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Exclusive: Jo Dee Messina on the evolution of fan funded album 'Me'

Jo Dee Messina releases 'Me', a fan funded and fueled album.
Jo Dee Messina releases 'Me', a fan funded and fueled album.
Krista Lee Photography

Jo Dee Messina is one of the hardest working women both inside and outside of country music. She’s a daughter actively caring for her mother’s health, a mother raising a young family and finally, a country music starlet reinventing her music and brand with her fans at the helm. Employing an independent and innovative approach, Messina has released a new album entitled, ‘Me’. It’s an album she is proud of stating it is, “by the fans, for the fans”.

The whole process could be called a creative evolution that started when she wrote a single with her girlfriend in the living room of her home. When I caught up with this active, mother, daughter, career driven singer/songwriter she told me, “I wrote this song called ‘Unbreakable’ with a friend of mine and we made a little demo on a computer of ours upstairs, there’s no real instruments on that thing. Then I Tweeted out saying, ‘Hey, I just wrote this song.’” She continued, “The outpour from the fans was massive so I made this video and posted it on YouTube.”

And so the process continued, Jo Dee admits, “I actually didn’t start writing for this record, I was just writing.” After the success of the first demo, she continued posting her freshly written material on her socials asking for fan feedback. “I started to Tweet, ‘If I was going to make a record, would you want to see this song on it?’” Jo Dee began, “And they started to vote. For months we did this. And then we had enough songs to make a record and I started thinking, now what do we do since I don’t have the endless funding of a major label. I don’t even have a record in my budget.” Her cousin Alex Preston, who just so happened to be in the top three of American Idol’s most recent season, suggested a Kickstarter campaign. Jo Dee’s replied, “I was like, ‘What is that?’”

After researching her brand and the Kickstarter platform, they dove in and didn’t expect the response they received. “We launched a Kickstarter campaign, and got pummelled. People were like, ‘How dare you ask for money!’” She continued, “The biggest pitfall of that Kickstarter campaign was that people didn’t know what it was about. So instead of backing down, they adapted their approach, offering services, rather than goods, for all fan contributions. They could purchase an intimate backyard performance by Jo Dee or a personal phone call, etc. She explained, “And that’s when people started to get it. But, whooo! we’ve got some haters out there.” Adding, “We went through that whole campaign and allowed the fans to pick the singles, pick the title of the album. The Dreambound logo was made by a fan submitted through Twitter.”

Once the record had been realized and released, Messina and company hit the road, taking their fan branded show live. She said one of the rewards of being completely independant of a label is, “I think there’s more freedom. If you listen to the record from top to bottom, it’s so varied. There’s rock and r&b and country and kind of pop song stuff.” She explains, “I got to write whatever I wanted. And I can do that because I don’t have to fit in a box!”

But with every reward comes and equivalent obstacle. For this hardworking country singer that was, “Getting people from the inside of the industry, to see the reaction from those outside of it.” Elaborating, “Like the song, ‘Me’, there’s a line in the song that says, ‘I have to keep giving, when I gave all I had’. That line came from a time I was sick, and the baby started crying and I was like, I don’t get a sick day, I never get a sick day!’” When she plays that song for women it often evokes tears, but she said she got quite a different reaction when she played it for an industry insider. “I played that song for a record executive, not for any other reason than because it was the title cut of my new record.” Jo Dee offered, “He goes, ‘Wow, sounds kind of desperate.’ And I said, ‘Yea and that’s how women feel at that point!’”

Her message not only resounds with fans globally but more specifically the working woman who often draw inspiration and strength from it. When I asked her what her source for inspiration and strength were she wittily responded, “I’m looking! If you know anybody, send them my way!” Then vulnerably confessed, “I think maybe, just God, hanging on. Knocking on my door every once in awhile and tapping me on the shoulder.”

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