Hooray, for this is the first event I have attended as a member of the press on my own–not for anyone else, but my own blog.
Over the past few days, Boston hosted the Rethink Music Conference. I was very grateful to attend as part of the press, and as a curious member of the music industry. During this time, I had the chance to attend a concert showcase on Sunday night, and an interview with Karmin on Monday. The showcase involved Yoga Girls, Junior Boys, and Karmin. The next day I joined the duo at a table during the Rethink Music Conference, with two other writers.
Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan. Have you heard?
Over a year ago I heard about the duo, who had attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. It didn’t resonate too much with me at the time, since so many peers from Berklee and Emerson were trying to break into the business. I couldn’t recall if I had seen them in the halls or classrooms, and noted that they were doing covers. I liked their style, but wish I had listened to some more of their stuff.
Fast forward to this past June, when I caught wind via my Facebook feed, and some who knew Amy or Nick, that they had signed with a major record label. I was ecstatic and I didn’t even know half of their journey.
Fast forward a few more months, and my handy dandy shower radio was suddenly playing their song, ‘Crash Your Party’. I did a double take between suds–they had done it!
And then, this February, they performed on SNL. It is so, so, so very neat to see musicians who have run some of the same circles as you, who are your age…make it. And make it without the record label taking too much of their artistic vision. Granted, I was wondering about the SNL performance. Who decided on the outfits? Were they trying to make them seem so very edgy? But mostly, I just wanted to see them playing more instruments, because I didn’t want the audience to dismiss them. They both studied music! However, I understand that performing on SNL must come with some stipulations and-oh yeah-it’s a HUGE deal. Never mind Lana Del Rey’s performance and how she rose through the musical ranks. People can say she did it through Youtube, and I know I don’t know much about Karmin’s background, but I have an inkling that Lana Del Rey did not struggle while trying to break out into the business, and that her connections didn’t hurt. Meanwhile, while trying to make it, Amy sang at weddings and worked for BerkleeMusic.com and Nick worked at a boxing club.
Amy compares the moment when she and Nick heard their covers mentioned on Ryan Seacrest’s show to the moment in That Thing You Do!, when the group first hears their song on the radio. She recollects that they both lost fifteen pounds and she couldn’t sleep.
And how did they end up with Epic Records? Amy elaborates.
Amy Heidemann: There were several labels….but it was basically all the majors, except for one, and then a couple of artists that were interested, like Kanye West, for example. It was a tough month, very stressful.
One writer inquires as to how much their deal was worth, but they can’t say.
Nick Noonan: The whole debate was…whether to be independent…we weren’t just going to sign to a wager for the sake of signing to a wager. Because most of the time, statistically, it will not work out. We were only going to sign if it was the right deal, and it was the right deal.
AH: The crazy thing was, it didn’t even come down to the money as much as the deal points.
Amy cites full control of videos, not letting the label pull old videos. They both wanted to make sure they had full control of their internet ‘stuff’, and to make sure everyone saw where we came from. They also made note of the royalty rates being offered, citing that Epic was very generous, especially for new artists of the current era, and that it was favorable.
I asked about artistic independence. Many artists have expressed weariness toward record labels when they discuss their plans with albums. They feel that the record label wants to change their musical vision.
NN: One of the biggest reasons we signed with Epic was because we actually felt like L.A. Reid got it. He got what we were going for. There are a lot of songs on the album that I don’t think a lot of other people would have put on the album.
AH: Yes, if we had signed to one of the (other) big wigs…(they would have said no).
NN: They’re amazing people…they are…absolutely record gods. It’s just a personal thing. They don’t have to be amazing people…they just have to get it.
AH: Yeah, for the songs we were most proud of, L.A. Reid would get out the air drums, and…he was just so excited!
Another writer asks…’what are you most proud of? What was the ‘get it’?’
NN: The first one was probably the song called ‘I Told You So’.
AH: Yes, the second song that we did on Saturday Night Live…that was very urban. There’s trombone, kind of a very (Middle Eastern) chord progression…and…not very pop. And he texted us, like, ‘this song keeps me up at night, I’m so excited’! And to get that directly from him…
NN: Yeah, he’s a super pop, super smash, kind of guy…
AH: And he’s got great taste.
NN: Right now, everything is focused on the album. We might cover our own songs, actually.
AH: Yeah, we might do Karmin covers of…Karmin! You know, acoustic versions, and stuff like that.
NN: But for now everything is just focused on the album.
AH: We will be doing covers, yeah, maybe bonus material on the second album.
And their business strategies came from…Berklee?
NN: Yes…yes, and no.
AH: Did you take business (classes)?
AH: I took a couple business classes, and we learned, mostly, how to survive just as musicians…taxes and stuff.
FJF: But that’s a big question for a lot of people I know!
AH: I’d have to give a lot of my marketing knowledge credit to Berklee Music Online. BerkleeMusic.com. There’s a guy named Mike King over there, and he’s…a genius. But I learned everything I know about guerilla marketing from him.
NN: Do it yourself.
Another writer asks…’five years down the road, what does the music industry look like?’
NN: Subscription based.
NN: Like your cable bill or something…sort of like a Spotify type thing…where you just get unlimited music, depending on how many downloads you get…per week, per month, whatever. You get different levels of paying rate. You know what I mean?
AH: Definitely, yeah. The internet radio thing is so exciting and I think, as far as new artists…a lot of it is going to be discovered online, direct to fan…people that build audiences. Like they said, A&R is now…people on Youtube…
NN: Which was the case for us, too.
Amy compares this to American Idol, but that you know where all your votes are…your page views!
After a moment and a few laughs, an individual tells us that they must move on, and we say our goodbyes.
Short, but sweet! Overall, I am incredibly glad I had the moment to speak with them. They were humble, friendly, and silly. Not in a bad way, it’s great to be silly! If you have seen some of their videos or tweets, though, you know they can be silly, and that’s one of the reasons why they are so personable.
Before writing this I went back and looked at some of their old videos, shot in an apartment that looked very similar to a building I lived in off of Beacon Street a few years ago. Then I watched a video of when they first hear their song on the radio. And this is why I do what I do! I can’t tell you the smile it brought to my face.
At the end of the interview segment, they shared a story of when they were waiting in the Lowell train station and decided to become a duo, a la Simon & Garfunkel. Though I can’t see Simon & Garfunkel busting out some ‘I Told You So’…but that would be pretty awesome…I do think Karmin has longevity and their story is definitely icing on the cake.
But really. Check out ‘I Told You So’ when the album, Hello, drops on May 8. The Middle Eastern side of me is loving those vocals! But all of me likes it, to be honest.
Sidenote: I may be joining Karmin and Epic Records for another interview THIS Friday, to talk about their album release. Stay tuned!