Nothing beats the Tuesday blues better than a live show from Nashville-based country singer/songwriter Sonia Leigh. She stopped by our Brooklyn office yesterday to play a few tunes and chat with us about her journey as an independent artist. Check out our interview with the successful and incredibly down-to-earth musician, in which she shares how she got to where she is, a little advice on getting radio play, and how TuneCore is part of her team…
What does being independent mean to you?
To me, being independent means being the captain of your own ship. It means you work your ass off for what you want and believe in. Build your empire and team by hand. It means you make your own rules. There are wonderful things that come with being on a major label, but I honestly see the upside to both.
What’s the indie artist community in Nashville like?
There are a lot of people hustling in Nashville. With so many resources via social media and the Internet, it’s possible to gain awareness and build your fan base. I think for the most part (for people signed and unsigned), Nashville seems to have a very supportive community.
Has your sound changed over time?
Absolutely, and I think it’s supposed to. I believe music itself is constantly changing, and that inspires me as an artist, so in turn my music reflects that. I think what you put in your ears definitely affects what comes out. I began writing country music as soon as I learned to make chords on the guitar, and at the age of 10 I wrote my first song, and that began a catalogue that is uncountable.
As I grew up, I became exposed to rock and roll, the blues, alternative, pop, hip hop, dance and EDM etc… I have always been the kind of person to want to write in every one of those styles. I went to Spain when I was 21 and tried to learn Spanish because I wanted to write a Flamenco song. It’s just the kind of writer/artist I am—I am inspired to do it all. So for me change is necessary to stay creatively fresh.
What are some of the challenges you faced early on, and what (or who) helped you get past those?
I was barely 17 when I left home. I had $50, a garbage bag filled with clothes, and my guitar. The truth is, my father and I had a falling out and I left. A good friend of mine let me rent a room at her house for $50 a month. I had to quit school, which I hated, but I needed a job and the only one I could find was making sandwiches at a local place in town. I joined a band and we rehearsed across the street from where I worked. I didn’t have a car but my bass player Jake picked me up every single morning and drove me to work and we met afterwards across the street for rehearsal.
One thing led to another and I moved out of that small town and met a couple guys who wanted to make a record with me. I recorded my first record by the time I turned 18. My manager at the time, Steve Stevens, believed in me and put money into developing my career. He really helped me get started in music—we were a team. We started making some waves in Atlanta. I remember opening for a band Jennifer Nettles used to sing in, called Soul Miner’s Daughter. That’s how we first met. I still stay in touch with Steve and he is thrilled for my success. My father and I are extremely close now just for the record.
I had a lot of hurdles to get over in my musical journey, but I keep my faith, hope and I hustle even when it seems impossible. I hope that inspires someone out there to keep going and hold on to their dreams. It requires hard work and dedication. You get out what you put in.
How is TuneCore part of your team?
I’ve used TuneCore for years. I released my first independent record called Run Or Surrender through TuneCore, and everything else since. It is such a wonderful way to cover all your bases. I feel Tune Core is the best place to distribute music digitally and they provide a friendly way for independent music to be heard.
Do you use the trend & sales reports in your account to learn what’s working and grow your career?
Yes! This has been extremely helpful especially with the release of my latest single “Put It In Your Pocket.” It was added as a highway find on Sirius XM Chanel 56 The Highway. They monitor how many downloads are generated to determine whether to continue to spin highway finds, and if you generate impressive downloads you will be added into regular rotation spins. The trend reports help me and my team see what we are doing right as far as promotion and social media. When we see a spike in sales due to certain strategies, we’re doing something correct. It is a wonderful tool to have as reference.
You mentioned your new single “Put it In Your Pocket” has been getting great play on SiriusXM. Do you have any advice for indie artists looking to get radio play?
I will say this until the day I die: it starts with your fan base. Your fans are the most important people in your career. Play as much as you can and serve your fans. Be good to them. They will be your chariot to everything else, I promise. They can be a louder voice for you than any magazine, radio DJ, or TV show. They can turn heads for you and get you on TV and in those magazines and on the radio because they are promoting you, buying your records, wearing your shirts, requesting your songs, and coming to your shows. They are the real rock stars if you ask me.
What about tips in general as far as how to grow their careers?
Play as much as you can, work your social media, be good to your fans and make music that YOU love to make. Be true to yourself as an artist. I know this seems old school but one of the most important things is to put some sort of email sign up list out at your shows and on your website. Merchandise is a really good investment and also a good way to help generate income. It’s a source of promotion that keeps working for you.
So, what can fans look forward to next?
I am working on a new EP that will hopefully be out by the fall. I’m growing so much musically and as a writer. I ‘m so excited to get this music to your ears, and you can bet Tune Core will be the first people to know when it’s done.