by Amanda Bertholf // Spring 2012
Griffen Alexander
Griffen Alexander

Crisscrossing the country more than 200 days a year in a ’96 Honda Accord, Griffen Alexander (B.A. ’11) sometimes has to decide whether to eat or replace his guitar strings. At 24, when most of his former classmates are just beginning their careers, Alexander is entering his half decade as a professional in the music industry. He released his first album when he was 18.

After the release, several record producers told him that to be successful he needed to follow the path they dictated. Instead, he charted his own course by recording and releasing an album on his own. Alexander also travels to cities like Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and Cincinnati, where he stops at colleges and clubs to play shows nightly. And while it seems like a lonely life, Alexander says his lifestyle has helped him make friends all over the country. “I never feel alone out on the road,” he says. “I’m paying for an apartment I never live in, but it’s great.”

Without a traditional music education, Alexander got an early taste of the music business when a record label released his debut album, Never in Neutral, during his freshman year. Three years later, Alexander graduated from UMKC with a degree in communications without ever studying music.

Despite a successful release of his debut album, he decided he could better market himself and build a larger fan base if he—instead of a record company—were in control of his tour and recording schedule. So Alexander struck out on his own with the goal of releasing his music independently. The main challenge, Alexander says, was the financial burden.

Without the help of a label to cover the expense of recording, releasing and promoting the album, Alexander turned to his fan base for help. He partnered with, an online creativity funding platform, to encourage fans, friends and family to make donations to help pay for the album. In fewer than three months, Alexander raised $5,000. Then, the day before the fundraiser ended, the amount doubled.

With a budget in hand, the first producer Alexander contacted in Kansas City doubted his sincerity. “I told the producer what I wanted to do, and he laughed in my face before telling me I wasn’t serious about making a life in music.” Alexander turned the rejection into motivation. Using the funds from the Kickstarter project, he recorded and launched his independent album, The Sound and The Sea. The album is acoustically driven and upbeat, with personal and intimate lyrics about relationships.

Even though he’s making a music career for himself in the digital age, Alexander puts most of his energy into reaching fans in person. His CDs feature artwork and packaging that is custom-designed and handcrafted. The packaging is costly to produce, but he says it is part of a business strategy that helps him build relationships with fans even after a concert ends. “If I connect with fans at a concert and they decide to buy my album because of that connection, I’m selling more than an album—I’m selling the musical experience.”

Hit list »

Griffen’s top five tunes for inspiration

Motorcycle Drive By
Third Eye Blind

Let It Be
The Beatles

Stop This Train
John Mayer

Doubting Paris

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas
The Killers

Brain freeze
Riddhiman Das