Katie Armiger Hits the Heights

By Lorie Hollabaugh

Katie Armiger seems to be just about everywhere these days. The 19-year-old and her camp have employed some innovative ways to market her music and build on her growing fan base, and it’s paid off: Her latest Cold River Records album, Confessions of a Nice Girl, was her first to make it onto the Billboard Heatseekers chart in October, debuting at No. 36.

The album is a pivotal point in the Texan’s career. It includes collaborations between her and several notable co-writers, including Sarah Buxton and Rebecca Lynn Howard. In addition to tracks produced by Bonnie Baker, Blair Daly and New Voice Ent., rocker Charlie Sexton produced “I Will Be,” which Armiger wrote with Lisa McCallum. Jason Aldean’s band even got in on the production fun and played on one song, “Ain’t So Sweet,” written by Armiger and Daly.

“It’s definitely different than the first two,” Armiger said, referencing her 2007 self-titled debut and Believe, released in 2008. “I’m pretty eclectic, and this is a mix of tons of different feels of music. There’s traditional Country, Country rock, Country pop and a little bit of everything on it. The way we went about it is, in the past, we thought of it as a formula. You have certain types of songs on there. Everybody always says you need a song about leaving home, a song about a breakup, a cycle of life song. But on this one, we just said, ‘You know, we’re going to put every single thing we love on there and hopefully everyone will love it as much as we do.’ And I think that’s why it’s working so much — because we had so much fun.”

Written by Armiger, Amanda Flynn and Bruce Wallace, the first single, “Best Song Ever,” is a cleverly dark uptempo tune; from within its sugarcoated shell it jabs playfully at the notion of “happily ever after.” The song received significant adds in its first week, being picked up by KILT / Houston; WIVK / Knoxville, Tenn.; KEEY / Minneapolis; KTEX / McAllen, Texas; WKMK / Monmouth, N.J.; KUPL / Portland, Ore.; KFRG / Riverside, Calif.; KNTY / Sacramento; KUBL / Salt Lake City; KAJA / San Antonio; and WFUS / Tampa, Fla.

Its impact was no doubt strengthened from the setup and marketing plan implemented by Armiger’s manager Pete O’Heeron, and her publicist, Denise Carberry of Paul Freundlich Associates (PFA). From an album-naming contest sponsored by GAC to another on Armiger’s Web site to win an iPod, her team found creative ways to engage and attract new fans. Acknowledging that it can be a challenge to take a young artist to radio, they worked with Armiger to bridge that gap between her and the programmers who hold the key to airplay.

“You really have to work to develop these relationships,” said O’Heeron, who is also President of Cold River Records. “As we’re making believers out of those big market stations, you have to create and build a story and you have to bring that story to them. I don’t think you can just bring an artist and say, ‘Hey, I have an artist with a song.’ You have to have a big package. But there is a generational gap when you have a teenage female talking to a program director who may be in their 30s or 50s. They’re trying to talk music. She’s talking Lady Gaga and they’re talking Duran Duran and Van Halen.”

How does O’Heeron deal with that? “I force-feed her ’70s and ’80s music,” he said, laughing. “The other day I gave her Elton John — Greatest Hits.”

One up side to breaking a teen act, according to O’Heeron, is its ability to draw a younger demographic toward a product or brand. “We have really focused on our relationships with United Country Real Estate, Silpada Designs and Buckle Clothing the past few years and wanted to co-brand with them,” he said. “We created separate splash pages within Katie’s Web site for them so they could go out to their community and tell their customers and employees about Katie. She was wearing Buckle and Silpada jewelry on her album cover and at every press event as well.”

Armiger’s camp, along with Craig Bann, Senior VP of Promotion and Marketing, AristoMedia, was particularly proactive in reaching out to GAC, which has worked closely with Armiger since 2008, when it featured her in a six-part Web series, “Kapturing Katie.” This time, the network invited fans to come up with a title for the new album; more than 1,300 of them sent in their suggestions. It also sponsored a sweepstakes and sent two winners to Armiger’s album launch party on Sept. 29 in Nashville; the event was streamed live over several Web sites, including sites for Buckle Clothing and GAC. Additionally, a documentary, “d’Tour to Nashville,” ran exclusively on www.GACtv.com in the spring, offering a behind-the-scenes look at Armiger’s journey through the music business.

“It’s almost become like a family over there to us at GAC,” O’Heeron said. “Every single person over there has been so fantastic. They were believers early on. They were open to any ideas we had and that has been amazing to us.”

Another media opportunity involved the teen magazine Justine. In 2010, Armiger partnered with them and the Girl Scouts of the USA in a “R.E.A.L. Girl” contest to honor Girl Scouts of outstanding character (“Remarkable, Energetic, Aspirational and Leader”). Justine also featured Armiger on its cover — no small feat for an artist so new to the spotlight.

“Any time you work with a national magazine on the cover, that’s the hard part for them to get over because they’re looking to sell magazines,” O’Heeron said. “They’d much rather have a Hillary Duff or someone who is much more well known. But Denise just kept going back to them and saying, ‘Look, you can help build a star, someone who will grow with you over the next few years. Or you can use an existing superstar — but that’s not someone who will be at the grassroots level with your customers, which is where Katie will be.’

“When you find something that fits, you’ve just got to do it as quickly as possible,” he continued. “And you have to be creative with your tie-ins. Katie has a unique ability to not only go into that younger demographic, but also to pull a brand into a younger demographic. If you have a brand that’s focusing on 25- and 30-year-olds, and you want to bring it into the tweens, you can engage with Katie and that will move your demographics lower. That only happens with a few artists who have a national platform: You’ll have a Taylor (Swift), a Katie, a LeAnn Rimes, a Jessica Andrews. Katie’s sales point will change over time as she gets older. We’ll have to change our approach, but right now she can appeal to a young demographic or she can move a brand toward it.”

With such a young fan base, marketing plans for Confessions of a Nice Girl focused significantly on social networks as well. In fact, “Leaving Home” caught fire virally. And when more than 20 high schools notified O’Heeron of the fact that they’d used it as their graduation song, that inspired another novel notion of how to reach out to her base.

“That whole thing happened kind of organically,” Armiger said. “I wrote it with Sarah Buxton and Blair Daly two weeks before Christmas. I was giving it to my parents for Christmas, and the next thing I know Pete was calling and saying kids were using it as their graduation song. So we decided to service it to high schools. I sat and packaged up tons of DVDs and letters to send to these high schools. We had to service it with sheet music too, so we got someone in New York to chart out a choral arrangement for choir directors. I was amazed at the response we got from that song.”

Those packages, sent to all high schools that requested them via Facebook, YouTube and other channels, paid off: When Armiger attended the Future Farmers of America convention in October, she found that half the people in her autograph line had graduated to the sound of “Leaving Home,” played live or from the enhanced CD/DVD, which featured video footage from her on tour set to “Leaving Home.”

Leading up to the Confessions of a Nice Girl release, Armiger appeared on “The Early Show” on CBS. And, being in New York City, she amped up the buzz with one more twist, a performance atop the Empire State Building.

“Denise had previously worked with the marketing people at the Empire State Building, so she set this all up,” O’Heeron explained. “She told us when we land in New York to come straight there because Katie’s going to do something really cool. We had no idea at all what it was going to be. They had red ropes and press, and she walks in and they take her up to the top. It was this amazing postcard day overlooking Manhattan, and there were hundreds and hundreds of tourists on the observation deck. So she performed her single, and we’re coming back to the elevator, and you look on the wall and there were photos of every significant celebrity on the wall: Celine Dion, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer. The marketing person from the Empire State Building said, ‘Katie, where do you want to go? Pick your spot and you’ll be forever immortalized at the Empire State Building.’ Katie said, ‘Next to Celine Dion?’ And the marketing person said, ‘Next time you come back, it’ll be here.’ That was pretty amazing.”

For indie artists without the backing of a major record label team, unique marketing and media ideas like these are crucial. So is getting the most out of every opportunity, using every available angle and resource, including the smaller imprint’s potential for being adaptable and quick on its feet when the need arises.

“The best marketing plan is the one that works,” O’Heeron summarized. “Ten different things at 10 different times: If we have a CD release party, we want a live stream. We want press there. We want as many activities going on around that CD release party as we can. If that live stream happens to engage a certain population, then we run with that. You want to drive as many different elements to every event as you can. You just don’t know what’s going to catch fire. It’s just like the songs: You don’t know which songs are going to affect people. But we’ve looked at Katie as a national act from day one, and we approach it that way all the time.”

On the Web: www.KatieArmiger.com

CMA

Photo by Stephen Shepherd/Provided by Country Music Association

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