Your Weekend Playlist, Courtesy of Uwe Baltner
Uwe Baltner isn’t your average 56-year-old German dad. Hailing from Backnag, a small town in southern Germany, Baltner is a legend. “Some people call me the Instagram king of carkaraoke,” he proclaims. Always a music lover (he started his first rock band at 15,) Baltner learned to take advantage of the time he spent commuting to and from work. Memorizing popular tracks and posting his sing-alongs started out as a hobby; that’s until stars like Rihanna and Ariel Pink began to take notice. He posted his first video in 2018, and has since amassed a following of over 1.2M. We’d tell you more, but no one says it better than Uwe — read below to find out how he started and how many takes it takes to get the perfect Instagram content.
The Carkaraoke King himself curated a playlist of his favorite songs to sing:
I’m Uwe Baltner. Some people call me the Instagram king of carkaraoke. Besides that I’m 56-years-old and Co-CEO of a small marketing agency. I live in a small town in southern Germany called Backnang. The agency is in a town 24 kilometers away called Ludwigsburg. I drive there every weekday. I have a lovely wife called Birgit and three wonderful daughters age 21, 26, and 31. All my daughters live somewhere else. My wife and I have three labrador retrievers.
What’s your average day like? What do you do on the side of your Instagram/singing?
Every weekday morning around 7 AM I drive to work in my Fiat 500. And every workday evening around 6 PM I drive back to Backnang. I practice singing all along the way. This takes about two hours of my time every day. In the office, I mostly do copywriting and consulting for our clients. I used to be a professional sports writer until the year 2000, then I worked for an internet start-up as senior editor and editor-in-chief. In 2010 I quit my job and founded a social media agency. After a merger in 2014, I now work as Co-CEO of Baumann & Baltner, a marketing agency in Ludwigsburg with 16 employees.
In my free time, I take trips with my wife and the dogs, we have an old RV. I also do gardening and I listen to a lot of stuff while doing this or while walking the dogs: music, podcasts, audiobooks. I’m recording my own podcast in German, it is called “Nettes Frettchen” (Nice Ferret.) There, I talk about politics, my life, and lately about my Instagram activities.
Sounds pretty boring, I know. But between work and family, there’s not much space to do other things. Except for the time I spend in the car. I use it for singing. I always loved to sing and started it at age 15 in my first rock band. Until age 24, I used to play in all kinds of bands doing classic rock or blues-rock. I used to sing, blow the harp, and I also play the guitar a little. Then work came in the way and I stopped singing completely for a long time.
When you first started making these Instagram videos, what was the first moment you noticed it gaining popularity?
I’ve been on Instagram from 2011. At first, I posted the usual pictures: holidays, nature, my dogs. You can still see these pictures if you scroll down long enough. From 2010 to 2016, I was living in Bavaria but working in Ludwigsburg, about 230 kilometers away. I drove home once a week and spend three or four days per week at my brother’s house. Separated from my wife and kids, I took on some bad habits. I also used to eat in the car a lot. One day, I decided to get back to a healthier lifestyle. So instead of eating in the car and at home, I started singing. Also, my voice had become quite harsh due to lack of practice and too much talking. I got me an online course and practiced scales in the car.
Finally, two things happened: I started singing my favorite songs as a reward for doing the scales. And I discovered that I could record one-minute videos on Instagram. So to motivate me, I posted the videos online. I posted the first one on September 3, 2018 and I never stopped since.
I started with classic rock and the two latest albums of my favorite band at the time, Screaming Females. Soon some guys in the US were challenging me to sing their favorite songs. Most of them were by US artist Ariel Pink. They were pretty difficult to sing, because he often creates a layer of different voice tracks in one song. I took the challenge and one day, @arielxpink shared one of my songs in his stories. In the following days, my follower count went up from 400 to more than 4,000. That was the first step to popularity.
How have you seen your platform grow in the past year? How has this affected your life?
There were some significant events that fueled my popularity. One day, I did a song from UK rapper JAY1 (Your Mrs.). I sound like a robot on this one, but got a lot of followers from the UK in the oncoming weeks because I did some more grime and drill stuff for example by Stormzy, Russ and SJ.
The second big wave of followers came from Nigeria. I’m very interested in discovering new music, so I took the challenge of singing some afrobeat songs. Nigerian people took my trials just the way I intended them: as a homage to this wonderful music that sounds so effortless, joyful, and playful.
More milestones were to come: In June of 2018, I managed to rap the fast part of Eminem’s Rap God.
On August 8th 2018 I did the now infamous “No Guidance” by Chris Brown feat. Drake. When Chris Brown uploaded the video to his own Instagram feed, I gained 100.000 followers in three or four days. I went from 300,000 to 400,000 and the numbers went on climbing no matter if I did Rage Against The Machine or Rihanna.
BTW, Rihanna following me is the story that every German media outlet jumped upon. I had to do countless interviews, TV crews climbed into my car, and filmed me while I was singing. It was a media frenzy that started all over again when I reached one million followers. I got tons of requests from media, artists, companies, but I was lucky because I found a manager who has lots of experience with artists and influencers. So after some pretty wild days, it’s back to normal right now. I’m working at the agency and my manager is dealing with the requests around my singing.
So, what’s different? People recognize me on the street sometimes. I get in contact with artists I adore like The Wailers or Cypress Hill or some German rappers. And I always have a nice story to talk about with my clients. Also, they take me for a Social Media Guru now, which is not bad for business.
How do you choose what songs you sing?
I get hundreds or thousands of requests under each video I post. So I pick the songs that suit me. I love songs that take me out of the comfort zone, for example songs from female artists that require head voice or songs with difficult lyrics. I try to find the balance in styles and genres to deliver something for everyone: rap, classic rock, disco, afrobeat, German songs, French songs. I even did Arabian and Russian songs and enjoyed it very much.
What’s the process like? How many takes do you do?
I practice the songs everywhere: in the bathroom, while walking the dogs and in the car. Once I’m pretty sure that I know the song, I record it with my smartphone. Sometimes the first take is ok. But sometimes, I still need 20 to 30 takes until I’m happy with the result. These are the days when I’m late for dinner…
Tell us about your Fiat 500 – what color is it? What are your surroundings like?
The Fiat is a company car, it is metallic blue. Blue is my favorite color, I also wear blue outfits and blue glasses. I picked it because of the color and the integrated Beats Sound System which brings good vibrations in the car. Also, in summer I can open the roof and make pedestrians listen to me singing. That’s fun. I mean, that’s fun for me maybe not always for them.
Do you ever see yourself moving the videos into a different setting?
I don’t have time to think much in that direction. But I will happily look at any offers that may be coming. Right now, I publish some videos on YouTube, Twitter and TikTok too, to find about how they perform on these platforms. With that, I generate learnings for the agency. I don’t think that I have the potential to do live shows just with karaoke stuff but sometimes I think about singing in a real band again. For now, I’m more interested in maybe getting some great artists into my car and do songs with them. That would be great.
What have been your highlights of the year? What are your wishes for 2020?
I went to a concert of a female german rapper called Nura. She welcomed me from the stage and lots of fans came up to me to have their picture taken with me. I felt like a star, but more importantly, I felt accepted by young people. It is often said that there is a gap between generations. I see that differently now. Young people are looking for fun, guidance, and identification.
If you communicate with them on their home ground (like on Instagram), you might find out lots of things about them, yourself and life. So my highlights are comments like: “You make me smile every day,” or “When I’m sad, I look at your videos and they make me happy.” It is also great to discover new music and artists and to even get feedback from artists.
My wish for 2020 is to continue on this road and to make people happy. This may sound cheesy, but I think, there is no better way to connect people than with music.
Now for your playlist, why have you chosen these songs?
These are highlights from my carkaraoke songs that I feel deeply about. Screaming Females are always catapulting me right back to when I was 18 and into punk rock. The energy!! Ariel Pink will forever be the first great artist who recognized me on Instagram. The Ramones speak from my heart with “I Don’t Want To Grow Up.” Stormzy and Burna Boy introduced me to great new music genres. Freddie Mercury is the greatest rock singer of all time and will forever be my idol. I’m proud of having managed Eminem’s “Rap God,” KSIs “Lamborghini,” and Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman.” And “Highest In The Room” is the most requested song of all. So enjoy the mix!
Where do you imagine them being played?
In the car, of course. On your way to happiness!
Images Courtesy of Frederik Zieher.
Stay tuned to Milk for more Weekend Playlists.