Canadian indie rocker uses crowdfunding to kick start career

Amanda Zelina AKA "The Coppertone" is known for her smoky vocals, guitar chops, and old-school blues/rock sound. (Photo Credit: Matt Barnes).

Signing with a recording label is supposed to be an indie artist’s dream come true. But one Canadian musician is using a crowdfunding initiative to ask fans to help buy out her record contract.

“I signed a contract as a naive artist, which unfortunately a lot of artists do. I signed a contract that preyed on my desperation to do music as a full time career.”

That’s Amanda Zelina, also known by her stage moniker “The Coppertone”. Three weeks ago, the 27-year-old King City, Ontario native kicked off a crowdfunding campaign titled “Claim Yourself”, with the dual goals of buying out her current recording contract (for which she needs $20,000) and inspiring other independent musicians to stand up for their true worth.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of preconceived ideas of what this industry is and a lot of artists, especially, are naïve. … There is a lot of misconceptions about what it is that we have rights to, and what we don’t.” Zelina told Global News. “I would like to raise an awareness of that.”

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A musical ‘late bloomer’

Zelina’s approach to music defies convention. In an era of polished perfection in popular music, she is a solo female artist who plays, (and sings) an old-school blues style with a decidedly rocky twist.

Yet the King City, Ontario native considers herself a “late bloomer”: She didn’t even pick up a guitar until she was 18.

“I Googled guitar schools and what’s the best guitar school, and the first one that came up was in LA and so I just thought ‘Well, why not?'” Zelina said. “I had never picked up a guitar in my life before, but I was in a band at the time as a singer, and I got my guitarist to fake the entrance exam.”

Her plan worked – almost.

“Unbeknownst to me, when I got down there, there was a placement exam you had to take to find out if you were level 1, level 2, level 3,” Zelina said. “I had just moved across the country, and didn’t know anybody. They’re like, ‘Can you play the pentatonic scale in A minor?’ That’s when I told them I had to come clean about something.

“So basically, I begged,” Zelina said. “I told them ‘I just came across the country, and this is all I want to do. I had someone fake the entrance exam, but I will work harder than everybody if you just let me stay for the first term.’ And I don’t know what it was, but they allowed me to stay. And that’s where I got my start.”

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That start resulted in one full-length album, two EPs and a couple of cross-Canada tours since 2010 under the guise of her musical alter-ego, The Coppertone.

“Using the name ‘The Coppertone’, using a moniker instead of my name, was a form of safety for me,  of having the onus not be on me even though it was me,” Zelina explained. “It was a very safe way for me to explore things and for me to have a way to explore them inside this little niche box.”

The economics of life on the road

Three years ago, Zelina achieved that perceived hallmark of success for so many independent musicians: She signed a recording contract with Canadian indie label Dine Alone Records.

“At the time, I was told it was a standard Canadian [recording] contract,” Zelina said. “I just thought this is the chance for a stepping stone, this is standard, if other people are doing it, then perhaps it’s not that bad.”

“It’s sort of an unspoken thing, especially in Canada, that artists should shy away from fighting for what they want in contracts, because they may be blacklisted from the industry for being difficult.”

Over the next couple years, Zelina would release two albums, open for acts like The Black Keys and City and Color, and play at music festivals such as Toronto’s North by Northeast.

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Unfortunately, the reality of being an independent musician on tour resulted in a financial crush that proved insurmountable.

“When Hollywood makes a movie, the main actors go around and they promote the movie so that it gets publicity. It’s the same thing with music. Radio is one way to do it, another is touring, but touring really is the be-all, end-all, grassroots way of doing it, especially within my genre,” Zelina said. “That being said, I had no tour support, which means that when I went on the road, especially because I’m a solo artist and I hire my band members, I pay them out of my pocket. These expenses can rack up.”

There are the usual costs of being on the road – food, gas, lodging, equipment – as well as some costs that aren’t immediately obvious, such as merchandise.

“If you sign a 360 deal, which is what I signed, then you pay out of everything basically, and part of that is the merch,” Zelina said. “There’s no advance up front for merch, so I had to pay out of my pocket, press my own merch, and on top of it when I sell my merch I was obligated to give them a cut of it. So you can quickly see how, if you’re not getting tour support as an independent musician, you can lose a lot of money really fast.”

Claiming herself

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Despite all this, Zelina is the first to place ultimate responsibility for her contract and career choices on one set of shoulders: her own.

“I know that I am fully accountable, and I say that in the campaign,” Zelina said. “If I had known better at the time I would have done better, quite honestly. But I was naive and I spent 11 years working incredibly hard on my craft aspect of it, but the business aspect seemed more of an elusive thing. From this experience I’ve learned that it’s 100% music AND 100% business. I think that’s a really strong message that I’d like to convey to people, artists especially, through this campaign.”

Indeed, the idea for her “Claim Yourself” crowdfunding campaign was inspired by a moment of personal introspection and clarity.

“Around a year ago, I sort of hit rock bottom emotionally and  professionally,” Zelina said. “I decided that I had to make a lot of life changes and lifestyle changes so I quit drinking entirely, I quit smoking entirely,  and I changed the people that I hung around with, because I got myself into a lot of bad places and a lot of bad decisions.”

“Ultimately, that’s what ‘Claim Yourself’ is all about. Claiming yourself is about taking responsibility for yourself, it’s about being accountable, and living your most authentic self.”

For its part, Dine Alone records sees the split as an amicable one.

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“We worked very hard for this artist and brought many opportunities to the table,” the company said in a statement to Global News.

“In the end our collective goals were different and the termination of this contract was mutually agreed upon. This decision that both artist and company made together is intended to help the artist move forward with full control of her catalogue, and therefore her career.”

In order to buy out her current record contract, move forward with her career, and release new music, Zelina is looking to raise $20,000 through fan and online donations.

“Twenty-thousand was the number that Dine Alone came up with that they invested into me during the two years we worked together,” Zelina said. “Essentially, buying out a contract is covering all the costs they put in.”

At the time of this writing, a little less than a week remained in Zelina’s campaign, which has successfully raised $10,558 in individual donations – a little over half of her total goal.

Yet regardless of whether Zelina manages to raise the full $20,000, her plans going forward remain unchanged. Part of that includes releasing the album she’s been working on – but unable to release – for almost two years.

“I am currently in the position and have the right people around me to ‘shop this record’. Moving forward with the knowledge I have gained through this experience, I will make an informed decision on who I sign with and under what terms,” Zelina said.

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“If there is no such offer on the table, I plan on establishing my own independent record label and distributing it through an already established company. I currently have a favorable agreement on the table with a distribution deal if I chose this route.”

Ultimately, it’s the connection to her fans that may be the most appealing part of the campaign for Zelina.

“Since I started, I’ve tried to establish a really strong relationship with my fans first and foremost,” Zelina said. “It’s joy for me because they’re the ones that are listening to the art I’m making. And I think that this campaign is affirmation of that for me because the people that are coming out there and supporting are supporting, like, 200%. They’re the people that have been there from the start.”

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