She is one of the most watched vocalists on YouTube. In an exclusive interview for VoiceCouncil, Tiffany Jo Allen shares how she connects her art with a rapidly expanding fan base.
On Stage —Age 6
It’s likely you’ve seen Tiffany Jo Allen’s extraordinary yodeling clips or her soulful covers. At age 16 she’s already reached millions with her music on YouTube. Not only is Tiffany Jo brimming with talent, she’s an expert at using social networking tools to expand her singing career.
Tiffany Jo, when did your musical journey begin?
My Mom began exposing me to music during pregnancy; Pachelbel’s Canon was playing in the delivery room! But My first conscious memories of music include learning the piano at four and performing my first self-penned song at age 6.
What was that first song about?
I just took a song called “My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog” and completely rewrote it to say, “My Hair’s Longer Than Your Hair”. I sang about my hair, which hadn’t yet been cut, my teacher, my class and things that related to me at the time.
You’ve come a long way since that first song: “Rising Star of the Year”, “Female Western Artist of the Year”, “2008 Four Time Top 100 YouTube.com Featured Singer”—there are too many awards and titles to mention. Which award has meant the most to you and why?
That’s a hard question to answer. I’m really grateful to everyone who has given me recognition. I guess the one that means the most to me would have to be the “International Yodeling Championship” award—just because I worked so hard for it and there was so much positive publicity that came as a result.
My daughter and I have been captivated by your yodeling on YouTube. Has Yodeling influenced your other musical forms?
Not really. Yodeling started me singing; my Grandma used to yodel and I copied her— this started my love for singing and performing. But I don’t think you could say it influenced everything. I mean, yodeling is such a unique form. It’s a musical heritage I’m determined to support but, as you can see from my CDs and YouTube clips, it is only a small part of what I do now.
Performing on YouTube
How has YouTube helped you share your music?
The YouTube thing is amazing. You share it with the world with the click of a button. You hear what people think; you get reactions. It’s completely different to other ways of sharing music.
Do you recommend this approach for other singers?
Think about it: you often don’t get to share your music with large numbers of people when you perform live. Many performers are lucky to get a couple hundred people listening at a time. But on YouTube you can post something on-line and someone 6,000 miles away can watch. You can develop a really huge fan base this way.
What tips do you have for Vocalists using YouTube?
First and foremost you have to find your connection with the person who originally wrote the song you are performing. Put yourself in their place—otherwise you won’t be able to move your audience.
Then, you have to make a connection with those who are watching your video. It’s important to look at the camera; you have to think that, through the camera, you are singing directly to the person who is watching. Unless they feel connected to you, they will “switch channels”—you don’t want to lose the person who’s tuned in. Also, you don’t want your songs to be too long—most of my YouTube clips are 2-4 minutes in length. Sometimes I work with a song for months before posting it.
You’ve been extraordinarily successful with your YouTube postings—I’m wondering if you have just a few more secrets?
One of the most important things to remember is that no matter what song you are singing you have to find a way to have fun with it yourself. If you do this, the person who is watching will have fun too. Also, let people know about yourself. I do some “bloopers” at the end of my videos; they’re always popular.
I’ve noticed a young drummer on some of your YouTube clips.
That’s my brother—“Bongo Boy”. My whole family is a team supporting me. My Grandma wrote songs for me when I was seven years old and still backs me up on guitar when I do shows. My Dad is Mr. Video Camera, my Grandfather does a lot of bookings and my Mom helps in a million ways. Everybody has a role to play.
Going Further with the Web
But you use YouTube for more than performing…
One way that I’ve connected with my fan base is to have fan video contests. The way this works is that someone makes a fan video and posts it. People vote and the winner receives a hundred dollars. I had 68 entries. Hundreds of fans voted and over 30,000 people have watched the video that announced the winners: This has been a fantastic way for me to interact with my fans and to say “thanks” for all the awesome support they’ve given me.
How do you use MySpace and Facebook?
They are both other ways to meet people and to continue to build a fan base. Plus I really enjoy talking to my fans and learning more about them.
You have a pretty well-developed website. Based on your own experiences, what advice do you have for other singers to make their’s more effective?
Make sure that your web site simple enough for everyone to easily figure out how to navigate. You just assume people know what to do on your site but you have to look at it as though you don’t know anything about it yourself and then see if you can figure out how to get from page to page. I’ve seen a lot of fancy sites that have all these little buttons to click and things to drag but it’s so confusing. Not everyone out there is computer savvy so it’s important to make it as simple as possible.
Thriving as a Performer…and Composer
People might not be aware of your active performing schedule; last year you had over 70 different gigs. What advice do you have for thriving in live performance?
It’s not like I have any huge barriers to overcome when I’m performing—I just naturally love it. I think that one of the most important things about live performance is forgetting about everything going on in your life and focusing on the music you’re singing. I mean all of us have stuff going on in our lives, but that has to be put to one side when you are performing. Also, I try to make my shows fun by sharing stories, jokes—anything I can think of to involve the audience.
You’ve been moving into writing your own music. What happened to start this part of the journey?
Well, in 2006 I had this horrible allergic reaction to my braces. I couldn’t sing for six months. I think I started songwriting because it was my only way to be musical at that time!
How does it feel to write your own pieces after successfully performing so many cover songs?
Songwriting allows you to put your own style on things which means that you aren’t compared to others.
What helps/hinders your writing process?
A lot of my writing actually happens after midnight. I write in my bedroom; it’s quiet and I can focus there. I stay up as long as I can writing songs. But I can get distracted; I find myself thinking about other things. Sometimes I catch myself getting lost for 10 minutes thinking about something I have done or thinking about schoolwork: ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t get that math problem’ or ‘I gotta do thus and such tomorrow’. Mind chatter. The key is to focus.
Does this play havoc with your schedule the next day?
Well, I’m home schooled which means that I don’t have to get up at 7am and hop on a bus.
Any advice on writing music for other aspiring songwriters (other than getting a brace allergy!)
Write everything down whether it sounds stupid to you at the time or not. It might turn out to be a great song.
Inventing a Charity
Many of my friends have found it inspiring that you created your own charity.
Well, I’ve always liked supporting charities. One day I asked my mom, “Where exactly does the money go that I donate?” She said: “If you really want to know, you have to start your own charity”. So I did. It’s called “Children Helping Children”. What I do is take a portion of the money from my CDs and buy tickets for the amusement park for children whose parents are serving in the military overseas. I take the amusement park passes to their airbase myself—so I know exactly where the money is going.
How is it going?
So far, I’ve given passes to over 300 kids. I don’t know exactly how many last year. I’m also getting ready to send more very soon. CD sales are really down with music downloads etc. and selling CDs is how I get the money for my charity. In addition, people also donate through my website and various fairs also donate passes.
Can anyone donate?
Sure. All you have to do is go to my website and click on the page about my charity.
Tiffany sings Fall For You. Over 1 million hits on YouTube
A cover of Taylor Swift’s Our Song by Tiffany Jo
Mind blowing yodeling by Tiffany Jo Allen