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The Civil Wars' Success Formula: Live Shows + Social Media + Music Placements

Civil-wars-barton-hollowThe Civil Wars, with Grammy nominations in Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album, are an indie success story built on live performance, social media and music licensing. The February debut of their first album, "Barton Hollow", gave them a #1 on Billboard's Digital Albums chart and the CD is currently #73 on Amazon's Top 100 in Music a year later. But even without the Grammy nomination, which obviously boosted album sales, The Civil Wars show you can do well by combining what are now well-established approaches to marketing and revenue generation.

Taryn Haight interviewed The Civil Wars, Nashville-based Joy Williams and John Paul White, at Sundance where the duo discussed how much fun they were having getting to know new people rather than focusing on networking. Yet they've taken advantage of the web's ability to foster conversation with the release of free music and also made some money while getting more attention with music placements on "Grey's Anatomy" and the creation of music for the documentary "Finding North."

That certainly doesn't sum up the success to date of The Civil Wars, whose album "Barton Hollow" has done quite well. But when one looks at the indie bands achieving success on their own terms, the combination of solid live shows, social media and music licensing, seems to be one of the most powerful paths currently available.

As Joy Williams told Taryn Haight:

"A big part of our story is online presence. The second show we ever did as a duo (in late 2009) was recorded front to back, a full show's worth...Afterwards we thought, well, why don't we just put this up online and make it completely free and completely accessible to anyone -- no e-mail retrieval, no nothing. So when we released it we had no idea how it would be received. Thankfully, that was a really big conversation starter with a lot of people. Couple that with a placement in Grey's Anatomy as well as Twitter and Facebook, which are amazing avenues to spread word of mouth. And I think that has been one of the major parts of building the story of The Civil Wars."

"A friend's recommendation to another friend is one of the biggest gifts you can give anybody. So with all of that continuing to build and grow, those doors that were never accessible to us have become open opportunities for us and we've been running through them as much as we can and as much as they've made sense for us. And it's something that we're really proud of in this new era of music. You don't necessarily have to have that big machine. If the music connects, we've found as of this last year, it can find a home with people."

John Paul White clarified that they don't take a hardcore stance about their approach but continue to focus on what feels right for them:

"There's never been a line in the sand that we won't do anything in particular. That goes for travelling with a band or a major label. With every opportunity we look at all the angles and think, what can they do for us that we can't do for ourselves -- and there are things that they can do that we can't. By and large, we weigh how much we'd give up our creative control and our general control over what we do because right now, with anything we decide to work on, our meeting is Joy and I and her husband, who is our management. There's no red tape. At the moment, we're okay. There have been opportunities and hopefully there will be more opportunities, but at the moment we're happy to be independent."

While there's always someone to find fault with any success story, as Charles Alexander points out in The Mainstream Music Establishment Wants You To Think You're Not Good Enough, The Civil Wars is one of those acts that shows how current opportunities for indie artists can be combined to build a solid career.

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his freelance writing hub at Flux Research and music industry resources at Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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