Writing songs, crunching numbers

Jimtown graduate Zach Dubois is trying to jumpstart a country music career.

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

For a country music singer who croons for a living, Zach DuBois is no romantic when it comes to his career. Being an performing artist is serious business for the Jimtown and Notre Dame graduate.

“If you want to make it in the music industry nowadays, there's no magic bullet,” DuBois said. He is back in Elkhart this spring after a months-long stint in the country music capital of Nashville, Tenn., where he was networking, recording songs and building a fan base with his live shows and a robust YouTube channel.

“There's no record label that will come up to you and be like, ‘Hey, we saw you playing at this bar in Nashville, so we're gonna sign you and make you famous.' You have sell out venues in four different markets, and then a record label might approach you, because you're no risk to them,” he said. “Unless you're motivated, you won't make it, because it's a grind.”

DuBois first picked up a guitar when he was kept off Jimtown's football field in 2006. Stress fractures in his vertebrae kept him out of two-a-days the summer before his senior year, when he was supposed to be the Jimmies' quarterback in the follow-up season to their 2005 state championship. Just as he got out of the back brace, a nasty case of mono added insult to injury.

He spent a lot of time that summer sitting at home, bored crazy, so he grabbed his dad's old guitar and learned to play his favorite country songs. He carried the pastime into his freshman year at Purdue, but didn't play his own songs for an audience until he transferred to the University of Notre Dame and composed some sarcastic ditties for an annual comedy show. Hearing the applause of 2,000 students was a rush.

“That kind of ruined me, I think,” he joked. “I just got addicted to it after that.”

Deciding he'd pursue music after college, DuBois took a class about entrepreneurship at Notre Dame to learn how to manage his evolving career like any other small business. Last year he set up his own record label, Backstory Records, as a way to organize his finances.

He also learned the importance of good marketing. He pulls in YouTube viewers by posting his covers of popular country songs, with the hopes of drawing eyes and ears to his original music. Word of mouth has spread by the wildfire of social media, and now his Facebook and Twitter followers show up to see his live shows from South Bend to South Carolina.

The pace and constant travel can make it hard to write new songs, he said, but sometimes musical inspiration dovetails effortlessly with a marketing scheme. His new single, “Back Home Again (Indiana)” popped into his head on I-65 as he was driving back to Elkhart from Nashville. He said he crossed the Ohio River and felt instantly at home.

“I really wanted to capture that feeling in the song. I wanted to write a song about Indiana; that's the artistic side of it. I threw in John Mellencamp and James Dean, that's all I was thinking about,” DuBois said.

On the business side, he was banking on a demand for Hoosier pride.

“Tons of people listen to country music in the Midwest, but it's so poorly represented in country music,” he said. “In the same way that John Mellencamp was kind of a voice to people in the Midwest, I think there's a void that needs to be filled.”

With a recording industry struggling in the digital age, artists now drive their destinies, DuBois explained. He's already met his goal of being a self-sufficient artist, and has booked studio time in Nashville to record an album.

“I don't really see this as a risk right now,” he said.

“If people sense that you love what you're doing and you're so passionate, eventually they start to pick up on that and they start to listen to you.”


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