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Grace Weber Salutes Our Troops

Grace Weber recently returned home to Wisconsin to honor WWII veterans with a performance at the record-breaking Field of Honor event, held at Miller Park. The day before the event, she stopped by GMR Marketing to help personally thank some veterans within the community and perform an intimate GMR Ignition Session. Before Grace performed, GMR Marketing's Brad Bergren sat down with her for a quick interview. Weber studied music marketing and music business at NYU, and her business acumen and bright personality definitely shine through in the full interview below:

Q: You've taken a really interesting path on your way to jumping into the music industry. Can you tell us a little bit about your start and some of the musical influences that have gotten you to where you are today?

A: Well, I grew up in Milwaukee, WI, and my grandpa was actually a musician. He played piano and accordion in the Army Band and he made all of his ten kids learn an instrument growing up. So when I grew up, we were always singing around the piano on holidays, and I got a chance to sing in my uncles' bands when I was around 9 or 10. It was really great for me to grow up in a musical family like that.

But some reason when I was little, I was always drawn to soul music. I was definitely influenced by amazing jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Etta James, and I loved people like India Arie and Lauren Hill. So I always had a dream of singing in an all-black gospel choir growing up, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Central City Youth Choir of Milwaukee at twelve years old. They taught me what it means to be a soul singer and how to really sing with passion. I credit them with teaching me what music is all about. Through that choir, I was introduced to a really cool music scene in Milwaukee, including a chance to play Show Time at the Apollo when I was thirteen. I always look at Milwaukee as place where my roots are and where I learned to be a musician.

Q: The success that you've had so far has taken you from a band to arguably now, a brand. How much attention do you pay to crafting that brand?

A: Being an artist, at the end of the day, you're trying to create something that people can identify with and feel something from. You have to know who you are in order to connect with your audience. I actually like using the word "brand" because it helps me figure out how I can put my art into a box that people can grab on to a relate to.

Over the past four to five years, I've really been trying to discover who I am and what brand I'm trying to put out there to the world. After years of songwriting, I'm finally starting to get a clearer picture of who that person is. Early on, I could tell that some people couldn't really understand who I was because our band was all over the map in terms of different genres and sounds. Then I realized that I needed to hone in on a unified sound and become a brand that people can understand. If you really want to move people you have to have a clear vision. I like to look at different brands that have become powerful by knowing exactly who they are, and I try to find ways to apply those same principles to music.

Q: Where are you taking your brand in the future, what's on the horizon for Grace Weber?

A: I've been writing a lot over the past year, and I've actually been writing a lot more music by myself. I've tried to be as honest as possible with what I'm trying to say as an individual. I think that the music is coming out a little rawer and a bit more edgy. I'm going back to my gospel roots and trying to bring that back into my sound, so I think you're going to see something on our next record that's a little more soulful. I'm pretty excited about it.

Q: How do you think your fans are going to react to that evolution in sound?

A: I think they're going to love it because our live shows embody that sound now. When we play live, our sound is bigger and grittier, and people have been really responsive to that raw live sound. I feel like I've grown a lot from my first solo album, and I think that my fans are hoping that my next record more closely resembles our live show. We're actually planning to record the record live together in one room tracking one take.

Q: How do you stay connected with your fans as your fan base continues to grow?

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have really opened up gates for artists to make direct connections with their fans and vice-versa. I actually got a message from someone in Korea the other day saying "I don't speak English very well, but I just wanted to let you know that your music moves me." For me, it's so incredible to have this outlet to develop one-on-one connections with my fans. If someone comments on my page, I can comment right back and let them know how appreciative I am for their support. At the end of day, without my fans I wouldn't be anywhere.

I also did a Pledge Music campaign for my last album, which is a way to raise money for an album using fan support. We gave away different exclusives and incentives like personal Skype session performances to fans that helped fund the record. I still have all of the e-mail addresses of the people that helped fund that record, and those fans are always going to get different exclusives and free tickets throughout the rest of my career. I always try to remember where I came from and the people who were lifting me up from the beginning, which is another reason I love coming back to Wisconsin.

Q: As you continue to meet the needs of your fans, how are you looking at brands and sponsorship opportunities to take you to the next level?

A: For me, the Starbucks partnership I had was so cool because they're a brand that has such a clear vision of who they are. The type of music they sell and play in their stores is a certain type of quality that I want to be a part of, so being attached to a brand like Starbucks gives my brand more credibility. It's important for me to try to find brands and companies that share the same vision that I have so we can both help each other get to the next level.

Q: Sponsorship in music marketing has truly evolved into a partnership model, how are you treating partnerships differently to help your brand as well as your partner's brand?

A: I think social marketing has changed the game as far as partnerships between artists and brands go. Back in the day it might have been looked at as sort of "selling out" to partner with a brand, but ever since someone like Ingrid Michaelson got discovered by having a song on an Old Navy commercial, it opened the doors to people realizing that partnerships are an important way for artists to get their music out to more fans. You partner with a company that is established, and they can help you get to the next place you want to be if you both believe in the same thing.

As an example, I partnered with fashion designer Elie Tahari when I performed in Paris for the official commemoration of 9-11. They gave me an incredibly gorgeous dress to wear and put me on the front page of their website which gets tons of hits. Why wouldn't I want to partner with them if they're willing to spread my name across their audience and our ideals align?

Q: Are there any brands or brand categories that have a greater degree of interest to you in terms of potential partnerships?

A: I've always thought that something in the travel industry would be a really cool partnership for me because we just started touring a ton. We just did a UK run and I'm just about to go out on the road opening for Ben Taylor, so I'm constantly on the road seeing new places. I think it would be great to find a brand to "go on the road together" so to speak.

Also, I don't know if it's always been this way, but the pressure to have cool fashion as a musician today is extremely high. I was a soccer player throughout high school, and I really didn't put much thought into what I wore. Now that I have to be more fashion conscious, being able to partner with fashion brands is really helpful because I like to look to them to help me mold that image a little bit.

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