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Up next in our ‘Artists to Watch at SXSW ‘ spotlight: Los Angeles-based alternative band Leftover Cuties.  Shirli McAllen (lead vocals/ukulele) let us in on the origins of the band, how their first song became the theme of Showtime’s The Big C, and what you can expect from their live shows.

(Don’t just read about their live shows, see them Saturday night in Austin!)

How did the band start?

The band started with Austin Nicholsen (our bassist) showing up at my house with a ukulele one night. Austin was playing bass for me at the time for my solo project and we became really close friends. That night when he came over with the ukulele, I had written some lyrics on napkins at the bar I was working at (slow night). I pulled out the lyrics and we wrote our first Cuties song in about 5 minutes. We recorded a demo of it and forgot about it for two years.

Two years later, in a total rut in my solo career, I found that same demo we made as I was browsing through music on my computer. I suddenly realized that we made something quite unique. I called Austin up and said, come over with your uke, let’s write some more songs. We had great chemistry and the songs were pouring out. When we were ready to make our first EP, we teamed up with producer/engineer Ryan Hewitt who suggested we add a drummer to the mix.

Austin knew the perfect guy for the job and that’s how the great Stuart Johnson joined our band. The band went through a few incarnations in the first few years, and finally Mike Bolger (Brass/ keys/ accordion- sometimes two of these at the same time) joined and completed our sound.

I’ve heard you have a pretty awesome live show.  Can you tell us a little about it?

I’ve never actually seen it, but from what I hear from people, they love the interaction between us four. There’s a lot of playfulness that makes people smile and dance, as well as tender moments of depth and nuance that can move the audience. Stuart’s joy on stage is infectious, and Austin’s animated connection with his bass is heart warming and  entertaining. Mike playing piano and trumpet at the same time always blows peoples minds (it still blows mine). And as for me, I’ll let others say.

You’ve nabbed some really impressive song placements in TV and commercials! How did these placements come about?

It has to do with having your music in the right hands at the right time, and getting lucky! Our first license was the theme for the showtime series The Big C. The song, “Game Called Life,” is that same first song that Austin and I wrote together. The lyrics of the song just fit so well with the subject of the show, and  it was chosen out of hundreds of other options. Our music was at the hands of the music supervisor of the show.

Once you have one of these on TV, other music supervisor are more likely to contact you. That’s how we got our song “Through it All” on the FX show Justified, for example. We also had our song “Smile Big” on a Samsung commercial during last summer’s Olympics. That came through a music placement company we worked with. We found out 3 days before it aired and it was a thrill.

What are the top 3 tips you’d give an independent artist looking to grow his/her career?

#1. Represent yourself in the best way possible—whether it’s the quality of your recordings, your online presence, your website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, artwork or images. Keep everything up to date and be ready to pitch yourself for the opportunities that you want.

#2. Licensing really is a great way to reach people all over the world and to make some money as well. I would recommend contacting and sending your music to every music supervisor and licensing company you can find.

#3. Performance opportunities. Team up with an agent or do it yourself—apply to as many festivals as possible and look for opening act opportunities. Anything that will put you in front of a new/ larger crowd will help in growing your fan base and music sales.

What kind of team do you think an artist needs in order to be successful?

It depends on how much an artist is willing and able to do him/herself. Some musicians are not good at business. In that case, you might want consider looking for a manager and an agent to help with booking, planning, negotiating, etc. If you are good at these sort of things and can juggle being an artist along with the rest of it, do it yourself for as long as you can handle it. You’ll save on commissions, and you’ll always be up to speed on everything. Hiring a good publicist is key when releasing anything new, or when touring if you can afford it. Interviews, radio appearances, printed, local and online press helps with getting the word out and creating momentum.

How is TuneCore part of your team?

TuneCore is our digital distributer. It helps us get our music up on our desired online stores in a very speedy manner. It keeps track of our sales numbers and our earnings. A very user friendly platform for a very reasonable fee.

Where do you think the music industry is headed?

I think there are going to be more and more independent artists who succeed on their own through social media outlets. In the instant world of the web it seems like albums are not going to matter as much as they used to. It seems to me that more and more artist are going to release singles as they are recorded and mastered. Music lovers won’t have to wait a year or so to hear new music from their favorite artists.

What can we look forward to next?

More tour dates, videos and new songs and sounds. Stay tuned @

[Editor’s Note: Interested in getting your music licensed for film, TV, commercials and more? When you’re a TuneCore Music Publishing customer, your compositions will be available for sync licensing opportunities! Get more info about that here.]


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