Karen Waldrup : A Party To Crash!
Karen Waldrup is on the road from Des Moines back to Nashville.
Her cheerful, confident southern speech is lyrical across the line.
Karen shines through the cell waves. She has the story-telling nature
of an experienced performer. “That’s a hot topic.” She exclaims in
response to the article subject: Women of Music. It is a topic
that consumes Karen’s every moment, professionally, personally and
politically. She is the ultimate warrior of women’s music. Possibly
the next Miranda Lambert. She is forging her own path. It is unique,
educated, savvy and above all talented. She’s started a party and y’all
are invited to crash it!
She wants to see women succeed in this
town. She is forging the path with a powerhouse of performance and
dedicated resilience. “Tell me a bit of your history...” propels a
journey that answers most of the interview questions with ease. Karen
is an interviewer’s dream.
A marketing major at the
University of Southern Mississippi, during her senior year she was
playing full-time - three to five shows a week - at night. Her
boyfriend at the time suggested: “Why don’t you just move to a music
city?” And so she did. Karen chose Nashville for a “plethora” of
reasons and resources. She loved the songwriting country music scene
that kept her within driving distance of her New Orleans family and
roots. Nashville felt like a “…comforting city, it felt like home to
me.” She continues, “New York and LA were so much bigger. More people
doing the same thing. Nashville felt like a good fit for a Country Music
girl like me.” So, in July of 2008, two months out of college, she
packed up and moved, having no connections to the city. “I knew no
one. NOT ONE person,” she emphasizes, “Not an Aunt, friend,
acquaintance. NO ONE.” But Karen loves a challenge, she thrives on
risk taking, and she does it well.
“I got an apartment
on the West side. It was probably a little more expensive than I could
afford. I got a job at RJ Young, a document solutions company, selling
copy machines and worked with them 8-5 Monday through Friday, because I
knew I needed my nights and weekends free to write and play.” Karen
describes her experiences working out in the community door to door in
high heels as a networking strategy. And she was good at it. Really
good at it. She sold 1.5 million dollars of copy equipment over three
years on her own. She connected with all kinds of people, churches,
small businesses, CEOs of larger companies, building her network one
copier sale at a time. One of Karen’s former customers was a CPA who
eventually became her accountant and Business Manager. She worked
diligently for three years, and her thought was, as her grandfather
would say: “How much can I ‘rat hole,’ [put away] because I knew at some
point I was not going to want to work that way, and I would need money
to live. I did not want the stress of waitressing or doing something I
Karen got her first break when she
auditioned for Sony. “Sony has been my cheerleader.” She was selected
for the Bravo TV show Platinum Hit. Twelve people country-wide
were selected and Karen was the only person from Nashville. This
experience opened her eyes introducing her to the business side of
music. Her first time signing contracts, dealing with negotiating and
having to ask for what she wanted. She was still working at RJ Young
and was not ready to let go of the safety net it provided. Karen
marched into her boss’s office and explained she had been chosen for the
reality show, that it was shooting in LA, and she would need six weeks
off. They gave her eight. This was a blessing. She knew it would take
six months of editing
before she would have to make any further decisions regarding
employment, and that was six months of solid income to stow away.
Bravo show changed the face of Karen’s career. She took the approach
of one of her favorite artists and mentors, Jewel. She booked 30 shows
in 30 days. “Well, actually it was more like twenty-eight shows in
forty days,” she laughs. “But close enough. That’s what Jewel does and
then she takes three months off to write.” Karen was now able to book
shows in clubs and bars that previously wouldn’t even call her back. Platinum Hit
gave her the notoriety to get her foot in the door, and once club
owners heard her they started booking future gigs in advance. She had
achieved status. She traveled and played Tuscaloosa, Little Rock,
Memphis and more. Karen hired a tour manager, a driver, both of whom
she had to pay, and went on the road playing gigs for $300-$400 a
night. But still there was no love coming her way from Music Row.
Row was not signing women. “In 2008 they had no interest in women. I
realized to live my dream I just had to do it.” She adds, “I am
successful because I do what I say I’m going to do. PERIOD.” And the
touring took with a domino effect. Karen started grassroots, doing her
own sound and running everything, selling merchandise, working on every
detail. She noticed the “merch” was selling out, CDs, Koozies, key
chains, so she increased their inventory. It sold and it sold shows.
It was a way to continue her dream and keep singing. She was paying the
bills doing what she loved.
For a short time she
partnered with Ashlee K Thomas in a band Midtown Violets. The two
friends created an upbeat strong female duo supporting each other both
as writers and performers. They pooled resources and talents and
learned to tour together. Their music was well received, but the record
release did not prove fruitful and the women decided to split up the
band, each pursuing her own career path.
In 2012, Karen auditioned for the third season of The Voice.
She was selected with the top 142 (out of approximately 70,000
performers) to attend the “blind auditions” in LA. The blind auditions
are filmed over the course of 5 days, and unfortunately for Karen her
day was day five. All of the coaches had selected their full teams
except for Christina Aguilera, who had one spot left. Karen walked on
stage, belted out a beautiful rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s Me And Bobby McGee, and the crowd went wild. But no one turned their chair.
not a Christina Aguilera singer. She loved my singing, but she needed a
power house to finish off her team. I’m more a Sheryl Crow.” The
other judges made it clear in their comments they were kicking
themselves for not waiting. Karen’s audition ended up on the cutting
room floor, while she scratched her head at the luck of the draw. It
was a let down. her worst experience to date of being in the music
business. She felt as if she came so close; 30 million viewers would
have seen her, but it was not meant to be. It was the ultimate let down
after “cancelling her life” for six weeks of intense work. She was
hoping for a fair shot. “BUT,” she emphasizes, “They paid me well; gave
me some of the best vocal training I would ever experience - I learned
HOW to sing with The Voice, and for that I am thankful.”
why that experience ended the way it did, but determined to live her
dream, Karen went back to “the grind.” The good news was, the grind
had a new label. Karen worked with Dale Morris Management at Sony
Red. They released her first single “Sharin’ the Night Together.” And
she came to the realization that she needed a band. “The only way to
get larger clubs was to have a full band behind me, but I couldn’t
afford it. So how could I do it?” True to form, she figured it out.
Karen hired a band and got a gig at Tootsies on Broadway. She and the
band played there for a small flat fee and tips. She paid them, they
felt invested in - and the gig? Well, it was like a free rehearsal
“We looked at it as a paid rehearsal every
week. It was OK to mess up, because half the people are drunk and they
don’t notice. And people loved us. We built a fan base from all over
the world.” She continues, “I have learned what downtown really is. It
is a room filled with eager country music fans. They want so bad to
experience the next best thing.” They want to like bands on Facebook,
so their friends see their pictures with country singers in Nashville.
They want new music that no one else has. They buy CDs. They request
original songs. “Most bands only play covers on Broad, but we have
gotten away with playing twelve original songs a night. They flock to
us. They say: ‘You are the best thing we’ve heard in the three nights
we’ve been here.’”
Karen and her band hit the road with a new vengeance on the weekends,
played Tootsies on week nights and in November of 2014 she had 10 songs
ready for a new record. The record would only cost around $30,000 to
produce, but her management company had Kenny Chesney.
They did not need to break a new female singer who was more of a gamble
than their superstar in flip flops. So they dropped Karen.
got myself a nice bottle of wine, and thought about what to do. I
don’t have the dollars. I don’t have an investor. I don’t have a
booking agent. No one buys records anymore. So, I decided to self fund
and produce four songs, call it an EP and shoot a video.” She spoke to
Leslie Fram at CMT, who Karen says became her next “cheerleader.”
Leslie advised her she could shoot the video for $2,500 and no more.
“I met with Leslie and asked her which song to shoot for the video. She chose Trashy [Crashed the Party],
because she said - ‘It is different than any of the songs other female
artists are saying in music right now. It is funny, silly. It relates
to people. Primarily women in the South. They all have their story.
They get drunk at a wedding, their 21st birthday, girls night out.
Every one has a story like that.’ - She told me that I could produce a
really good video for under three grand, there was no reason to spend
more. And, she promised she would spin based on the song, not on the
So, Karen went ahead. She had Billy Brown as a contact, after he produced her Sharin’ the Night video
for Sony Red, so she called him. She paid Billy to
shoot/direct/edit. She scouted locations, begged, borrowed and
convinced. She hired her best friend “Stylist” (Amy Lewis of Louisiana)
to do just that, style and advise. “We used our brains and our hearts
to create the video. And I learned so much in the process...” Karen
made it happen, trusting it would all work out. “I put it on my credit
card. $3000. I knew God would take care of it. I believe in sharing
the light and the light comes back.” And it did. She and the band
played seven straight nights at Tootsies, had a gig in Panama City Beach
FL, played clubs, festivals and any live performance they could. Karen
paid off her debt in one month. All of it. “It was a great testament
to believing in yourself and taking a risk. This is America. It’s what
we do here.” The video Trashy Crashed The Party was #2 for three weeks in a row on CMT Purepack. It went to #3 for two weeks and held its own in the Top 12 for 5 weeks.
did Karen learn? “I’m not sure if people, particularly young women,
understand what ‘distribution’ means. Like the wool has been pulled
over their eyes. They don’t think: ‘Who is going to get this out
there?’ I met with several people and they all told me the same
thing...‘I’ll get you on iTunes and Spotify...digital distribution...’
But I have a marketing degree. I knew I could do that myself.
So I started to ask: ‘What can you bring to the table [that is
different]?’ Could they guarantee me a feature on iTunes? They’d try
to butter it up, but [what they offered] I can get on Tunecore. I spent
every dollar I made on music. Everything. My kitchen stuff is old, my
mattress, my couch - I don’t have new things. I want my music out
The point is, her music now earns her enough
money to keep doing what she loves. She can perform at the free gigs,
like Smokey Mountain Songwriter Festival, and open for superstars like
Jason Aldean (even if she’s not being paid) just to get exposure. And
for the first time in these ten years, she is getting a lot of attention
from labels, because she produced her videos. Those labels that did
not care before, and were catering to a male driven audience, are now
meeting with her. “It’s the real deal, like you walk in the front door
of A&R and you are playing your songs for the people with the pen in
Karen would like to see Nashville change
the face of music by getting behind female artists; listeners and
producers encouraging radio to play more female music. “Between 2008 to
2011, the male-driven market pushed women performers out on the road -
sent us on the highway. It turned into the male ‘Bro-Country,’ which
affected sales, and the focus for females...we lost Faith Hill, Martina
McBride, Patty Loveless - I mean they are still here, but people weren’t
listening. They thought it was boring. It was all the movement of ‘the
party’, larger than life. The only way to satisfy my passion for music
is to to make music. Sometimes that means playing clubs, building a fan
base and [hopefully] getting attention from labels.”
“I am really
working two fronts here. On the right hand I want a record deal, a
grammy. On the left hand I have thousands of people who love me. I
lived it. I did it. [Already] This front pays the bills, buys
groceries. I run a business, the dollars come in and go out, and I can
get my nails done and eat mangos and pistachios, things I don’t need.
The fans help me to get to the next place. I am shipping out CDs to
people around the world. We played Ireland, coast to coast, city to
city - Dublin to Donegal and down Ballycotton. It was so much fun! And
they love our music. I love the Irish culture. It’s much like New
Orleans, so I get them.”
What is next for Karen?
meetings with managers and labels. The gotcha is: ‘date before you
marry.’ They test you out. I am doing the best damn job that I can,
even if I don’t get a deal. I want to Increase our shows, bigger venues
with hard ticket sales. We take 100% of door - we will take a loss in
transition but in the end will come out ahead. Venue owners like
because is less risk for them. A lot of male artists do this and find
success. I like to push myself into uncomfortable places to do better.
Karen believes in the theory of high risk high return.
advice to the inexperienced? “Women do not sell a lot of records - you
gotta play clubs - look at Miranda Lambert. [Women who play clubs] turn
out to be the best entertainers. “ Karen speaks to the reality shows
pointing out that just because you were on American Idol doesn’t mean
you can handle performing in clubs. “It’s a whole different beast.”
She is right on the mark. “Lots of women are not willing to do it,” she
points out. “It takes a strong passion in music to do that. It’s not
glamorous. Women want ‘the deal’ not the reality. The key is to “Sing
every time any one asks you to - because that is your job. That is what
God gave you. I sing everything, everywhere. Karaoke, for my family,
at a bonfire - any time any one asks - because you never know..."
Karen finds the process of her art most exhilarating. Her best musical experience? Creating her EP - Get Away
- with her co-writers, Aubrey Lane, Ed Hill, Steve O’Brien and Wood
Newton. She loves the co-writing process. Meeting at the Hilton to
write Trashy Crashed The Party, recording her EP in the studio, and most of all sharing her songs with her ever growing fan base. This is what inspires Karen.
The Nashville 7:
The final questions posed to Karen (inspired by James Lipton’s approach to interviewing for Inside The Actor’s Studio.)
*1 In one Word describe Nashville: “Mamma.”
2 Your favorite food experience in Nashville: “Does it have to be a specific restaurant?…no? OK. Sushi.”
*3 One word that describes your music style: Without pause: “Grit”
4 Who is the one person you want to meet in Nashville: “Miranda Lambert.”
5 If you could ask (him/her) one question what would that question be: “Will you write with me?”
6 What is your favorite Nashville venue: “3rd and Lindsley.”
7 Your favorite lyric from a song you wrote: “I’m wild at heart. I’m young. I’m free. I swear I know what I’m doing. Have some faith in me.”
not a hard request looking at all she’s accomplished. Karen Waldrup
has faith in herself and has proven time and again that she can do it
all. This artist knows how to throw a party - touring or on lower
Broad, no matter the venue - all country music fans will want to crash!
Karen Waldrup will be performing 12/7 @ 6:00PM @ The Women’s Music Business Assoc. Toys for Tots Benefit
of Music Music of Women is an alliance for women in the music industry
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