Industry Insider: Q&A: Ingrid Michaelson

Singer Ingrid Michaelson tells how helped her find success.
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Ingrid Michaelson's networking on helped lead to her music being featured on Grey's Anatomy, commercials, and more.

Indie artist Ingrid Michaelson is doing pretty well these days. Her music has aired several times on the TV dramaGrey's Anatomy, with her song “Keep Breathing” featured in the final emotional moments of the hit series' season finale. Her compositions also appeared onGrey's Anatomy, vol. 3, Original Soundtrack(Hollywood Records, 2007), an Old Navy commercial, and other film and TV projects. It seems unbelievable that a short while ago she was just another one of the millions of artists on MySpace vying for recognition, plugging away in her native New York music scene and hoping for a big break. Michaelson ( divulges how it all happened for her, and what fellow MySpacers should be doing to help build their own success.

Your music has been featured on Grey's Anatomy. How did that happen?

I came across the artist profile of a [now] friend of mine named William Fitzsimmons. He's had a pretty good MySpace following. From the beginning, he's held steady. He put me in his “Top 8” [friends], and he wrote a whole thing about me, like “Check this girl out — she's great.” And a music supervisor found me through him. That's how I got Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill. Now it's snowballing. So I find that aligning yourself with great artists helps, because that [music supervisor] would never have found me if I wasn't on William's page.

What is the secret to artist success on MySpace?
I think, obviously, your music needs to be good and people have to like it. That's the number one thing. There's no advice for that. Write good music. It has to be something people want to listen to. I can't really say, “This is how you do it,” because there is no [one] way. It's kind of luck, really, and just being in a place where you can be seen and heard. A&R and music-licensing people are trolling MySpace for artists; that's people's jobs, and they do look and listen. So it's the luck of the draw if people come across you. I would say, put up your best songs and make your profile look really snappy. Try to have your stuff together. For me, it was a combination of luck and that they liked my music.

Before your music appeared on Grey's Anatomy, what kind of response or interest were you receiving through MySpace?

I was just getting a few friend requests. It wasn't anything crazy. I was kind of doing the whole “If you like this person's music, you'll like my music” [email]. One out of ten people would respond and add me, and then everybody else would not really care. And now it's getting to the point where you're invading their privacy, and it's like, “Listen to my music! Listen to my music!”

How does an artist cut through that noise?

I don't know how it happened with me — it just happened. Not to say that I wasn't playing shows; I was always writing, and I was recording my album. I was always working toward something. It wasn't like I was just sitting around saying, “La la la, I'll put my songs on MySpace.” I was doing other things besides that. And the fact that someone came across my profile is just random. But if I hadn't had my profile there, it never would have happened.

There are, of course, no guarantees that artists on MySpace will be discovered and amass great commercial success. But is there something to be said for being in the game?

If you're not putting yourself out there (to say a phrase that everybody says) and putting yourself in a place where you can be seen — not just playing a show or having a Web site, or entering a contest, or doing open mic. [Then it won't happen.] All of those things put you in a situation where other people are going to see you. And hopefully, at some point the “right person” will be there and see you.

So what's the best way for MySpace artists to build relationships with other people who are using the service?

Get into [an informal] community of other artists that you admire … but nobody who's really huge, because they're not going to even do their own MySpace anymore. Find people who are like-minded or who you think are really great and [who] think you're really great, and create communities — like how I found William. You don't have to sit around and wait for the music industry to find you. You can use MySpace to find it yourself and create things for yourself.

What about artists who attest to having the most friends and the most music plays?

I think the whole thing with the number of plays and friends you have can be totally fictitious. Well, not fictitious, but you can buy programs that add people, and you can buy programs that play your songs over and over. I think people can manipulate the system to make their numbers skyrocket, and I think the industry has realized that to a certain degree.

A lot of label execs are describing MySpace as the ideal virtual demo. What would you advise artists to have (or not to have) on their profiles?

Well, obviously your five songs that showcase yourself the best. Whatever your default picture is, [it should be] something that's very memorable and eye-catching. If they see you on somebody else's profile, they're going to want to see what you're all about and know more. Really, that's what people see first. They don't see your music; they see your picture first. Your profile doesn't have to be done up or made up, but it should be very concise and very clean — not a lot of crazy stuff in the background, and flashing lights and bells and whistles. You don't have to have all that, as long as it's easy to read.

You mean you don't love all the flashing animated background graphics?

Yeah, that's a turnoff.

Your own profile was pretty simply designed until recently.

What it really comes down to is the content of the music and the quality of the picture. If it doesn't look like a quality photograph, I'm leery about it. If the music hasn't loaded up, then I might not even listen to it. For me, I have to see something visual, so it looks like they're not just throwing their music up there. If it looks like they really put time and effort into it, I'm like, “Okay, this is something they're proud of and they want people to listen to this.” It's like when you put out a CD, you want the CD packaging to be perfect, visually eye-catching or stimulating, or interesting in some way. It's about getting people to stay and listen to the music.

What do you think about artists who say it should be about the music only?

In a musician's mind, it's all about the music because that's all we think about. “Oh, my songs are so intense and the lyrics are awesome.” Meanwhile, that's not how most of the world thinks. You have to hook people in other ways, especially in a place [like MySpace] where there are thousands of other people doing the exact same thing.

Isn't marrying MySpace with other career endeavors really the old-fashioned way of making connections and planting seeds?

Yes, exactly. At first I thought, “I am going to make a CD and it's going to be awesome and everyone's going to come knocking on my door. And it'll be so obvious.” I realized that's not the way of the world. You need to take every opportunity you get and create opportunities. Be proactive.

You've just released your album on your own imprint. Why did you decide not to use the MySpace/Snocap download store in your profile?

I opted not to do Snocap because I have a thing about too many accessories in my life. I like to have one of this and one of that. I'm already selling on iTunes, CD Baby, and And I want to know it's all coming from the same place. That's probably not a good business thing because you probably want your stuff in as many places as possible. But that's just the way my brain works, and I was like, “I don't want Snocap!” But it seems like it's pretty user friendly and a lot of artists have it. I get stuck in my ways. CD Baby is awesome. They do all the work for you. They give you statements and process the payments. If you're a top seller, they list that. They're interactive with their buyers.

You've had your artist profile only since 2005. In just over two years, your life has changed a lot.

I think that things are definitely going in a great direction, and all because of MySpace!

Fran Vincent is the author of MySpace for Musicians (Thomson Course Technology, 2007) and president of Retro Island Productions, Inc., a music-business coaching and music-marketing firm. Visit her

Additional Resources

Ingrid Michaelson's MySpace site

Ingrid Michaelson's Web site