“I Got Bad Advice In The Beginning Of My Career To Set A Barrier Between You And Your Fans” Words of Wisdom with Sam Rochford

“I’m conscious because of my micro-notoriety to never tell jokes or make statements that make anyone else feel bad. I think it’s easy when you gain a little bit of attention on Twitter or YouTube to think you’re infallible to criticism and you forget to be nice to people. I try to make what I write about or talk about online positive, honest, and I don’t bring anyone else down. “
Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Rochford. Sam is a 25-year-old Connecticut native, now living in Nashville, where she was formerly an on-air correspondent for 650 AM WSM’s “Nashville Today” show hosted by Devon O’Day. Prior to moving to Nashville, she was the host of “Markov Music” on Boston’s popular internet radio station, WEMF. Sam has been publishing videos to YouTube and Facebook for the last 5 years, garnering a dedicated following for her musicianship, and quirky personality. Sam draws on influences from modern Americana artists like Amanda Shires and the Mountain Goats, as well as paying tribute to classic greats like Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline. She writes songs prolifically and performs all over Nashville in writer’s rounds.

What is your “backstory”?

I’m originally from Connecticut and I had no idea I wanted to be a musician until I was about 18 or 19 years old. I used to go camping a lot and I would bring my guitar to play cover songs around a fire and I started making up really dumb songs about the stuff my friends were doing in the woods. The first songs were bad, like really bad. They were improvised and crass, but I fell in love with songwriting. I started performing in Massachusetts and Connecticut around 2010 and I moved to Nashville to pursue music more seriously in 2015.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?

The funniest and definitely most horrifying was when I first started playing live shows a complete stranger felt like he connected with my music so much that he sent me erotic poetry. It’s only funny because nothing ever really happened, and the poetry was God awful.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I challenged myself to write a song and make a YouTube video every single day for the month of October. It’s very much inspired by visual artists that challenge themselves to something called “Inktober” where they draw every day or post a video of them drawing every day. I’m so inspired by visual art, and I’ve been a spectator of Inktober for so many years I decided to try it. It’s really difficult and rewarding; I’m learning a lot about myself as a writer and performer.

Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When I interned at a radio station I was fortunate enough to interview Dolly Parton. I was so nervous I honestly don’t even remember what I asked her, but she was so kind and personable even though she’s this larger than life celebrity. She’s also much shorter than you think, even with her high heels and huge hair.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I’m inspired by people who redefined their genre and left a huge impact on the world. I love listening to music, obviously, but I’m also really interested in learning about the history of bands and the context of musicians in society when they were huge. The best example are acts like The Beatles or Elvis who were considered enormous and controversial at the time but because they were so different, they totally redefined rock and popular music. Another example are the bands that were at the forefront of getting discovered on or making a living off of YouTube. YouTubes been around for less than 15 years and some of the most popular musicians in the world found a way to connect with people and make serious money without ever having to leave their house.

Who do you aspire to be like one day?

This is a tough question because I don’t want to follow directly in someone else’s footsteps, I want to forge my own path and live a life that is unique to only me.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m conscious because of my micro-notoriety to never tell jokes or make statements that make anyone else feel bad. I think it’s easy when you gain a little bit of attention on Twitter or YouTube to think you’re infallible to criticism and you forget to be nice to people. I try to make what I write about or talk about online positive, honest, and I don’t bring anyone else down.

I’ve also used my monetary success to be a monthly donor to the ALCU and Planned Parenthood.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

1. I wish someone told me I wasn’t going to start out being “good” at songwriting. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re not immediately getting good feedback or if you don’t immediately feel proud of what you’re making. But the more you create and the more projects you finish, the more you learn and the better you’ll be. When I look back at the songs I had when I first started writing, or even songs I was writing a year ago I can see how much I’ve improved. That’s partially why think Inktober Challenge I set for myself is so gratifying, even if I write a bad song, which I still do all the time, I can tell how much I’m learning and getting better.

2. I wish someone told me how important social media would be, but nobody could have predicted it. Social media is so much younger than the music industry so if you talk to someone that had success in the industry 20 years ago all their advice wouldn’t make any sense. When I first started working in radio, I worked with some older guys that had local success in the 90’s and early 2000’s and they were all so anti-social media. I think part of the reason they didn’t like it was because it was erasing everything they knew about the music industry. People didn’t go to local shows as often, they were watching YouTube videos and Facebook Live videos. If you played a show, nobody will know you did it unless you posted a picture on Instagram. Documenting your life is such a new phenomenon people didn’t immediately understand how important it was for artists.

3. I wish someone told me you don’t have to stick to a genre and you can listen to whatever type of music you want. I knew people when I first started out that were strictly country artists or strictly punk rock and it affects everything form the way you dress, to where you hang out, to the music you’re allowed to say you like. But that paints you into such a narrow corner with your brand and just what you can write. I spent so many years trying to figure out my brand and my genre because people told me I had to fit into some kind of box. But when I let go of that way of thinking not only was I way happier, but I saw the largest success I’ve ever experienced. When I released my first single “So Easy” I decided my “brand” would be a reflection of who I really was instead of something I spend a long time artificially cultivating.

4. I got bad advice in the beginning of my career to set a barrier between you and your fans. The girl that gave me this advice was in a pop punk band (that doesn’t exist anymore) and she was obsessed with only following less than 100 people on Instagram and having her follower count be as high as it could be. She basically wanted to seem impressive more than she wanted to connect with people. I realized that even though I spent considerable time with this girl, she considered me a fan instead of a friend, and it hurt my feelings. I’m all for healthy and respectful boundaries, but it was demeaning and I don’t want to treat anybody that way. I don’t befriend every single person that buys my song on iTunes, but I treat people the way I want to be treated. If someone takes the time to send me a nice message, I try to write them back. I also don’t worry about my follower count because we’re all going to die some day and none of it matters.

5. I wish someone told me that there was no straight path to success. My little sister is in law school and at the end of school she’ll get a job as a lawyer. Musicians don’t have the same easy to follow path as more traditional careers do. In my experience over the last five years being an independent musician is like running a business. Part of it is really fun and creative, but a lot of it is sending emails and worrying you’re not working hard enough. Some people get lucky and success happens for them much faster than other people, but it doesn’t mean it’ll never happen for you.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I really want to have breakfast with John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats. He’s my favorite songwriter of all time, and just seems like a really cool guy. I’ve been lucky enough to see him in concert a couple times and just want to pick his brain about life, songwriting, and breakfast food.