Julia Nunes is Making It on the Web

Uploaded by bigtentevents on 05.10.2012


congratulations on your success.
All right.
We are off and running.
BILL WERDE: I think there's a notion, conventional wisdom--
and I read it online all the time--
that the digital revolution has created this wide-open
playing field, and suddenly artists have all these
But in reality, when I talk to a lot of artists, it's still
quite a challenge, right?
I mean, it's not like--
you're not living the life of Justin Bieber quite yet.
BILL WERDE: But you have made a career for yourself.
BILL WERDE: You're making huge assumptions, by the way, about
the life of Justin Bieber.
BILL WERDE: OK, I'm kidding.
Tell us a little bit about how you got your start.
JULIA NUNES: I started making YouTube videos when I was a
freshman in college, because I hated everyone at my college.
And I just stayed in my room, made ukulele
videos and wrote songs.
And then people found them, because there seemed to be
this huge interest in ukulele popping up out of nowhere.
BILL WERDE: I think you might be selling yourself short.
I don't think it was just like a trend in ukulele.
You have great songs, and you do these great videos.
Thank you.
And then YouTube put me on the front page.
Lots of people yelled at me about my nose ring,
so I took it out.
And then I just rose to success.

BILL WERDE: You should save that nose-ring story for the
"Behind the Music."
JULIA NUNES: It's a big moment in my life.
BILL WERDE: So tell me a little bit about--
tell me when you started.
What did you spend?
What costs were there?
You were in your dorm room.
You had your laptop.
You had an internet connection and anything else?
JULIA NUNES: Aside from a grossly expensive liberal-arts
My parents bought me a Mac computer for a graduation
present, and I was using the camera and built-in mike on
that to make my videos.
It was a make-it-work moment.
Thanks, Tim Gunn.
JULIA NUNES: They love me.

BILL WERDE: When you first were doing this, when you'd
uploaded your first video or two, did you think to
yourself, I'm going to find myself on stage one day at a
Google conference, and this is going to be a career?
BILL WERDE: What was your intention at
that point in time?
JULIA NUNES: I was a math major, and I thought I might
be a math professor one day.
BILL WERDE: And this was just kind of-- you'd
do this on a whim?
I was doing it because my friends in high school were
all musicians.
And they all went to different schools and/or stayed home, so
those ones are really successful now.
And then I was just showing them all the stuff that I was
used to showing them, like whatever I was
working on at the time.
And I didn't want to do it on Facebook, because I thought
that would be too public.
BILL WERDE: That was good thinking.
JULIA NUNES: It backfired a little bit.
BILL WERDE: 50 million views later.
BILL WERDE: So when did you start to get the sense that
this might be more than just something to do while you were
busy hating people?
JULIA NUNES: Well, the first real landmark in my music
playing ever was Ben Folds asking me to play with him.
I went from nothing to stages in front of 5,000 people.
So that's when I was like, oh, I should have rehearsed more.

BILL WERDE: And how did Ben F-- he just got in touch
because he liked your videos?
I covered one of his songs, and he found it.
BILL WERDE: And there you go.
BILL WERDE: And that really does speak to the
democratization part of this web.
Because in the past, it would've been really hard for
you, probably, to get your music to Ben Folds.
Ben Folds might not even have known that you were
covering his song.
JULIA NUNES: Yeah, I think YouTube takes away the need
for you to chase someone down in the street and
hand them your demo.
That doesn't happen anymore, hopefully,
because that's annoying.
BILL WERDE: Still with the hatred.
It's good to see that the fire still burns.
BILL WERDE: So you do these shows, and now you have--
sort of from there you've--
when was that?
JULIA NUNES: That was 2008.
And so for the last three years, I know you launched the
Kickstarter campaign.
Was that in 2010?
JULIA NUNES: That was last summer, almost exactly.
Yeah, one year.
BILL WERDE: And so you launched the Kickstarter
campaign, and you wanted to raise $15,000 And I think you
wanted to do that to fund the recording of an album?
JULIA NUNES: Yeah, I had 18 songs that I wanted to record.
And I made a budget for $18,000.
But I thought that people would scoff at that because of
the zero budget that I'd had all the other years that
they'd known me.
And I thought that they'd be insulted that I was taking
advantage of them, or pleading for money.
So I dropped it down to $15,000, thinking that sounded
a little more reasonable.
It's so much money.
It sounds like so much money.
But I hit that in the first day, and then it was like 29
more days of--
BILL WERDE: Money was coming in, yeah.
JULIA NUNES: Money, yay.
BILL WERDE: When you got all the money in, did you spread
it on your bed and just roll around in it or what-- like--
BILL WERDE: No, Amazon sent me a number.
And I rolled around on my computer.
BILL WERDE: I think the analog version might've been better,
but fair enough.
JULIA NUNES: Analog money--
BILL WERDE: Analog money.
JULIA NUNES: Those were the days.
BILL WERDE: So you wanted $15,000, and the hard cost of
actually recording this album were somewhere near $15,000.
And then, so were you able to invest in your career?
Were you able to--
what do you do with that money?
JULIA NUNES: I was already recording when Kickstarter was
happening, because in my Kickstarter video I showed
some of the music that I had already completed.
And so right away, when I realized that I had the money
to do so, I spent more time in the studio, because I was
going to try and complete 18 songs in
16 days at the studio.
And also, I was renting per day as opposed to per hour.
So it was just like a flat fee, and I could literally
spend 24 hours there if I wanted to.
And I did.
I was spending like close to 20 hours a day recording, just
to make sure I got my money's worth.
So I slept a little bit once Kickstarter happened.
So I definitely spent more than the original $18,000
budget, and then a lot of money got plugged back into
packaging for the CD, shirts for the Kickstarter donation
people, stuff--
oh, ukuleles.
I often [? need ukuleles-- ?]
BILL WERDE: An extravagant collection of ukuleles?
JULIA NUNES: No, for them.
People bought ukuleles that I was going to doodle on.
They sent me a list of things that they liked.
So I doodled all over the face of those ukuleles.
And I bought them really, really nice ukuleles.
BILL WERDE: Very nice.
So I think one of my last questions is I think people
have a sense of what it looks like to be a famous celebrity
artist, and I think people have a sense of the peanut
butter and pizza-- what it looks like to
be a starving artist.
What does it look like to be-- what does it feel like, and
what is the day-to-day of someone who's just sort of a
working career musician?
Is it fair to call you that?
BILL WERDE: Because I don't want you to hate me.
JULIA NUNES: No, you're great.
BILL WERDE: Well, thank you so much.
JULIA NUNES: I work pretty steadily.
I play a lot of shows.
I would say a lot of the life of a working musician is
managing your calendar.
Right now, I'm going--
I'm about to go out on tour with Walk Off the Earth, which
is another YouTube-built band.
And I'm going to lose so much money on that tour, just so
much money.
It's going to be really fun.
So then I'm going to tour home from that tour, which ends in
Florida, back--
making money on a house concert tour.
And hopefully--
it's calendar management and budget management, because
hopefully I'll end up with enough money to pay my rent
for the month I'll be gone.
That's the life of a working musician.
So it's not necessarily--
I read on certain sites here and there about sort of-- they
present a much more glamorous view of this, like, hey,
everyone can have a career now, and you don't need record
labels anymore.
But in fact, the time that you spend managing your calendar,
and managing your budget, and marketing yourself, and doing
some of these things, those are the traditional functions
of a label.
JULIA NUNES: Well, it's like having a really crappy,
low-paying job, except I don't think the job is crappy.
I really love it.
Well, fantastic.
BILL WERDE: I think that's a perfect place to end.
JULIA NUNES: Thank you.
BILL WERDE: Thank you so much, Julia Nunes.
BILL WERDE: Thank you.
I'm going to hug you.
JULIA NUNES: Aw, we're hugging.