It’s been almost 10 years since country artist Karen Waldrup moved to Nashville to pursue her passion for music and songwriting. But the path to her debut album Justified, which is out now, is a story of vision, innovation and sheer determination.
“Playing guitar was always about writing songs,” she said about her music background. “It was always to support the songwriting aspect. I never felt the need to be this out-of-this-world great guitar player.”
Waldrup put music aside during her freshman year of college but started to play every chance she got during her remaining years of school. After she graduated, she knew if she wanted to really give music a go she needed to move to a music city like Nashville.
“I knew there was something there,” she said. “I didn’t really know it was going to be a full thing like its turned out to be, but I knew that there was something there that I could blossom into.”
But pursuing her music wasn’t one of picture-perfect ease. She made the bold choice to move to Nashville, a city where she didn’t know a single person, and got a day job selling copy machines so she could seek out any opportunities that arose. Funny enough, Waldrup actually credits that day job for teaching her a lot about the music industry.
“There was a lot of rejection, a lot of ‘No, I’m not buying this,’ ‘Don’t call me,’ and there’s a lot of that in music,” she said.
Through her first couple of years as a new artist in Nashville, Waldrup could have taken the easier path and stuck to playing covers at every show until she got noticed. However, looking back, the one thing she felt confident she did right was sticking to her original music.
“Because I stuck to that, it grew. When you fall into the comfort zone of cover music, then you kind of tap out.”
That decision has paid off exponentially as she’s been able to define and refine her sound, which she calls “nostalgically new”, reminiscent of throwback country. Its also allowed her to figure out exactly what she wants to convey with her music.
“I feel like I’m at a place in my career that I like playing positive music, uplifting stuff that makes people feel good.”
She’s also reached a place in her career where she can finally release her debut album, Justified, a move that was extremely important to Waldrup in the midst of streaming culture.
“Garth [Fundis, producer] told me that I didn’t have to create a record. He said, ‘It’s 2018. Just do a couple of singles.’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I do. I don’t care what everyone else is doing. Yes, I do.’ And I’m so glad I did because nobody can ever take that from me.”
“This is a collection of 11 songs I’ve worked my whole life on,” she said.
But like other aspects of Waldrup’s career, creating this album didn’t come easy. Not landing a recording contract, she decided to take the project into her own hands and launch an IndieGoGo campaign in the Fall of 2016 to help get it funded.
“I wanted a record deal,” she said. “You can’t imagine how many times I was stuck in that place of ‘I need a record deal in order to make this record’… but there was a moment where I just said ‘Screw this. I don’t need to wait for anyone else. I can just do it and be happy with it.’”
Looking back on the process, she called the campaign “the hardest 60 days” of her life.
“When I launched it, I got a phone call from a guy in Sweden and he said ‘Hey, I just wanted to call you. I saw your IndieGoGo campaign. Do you have a few minutes?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ He goes, ‘I’ve done two of them, one for my first record and one for my second record. I just want to warn you that it’s nothing like what you think it’s going to be. You are going to be blown away by the people who don’t help and you will be pleasantly surprised and enamored by the people who do.’ And he couldn’t have hit it more on the head.”
“He said, ‘The minute you take the burden off of yourself to be important, that’s the minute you start living God’s plan for your life.’ And I just took the burden off in that moment.”
Waldrup said once she let go, she started going live on Facebook, which allowed people to see “just me.”
“People could feel that I was just a person and that there wasn’t this fancy editing and production,” she said. “That’s when it all changed.”
Her Facebook Lives allowed her to reach hundreds of thousands of people; soon after, her campaign was funded, which meant the album creation could finally begin.
During every step of the album’s creation, Waldrup still had a lot to learn about the ever-changing music industry. For example, the first single she released from Justified, “Warm In Your Sunshine,” charted in the Top 100 on the Billboard Country Chart in September 2017, marking the first time she had ever charted. When asked what her initial reaction was to the news, she said she was “Disappointed.” Leading up to this, Waldrup had gone live on Facebook 11 nights in a row, in hopes she would drum up enough support to get people to buy digital downloads and allow her to chart in the top 50.
“My approach was, ‘If I give, they’ll download,’” she said. “But what I learned was nobody downloads music anymore. They’ll buy a physical CD all day long. They’re going to stream it or they’re going to get the physical copy.”
All in all, it’s an error that resulted from the rise of streaming culture and one she’s glad she made before her pride and joy came out.
Waldrup’s path is proof that there is no right way to create art that leads to a successful career in the music industry. Justified is the culmination of a decade’s worth of lessons, and is sure to only be the beginning for this driven artist.