Utah musicians find creative ways to launch music careers


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BYU grad Derk Boss doesn’t have a paid job or a phone. He drives a 1989 Nissan Sentra to avoid a car payment, and he lives in Farmington with his mom to avoid extra expenses.

But Boss wakes up at 6 a.m. and spends nearly every minute until he goes to sleep at 11 p.m. knocking doors and playing his songs to raise funds for his Kickstarter campaign aimed at jumpstarting his musical career.

Crowdfunding can be a risky business, but musicians like Boss are focusing on Utah because they want to keep their roots in a state that has proved a successful place for artists to launch their careers.

Gaining high-speed traction on the Internet

Utah residents are not new to the limelight. Lists such as “11 Utahns who found fame on reality TV” are not uncommon. And local artists are spreading their reach by utilizing content sharing sites.

Provo native and 13-year-old Aaliyah Rose Mo’unga is a Utah YouTube star. She has collaborated with Alex Boye and other artists to make covers of popular songs, but she has made her own videos since she was nine when her parents “sat her on a couch in front of a camera and pushed record,” according to her mother, Melanie Mo’unga.

Aaliyah Rose has amassed more than 70,000 subscribers on YouTube since she joined the site in August 2013. She is just one example of how quickly the Internet can bring in followers and feedback.

Melanie said the family was pleasantly surprised when her daughter’s videos received a lot of positive feedback. Disney saw one of her videos and invited Aaliyah Rose to perform at the Radio Disney Music Awards show in 2014.

“It’s been a really cool thing,” Melanie said. “(YouTube) is a great way for independent artists to build up a fan base. You’re in control, there’s not a label telling you what you can be.”

YouTube careers are not uncommon. A YouTube channel can bring in as much as $12 million a year, as it has for Felix Kjellberg for commenting on video games, according to Forbes‘ list of the highest paid YouTube channels in 2015. The lowest-paid YouTuber on the list made $2.5 million. Lindsey Stirling was the fourth highest-paid at $6 million.

Going a non-traditional route

Boss is using the album cover art as some of the rewards for pledges. Boss said it has already made a huge difference in the campaign's success. (Kaydren Darby Dubose)
Boss is using the album cover art as some of the rewards for pledges. Boss said it has already made a huge difference in the campaign’s success. (Kaydren Darby Dubose)

Boss isn’t trying YouTube yet because making studio-recorded albums is his top priority. “I would rather use YouTube for actual music videos than live performances,” he said. “I know it’s important to do both, though, but my goal has been to get great quality studio recordings finished before I push for a YouTube audience.”

He hopes to raise $10,000 through his Kickstarter campaign to make a fully orchestrated CD. Boss knows his approach is the opposite of what most musicians start out doing nowadays. “But I want new fans to have a great recording ready for them if they discover me on YouTube,” he said.

Kickstarter’s website shows the overall success rate for campaigns (36.56 percent) and the success rates for each of 15 available categories. The music category has a 50.91 percent success rate, the third-highest success rate after the dance and theater categories.

“Most successfully funded projects raise less than $10,000,” the site states.

Boss has passed out fliers all over Utah. He’s placing ads in local restaurants and cafes using recycled milk cartons spray painted with his logo and a thank-you message.

Halfway through his project, Boss raised $3,000. But he contracted strep throat and pink eye from campaigning outside every day this winter, so he is planning on re-launching his campaign in January 2016.

Boss chose Kickstarter because if he doesn’t reach his goal, the people who have pledged money won’t be charged. But if he does reach the goal, the pledgers will receive gifts and products as rewards.

He also chose to start his career in Utah because he knows people here, but he’s also “a product of Provo, musically,” he said. He was inspired by musical success stories from bands from Provo, like Neon Trees.

Collaborating with others

Musicians like Boss and Aaliyah Rose know that collaborating with others in the media business is essential, especially for gaining momentum online.

Melanie said she didn’t know anything about the music industry when Aaliyah Rose’s music was becoming popular. But she reached out to the people they needed, such as piano players and videographers. Jake Justice from We are the Strike played the piano to Aaliyah Rose’s cover and mash-up of “Let it Go.”

Networking started Boss on his career path. A friend saw some of the musician’s old music videos, so he referred Boss to his friend, Mitch Davis, a music producer, film writer, director and producer.

Boss needed funds to make the CD with Davis, so he started the Kickstarter campaign. But musicians on Kickstarter need a video introducing their work and campaign.

It was hard to find someone willing to make his video for a price Boss could afford. But he found BYU freshman Dean Dunmire at the BYUSA offices through a friend.

Even the video-making process was a team effort. Boss presented him with the concept he wanted for the video and Dunmire expanded it by suggesting they film people interacting with Boss in one continuous shot. “I thought it would be more engaging and feel like it was a part of something bigger to have a lot more people,” Dunmire said.

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Persevering through hard times

So far, only one person said he wouldn’t buy Boss’ CD after hearing Boss play. The man said he didn’t like guitar music, an opinion that Boss’ performance didn’t sway.

But the experience wasn’t a bad one, and Boss is used to rejection: he was a summer salesman for four years after he graduated from BYU. He made enough money selling things such as pest control services and Living Scriptures products to pay off $45,000 of student loans in three years. Boss said that’s part of what makes it possible for him to live without a paid job and focus on his music. The summer sales experiences also taught him how to take failure and rejection.

“The awesome thing is, even though I wasn’t a good salesperson in any of them, I have no fear to go door to door now,” Boss said. “And I actually know, to promote my music, I’m actually good at it. But to promote an alarm, I’m terrible.”

As motivation, Boss thinks of famous historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, who failed in certain areas of life but still motivated people to never give up.

Current musicians also inspire him. Boss bought a guitar from David Archuleta’s brother earlier this year. Archuleta’s father was there and told Boss that David sometimes felt he wasn’t good enough. But, he said, musicians need to approach music and train like they’re Olympic athletes.

“The vision is that even though it’s hard, to keep doing it,” Boss said. He hopes to inspire people with his music.

Doing what it takes

Sometimes it only takes one thing to launch a career, such as Aaliyah Rose’s trip to the Radio Disney music awards. But Melanie said she and her daughter have developed a thick skin as they learn to not take failures personally and to evaluate offers they receive.

“Everybody has a different path,” Melanie said. “There’s no one way. There are people that will tell you that you need to do specific things … but we’ve learned to do research and to always go with what you feel about your music.”

Boss is doing just that as he stays true to his vision for his music. He knows he might fail, but he’s prepared to do anything to succeed, even designating in his will who he wants to take over singing his songs if he dies.

He said people always ask him what he’s going to do if he doesn’t succeed with music. He knows that for most people, their degree and a traditional career are backups to music. But for him, music was his backup to a career in English. “That’s all I’m going to do,” he said.

“I’m so confident that my music is different and good enough that people will love it,” Boss said.

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