Julia Nunes started recording ukulele covers in her dorm room for her friends at home eventually led to 50 million YouTube views, four self-published albums, and a performance on Conan O’Brien. Today she talks about how she accidentally become a succesful recording artist.
Projects: JuNu Music
XOXOing: Indie Music and YouTube
Step One: Boredom – find an outlet, beocme obsessive, and then release those obsessions to the world.
Step Two: Involving other people – find a community (hers was the ukulele crowd), build an audience, listen to that audience, and adjust your obsession to appeal to people other than yourself.
Step Three: The “big break” – read emails, get offered opportunities, hold contests concerts and collaborations, and then pick and choose which opportunities will actually help.
The Bushman Ukulele Competition turned out to be a big break, with a prize of a free ukulele. She got paid to play at a Luau in a barn, with lower production values than XOXO. It feels like a big break at the time, but then there are bigger things. Like an original song that she wrote appearing on the front page of YouTube. She got 100,000 emails overnight, and woke up famous the next day. She hated it. It was the worst. YouTube hates nose rings.
And then she got a YouTube message from Ben Folds. She had covered a Ben Folds song and got invited by his manager to open for his show. And they called her “record label”, which was actually just her parents’ land line phone number. This led to her mother asking her why she was ignoring Ben Folds. Eventually she got to open for him and play with him.
Eventually, she decided to record a CD. It wasn’t the highest quality, but she relied on people at her college to help play and her fans liked it despite the production values. By contrast, YouTube thought putting its famous artists together would make their artists succeed by being at YouTube LIVE. But having YouTube acts alongside Katy Perry didn’t really work. However, she and MC Hammer had the same hat.
Julia’s sister lived in London, so she was able to go on tour in England before she ever did in the U.S. Then the next step up was getting booked by Superfly to play at Bonnaroo, after an intern had found her on YouTube and needed someone to play in fill-in slots at the festival. This led to her being alongside Bon Iver, Lucinda Williams and others.
In between Bonnaroos, she did an EP with Pomplamoose, another YouTube breakout. Played college shows every weekend, toured in the UK and on both costs, and spoke on panels. Plus opened for the Bacon Brothers! (Can’t believe she didn’t know that was Kevin Bacon’s band.)
Then she played alongside Weezer on the huge stage at Bonnaroo in her second appearance there. That happened because she tweeted at Weezer about playing together with them during their set. Similarly, she got to play 24 shows with Ben Kweller because she got all of her fans to lip-sync along with a song and they noticed they had fans in common.
She got approached to do a Fox show where they needed a good recording, and she connected to Zach McNeese, who became her producer. A good example of being open to unexpected connections. This was followed up by a Kickstarter for her third album. And that led to enough attention to earn her a performance on Conan O’Brien. This was a good step up from the Ukulele Luau.
Most importantly, she realized she gets too sweaty to have bangs.