Blogger Spotlight: Amandah Opoku (UMusicians)

Hello and welcome to another exciting week of music industry insight and advice here on the official blog of Haulix. We’re kicking things off with the story of a Canadian whose passion for new music lead to the creation of one of our favorite new sites for music discovery. If you have a recommendation of a site or writer we should highlight in the weeks ahead, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook

As with the early days of any new venture, the birth of this blog required dozens, if not hundreds of emails being sent in hopes of setting up coverage. This is an effort that is ongoing, and as far as I can tell will probably never leave my daily routine. Every now and then however, roles are reversed and its websites who come to us looking to highlight the efforts of Haulix. This gives us the opportunity to share our journey with the world, and once in a while it also allows us to connect with writers and site whom we may have otherwise never met. Such is the case with today’s writer, and they are someone we are proud to now call a friend.

Amandah Opoku is the type of person whose content you hope to be reading when you stumble across a new music blog. She didn’t start a site to compete with whatever popular music site she read regularly, nor did she have any intentions of making her efforts more than a hobby, but she knew deep down she had a passion for sharing her love of music with the world. She wrote about the groups and artists that interested her, regardless of whether or not they were the latest buzz on the blogosphere, and over time she began to realize there were others in the universe who shared her views on music. That lead her to consciously decide to evolve her efforts towards offering more diverse content, including news, and she now finds herself leading one of the most exciting young sites on the net.

Offering a little bit of everything catchy with a hearty amount of editorial content on the side, UMusicians is a one-of-a-kind online destination for curious music fans. Lead by Opoku, the site offers everything from review and news, to fan submitted content, unsigned spotlights, editorials, and beyond. It’s a young publication, but it’s growing at an alarming rate, and after reading Amandah’s story it’s easy to understand why.

If you want to stay updated on everything Amandah is working on be sure to bookmark and frequent UMusicians. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: For the record, please state your name, job title, and the publication you currently represent:

A: My name’s Amandah Opoku and I am the founder of UMusicians.

H: Everyone starts somewhere. When you think of your earliest memories with music, what comes to mind?

A: My earliest memories with music would have to be when I was in elementary school where I sang in the school choir. I’ve always loved music class, the singing not the theory, ahaha. From an early age, singing and performing was always something I loved and still love doing.

H: Having an interest in music is fairly normal for teens and twenty-something, but deciding to launch a site to promote music takes a certain level of dedication that most do not possess. What initially inspired you to create UMusicians?

A: Everything began during my last year of high school, where my final two pieces were about Canadian Pop Rock band Neverest and an interview with Arizona band, RadioDriveBy for my schools newspaper. Within that year, I was fairly becoming interested in the workings of the Canadian music industry, why radio stations would always play the same songs every hour (by American artists), with the exception of 1 or 2 songs by a Canadian artist. I really wanted to understand the industry, the ins and outs, why Canadian musicians could never make it outside of Canada. As I became more immersed in the subject, I realized that there were a ton of musicians out there making music that a lot of people were not aware of, label or no label. UMusicians was created to bring people’s awareness to such artists, in the hopes that someone can discover a new artist and a musician could gain a new fan. 

H: There are a number of music zines in existence covering the areas of music primarily featured on your site. Why launch a new site instead of simply joining another organization?

A: Confession time. When I started UMusicians I was so far from this music scene, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I wasn’t as involved a year ago, like I am today. That being said I didn’t know all these other music sites existed. The only place I got my music news was from Canadian Music Channel/Site formally known as Much Music, now just known as Much. Like you stated, UMusicians was originally a platform for me to post about my musical findings so at the time the only thing I needed to focus on was sharing my new finds. It wasn’t until we expanded, and I started getting press releases stating so and so’s music had been featured on this site, that I discovered that there were all these other zines and sites. Even then, I didn’t quit. I’m the type of person that needs to finish something once they start. I need to see things to the end. There’s no quitting. Overtime, I’ve been able to visualize things that I personally wish I would see on my favorite music site and integrate it into UMusicians.

H: With the previous question in mind, what would you say it is about the content offered on UMusicians that separates you from the competition? 

A: Like a good friend said “If you’re into discovering new music, check out UMusicians for new bands.” UMusicians still stands on what I founded it on, the unsigned artist. We are featuring unsigned talent not only limited to Canada and the United States, but other parts of the world like Europe (United Kingdom). We believe in the unsigned artist and their craft, which is highlighted through the various features on the site. I’d like to also think we’re well rounded in the coverage we provide as once we welcome an artist in, we never shut them out. We continue to support each and every artist that makes there way onto the site. Being Canadian, for me, I also wanted to push and integrate Canadian content as much as I could, given Canada’s small music industry. 

We’ve also recently started integrating fans into our site, which was seen in our tour features (My Week At Warped and Journeys Noise Tour) with our Fan recaps. Fans are such an integral part of the music scene and it was really nice and unique to include them in that aspect. 

H: The site was not initially launched as a music news outlet, but rather a promotional platform for the groups that interested you. That all changed in January 2013 when you unveiled a series of new features. What inspired the evolution?

A: Within the first months of launching UMusicians, to be honest I never had a plan set in stone. I was still trying to figure out what exactly I wanted UMusicians to be. Prior to starting what would become UMusicians, I think I had 2 or 3 interviews on here and would just refer to them as my portfolio, a place to display what I had written. You won’t find those anymore unfortunately, ahaha. But, the idea of creating a full-fledged music site, keeping people up to date about these artists through more than just news posts was captivating, more interesting. It provided people with options, something different, something that spun interaction and made content more engaging.

H: What was the hardest part about switching your focus at that time? Now that a year has passed, do you believe it was the right move for you?

A: The hardest thing about switching my focus at the time, was figuring out how to make the transition. I constantly asked myself, where do I start? How am I going to integrate this feature? I mean for everything you do, starting something new always proves difficult. You question every move you make because of the uncertainty you have. But it’s through trial and error; you see what works and what doesn’t.

I definitely think it was the right decision switching the focus. UMusicians has a lot to offer now, and the platform to offer musicians’ coverage has greatly evolved. Especially with the features such as Artist Of The Week and Artist Spotlights, as well as our past two recent Tour Features, I feel like people are now engaging more so than ever with these features as opposed to what UMusicians started off. There’s a lot more variety on the site and I couldn’t be prouder of how everything turned out.

H: What is the biggest misconception about music bloggers and the life you lead while trying to make a name in this business?

A: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that music bloggers start sites or contribute to sites because they have all this free time on their hand or they’re doing it for extra income. I’m a University student taking a full course load, in addition to a part time job and extra curricular activities. With what I do, sometimes I’m amazed I still have time to run this site. If you’re passionate about something, about writing and sharing music you put your all into it. You make time for it. There’s no monetary influence to that. 

H: You feature a number of up and coming bands on UMusicians. Where do you turn when hoping to discover new music, and what advice would you offer unsigned artists hoping to gain some coverage on a site like yours?

A: As odd as this may sound, I look through Twitter and Tumblr. Whether if its a recommendation from a follower or if I happen to stumble upon a musicians page.Thanks to the variety of social media platforms, musicians aren’t just limited to using YouTube and MySpace (in its most popular days), as a promotional platform. And it’s great searching through Tumblr tags because you discover a lot of music, some which may even broaden your own musical taste.  

When you email us pitching for coverage, please be professional and thorough. Give me background on your band, brief history, etc. A one linear line saying, “hi, we’re looking for coverage/post/feature” is never enough. And just social media links alone are insufficient. I’ve had musicians email us before providing limited info, and to me it just says their lazy and their not taking any of this seriously.

H: I noticed there are a couple of ads on your site, which I’m sure generate a small amount of income for your efforts, but do you have any additional plans to monetize your site in the near future?

A: That’s a great question! Right now, I think we’ll leave things as it is. When I started UMusicians, money was never the goal. Sharing music about various musicians and creating unique features will always be our priority.  

H: When it comes to receiving music for review purposes, which distribution platforms do you prefer and why?

A: I’ve used Soundcloud for streaming purposes and it’s been great. However, Haulix is my preferred method. It’s simple, and everything you need is one place. I remember the first time I used it to stream an album; it was simple and easy to use.

H: What is your ultimate career goal?

A: I’ll be 19 at the end of December, and I know many people my age are still trying to find out what they want to do with their lives. I’m currently completing my undergraduate Bachelors degree in Criminology. In two years, when I’m done my BA, I plan to go to law school. I’d hope to be able to work in the music industry in the future in some way.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?


A:
 If I could change one thing about the music industry it would be the perception of a musician’s versatility from the fans point of view. Canadian band, Hedley said it best, which is more so evident on the bands fifth studio album Wild Life “I don’t think that we ever want to stay stagnant and I think that we always enjoy trying new things.” Many artists have changed their sound. They’ve evolved across their past releases. Often times, these changes bring on a sense of unfamiliarity to many fans, and it’s evident that some fans dislike it, that some fans hate change. If your favorite musician were to put out the same album for the next 4 releases, would you still be supporting them? Probably not. Artists are continuously trying to reinvent themselves with their sound, bringing something fresh and exciting. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it and don’t spam them with messages telling them how much they’ve changed or how much you hate it. They’re the same musician you’ve been supporting; they’re just trying some new.

H: I think that’s everything. Before I let you go, do you have anything else you would like to share?

A: I do! To every unsigned artist here’s a piece of advice someone once gave me, “if you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to.” Never second-guess yourself. Make music you love and can be proud of. Don’t compare yourself to the success of others because you are in competition with yourself to do better and better.

Also, I love discovering new music! If you’re an unsigned band or artist, reach out to email me: umusicians@gmail.com

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.