Cleveland once again struck gold when Rusty Clanton nabbed the $10,000 win on ArtistSignal a month after the award went to local band The Mailboxes.
Clanton said he originally heard about the website through the lead singer of The Mailboxes, Jillian Spears.
Spears handed out flyers and updated Facebook friends to the upcoming online competition. Clanton took note and watched as the votes began to pour in for Spears. She was not only winning, Spears was taking the lead by a landside.
Clanton noticed a number of the voters were mutual friends. He challenged himself to see if he could also win ArtistSignal’s monthly top artist. Online social media sites were used to announce his intention to friends, family and fans.
Everyone, including almost 15,000 fans on YouTube, rose to the challenge. Some family members voted up to 10 times a day.
Clanton added incentives online to sweeten the voting deal. Some included: a shout-out on various social media platforms; a personalized letter; a free track; a free extended playlist; and a free house show.
More than 15 people received the free house show, which was only available after a couple hundred votes. The plan is for Clanton to make good on his promise come summer. States in need of visiting include: Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California.
He was shocked by the response he received.
“More than the money, that is what blows my mind even more. There are people who cared about something I cared about,” Clanton said. “They made it a big deal the entire month [of December].”
Clanton said the process was surprisingly stress-free.
“The beginning of the month was stressful, but after a week and a half of working hard and connecting with people and reminding them, it was less stressful,” Clanton said. “I tried my best not to be stressed even though when that much money is in the balance, it is major.”
Several artists came close to Clanton’s heels throughout the competition. However, loyal voters kept the rising forces at bay. Soon enough, Clanton was announced as ArtistSignal’s top December artist.
While Clanton tried not to count his chickens until they hatched, he quickly decided how the money would be spent. Half of the $10,000 will purchase materials to help build and cultivate his YouTube channel. Any remaining money will funnel into a car fund.
Clanton’s victory fueled by family, friends and fans is all the more impressive when people learn where he was musically just a few years ago.
His nerves used to get wrecked before a show. Even a preview for his parents caused anxiety to build. It is no surprise then his first performance was less than ideal.
It was at the Regenerate Music Company in town. There were probably a little over 40 people in attendance. Clanton practiced forever in preparation. He played first, and as he said, “it could not have gone worse.”
People approached Clanton after the show and told him, “I’m sorry, but you just played so bad.”
One such person was the owner of Regenerate. Although he too pointed out the poor performance, he also saw potential. He invited Clanton to come back to the studio to work on songwriting.
Added Clanton, “That is where the adventure started, I guess.”
He admitted everything he does in life is trial and error. Almost every time, Clanton said he will choose the hardest way possible before discovering easier routes. Naturally, the same talent for difficulty cropped up in his writing.
He said it felt like every time he wrote a song, the next one was written differently. The standard song structures irritated him. He wanted to pick various parts of songs he enjoyed and “mash” them together. The finished product worked, but he said they were not songs anyone would want to hear on the radio.
“I learned a lot about why there is a standard structure. Why people write songs in the form of intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus,” Clanton said. “At first, I thought, ‘That sounds boring, I don’t want to do that.’ Then I realized when you might think that kind of structure limits creativity, it actually organizes it a lot better.”
Songs were written and then videos were made of Clanton singing his songs. These were uploaded to YouTube where subscribers slowly began to take notice. However, it was the YouTube superstars, vloggers (video bloggers), singers and skilled users who really helped Clanton attract fans.
One such user took note of Clanton’s work. A conversation was struck which eventually led to a friendship and working relationship. Before Clanton knew it, he was pulled into a group of YouTube extraordinaires dedicated to their online work.
“I never thought it was possible,” Clanton said. “That is my dream — to travel, meet people, play music, make videos and still be able to support myself.”
Witnessing the success of his online friends allowed him to see a way to reach his dream.
It also gave him an in at the YouTube event Playlist Live in Orlando last March.
It was a new experience for Clanton. For one thing, his nerves no longer got in the way of his performance.
“My nerves don’t get wrecked anymore. I learned to harness them and enjoy myself and have a good time [performing],” Clanton said. “It happened from me messing up so many times. From me playing and just being miserably terrible.”
He also found he had fans at the event. Which, Clanton said, he has found to be very humbling.
“When I saw these fans face to face, they told me stuff about themselves. They would bring me stuff they had made,” Clanton said. “I just realized these are real people. Every single one of these [fans] are actual human beings, and I realized all at once, this whole thing is not about me.”
He said one of his favorite actions is to tell other people they are important. His hope is people listening to his music will feel that way. One of his goals of success is to reach as many people as possible.
Another goal is to one day play on Conan O’Brien’s TV show. As with the rest of Rusty’s music career, it is a work in progress.
For songs from Clanton’s next album “Five Months,” his plans to tour westward or just to ask him a question, visit www.youtube.com /rustyclanton.