Look At Her Now: Amy Heidemann and the Music Business

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“I still count Amy among the very small number of people in that town who did not make my life a living hell when I was growing up. She was always incredibly sweet and open to talking to me when our paths crossed, and she treated me like a human being not ‘the fat weird geeky girl’…”

-Commenter from Jezebel article

“She had the creativity, the passion and the most of all the drive to not wait for something to happen but to take action and commit to making her dream a reality. She is an inspiration and is now a shining star for all to see!””

-Wynne Vanessa Adams, Executive Director of the Galaxy of Stars Talent Search

“”Homegirl is a master emcee. Seriously. Don’t let the Charlotte-from-Sex-And-The-City-façade fool you — this girl can THROW. IT. DOWN. No offense, Busta Rhymes, but I think this girl just schooled you.”

-MTV Critic’s quote from Karmin.com

I had said that the winner of LaParadiddle’s Women in Music poll would get a feature. And then Amy Heidemann won  (darn Karminites, you are aggressive!) and I was hesitant…because I had already featured Karmin in a ton of posts following the Rethink Music conference. I didn’t want my blog to be seen as a Karmin fan page. Already, some of  my highest stats are of searches for Amy online, or information on Karmin’s songs. And I will say it again…no, you can’t send Karmin fan mail here. Well, you could, but they aren’t here. And yes I have been asked this more than once.

However, I decided that I couldn’t go back on my word and needed to do Amy’s feature. Then I received the press release that Amy had just won Rolling Stone’s Women Who Rock contest.

Yeah, my poll looks like peanuts (packing peanuts) next to Rolling Stone’s, but I was floored and happy for her.

Then I noticed this article on Jezebel. I have to admit that I was disappointed.

I’ve said it before-I don’t associate my musical activities or the like with being female. I prefer not to divide us as female musicians vs male musicians. But the reason why I did the poll was as a follow up to Elle Magazine’s Women in Music issue. They seem to be bouncing between Rihanna and Gwen Stefani on that, which is what sparked the debate. Stefani and Rihanna are both talented performers. While I feel Rihanna is more of a studio artist and a product of the “song machine” for sure, Stefani has really done it all and does it all well.  So, much as I disagree at the lack of certain artists being mentioned, I wouldn’t say “Oh dear, there they are being oh so female while being recording artists”.

Yet this Jezebel article reminded me of recent criticism of Zooey Deschanel. It seemed that her feminine outfits and quirkiness were being taken as anti-feminist.  The Jezebel article starts out by criticizing Karmin as a duo that is 50% male (Nick Noonan) and for ‘not rocking’. It points to Heidemann as not being an artist, not having a vision, and takes Noonan’s quote about being in a female led band very much out of context. Oh, yeah, and the fact that she has nice hair does her in.

No, I am not a Garnier spokesperson (the Women Who Rock contest was sponsored by Garnier). In fact, I am allergic to many Garnier products…many products in general, actually.

1) Lots of the other bands in the running have male band mates. If not I bet they had male engineers, producers…just like a male artist could have women working on their record. Nick should not disqualify Amy.

2) Where was the fact checking here? If Heidemann were not an artist with a vision, she never would have landed on the cover.

I said I’d do a feature, and here’s some background on Amy.

Amy grew up in Nebraska. From previous interviews with her I gathered that she was involved in many school activities and interacted with many. She enjoyed rap but wasn’t allowed to listen to certain music. Little did we know she was such a rapid fire rapper. She mentions that she would rap in the shower, to herself, and eventually Noonan persuaded her to do so in public. This, to me, dispels the thought that the rapping is just a part of their shtick. She could already throw it down, she was just afraid to…probably for the reason that all the sour comments display.

Heidemann then won a local contest that catapulted her career at Berklee College of Music in Boston. You can read more about the contest here.

As a winner, she was awarded the opportunity to record a demo of original music, which was submitted to Berklee.

According to Wynne Adams, who produced the work, “She used local musicians from Kearney, NE on the project. The project was entitled, Eventually. ” From this demo Heidemann was awarded a four year scholarship to attend Berklee.

Now, I took classes at Berklee and know many who have attended or graduated from the music school. While I was there I met many who focused on being in bands and not so much academics, or some students who made me wonder…’why are you not already selling out stadiums?’ for real. I knew a guy who was already performing with world renowned musicians, clearly very gifted, and on a huge scholarship. Yet, already being such a success, why was he still studying performance?

Heidemann focused on academics. She and Noonan met at a party and eventually formed Karmin. It’s important to note that Heidemann still sang with choirs, as a wedding singer, and as a street performer.  I went to a gospel performance at Berklee. I don’t think I had been wearing socks. Which is good. Because they would have been knocked off.

From here Heidemann worked for Berklee Music while brushing up on her own music business skills (she took business classes as a student as well as focuses on voice), which has obviously paid off. She definitely had guidance from someone who knew what they were doing, understood and analyzed it, and carried it out. To say that Heidemann lacks artistic vision or drive is a gross underestimate of the amount of music theory, production expertise, and music business skill she possesses. And I am not kicking Nick Noonan out of this, it’s just that this is to focus on Heidemann.

Heidemann’s rapping also seems to be the topic of much discussion-and not always in a positive way. Personally, I don’t see how one could listen to her rap and not be impressed. Would it be different if the negative reviewers didn’t know what she looks like? As the lyrics to “Hello” state, “Too nice/ Too clean/Too white/Too green/ Little haters, big dreams/ I don’t care what you think about me”. I think it’s refreshing.

Part of me felt excited to hear the news about Heidemann and Rolling Stone because the story hits close to home, and you want to root for the home team. When Karmin was signed, my Facebook feed lit up like Christmas tree. I recently asked a former classmate of mine from Emerson College what he thought about their rise to fame, and the harsh criticism that is sometimes thrown their way.

“I think what people tend to do is dismiss Amy and Nick, with them being on a major label, as formulaic and over “gimmicky.” I think the people that say that lack the context of how hard they were working in Boston, and how ridiculously gifted they are as songwriters and as producers,” said Ben Appell, local hip-hop producer and former WERS DJ. “I met them at an AES meetup that was fused together with a Boston Songwriter’s organization (I forget which one), and Amy and Nick were handing out physical copies of their debut EP to everyone (…) Even during the period when they were doing covers, the original works they did, with only a guitar and cajon, is their proven ground as competent musicians. If more people listened to that work, they will see the talent is there. People are going to have beef with how you need to shape your music on a major label (…) They have been down to earth with me when I followed up with them online, back then, and even after they have blown up to gigantic proportions (which in of itself takes some effort). From what I know, they were each working multiple jobs, wanted to get into music, and got a damn good package to showcase their talents. On top of that, Amy can flow.”

Image courtesy of Epic Records

That’s the other perk that I think some people have a problem with, or don’t know how to handle. Karmin remains dedicated to interacting with fans, staying in touch with people, and being nice. Who would have thought to be nice, after all? But in all seriousness, the duo remain humble. If you speak to them about their success, you’d think they were talking to you about it for the first time. They’re excited, modest, interested in what you have to say. They know their music theory, their marketing strategies, and have a good head on their shoulders.

From speaking with her during a conference call with Epic Records in May, it was clear that Heidemann was already planning how to move forward, and how to maintain being herself. While others may be confused by the ‘musical theater-y’ energy she brings to stage, or her retro vibe, or sometimes goofiness, I think it’s great. She’s not trying so hard to fit into a certain iconic frame. She’s not making a character out of herself. She just is herself.

“We’re over the moon about winning Rolling Stone’s ‘Women Who Rock’ Contest,” said Karmin’s Amy Heidemann.  Nick Noonan added, “It’s such a huge honor to be on the flip cover of this special issue and it wouldn’t have happened without our fans.  We are beyond thankful to them!”

Lastly, to those who were skeptical to say that she ‘rocks’ just because she sings pop music, check out more of her music. Old videos, new videos. Heck, check out this video.

Oh, actually. Lastly lastly…it is no crime for her to have nice hair. Since when did we decide that female musicians have to have mullets? I didn’t get the memo, and would like to keep my hair mullet-free.  Instead of writing an article with snarky comments about her hair vs her talent, can’t we focus on her talent? And why did the author for the Jezebel post throw the phrase faux-rap out there? Is she not rapping? Is she not rapping because she doesn’t look like she should? Goodness knows I can’t flow like that!

All of that being said, let’s ditch the negativity. I’m all for expressing likes and dislikes, but not because of someone’s hair, or the fact that they perform with their significant other. Or just because they sing pop music and half of their songs are co-written (just like nearly all pop songs). It’s true that Karmin did their best to create material on their own, but one can’t expect everything to be just the two of them for their first release on a major label in this genre.

Overall, we shouldn’t divide ourselves as performers-as men or women. But I don’t understand how picking someone apart as a feminine musical icon is supportive of women in music. I don’t see how critiquing a woman because she performs with a man is constructive.

Heidemann is definitely ruffling some feathers, but it’s better than flying by unnoticed. And, ever optimistic, she does it with an honest smile.

Karmin featured in Gap ad campaign

Karmin will wrap up 2012 in style, taking part in two more events that have become American institutions: they’ll be performing on the legendary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, and on (Dick Clark’s) New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

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3 thoughts on “Look At Her Now: Amy Heidemann and the Music Business

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