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VOL. 38 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 31, 2014

Career Kickstarter: Suzy Bogguss fans chip in to keep the music going

Artists find new ways to prolong careers

By Brad Schmitt

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Suzy Bogguss has found an interesting and challenging way to stretch her career. She’s becoming a do-it-yourself country artist.

Bogguss releases her latest album, Lucky, a collection of songs written by Merle Haggard, on Feb. 4.

She and husband/songwriter Doug Crider, picked the songs, booked the musicians, recorded the music, engineered and mixed the album, and contracted with the company that made the physical CDs.

They also found their own publicists and promotions people to try to get the songs played on Americana-format radio stations. Oh, and Bogguss and Crider planned every detail of the tour that’s supporting the Lucky album.

“We do it all,” she explains. “It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.”

DIY plus Kickstarter

Bogguss, 57, is in the same boat as many veteran artists who once had big hits on big record labels. Some fade away, while others switch careers, find ways to stay in the entertainment business or just work the fair and festival circuit.

But Bogguss wants to keep doing it all, making albums and playing concerts. So she turned to her fans through the online fundraising tool Kickstarter.

While Kickstarter has given Suzy Bogguss a source of funding to produce her newest record, it also has given her an opportunity to connect with fans and give them a stake in her continued success.

-- Submitted Photograph By Amy Dickerson

Bogguss got an unexpected bonus she found far more valuable than the money.

“The beautiful comments I got from people? ‘Please keep making the records,’ ” Bogguss says. “When I think about it, I could cry.

“It’s so inspiring to know there are people who can’t wait to get your next record, and if they know about it, they will.”

With those comments came about $75,000 from about 1,000 fans. Most bought in at $25, which guarantees them a CD and a download.

Fans also could get an autographed CD and a T-shirt for $50. Other incentives were offered, as well.

“I put up 50 sets of handwritten lyrics, and I sold them like that. I had to put up 10 more sets of handwritten lyrics,” she says.

“Road work pays’’ bills

Bogguss also used money from the last CD, American Folk Songbook, a collection of 17 folk songs she released through Cracker Barrel, a deal she negotiated herself.

Stars of 90s still around

A look at some big country acts in the 1990s, when Suzy Bogguss had her heyday:

Garth Brooks: He dominated country music – indeed all music – in the 1990s, but Garth announced his retirement in 2001. Since then, he has played a series of acoustic one-man shows in Las Vegas. He recently announced he’s coming back from retirement for a world tour this year.

Shania Twain: Sometimes called the Queen of Country Pop, Shania sold more than 80 million albums in the late ‘90s/early 2000s before disappearing. Shania now has her own full production show in Vegas.

Clint Black: The darling of country music in the 1990s, Clint took a hiatus in 2001 when his daughter was born. After that, he started his own record label, which folded about five years later. Black now tours 1,000-seat venues and casinos and sometimes acts n independent films.

Alan Jackson: He and George Strait flew the traditional country music banner in the ‘90s, when he sold more than 60 million albums. Like Bogguss, Jackson recently released an album through Cracker Barrel. He has formed his own record label in partnership with Capitol Records, but hasn’t had a top 20 hit with that partnership yet. Alan continues to be able to tour arenas.

“The last few records have been funding for my next record. That’s what I do,” she says.

“My road work pays my bills. And the sales of my record would pay for my next record.”

Bogguss says she feels comfortable being a do-it-yourself artist because that’s how she started in the 1980s.

“I made my own posters and I booked my own tours,” she explains. “Back in the day when I was in my camper truck, I was writing 200 postcards, ‘I’m coming to Montana, and I’m gonna be playing in this city and this city and this city.’

“I already knew a lot of those aspects of the world before I came here.”

The way it was

Then Bogguss found major label success, which started when she covered the Haggard song “Somewhere Between” and released an album of the same name in 1989.

At first, Bogguss loved it, and not just because she was getting fame, more sales and bigger concert venues.

“It was very liberating for me because I really got to concentrate on making music,” she says.

But then, Bogguss found herself slipping away from the fans who brought her all that success, the fans she used to hang out with for hours after a show.

“The tour manager, after the show, ‘Well, we’ve got a schedule, we’re not going to be able to sign.’ So we did the 10-people meet-and-greet before the show, but that’s all the people you see at a show with thousands of people,” she says.

“That was your way, before social media. You had your one-on-ones, staying in touch with people who want to share with you, whether it was a story about how a song affected them or if they want to turn you on to someone who’s a really good songwriter but you didn’t know about them yet.”

‘Troubadour girl’

Bogguss says she bears no sour grapes against Capitol Records, the label she called home for years.

In fact, she says she’s grateful for her success and for what she learned as a major-label artist.

But nowadays, Suzy is back spending as much time as she likes with her fans, both at shows and on social media.

“I get to have that relationship with my fans after the show, and I really love that. I think that that was the way that I was always supposed to do it,” she says. “I’m the troubadour girl; I like to go out and work.

“It might be just because I’m a ham, but I love to talk to people after the show. I love to hear them say, ‘Well, you did so good!’

“If I just jumped on the bus after the show, and it was a whole bunch of band guys who’d seen me 40,000 times and all we talked about was, ‘Oh man, you clammed the steel bad that time!’ Uh.

“I want that warm fuzzy from talking to people who said, ‘Here’s my take,’ or ‘Here’s a tape of somebody from my hometown who’s really good.’”

In the Cracker Barrel deal, Bogguss sold some 20,000 albums and about 5,000 accompanying books.

She says she has no expectations for her new album.

“I don’t care,” Bogguss says.

“Here’s the deal: I have three gold and one platinum record. People have already patted me on the back. Now I don’t care: Just pay my bills,” she adds.

“I just want to continue to be a successful business person in the music business. I don’t care how many I sell. I literally don’t. That’s an honest answer.”

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