YouTube has launched careers for tons of artists today and has a created a culture of loyal fans who subscribe to singers’ channels, follow them on social media, and help them rise to fame. That’s the story of 19-year-old singer-songwriter turned YouTube sensation Tiffany Alvord, who’s among the top talent in this space. Tiffany started posting videos to the site for fun, but has since become a star with more than 900,000 subscribers, a worldwide following, several albums, and she’ll soon have her own show following her success on Awesomeness TV, a popular YouTube channel among tweens and teens.
We chatted with Tiffany about how the Internet propelled her singing career, the YouTube community, and how social media enables musicians to form an authentic connection with fans, offering new opportunities for artists today…
Ypulse: How did you get started in the music business?
Tiffany Alvord: I have always enjoyed singing and performing. I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school and when I was about 10, I began writing songs with my friend at recess. We would perform our songs for our friends in a mini-concert on the playground on Fridays. When my friends came to my house, we would write songs and design CD covers. When I was in junior high school, I got a pink Daisy Rock guitar for Christmas and taught myself how to play it.
Much of my focus was on gymnastics when I was younger and I reached competition levels in junior high. However, I injured myself and had to quit and decided to focus on acting and singing.
YP: What made you decide to create a YouTube channel and did you have any expectation of getting a following or being discovered?
TA: I discovered YouTube when I was 15-years-old. I saw another girl my age who had posted cover songs and had an original song that was being played on Radio Disney. I thought it was so cool that she was getting “famous” from YouTube and so I thought, “Why not give it a try?” I got my guitar and my brother filmed me using the video feature on my Kodak camera. I sang Coblie Caillat’s “Bubbly” as the first song that I posted. The funny thing is that my brother told me not to smile because I looked “stupid,” so I was singing “Bubbly” all serious.
It was so awesome to get comments and subscribers on my video. I continued posting songs and as time went on, I kept upgrading my video camera. Eventually, I was able to do studio recordings. I never would have imagined that I would reach the number of subscribers and views that I have today. It’s crazy to think how much my channel has expanded and grown in just four years. I still can’t really believe it. I feel very blessed.
YP: Besides YouTube, you engage with your fans in tons of other ways including Keek videos, a text fan-list, and on other social media channels. Can you tell us about all the ways you use technology to keep in touch with fans and how you manage the various media outlets?
TA: I love my fans so much. They call themselves Tiffanatics (or TifFANatics!) [Editor’s note: tons of artists today have fan followings in the form of teen tribes who support them]. They are the reason I am where I am today. Because of technology, I have a world-wide fan base, which is true for all artists today, but it is really crazy to think that without touring or radio play, I have fans all over the world.
I love to keep in touch with my fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Keek. I can talk to fans in Singapore, Nashville, Germany, etc., with the touch of a button. I tweet a lot! Sometimes I’m up very late tweeting to fans on the other side of the world because for them it is daytime. I recently joined Keek and I love it. Keeks are short, 36-second videos, that you take with your phone through an app and post immediately to your Keek channel. They are perfect to give live updates to my fans about my everyday life or music-related things. I personally post to and update my Twitter, Facebook, and Keek. My mom helps me with sending out newsletters and updating my website and going through all the email messages. She works 24/7 on the business side of things. She’s my momager. It has just been the two of us keeping everything going.
YP: Where do you get your inspiration for your music?
TA: Most of my songs come from things I’ve experienced. I like to write about things that have happened to me or that I imagine and dream about. If it is something that happened to me in real life, I might change it up a little. I like my songs to tell more of a story. I am in the singer/songwriter genre. I want my style to be more like Taylor Swift. I like simple, stripped down songs and I want my songs to have a pop/country feel.
YP: You’ve toured before with other YouTube stars. Can you tell us about that?
TA: I was really privileged to have the opportunity to go on tour with Boyce Avenue in March of 2011. They contacted me as a fellow YouTube artist and said they were looking for openers for their west coast tour. Megan and Liz also opened for them on the same tour. It was a blast. I learned so much about performing live (after 3 years in front of a camera.) I loved the interaction with the audience and the energy that was at the shows. It was a really good experience. The best part is that I was able to meet some of my fans in person for the first time. That is now one of my favorite parts about performing live, meeting the fans afterwards.
I was also able to tour with other YouTube stars like Alex Goot and Luke Conard in the summer of 2011. We went on a 21 show tour in 24 days, or something crazy like that. It was me, Alex, his tour manager, his band, Luke, and my brother all in a 15 passenger van for three weeks. (I was very outnumbered.) I felt like there were more of my fans at the shows on this tour and I really liked the chance to become friends with Alex and Luke, too.
I went to China in December of 2011. Jason Chen, Megan Nicole, and I went to Changsta to be on a TV show called “Day, Day, Up.” We also did a live show in Shanghai. It was amazing to go to a foreign country and to see how many fans we had there. In May of 2012, I went to Singapore. I was part of the YouTube Stars Concert sponsored by Warner Music Singapore at the Hard Rock Coliseum at Resorts World Sentosa. It was the biggest show I have ever performed at with over 2,500 people in the audience. I decided in addition to the concert to arrange my own meet and greet while I was there. Tiffany Alvord and Bugus Junction (a mall) were both trending on Twitter before the meet and greet. I arrived to find 300-400 fans waiting for me at the mall. Security had to whisk me away from the crowd and told me to leave. It was overwhelming. I can’t wait to go back to Singapore someday and have a professional meet and greet next time! All in all it was a great concert and a fantastic experience!
YP: And you have an upcoming tour where your fans help vote on what cities you should perform in, right?
TA: Yes, I have a site called MyFanTour.com. It allows fans to vote to bring me to their city to do a show. The music industry is changing so much because of technology. The Internet gives me the ability to reach my fans like never before. Why not let them decide where I go on tour? Once my new album is released this September, I will do a video on YouTube to ask my fans to go to the site and vote. The voting will be open for two weeks. I will then plan a tour based on the cities with enough votes for me to have a successful show there. It is crazy that there are 500+ votes for Israel already! I won some money in a contest at ArtistSignal.com (thanks to my amazing fans), and I am going to use that money to go to these cities to perform and to meet my fans. I’m so excited and can’t wait to find out where I am going to go!
YP: What’s the hardest part of being a YouTube star? And what’s the best part?
TA: The hardest part is definitely creating videos to post regularly on my channel. It’s a lot of work and I don’t think anyone realizes how much goes into it. I have to choose a song and learn the song. I drive about an hour to the producer’s studio I work with to record the music tracks. It usually takes 6-8 hours to record one song. Once the music is recorded, I then have to find time to shoot the video. I usually have to drive an hour, again, on a different day, to shoot the video. I’m lucky that I have a video guy on my team that shoots the video and edits it. He has been a lifesaver.
Once the video is finished, I look it over to see if it needs any changes. I need to submit the song to my digital distributor so it can be live on iTunes when I post on YouTube. I also have to create the cover art that gets uploaded with the song. I am a YouTube partner with Sony/ATV and Fullscreen. Depending if the song is an original or a cover song, I need to link my channel to one or the other of the partners so they can enable my channel to run ads. Sometimes it gets complicated and frustrating coordinating everything. Because I want to post consistently, I always have on my mind, “What song am I going to do next.” It never ends. I love singing and it is a lot of fun, but it is work!
The best part is that I love what I am doing and I feel that I am growing as an artist that can be true to herself because of the support system I have through my fans. They are the best source of feedback, criticism, and encouragement. I have so many opportunities because of my YouTube status. I have traveled to foreign countries, performed at benefit concerts, met wonderful people in the music business, and collaborated with other YouTube artists who are now my friends. YouTube is like a family and I think we all try to support each other instead of compete with each other. I feel really happy when I hear about other YouTube artists becoming successful in the business.
YP: You appeared on Awesomeness TV, what was that like?
TA: Awesomeness TV is a great group of people. I have had an “awesome” experience working with everyone there! I will be featured in two episodes of their show “IMO” (In My Opinion) which is a teen talk show. I am their first guest to perform live music and I sing one of the songs off my new album in one of the episodes. They will air the episode around the time I am about to release my album. Awesomeness recently decided to create a series for me called “Tiffany Takeover.” They currently have two other music artists they are working with, Greyson Chance and Mindless Behavior. I feel honored that they chose me as their third artist to have a Takeover series on their AwesomenessTV YouTube channel. It’s coming soon!
YP: “Always Sm:)e” is your signature. Can you tell us how that came about and what it means to you?
TA: When I first started posting videos from my bedroom, I would always give a smile to the camera at the end of the videos. Everyone came to expect it. A lot of people said it was “cheesy,” but I just like to smile. My mom actually thought of the signature and I really liked it so we started using it. Of course, I’m not always happy, but remembering that motto helps me to be. I have so much to be thankful for and it is much nicer to be positive than negative about things.
YP: Anything else you want to share with fans?
TA: My new EP will be released September 2012. It is a self-produced album. I recorded most of the songs in Nashville last March with live session players. I like the real, acoustic sound of live instruments. All the songs were 100% written by me. There are 6 or 7 songs and 2 bonus tracks. I think the name is going to be “My Heart Is,” titled after one of the new songs that no one has ever heard before. I have filmed 6 official music videos for the songs and can’t wait to share them on my YouTube channel. There’s a farm, a helicopter, a ferris wheel, tennis courts, and lots more fun stuff coming in the music videos. I am anxious to have more original content to post on my YouTube channel, so I will be viewed as an artist in my own right. It’s amazing that someone like me can do all of this because of the tools artists have available to them these days. I am feeling like the luckiest girl. The harder I work, the luckier I get.