met songwriter Monica Rizzio last year at the 1st DIY Musician Conference in Chicago, where we shared some ideas about crowdfunding (I’d just wrapped up a PledgeMusic campaign and she was about to launch one).

In the months following, it’s been interesting to see how her campaign — and the album it brought about — took shape.

From a marketing perspective, Monica hit all the right notes: good music, a story that makes an interesting hook for press, visual branding that enhances that story, advanced praise from some high-profile professional contacts, and more.

One of the things that really interested me, though, was that in the month leading up to her album release her music was getting played a ton around the country and her songs were performing well on folk radio charts. I asked her a bit about the release of Washashore Cowgirl and the process of promoting her music, particularly to radio.

CR: You’ve played and sang in various configurations and bands for a while, so what’s different about this new album? 

MR: I am stepping out — musically and emotionally — for sure. The past ten years I was in a folk pop quartet that sang around one condenser microphone. We co-wrote the songs together, and did all the arranging together as well. When I left Tripping Lily in 2012 I wanted to challenge myself to write an album, to arrange it myself, to go back to my Texas roots, to plug in and make some noise.

Many artists, when they try to write a bio or press release for their own music,  don’t think they have an interesting story to tell. But I usually find if they can dig a little deeper, or focus in on one aspect of their life, the stories are already there — and they’re often quite dramatic. I’m interested in how the “branding” for your record Washashore Cowgirl  is drawn from an important aspect of your own life. Can you talk a bit about the process of finding that hook?

I agree with you; everyone has some sort of story behind the music. You just gotta dig deep. For me I was a girl who grew up in East Texas on a 30 acre ranch, didn’t see the ocean till I was 14, and grew up barrel racing and singing as a kid. When I moved to the East Coast I was in extreme culture shock. I was only used to small town living — where everybody knew your name and more than you would like them to know about you.

I had been living on the Cape for some time and when I was thinking of making my debut album I knew I wanted to get back to my Texas roots. The seed was sown so long ago as a child and I wanted to tell my story. I felt that since I was pinned as a “Washashore” since moving to Cape Cod that Washashore Cowgirl only seemed appropriate.

At the DIY Musician Conference last year, we talked about my PledgeMusic campaign and you were just getting ready to launch yours. After successfully funding your project, what’s your one-minute summary of the process? Regrets? Advice for other artists? 

Awesome experience, very engaging with pledgers. PledgeMusic was great to work with.

One regret: DON’T ADD INCENTIVES LAST MINUTE. I should’ve had all my incentives out there from day one. I think that it’s hard to get your audience to keep going back to your page; they’re so busy that I think once they land on your PledgeMusic page they should have full opportunity to bid on all exclusives.

In preparation for the release, you lined up a radio promoter (which we’ll get to in a minute), but I’m curious what else you did in terms of getting the word out.

I went back to my wheel house as to whom I’ve become friends with along the way since going to Belmont in Nashville and up to present day.

I am fortunate to say I was asked to perform with Tom Rush at Symphony Hall for his No Regrets show, I have known Patty Larkin because she is another Washashore here on Cape Cod, and Mark Erelli and I have known each other for awhile and co-wrote a song together for my album.

I believe that all the connections you make in your career, whether they are music related or not, are important and must be nurtured because you just never know what will come of it.

So how did you go about FINDING a radio promoter? 

I researched for a very long time. I wanted a radio promoter that was not gonna give up, that would make me a priority. After talking to many musician friends Blue River Promotion’s name kept coming up. When I was at NERFA this past Fall I was waiting to check in and Lisa Grey was directly behind me. We got to talking and I knew right from the get-go she was the one to hire for this record.

Once you’d agreed to work with one another, what was the process like?

We decided that we were not going to do singles, but instead market the entire album. She had a large list of DJs that she wanted to send my record to. During that whole process I had to make sure that my record was also available digitally, as some DJs like to have both formats. In the end, I have mailed out over 450 CDs… It’s expensive folks, but well worth it.

Obviously a radio promoter can’t promise specific results, but they can promise a certain amount of work on behalf of your music. What did your promoter agree to do at the level of promotion you were paying for?

She didn’t necessarily promise me anything except that she would push this record. It was from the referrals that I received that I knew she would get the job done, and so far I’m happy to say that I have been added to Sirius XM The Village, and I’m charting in the Folk and AMA charts.

Speaking of, your record debuted at #6 on the Top 50 Trad Folk Album charts, it went to #2 on RMR’s Top 50,… anything else?

Washashore Cowgirl has charted as the # 7 Top Album on the Folk DJ Chart for March. My song “Willie Nelson” is the #9 Top Song; and “Delta Dawn” and “You and Me” have tied for the #16 Top Song. In addition, I’ve come in as the #10 Top Artist.

On a practical level, what does any of that mean? How often are your songs being played, on how many stations, in how many markets?

My songs are being played all over the country. As far as spins, it depends week to week. Some weeks I am getting 15 spins per station. Some are more, some are less. It’s a finicky business.

Do you have a hunch (or early data) on how that radio play affects your album sales, downloads, or streams?

So far I am seeing little impact on my album sales, downloads, etc. It’s really hard when someone can listen to my album for FREE. That’s why I have tried to get creative with my merchandise, give them something that they can’t just stream.

How do you plan to keep that radio momentum going?

I am developing relationships with all the DJs that are playing my music. I want them to know how much I appreciate the time they have taken to listen to my record. I have done a few interviews thus far and recorded some bumpers. I have received a good amount that are willing to host shows when I am ready to come their way. It’s encouraging!

How do you share news about your radio activity with fans? 

I try to stay on it and I try to do highlights every month about where I am on the charts, new stations that have added me, etc. It’s a balancing act for sure and you gotta make sure that you manage your time well. Otherwise you’ll be stuck at the computer all day and never make music.

Do you plan to tour through markets where you’re getting play? 20 years ago it was pretty vital to play in towns where you were getting radio support, but does that matter anymore? Can you establish a connection with those listeners through other means: Concert Window, YouTube, etc.? 

I do plan to tour where I am getting played as well as where I am not and try to build relationships with those stations as well. I have made new fans thru Concert Window and YouTube which are ideal and right at our fingertips. I just have to make sure that I try and be creative with my video uploads and shows.

You had a big album release show at Passim. How’d it go?

It was a wonderful show, almost sold out for my first true headlining show.

What’s on deck for AFTER the release party?

I am working my tour schedule every day. We’re talking about my first official music video of “Willie Nelson” — so that’s taking some planning for sure.  I’m currently working on another batch of songs for my next CD and want to make sure to stay busy and on my toes.

You’ve attended our DIY Musician Conference, NERFA, and probably quite a few other music industry events. You also run an arts education organization on the Cape. How important is it for you to have access to a network of peers and industry professionals? Some artists seem to thrive in that environment, while others build things friend by friend (but are allergic to “networking”). To me, those two approaches actually seem like the same thing, though I definitely understand how the first approach can be intimidating for shy people, or seem cliquish to outsiders. Anyway, that’s a long winded way of asking for your advice when it comes to building a network.  

I did attend the DIY and NERFA conferences this past year. They were both super informative and the networking was great.

Often times, I feel that I’ve been at this for so long what more can I learn, but I’m always amazed coming away with a notepad full of new ideas and contacts. I met so many new musician friends at both of those conferences that I have done co-bills with, bounced ideas off, etc.

Network Network is the key to this business.

What song are you most proud to have written and why?

I am most proud of my song “Willie Nelson.” It was my first time writing a song from another writer’s perspective. I have always been a long time fan of Willie Nelson and always wanted to write a song like him. I just never thought that the chorus “hook” of the song would be “I’ll Be Your Lover If You’ll Be My Willie Nelson.”

I had the pleasure of going back stage and watching his show in Boston this past summer from side stage. It was a wonderful experience. I also gave him a copy of that song.. so who knows what will come of it. All I know is that I was able to meet one of my true songwriting HEROs!

Visit Monica Rizzio’s website for more information and music.

Have you charted on a radio chart? How’d you do it? What has your experience been like working with a radio promoter? Let us know in the comments below.

[hana-code-insert name=’radio-played’ /]

[hana-code-insert name=’newsletter-free-updates’ /]