Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Community Team
Alteryx Community Team

We’re kicking off a series of episodes that were recorded in Nashville Tennessee at the annual Alteryx Inspire conference. For our first episode in the series, we’re joined by Julia Cole, Nashville Recording Artist at CAA Creative Artists Agency for a chat about the inner workings of being a country music artist in Nashville and her Women’s Sports Social movement.






Julia Cole - Spotify, Apple Music, Instagram, Official Website
Maddie Johannsen - @MaddieJ, LinkedIn,Twitter



Chuck Canon and Lari White
“How do you like me now“, Toby Keith
SXSW Panel: "Analytics and Research 2019: Gut instinct vs. Data"
Radio PDs (Program Director)
Women’s Sports Social
Liz Rose, American Country Music songwriter
Women of Analytics Panel at Inspire Nashville





Episode Transcription


MADDIE: 00:13 

Welcome to Alter Everything. A podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Maddie Johannsen, and I'll be your host. We're kicking off a special series of episodes that were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at our annual Inspire Conference, which explains the background noise that you'll hear throughout. I was definitely star struck by our first guest, given her impressive musical background, and I'm so excited for you to hear our chat. Sit back, relax, and let the reminiscing begin. 



MADDIE: 00:43 

I'm here with Julia Cole, Nashville and CAA recording artist. She's opened for Dan and Shay, The Chainsmokers, John Pardi, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, and many more incredible artists here in Nashville. Julia, welcome to Alter Everything. Thank you so much for being here. 

JULIA: 01:01 

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. 

MADDIE: 01:03 

So tell me a little bit more about your experience as a recording artist in Nashville. 

JULIA: 01:08 

Well I absolutely love being an artist here in Nashville. I'm from Houston, Texas. And I grew up in this Southern hospitality, really family oriented vibe. And when I came to Nashville, I really felt like that was something that really carried over. People here are so welcoming, and I think of Nashville more as like the country music family moreso than a bunch of people that are competing. So I really love being here. 

MADDIE: 01:34 

Yeah, that's amazing. I get that same sort of vibe from Nashville, too, and we've actually had a bunch of artists playing here throughout the week. And everybody that comes has such a unique sound. And that's exactly how I feel about your music as well. I cannot stop playing it. And your hit single Trust You, it's been stuck in my head ever since you sent it to me. 

JULIA: 01:56 

Thank you. I'm glad. That's good news. 

MADDIE: 01:58 

Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly. And I feel like there's a little bit of grit, or just a little bit of extra oomph to your music and I wonder if that has anything to do with maybe how you use analytics in your music to understand maybe what your audience wants. Or, I mean, it's probably just a bit of your personality, too. 

JULIA: 02:20 

I'd definitely say it's both, but it's kind of funny. I went to Vanderbilt, I majored in entrepreneurship, modern corporate strategy. I love analytics. I love thinking about things from a marketing perspective. And for a while, I really did try to think, okay, what kind of music is going to have it's own special niche? What's going to be different? What's going to be this or that? And the music I was making was cool, but it wasn't until I kind of let go of all of that and just started writing things that were honest and really felt, that I felt passionate about, that the music started to take off. So I do think that analytics can be used for a lot of things in my industry. But I don't think that creating a song should be done based off of analytics. That's my, and I think some people have tried doing that, and tried to make some sort of formula for song writing. And there are certain guidelines that it can help with, like knowing maybe not to have your song too long because it doesn't fit within the format that radio likes, or things like that. But when it comes to the lyrical content and what kind of emotion you're putting into it, I think you really have to just be honest and be passionate about what you're writing and singing about, or people will be able to tell that it was manufactured. 

MADDIE: 03:42 

Sure, sure. Yeah, there was this South by Southwest panel that I heard. I saw that they did this panel about gut instinct versus data when it comes to music, and it sounds exactly what you're touching on, too. It sounds like, I mean, music just flows through you, and so I can't imagine how it would be to be an artist, and then also having to fit into an analytics box, or fit into whatever box the data is telling you. 

JULIA: 04:18 

It's funny because most things I really do believe data and analytics can help you completely figure out what's the right direction to go. But for some reason, song selection. So right now, I'm in the process of picking songs for a new project. And I had about 17, now we're down to like 12, and I've got a group of different trusted advisers, some who are in the music industry, some who are not. And so I'm trying to gather my own data, my own analytics on who's liking which songs and who's feeling a certain way about certain things. And the data is so skewed. It is not consistent at all, from anybody. So that's why it's so hard, I think, in song selection, to use-- until you have, I think maybe you just have to have a much bigger test audience. 

JULIA: 05:19 

Because you can tell whenever-- so for instance, my old publishers, the best people ever, love them to death, Chuck Cannon and Lari White. Chuck was telling me about how he wrote How Do You Like Me Now? with Toby Keith. And it was the first song that the two of them wrote together. Ended up writing a ton of other songs together. And that song didn't make the first album, didn't make the second album, didn't make the third album, clearly wasn't making the cut when people were saying what song's the best, out of all of those songs that we have. It didn't make it until the fifth album, and it was just an album cut. They released the album with a different title track. The analytics came back after that from so many fans requesting that song to radio that they pulled the album down and re-released it with How Do You Like Me Now? as the title track. So I think he just had to have a big enough test audience to truly get to see which ones, which song do the masses love? Because right now, trying to guess which song with the masses love by asking ten people what song they love, even if they're music industry professionals, it doesn't necessarily work. 

MADDIE: 06:39 

Sure. Well and I think, do you think that the test audience benefit-- do you think it's a matter of casting a wider net? Or do you think it's a matter of, you've built up this fan base, and now they really get you? They understand a deeper level of you, and they're able to handle those songs that are maybe a little bit more personal? 

JULIA: 06:59 

I think that's definitely part of it. There's somewhat of a strategy when it comes to who you're appealing to first. And so maybe the first people in Nashville that you need to appeal to, it might be the song writing communities. You need to write something that's really lyrically brilliant. But then the next audience that you really need to appeal to is probably radio PDs. And they're going to want something that, no matter what, doesn't make the listener change the station. So they don't want something too polarizing. But then, once you finally have all of that under your belt, and then it comes to, okay, what do the masses want to hear? They might like something that's super polarizing, or really out there. And I do think it's a strategy of making sure that you do things in the right order. Unless you want to take the risk of just putting something out there, hoping the masses somehow find out about it, and then all the other industry people will jump on board. Which does happen, in certain cases. It's just, it's an industry with a lot of different routes to success. So that's why I think it's kind of difficult for us to know exactly how to take which numbers at what time and focus on them. 

MADDIE: 08:21 

Do you see any sort of differences when it comes to appealing to the masses as a female artist? 

JULIA: 08:33 

I do think specifically as a country music artist, as a female, we're held to a different standard. We're not allowed to necessarily sing about the same content that males can sing about. You have to be slightly more conservative in your lyrics as a female to appeal to the country music audience. The males don't have to be as conservative. They can sing about smoking and they can sing about sex, and they can sing about things that you don't really see females getting country radio airplay with that kind of content. So yes, there is a difference. But I think, once an audience accepts and loves an artist, then they're going to have more leeway to write about whatever they want to write about. So for instance, I think Carrie Underwood could put a song out about anything right now, and the fanbase would want to hear it. And would know that, and would want to know whatever she's honestly thinking, even if it's something that's a slightly more taboo topic in the country music space. So yeah, it's definitely different. 

MADDIE: 09:49 

Yeah, well and, for the audience out there, I actually went to dinner with Julia last night because we were doing a women of analytics panel today. 

JULIA: 09:59 

Drank a little wine. 

MADDIE: 10:00 

Yeah. And we were talking about how you mentioned that you accompany yourself, and you play your own guitar. And how that is so important. And I wonder if there's something we can do from, maybe an educational standpoint, or if it is just about that women's empowerment, that women's confidence to pick up that instrument and learn? 

JULIA: 10:28 

I'd say that I don't have any actual data to say there are way more men that can play guitars than women. But I can say from my own personal experience, I have been a part of many writers rounds where none of the other females could play their own instruments. I have not been a part of any writers rounds where I was with a male on stage who could not play his own instruments. I do know two male songwriters in Nashville who can't. But I know tons of women who can't. And I think women allow themselves, sometimes, not to pick up that instrument, because they see every other woman on stage possibly not doing it. And it's a little bit more of an accepted look. Whereas I think if a guy was onstage and he had an accompanist, he's probably going to get crap from his friends about it. So it's just a little bit less of societal pressure on women to learn how to play their own instruments, and I don't think that that's necessarily fair, I think that we should be held to the same standard and have to be able to accompany ourselves. And there's some incredible writers who, Liz Rose for example, she is one of the best songwriters in Nashville. She's written a ton of hits for many artists. Taylor Swift being one of the biggest that she's written multiple hits for. And she doesn't play an instrument. She doesn't like to, she doesn't want to, and that's fine. That's her thing. And I'm not saying that everyone needs to. But I do think that it's interesting to me that for some reason, I think that our, specifically our Nashville community puts much more pressure on guys to learn their own instrument than on women. And I think that equal pressure should be on women, too. 

JULIA: 12:22 

It's so helpful to be able-- for me, I don't know how people write without being able to create their own music behind the melody and lyrics. That's a skill set on it's own. I'm impressed by it. But for me that's one of the reasons that I need to be able to play an instrument. Another, it's cost effective. For every writers round that some of these songwriters perform that have to hire an accompanist, they're losing money. Which means they're probably turning down writers rounds left and right because they can't afford to hire someone to come play for them. You can afford to play every round that you get invited to play if you can accompany yourself. And that's one of the main reasons I learned how to do it. And I played piano first, I played piano since I was five. But when I came to Nashville, I was like, I have to learn guitar, because keyboards aren't available everywhere. Half the time you're in a room, and someone's passing a guitar around, and everyone's just kind of showing a song off, like, oh, what'd you write this week, what'd you write this week? And if I can't be in that circle and take that guitar in the same round, I just get left out of it. They're not going to be like, oh, there's a piano in the back. There's not. So it's like, either you figure out what's going to give you more opportunities, and for me that was absolutely learning how to accompany myself on guitar. And you don't have to learn how to be insanely incredible at it. You just have to be able to show your artistry and songwriting off, I think. 

MADDIE: 13:49 

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I want to talk about Women's Sports Social. And this is a movement that you started. And on your Instagram page, on the bio, there's a line in there that says, don't hide your story. And it's such a simple concept, but it really struck me, and kind of stuck with me. And I mean, I definitely have been one of those people that, maybe I don't, not necessarily brag, but I don't share certain things because it's in my past and I don't think it's relevant. But I'm curious what made you put that in the bio, and start Women's Sports Social in the first place. 

JULIA: 14:36 

I grew up playing sports. It's all I did my entire life. I was not one of those kids that was trying to be a singer from the time I was six years old. That was not part of my story. I was in soccer and basketball and track and cross-country and my all time favorite sport, volleyball, which I played all the way through Vanderbilt. And I learned so much from playing these sports, and I also felt so unified with the athletic community that once I finished playing, and wasn't necessarily part of a team anymore, I felt kind of this void of, am I not allowed to talk about this piece of me that's been a huge chunk of my life for the first 21 years? And that's when I started to kind of do a little research and see, who else maybe played sports growing up that feels like it's not allowed to be a part of their story anymore, even though it might have been what helped them become who they are? 

JULIA: 15:55 

And I started to find all these incredible women. So for instance, Brittany Spears was point guard of her basketball team. Gigi Hadid was captain of her volleyball team. Ellen Degeneres was amazing at tennis. Cheryl Crow was an all-state track athlete. Avril Lavigne was amazing at ice hockey. The list goes on and on. And I just, I started to get a little upset that it was so difficult to find this information. And whenever I started to think about the double standard of men who might be in different fields that still talk about their sports backgrounds, it happens all the time. Everyone knows Obama played basketball. Everyone knows Sam Hunt played football. You've got Walker McGuire, it's a country duo here in Nashville, shooting a lyric video, tossing a football up and down in an empty football field. Brett Aldrich filming on Rigley Field. You've got all these different men that are associating sports with their life still, even though they're not on a team anymore. That's not part of their current story. 

JULIA: 17:04 

So I started to feature different women and just ask, did you play sports? And you'd be so surprised how their eyes would light up like, oh, my god, someone's asking me about this thing that no one's asked me about in forever that I'm so passionate about. And I remember it happened with a few different radio PDs that I was hoping around. Christi Brooks being one, she's a PD in Houston, Texas. And completely unprovoked, after I left the station, and she was just on Facebook live a little bit later that day. She just recorded this whole video to all of her listeners about how volleyball had completely given her all of the confidence to become a public speaker and be able to be on the radio and talk to millions of people, whereas in high school or middle school, she might have been picked on because of her weight. And volleyball was the reason that she still had confidence, because it didn't matter what she looked like, it didn't matter what anyone thought of her, because on the court, she would hit the ball, so this is her quote. "I would hit the ball so hard I could break fingers." And you could see how excited she was about it, and how honest she was feeling. Like this is, it is a huge part of her story, and people don't ask about it, or know about it. 

JULIA: 18:25 

And so that's the biggest reason for Women's Sports Social. It's not only to promote women's athletics and show, look, if all of these prominent women played sports and it helped them become who they are and be very successful, don't you think there's a lot of elements of athletics that are going to help you be successful in whatever it is that you're doing? So that's the featuring the celebrity portion. And then the other half is just giving women a platform to talk about their athletic backgrounds and all the different skill sets it might have taught them, like confidence and work ethic and team work, and perseverance, and how to handle constructive criticism. And through that, it's been really cool to see this kind of community forming of women that, like, yeah, you don't play on a team anymore, but you think in a like minded way, and you're just part of this, you're still part of this family, even though it's harder to find that family as a female past the college sporting level. 

MADDIE: 19:30 

Yeah. Absolutely. And I love that story that you told, because I see a lot of similarities to you when it comes to confidence [laughter]. You're just very confident, and I love that. And I think, I don't think that everyone has that, men and women. And it's something that you've probably grown up with, I assume, because it's hard to learn that as a trait. 

JULIA: 19:59 

I think athletics had a huge part of that. I mean, you have to learn how to believe in yourself when you're on the line, and you have to serve this volleyball over the net. And if you miss it-- I mean, it's game point. If you miss it, your team loses the game. You can't go back there scared and timid, or you're absolutely going to miss your serve. You have to believe in yourself. Because, if I learned anything from sports, it's that 95% of winning is mentality. You have to be in the right mindset, and obviously, it's hard work, and it's knowing your skills. But you have to be focused and have to be confident. And when something goes wrong, things will go wrong, you can't let it affect what you do next. And my parents are also incredibly supportive. And my sisters and I, they raised us all to be that way, and I'm very thankful for it. Because I don't think that I just magically came up with confidence and it was my own great idea. I was taught this from a young age from my incredible parents and coaches. 

JULIA: 21:11 

And that's what I want to help do with more young women. Like in everything that I do, I try to instill confidence in whoever it is that I'm working with. If it's putting out music, it's I want to instill confidence in the listeners. I want them to feel empowered when they listen to a song that I write. When I'm at a Women's Sports Social event, where I might be speaking to a whole room of collegiate athletes who are probably about to be done playing, they might be seniors, I want them to still be confident in knowing, you can still own this part of your story for as long as you feel like. This is going to be part of your story as much as you want it to be. And on top of that, I'm trying to encourage women to encourage other women. And that's one of the biggest parts of Women's Sports Social is, because it's mainly a social media movement, the goal is to help break down this wall, this fear that some women have of, I feel like I can't post about this because it's sound like I'm bragging. Or I can't post about this because I haven't done it in four years, and if I played volleyball tomorrow, I wouldn't be as good. And that's not what it's about. 

JULIA: 22:25 

But to help combat that, I'm like, here's an excuse, I'm asking you, as the Women's Sports Social platform, please post something about your sports background. This isn't bragging. This is you answering a question from a platform that has asked you, because they respect you and really want to know about your past. What's your athletic background? And it's made women feel-- I mean, I've had these conversations with them, and they're like, oh, I'm kind of scared to post this on my Instagram. I haven't posted anything about sports in a year, in three years, in five years. And it's like, that's the point. You can put that in part of your story. I haven't posted about this in five years, but it's still a huge part of my life. And as more women see on their feed other women posting about it, they would feel more confident to do it. It would be less of a taboo thing if everyone just saw each other being open about it. So that's part of the goal is just to kind of break down that wall. 

MADDIE: 23:29 

Yeah, absolutely. I love it. What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten? 

JULIA: 23:34 

The best piece of advice I've ever gotten. Lari White gave me some incredible advice. She said there are no wrong decisions. There are the decisions you make, and then there's the way that you handle those decisions. And in the music industry specifically, that's what we were talking, picking which manager I was going to go with, and picking which agency I was going to go with. And these big decisions. And she was like, and I was like what if I make the wrong choice? And she just basically gave me the freedom to feel like, look, whatever choice you make, that's the choice you make. And it's not wrong or right. You can never think of it that way, because you'll constantly be second guessing yourself forever. It's the choice you made and then the way you handled that choice. So if it was a management situation, then it's like, okay, go with that until you realize it might not be right for you, and then if you need to leave the situation, that's the next choice you make. It's not that the first one was wrong, it's that it's time for you to make another choice. And that's been super helpful for me. And I think a lot of people would benefit from that. Just because it's really hard to not second guess questions, or second guess decisions that you've made when you have all of these great options on the table in front of you, or all these really difficult options on the table in front of you. You've got to weigh a lot of pros and cons and sometimes it's not an even, oh, this one's clearly the winner. 

MADDIE: 25:17 

Exactly. Yeah, I completely agree with that. I got similar advice from my dad, and he, I was debating a move across the country. And he kind of told me, whatever choice you make, just make it the best decision. 

JULIA: 25:34 

Yes. I love that. 

MADDIE: 25:34 

You're not going to be punished for making-- there's no wrong decision. You're not going to be punished for making a decision one way or the other. You can control your own destiny, you can choose what you want to do, and make the best out of whatever you choose. So yeah, I love that advice. 

JULIA: 25:50 

Yeah, it's been very helpful. 

MADDIE: 25:52 

Good, good. Awesome. Well, Julia, thank you so much for joining us. It's an honor to be able to speak with you, and I'm sure our listeners are going to love it. 

JULIA: 26:00 

Well thank you for having me. It's really an honor. This is an incredible podcast, and the women that you have on here have been awesome. 

MADDIE: 26:06 

Thank you. Awesome. Thank you so much Julia. 

JULIA: 26:10 




MADDIE: 26:22 

Thanks for tuning in to Alter Everything. To share your thoughts and ideas for future episodes, join us at, or reach us on Twitter using the hashtag AlterEverythingPodcast. Have a unique story to tell? Send us an email at Catch you next time. 



This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).