When you do a cover song, do you think it’s by virtue of the song that people are attracted to it, or do you think it’s your interpretation that make people interested in it?
I think it’s both. You know, if I use “Umbrella” as an example, that song was a gigantic mega smash, and I think that I had good timing. I put it up like the first time I heard it on the radio, so timing does count, and I think that when people were searching for “Umbrella,” mine maybe happened to come up in the search. But it was maybe also a fresh take on the song so people liked it. But I feel like it’s so — YouTube is totally inundated with that now.
With cover songs?
Yeah, it really is. It’s become a huge market for cover songs. You still do cover songs, so how do you set yourself apart from those thousands and thousands of cover songs that are on YouTube? Do you have basically your own style, or do you approach it kind of differently?
Well, I think what is starting to set me apart now is my videos have remained the same from five years ago. They are not slick, I don’t have nice cameras. I am still doing it exactly the same as before, which is probably not the smartest thing, but I am not tech savy, so it’s just me and my Macbook. I don’t even have an external mic whereas a lot of the new YouTubers, they are super pro. I mean, they’ve got like the recording of the songs already up on YouTube and lights, editing. You know, I don’t have that.
But you know doing that in home recording, there is a certain charm to that where people can really connect with the artist on that level. So, you’ve recorded for indie records and major record labels — have you seen a difference between the two? What is the primary difference, and would you prefer one over the other?
I have actually yet to be on an indie label. This next album I’m working on right now is my first independent one, and I’m making the album completely independently but I might release it through an indie label that is not my own. I’m not really sure, but my career up until now I was on Hollywood Labels, which is a major, so this is my first indie project.
How do you like working on an indie project?
I love it so far because there is no one to answer to, whereas if you are on a label, it’s a machine, you know? It’s a well-oiled machine, so they are going, “Where are the singles? What genre are you? Who is hitting right now that you are kind of like? How are we going to market you?” Like, I still have to kind of think about those things, but it doesn’t restrict me at all.
Do you think that’s why a lot of artists who start as indie artists lose some of their fanbase when they go mainstream? Do they lose creative freedom when working with major labels?
Oh, for sure. You know, when you’re on a major record label there is so many pros and cons. The pros, they have a lot — I don’t know about these days — but they used to have a lot of budget, so you can throw 100 grand on a music video or half a million dollars on your album, but it has to go through so many people, and everybody has an opinion, and there’s this hierarchy. It’s a lot of politics.
So as an independent you are free to do whatever you want, you really don’t have to answer to anyone. Do you think artists could really have true creativity that way with no hands in it at all? Just your own vision and just you?
Yeah, I think so. Yeah, in a way I feel like I’ve sort of reverted back to when I first started music. I didn’t write music with the intention of putting out albums. I didn’t even have the intention of sharing it with people; it was just for me, so I feel like I’m going back to just making music for me, and I think if I love it then other people will like it too, I hope.
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In that same vein, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but YouTube is starting to have these talent agencies, so there is Makers Studio, Big Frame, Full Screen. They’re studios that are basically signing YouTube stars.
I did not know this.
An example would be Makers Studio: they have artists like YouTube comedians, YouTube singers and songwriters, and they’re basically signing them, getting them deals, commercials, and they get them advertising, and it kind of works like a record label. Do you think that that will have the same effect on YouTube artists if they have kind of that same corporate attitude toward their work?
Yeah, I think for sure. Even for me, when I started YouTube there were not so many musicians on there. It was really a open range, and anyone could do whatever, and it wasn’t monetized and commercialized, and there wasn’t much of that, so I think that I’ve sort of lost interest a little bit in all of that, but you know, maybe they’re smart. They are probably making more bucks than I am on YouTube, but I’m just about the music, so but yeah, I’m sure if you signed up with a company they would totally have a say in what you should do so they would profit too.
Yeah, of course. So when you did “Breathing Underwater,” it leaked before it came out.
Yeah, like six months before it came out.
What was that like as an artist? It’s this thing that you have been putting your heart into, your soul into, and, in a way, people are stealing it.
It sucks. I mean, I remember telling the label, “Why do you guys send out albums to like every single DJ in the nation without watermarking these CDs, because it’s going to end up on Ebay the next day. But I also sort of felt like, if it’s a good album and it’s promoted well even after it’s leaked, it will still have a shot. So I don’t think that album sold very well, but I still like it. You know, the leaking could have had something to do with it, I’m not sure, but it’s just a fact of life these days, you know? You send your track to like one — you don’t even send it — actually, people can hack into your emails. That was happening all the time in the studio. People, I think a lot of kids just — we’re in this sort of new time where people think that they should get music for free, that if they pay for it it’s just going to some big corporation, and it’s not even affecting the artist, but it is.
Is there any truth to that? Was the label looking out for your best interest? If we were buying your album, were you seeing any of the profits from that?
No, I wasn’t, but if I had sold enough, I would, but it would have to sell a lot. But it does still have this trickle effect, because if the album is selling well you get more money to go out and do tours and travel more places to do your tours and better music videos. You get to make another album, but if people just download your CD and you don’t sell any, you’re dropped, that’s it.
Like you said, we are in this era when people almost feel like they are owed free music and shouldn’t have to pay for it through pirating and torrenting. How do you combat that as an artist? What do you do to make sure that your name is still getting out there, you’re still making a profit, you are still able to support yourself as a musician?
I think that all of us kind of have to adapt and accept that that is what’s happening. But at the same time, if you make good music, and you’re passionate about what you do, and you have really loyal fans, you’re going to still sell. But other than that, you have to be able to tour. I mean, I think that as an artist if you can’t hold your own on the stage and put a good show on, it’s not going to really work out for you because touring you can still make some income that way. And videos, merch, and if it works for you in your art you can get endorsements with companies that make sense with your music, so I think that we just have to get more creative because we are not going to be able to live just on selling songs.
Yeah, absolutely. Some musicians have their album come with behind the scenes stuff as well, stuff that you can’t digitally download. Are you planning on doing that with your next album, some behind the scenes videos and bonus tracks that you can only get on a hard copy?
Yeah, my goal is to put out the regular album with the produced songs, but people, especially my YouTube fans, always want really stripped down acoustic songs, so I want to have a double CD where the other side is just all the songs acoustically so no one can be like, “It’s over-produced!” It’s like it’s there. That, and then I’m still kind of old school. I know that physical albums don’t really sell anymore but I love holding something in my hand, so I still want to have amazing packaging, beautiful pictures, and yeah, go all out.
Oh, I don’t — maybe, maybe like a few
In 2010, you had to do a song for Disney, and you did a “Little Mermaid” song, right?
Yeah, in Japan.
It was “Part of Your World,” right?
Yeah, it’s like a trance “Part of Your World.”
“Little Mermaid” is so cherished by everyone. It’s like everyone’s favorite movie.
I grew up on “Little Mermaid.” It’s so good I miss that era of Disney movies.
Were you nervous about doing a remake of a beloved song, that people would hate you for tampering with their childhood?
I actually was hoping that no one would hear it.
I don’t know, because it’s embarrassing but at the same time it was just an offer that kinda came from out of the blue, and I love “Little Mermaid,” so I wanted to do it. But then I didn’t know that it was going to be a trance song [laughs]. But I don’t know, I think people are okay with it. I think it’s alright. I hope I didn’t butcher the song, ruin anyone’s childhood memories.