Interview: Joy Frost

Written by Bella Dow

Hi Joy - thanks for taking the time to chat to us. It would be great if you could introduce yourself and explain how you got started writing, recording and releasing music.

Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of Instrumental’s Artist Academy. My name is Joy Frost, I am an American pop songwriter living in Ireland. I was one of the regular buskers of Grafton Street until live music had to stop. Now I live in the countryside in County Kerry. I have always been writing songs. I wrote my first song when I was 2 years old, even before my very first memory.

To give you a quick summary of my musical journey, I spent my whole childhood and my teen years performing and writing. My family was always extremely supportive of my passion for music. In college I worked at a TV station where I helped produce a television show which featured local musicians in Utah. I took a brief break from releasing music in my early twenties to learn German and to study audio engineering in Germany. I guess it was winning a songwriting scholarship a few years ago that was the inciting incident on my journey to becoming a full time songwriter and performer. I was flown to Nashville and got to record on Music Row as well as sing together with Vince Gill in his home studio. That would have been amazing enough, but after that the organisation decided to build a radio campaign for me and the song ended up getting thousands of spins across the USA. That experience gave me so much confidence and certainty that this path was open to me if I had the courage to take it, so I’ve been striving towards this dream ever since.

It would also be brilliant if you could explain how your partnership with frtyfve and Instrumental came about in your own words and why you decided to go with us when we imagine you’ve been approached by other labels in the past.

Frtyfve found me through my cover of Yellow by Coldplay. I had recorded it for a cover contest where Coldplay’s secret member Phil Harvey would be the judge. Coldplay is my very favorite band so I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be heard by them. Spotify ended up adding the cover to three editorial playlists! And the cover was selected to be in the compilation of Coldplay’s favorite entries! Later that month the email from frtyfve came along Honestly incredible.

As far as why I decided to go with frtyfve, I just had a feeling it would be an important growing experience for me. Also I am a tarot reader. I had done a tarot reading for myself a week or two before frtyfve reached out to me and had gotten the message that an opportunity was on the way that I should say yes to. Then the record deal offer came. It felt like it was manifested so I went for it.

As a previously completely independent artist, what were the sorts of things you were looking for in a label - was there anything specific that you felt a label could help with?

The Spotify reach through the frtyfve playlists has been great. So far I’d only ever had 2 cover songs added to editorial playlists on my own, so getting my original singles to crack 25K streams for the first time through the frtyfve playlist network has been wonderful. After signing, I finally have more originals than covers in my top 5 popular tracks on Spotify which feels like a huge win.

You have a Patreon set up with exclusive content for a small monthly fee. How important do you think it is for independent artists to maximise the number of revenue streams they have in order to be successful/sustainable?

The Patreon is great. It’s so rewarding to connect with the amazing loving listeners who support me there each month. As an indie musician it’s absolutely critical to maximise your different revenue streams to stay afloat. To give you an idea, if you were to try to live from Spotify streams alone, at the average royalty rate of $0.003 (1 penny for every 3 streams) in order to match the income from a full-time job at Utah minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) you would need almost 419,000 Spotify streams a month. That’s assuming you get to take home 100% of your royalties and don’t have to cut in any cowriters, producers or labels, otherwise you’ll likely need to double that figure each month just to earn the same. And this is minimum wage. This is why diversifying into merch, gigs, sync licensing, brand deals, YouTube, busking and fan funding like Patreon is so crucial, especially if music is your full time job.

In addition to multiple revenue streams, you need an indomitable spirit. You need to constantly nurture and protect your precious hope so your faith in yourself is not defeated in the face of these financial obstacles. I honestly don’t feel qualified yet to give advice on how to earn a sustainable revenue from music since I’m still striving towards building that myself. But I am certain I will, it’s only a question of when.

Patreon is obviously a community-based platform - you’ve even creatively named the tiers on yours - and obviously each social platform brings with it a separate community. Is building a tight-knit community a priority for you, or are you more focused on exposing your music to as large an audience as possible?

I had so much fun naming the tiers on my Patreon. Joysticks is my favorite one. In an ideal world, you build a very large, tight-knit community! I’ve always been a ‘why not both’ kind of person. However the interactions with each listener on a one to one basis is what defines your success. People are allowing you to vibrate the physical follicles inside their eardrums. They’re selecting your voice to keep them company when they’re alone. If they’re listening on headphones, it’s really just the two of you. That’s an extremely intimate and one-to-one experience.

Alongside the music, you also post more lifestyle-themed YouTube videos and vlogs. We’re currently seeing a transition from artists as single-discipline specialists to multifaceted creators (With people like Jason Derulo moving from music to content creation and the likes of Addison Rae going the opposite way) - I’d love to get your thoughts on this in general and whether you think it’s been beneficial to your music career, or if you see it is as something separate.

I see the Youtube videos as being directly connected to the music. The point of the lifestyle videos and vlogs is just to let people get to know you and connect with the person behind the songs. It’s a way to share your personality with your audience in a more authentic, fun and unedited way. This is why celebrities do television interviews. For those of us who haven’t yet gotten the invite from Ellen, we can share vlogs on our YouTube channels! Studio recordings are so curated. Every single syllable of a vocal performances on a single is carefully selected, so it’s nice to let loose and allow your fans to see your true self rather than only sharing your most polished work.

In addition to a successful career as a songwriter, your covers are also very popular. How do you decide which songs to cover - do you look at what is trending at the time or choose something you think you can put an original spin on?

I have tried it both ways. In the past for a while I actually tried covering new songs every week to try and get organic reach and growth, but once or twice I found myself covering songs I didn’t really like just to keep up with trends which felt very inauthentic. It also made me feel limited to a faster, simple live acoustic production style which didn’t quite feel like a true representation of me as an artist. I took all those covers down.

Cover songs do bring in more reliable traffic and revenue which is important to help ends meet, but I want to be known for my original work. People can sense when something is done for the views rather than when it comes from the heart. I only release music I love now, and the quality of the connections I’ve been forming with the listeners has been significantly more meaningful and sincere since I switched approaches. I covered Yellow because I’ve loved it for years and I wanted to make something truly special to connect with the band themselves. I took my time to make something I was proud of rather than trying to just pump out a quick live cover while it was still trending. As a result I got validation from the band, editorial placements and my first indie record deal. I think those results speak for themselves, and this approach feels much more in alignment with my spirit too. From now on I want to be the person making the trend than the person jumping on it.

Data is a huge part of our proposition as a platform, and frtyfve’s as a label - how plugged into your insights on social and streaming platforms are you? Does the data affect your release strategy or the way you approach your music?

I am very plugged into the data. I am an extremely analytical person so I do love to check the analytics… I have been checking it less lately though since I find it negatively affects my mental health when I check it too much.

Finally, as an artist and a person, you’ve travelled a fair bit, from the US, to Germany, to Dublin. Has travel influenced your music at all - or even just your creative approach?

Traveling has influenced everything, because I’m not just a traveler, I am an immigrant. It’s not just influenced my music but my entire personal and political development. I’m literally living out that popular meme from Twitter about resurfacing in a foreign country with a new name and calling it self care. Joy was my middle name you see. I lived in Germany for five years (my husband is German), and now we’ve lived together in Ireland for three years. I’ve been a foreigner my entire twenties. Every opportunity I’ve had so far was because of the people I’ve met in Germany or in Ireland, none of whom I would have met if I hadn’t moved out here, and I would be an entirely different person too! I feel truly happy where I live now, which is a feeling I’ve been searching for my whole life. Emigrating is definitely one of top 3 most terrifying things I’ve ever done, but I’m so thankful I had the courage to do it.

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