Karen Waldrup is an independent country music artist who has burst onto the scene. She has become something of a viral sensation with regular live videos that she records at home. By phone, she discussed her new album Justified, her fan base known as Waldrup Worldwide, and the opportunities now available to artists.
AXS: How do you feel about the new album?
Karen Waldrup: I'm so happy with it. It's my dream record. I've wanted to make this record since I was a little kid. I finally got to make it. We spent all of 2017 working on it. It is my baby. I am so proud of it. The nice thing about the record is that we created this based on who I am as an artist, what my sound is, my Louisiana roots, all that. We did not make it specifically for radio. It is representative of who I am and what I sound like. That's what makes me the most proud. We stuck to the sound that is signature to me.
AXS: How long have you been playing and writing songs?
KW: I've been singing since I was like three years old - in front of my family. There have always been people around that have been supportive of this music and what I do. I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 16. I went to University of Southern Mississippi, and I started playing a lot of tailgates, clubs, and events. That's when I learned that I can do this as a job. I moved to Nashville, and I've been writing for this record. I released a couple EPs. I've never had a full-length album. This is something I'm very proud of.
AXS: How did you feel when it was finally done?
KW: I don't even think it's done yet because it hasn't come out. Do you mean when it was mastered and I had the music in my hands?
KW: I was excited, anxious and ready. My team was reining me back like a horse. I was excited and I wanted to put it out. The record was mixed and mastered the week of Christmas, so we couldn't release it then. Then when the new year kicked off, we wanted to weigh our distribution options. It was a lot of patience for me because I had to get through all of that personal challenge. It was security. We had a stalker situation. I had to move twice. It was like, "When are we going to be able to put this record out?" Then again it all worked out the way it was supposed to do because there are so many great opportunities available now that weren't available at the beginning of the year. Alexa, streaming, Spotify playlists, and press. I'm glad that I was patient, but it was challenging.
AXS: What was your reaction when you won three Nashville Independent Music Awards?
KW: I was thankful for my people. We have a fan base that we call Waldrup Worldwide, which is almost a half million people all over the globe. These are people that support me. I was thankful to be able to win three awards, not only for me but for us - the whole group of people that support what I do. It's just as great for them as it is for me because it's such a community.
This year we're nominated in four categories. We're nominated for song of the year for "Warm in Your Sunshine". It came out last fall, but it's the first single from Justified. We're nominated for artist of the year, which is a huge honor. I'm nominated for Best Live Country Performer, which I won last year. Also for best female artist, which I won last year. I'm nominated for two of the same awards and two new ones.
AXS: Is it a challenge to remain an independent artist in Nashville?
KW: That is such a great question. I feel like right now is the easiest time to be an independent artist. If you look back even 20 years ago, you didn't have an iPhone where you could plug a microphone into it and upload it to Facebook, where you can get a million views for free. You didn't have this opportunity to reach out to people directly. Facebook Live has probably been the greatest gift to artists. To be able to communicate with people in real time is probably the best asset an independent artist has. They're sitting there with their family and they're connecting with you. Sometimes they have it plugged into their TV, and they have 20 people around watching. We have an opportunity through streaming and video content that I don't believe we ever had previously. The people that are doing that right now are leaders in that world. I think that I am a leader in the age that we're in. I didn't choose this. I didn't move to Nashville and think that I was going to be a viral sensation. I just started doing it because I heard a preacher in Brentwood, Tennessee, and he said, "The moment you take the burden off yourself to be important is the moment that you truly start living God's plan for your life, and what you're meant to do." I took that away that night and I stopped trying so hard to be important. I'm just going to play country music on the internet and connect with people and see what happens. Right when I heard that, my approach and my energy changed. I decided to play in a more organic and natural environment. I think people connect with that right now. It's unbelievable to know that 500,000 people in this world support what I'm doing and my art.
AXS: Is it difficult to figure out all the streaming options?
KW: As far as challenges in Nashville, I would say is the difficulty to get the industry to financially invest. I have not had a hard time getting people to invest emotionally. I've had many people writing with me, guiding me, mentoring me, giving me their time and energy. Financially I am 100 percent relying on Waldrup Worldwide. It is the people that buy the t-shirts and the tickets, the VIPs. I met with a guy the other day in a mentor-type meeting. He said, "It's easier now than ever to be good, and it's harder than ever to be great." I walked away from that meeting thinking, "I don't really have to be great." Why can't I just be really good and make a bunch of money and have my music heard? You can just be really good and people can love it and have fun. I can miss a chord onstage and it's OK. I feel like I have a unique approach to it. I view it as a community more than that I need to be the sexiest girl onstage with the prettiest dress. Is it really that big of a deal that I'm not ripping guitar licks? If I go onstage and I connect with people, that's the human element that people want to be a part of. That's what has worked for me for the last year and a half. Also, I've stuck to the truth behind the record. I went in the studio and created a record that sounds like what I do online - that honest, genuine sound. It's just me. I'm just a girl who lives in Nashville and plays country music, jumps in a van, and tours the country.
AXS: That human connection is what gets people going to shows.
KW: They want to know that you're approachable. What's really great is that by living this life, all you have to do is be that same person. There's nothing fake. Just be yourself. I don't know that fans are getting that from signed artists. Trust me, I've wanted to be signed. I've wanted to have a major label behind me. That's not what God has for me. I'm supposed to do this sort of community thing. It's magnificent and rich in so many ways.
AXS: What would you be doing if you weren't making music?
KW: When I first moved to town, I was talking to a singer, and I told him what my Plan B would be. He told me that if I ever had a Plan B, I would live that plan. He encouraged me never to have one, so I don't have one. I don't have another option. There are a lot of easier ways to make money. At the same time, you can show up to a gig and have a woman tell you that you saved your life because she saw your video. That's amazing.
Waldrup's new album Justified will be available everywhere on July 13th. Check her website for upcoming tour dates, and be a part of Waldrup Worldwide by following her on social media.