I'm here today with Ali Spagnola. She's the drinking composer with a music problem who had an interesting court case that garnered her huge support from the internet community. Her "Power Hour" concert has toured the country with 60 "1-minute" songs and her patented 'shot glass' album is designed to drink you under the table. She's a musician, a painter, a marketing wiz, and a content producing machine on YouTube.
Let's take a look...
Vincent: So talk to us briefly about your formative years before you decided to start playing music fulltime, and maybe even give us one thing that nobody knows about.
Ali: Well, my formative years in music were in kindergarten, when I started playing the piano. The one thing that I think sort of hinged my music career that no one’s heard about before online. This is your exclusive. I was a dancer in a competitive dance company, all throughout high school, that was very much my focus and my love.
For my senior solo, I actually composed the song that I would dance to. So it was sort of this combo of music and my passion of dance. From there, I knew that I wanted to pursue the solo musician thing.
Since then I have still written stuff that I danced to, and sort of composed things, as I'm choreographing, which is interesting and freeing in terms of being a dancer, and able to have my hands on both sides of that. The work has been really cool. It was that senior solo that had me ready to go to be a solo artist after that.
Vincent: Awesome. I think I saw a So You Think You Can Dance audition video…
Ali: Nice. That was the same type of deal, I wrote the piece as I choreographing. So those two pieces inform each other and are intertwined as one artwork.
Vincent: You‘ve definitely had a lot of press around this legal struggle that you won over the patent dispute about the word “Power Hour.” Give us a little background on what this is, how you’ve seen it grow, and level with us… how many alcoholics have you created over the years?
Ali: So I was performing my Power Hour show, which is my concert doubles as a drinking game. It’s a common drinking game. Everybody knows about the Power Hour. I mean, everybody cool obviously.
Another guy who was also making Power Hours at the time trademarked the term Power Hour even though that’s basically saying like, I invented poker and now no one can play poker anymore. But he actually did that and tried to stop me from playing my shows and selling my Power Hour album.
I had to fight him in court for three years. Kicked his butt after a lot of effort and dollars, but that was very cool victory for everyone in the US, because now he is not able to bully us anymore. He is not able to get my album taken down, other people’s YouTube videos, or websites and software that he was getting removed from the internet. So that was awesome.
Throughout all of that, the only reason I was able to do it is because I had so much online support. It was really the fans of the Power Hour and awesome people supporting me that helped me defeat this. Through that, it was Reddit, and a bunch of different online articles and Twitter. It was amazing feeling all the support.
Support from Press
Vincent: Let’s talk about the specifics and energy of that support. How did you get the message out? How did you capture the attention of Reddit and other press outlets? What was your strategy around that?
Ali: The press has been super helpful in getting the word out. I mean there was Gizmodo, and Mashable, Huffington Post and even Fox News I had talking about me. It was really cool.
When I first released my album, I went with like, the traditional PR firm direction, and got zero results. So I sort of took it on myself, built my own PR firm, and that’s when things really took off.
So I would say definitely, vet the PR firm you’re using, and don’t discredit your own ability, and passion to get the word out there about what you do.
Vincent: So you became your own PR firm to get your own articles in Mashable and Gizmodo, and Forbes, etc?
Ali: Yes, there was a lot of research and trial and error about how to find publications and then target the authors that would be interested in what I do and really connecting with them. Just creating a compelling story that you can get them interested in that you will want to tell their readers.
Methodology for Promotion
Vincent: Do you have a preferred methodology for promoting yourself on various social platforms? How did you grow so big on twitter? Was all that through Reddit, Gizmodo and the press? Talk to us about the power of the internet in that huge spike in traffic.
Ali: The first spike was when I was getting those initial articles right, and then when it blew up on Reddit. Since then it’s not really been a spike, it’s sort of an awesome upward travelling. I know Twitter is suggesting me to people now which is great.
My go-to for all this is always to be funny. I mean there are people on Twitter that don’t even know I do music and they just think I'm a comedian. But not that that works for everyone, but that’s definitely been my thing is just keep people laughing. They seem to keep wanting to follow.
The Freedom Victory Tour
Vincent: You raised around 40K on Indiegogo in 2013. Was this before or after the Freedom Victory Tour and the decision for the big legal case came in?
Ali: The Indiegogo was for The Freedom Victory Tour. So there was a big announcement about the case that Power Hour is free. So clearly I wanted to go play Power Hour with everyone across the US and it turned out that they also wanted to play with me, which was super awesome and I was very excited about.
I launched the Indiegogo and everyone supported this, basically, victory lap around that US to say, “Hooray for freedom of intellectual property. Lets party,” and we did.
Vincent: Before then were you touring often around the US?
Ali: I was touring in 2012, it was much different because it was just me and my guitar strapped on my back. This time, because I had the excitement, and the money raised I was able to bring a team with me. So we had an RV, and I had DJ, and an opening act, and a videographer. It was different this time around. It was really cool.
Vincent: What direction do you find yourself heading after that tour? You’re still very active on the internet. You have a couple hundred YouTube videos, and something like 1.5 million Twitter followers… so what’s your strategy now?
Ali: After doing that tour, I’m trying to sort of, take the excitement I have, for the music stuff and move it to the YouTube presence. That’s been my focus now is building a following on YouTube. I'm doing a weekly web show that hopefully will get people excited.
Vincent: Interesting. What is the live web show? Talk about that.
Ali: Well, I guess I would say because I’ve had all of this engagement online and I do actually do live stream show once a month although I’ve been travelling a lot. So it’s been a couple of months since I have done it. But that engagement is through the roof. If anything, I see way more excitement in people showing up and even monetary conversions of that live stream show, as compared to when I was out there on the road roughing it in person.
Which is interesting to me because, I don’t know, the live stream, is super, comes naturally and we have a good time online. I never put so much thought and effort into it whereas when I went on tour, it was all about a lot of effort. It seems the thing that happens naturally online, maybe that’s what I should focus more on. I'm also heading in that direction too.
So what I would say is, go where your audience is. Maybe it isn’t that, you need to tour and do the standard, what it used to be; where you get on the road and make those fans in person. The musical landscape has changed. I have noticed that for myself.
Vincent: Cool, have you heard about Jack Conte's new service, Patreon?
Ali: Yeah a couple of my really good friends are on it and kicking butt weekly with it. It’s super awesome. Their podcast has just taken off, they just went independent. It’s been fantastic for them.
Distribution of the Power Hour album
Vincent: So let’s talk about the distribution of the Power Hour album with the Shot Glass. What do people love about it? Was this hard to manufacture? Give us a few factoids.
Ali: Sure. So I started with this idea because I was putting so much work in to this unconventional drinking game album. I wanted it to be more than just downloads. I was actually a sculpture major in college; I had this need to create physical objects for people to desire.
So obviously CDs aren’t that thing anymore. So the solution was to make an album that you can drink out off. That was square one, how do I make this exist in the world. So that was a whole lot of trial and error again, myself figuring out how to actually design this thing, to getting it made, to my packaging in graphics, and what software is going to go on it.
It was a fun process. So I say that if you have any ideas on that direction or something unconventional that you want to do with your album, just go for it. Figure it out along the way, and it will come together.
Vincent : Do you have specific companies that you would recommend, as you’re building this out, that you use, that you’re like, “Man this company did a great job doing x, y or z?”
Ali: I have looked in some companies that will take your idea from prototype to existing. It wasn’t cost effective. If anything I say do it yourself. Find a friend that can 3D model your idea and sort of pull the pieces together yourself as opposed to a company. Because that seems to be what worked for me and it was awesome.
Vincent: So you found a friend that 3D modeled your Shot Glass?
Ali: I, actually, as an art major, also did 3D modeling… so I did that myself.
Vincent: Okay… Wow. Jill-of-all-trades.
Ali: Those are the ones to do the graphics and the box design and everything. So even if it wasn’t me, I'm sure we could find some people that pull on to my team, and make it happen without shelling out a bunch of money or trying to find the company to do it.
Interaction with fans
Vincent: Tell us about one of your most fun interactions with a fan.
Ali: Well, there was one time that I was playing at a ski chalet. It was sort of a private party thing that I had been flown in for, which was really cool. It was winter, but weirdly nice out, so it was snowy, but we were actually outside while I was performing.
One of the guys watching this show, full snowsuit - they had just gotten back from skiing and we were partying. Maybe halfway through my set, he stood up on this banister, because we were outside on their porch.
It was like a first level kind of thing. He stood on the banister and back flipped. He had a beer in his mouth and he put his arms out, back flipped into the snow. And finished his beer on the landing.
Ali: Yeah, that was in the middle of my set. I was like, how am I supposed to follow that act. It was pretty awesome.
Vincent: He didn’t break his teeth?
Ali: No, he’s done this often. Some of his friends were like, “Yep he is doing it again.”
Vincent: So let’s talk about you giving back. I saw that every day you make a painting for a random person who requests one. Now there's a back order something like thirteen hundred people. I really think this is an interesting way to create a super fan.
So talk about what you’ve learnt from this. What kind of conversion have you seen from someone who receives a personalized painting from you? Does this create a fan for life? Does this convert to album sales? Talk a little bit about this.
Ali: So it’s rare do I go to an interview about my music and anyone brings up the painting thing. I actually feel like these are two separate people that I am on online, which is the painter and the artist.
There really hasn’t been much crossover in terms of fans for both of those. Which is interesting, but it’s tough. You have to keep yourself to an elevator pitch. When people can’t wrap their head around what you are easily, they just forget, or stop caring.
So that’s part of the reason why I’ve kept them separate things. So what I’ve learned from the free paintings thing specifically is that the Radiohead Pay What You Want model (which I actually was doing before Radiohead) only works if it’s digital media, because then you just create it once and multiply it for infinity without any more work. Whereas each time someone is requesting and I say, pay what you want, I have to physically put my time and effort and energy and physical stuff, like canvas and paints that cost money, into making that one thing.
So it’s certainly hasn’t taken off. It really is just sort of a thing that I enjoy doing, and keep going for ideas for the future. But right now it’s not my focus. It’s been mostly on the music.
Vincent: So you painting these paintings had nothing to do with a crossover? I thought it was something that you were just doing for your fans.
Ali: No, I started the painting thing when I was in college, it was a senior project; I just haven’t stopped it since. The music thing was a completely separate thing. So I guess that you're probably thinking there’s some crossover, because I had paintings in my Indiegogo. But I just thought that it would be an interesting perk as a part of the Indiegogo. But they’ve never really crossed over. They were two completely separate projects.
Vincent: Yeah, I was thinking that you just painted paintings for (music) fans… that you just gave them a special thing to them, and them only. I thought it was a really clever way to create a super fan.
Ali: Right, but honestly it’s not been (music fans) asking for paintings. It just been people that come across my paintings and enjoy me as a visual artist. It certainly makes sense for my visual work, but there’s barely any crossover in terms of music.
Vincent: Do you have any suggestions for upcoming artists and inspiring creative marketers?
Ali: I would say find a way to standout. There’s so many talented musicians and artists out there, give your audience a reason to care more about you than the rest. Whether that is like my gimmick, I know that’s a bad word. But really that seems to be what it was, but that was my way of sort of catching people off guard and standing out.
So figure out what that is for you.
Vincent: Have you found that it’s been hard to pull away from that?
Ali: Well that’s the next step. Right now I'm currently working on the second, well it’s actually would my fifth album but the follow-up for the Power Hour. So I'm now putting that as a test. We’ll see, will people stop seeing me as just the drunken musician? And that is my hope that I carry that audience to something new, not so different, but the next step.
Vincent: Ok cool. Let’s talk about any plugs or future plans that you have.
Ali: We talked it about it a little bit, but right now my newest project is this weekly web show, and it’s called The Most Googled Song. So I write a song every week about a subject that is trending on Google.
So if it’s in the culture mind at the time, and I will write a funny one minute song and make a video for it, and that’s up on YouTube every Thursday. So that’s been cool, and lots of fun. An interesting challenge to try and make a song for whatever everybody cares about that week.
Vincent: Awesome, well, hey, Ali thanks. I appreciate it.
Ali: Sure, good talking with you.
You can find 'Ali' on twitter @alispagnola. Don't forget to use #fangagement.