Young singer builds big following with Web exposure
By Mark Egan
MATTITUCK, New York (Reuters) – Inside a disheveled Long
Island beach cottage on a muggy summer day, Jamie Kristine
Seerman sings into a microphone, strumming a battered guitar,
recording on a computer a song that she hopes will be a hit.
She has no financial backing or marketing plan, but with
the help of new technology, the 25-year-old who performs as
Jaymay has quickly graduated from Manhattan open-mike nights to
become a folk music darling.
And while she says major record companies from New York to
London want to sign her in hopes of making her a star, Seerman
is recording and plans to release her debut album alone.
“I’ve been offered conventional contracts from major record
labels and very indie-friendly, unconventional contracts,”
Seerman said during a break from recording. “They have offered
me everything I could want.”
But with the music industry in flux because of the
Internet, iTunes and inexpensive recording, she said that for
now she would rather maintain control of her work.
“For a long time, the way you were discovered was through
record labels. Now it’s through the Internet, through blogs,
through MySpace,” she said. “For all I know, maybe music will
all be sold as ring tones in seven years.”
Playing New York’s folk clubs since August 2003, Seerman
began recording songs in her Brooklyn bedroom last year using a
computer program. “It took a long time because of dogs barking
and my landlord screaming. It was a very difficult setting.”
DOWNLOADS AND PODCASTS
She released those recordings — the five-song “Sea Green,
See Blue” EP — on the Internet site www.insound.com in
February. On her MySpace page, fans have listening more than
75,000 times to her songs, which feature her seductive voice,
poetic lyrics and sparse, unusual musical arrangements.
“Then in May I got a phone call from iTunes out of the
blue,” she said. “It really took off on iTunes.”
Featured on Apple’s iTunes’ indie spotlight, her song “Gray
or Blue” became a top-selling folk song in June and her EP made
the top 100 albums.
Those sales — over 1,300 EPs and more than 2,500 songs
sold on iTunes plus more than 500 discs sold at concerts — are
funding her first full-length album, she said. “iTunes …
opened me up to people all over the world.”
New technology gave her another boost on July 11 when Santa
Monica, Calif.-based radio station KCRW put the song “Sea
Green, See Blue” on its popular “Top Tune” podcast — making
the song available for free download to people worldwide.
British entertainment lawyer Nicky Stein, who first saw
Seerman perform in a New York bar 18 months ago, likened her
style to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. He began representing her
in September and said he is now in “advanced” talks with “two
major record labels in Britain” to release her album there.
Stein — of London firm Clintons, which has a client roster
including Paul McCartney, The Who and U2 — said, “I hope to
conclude a deal within the next couple of months.” He declined
to name the companies involved.
“WORD OF MOUTH ON STEROIDS”
Paste magazine music editor Jason Killingsworth said the
music industry is so fragmented that for many artists, “there
is no compelling reason to sign up to a major record label.”
With cheap recording software and the Internet available to
build a fan base, he said it often makes more sense to go it
alone in the early years of an artist’s career.
“These technologies have changed everything. They put the
means of production in the hands of the average person in the
same way blogging has made the average American Joe into a
journalist,” he said.
“The Internet is word of mouth on steroids, so these
artists are building a real fan base,” Killingsworth said. “It
seems that the artists which start with slow-building momentum
are the ones that that end up sticking around for 30 years.”
Pete Giberga, who scouts and develops talent for Epic
Records, said new technology had helped some artists become
established without record companies.
But, he said, that new dynamic had neither made his job
easier or more difficult. “Our goal is still to sign great
artists with great songs. None of that has changed.”
Raised on Long Island, Seerman graduated from university in
Florida in 2003 and had wanted to work in book publishing. “No
one would hire me,” she said. “So, I moved back to New York …
and started playing open mikes.”
“It was hard torture,” she said of her early shows. “I
would stay until 2:30 or 4:30 in the morning just to play one
song. No one would be left, maybe four drunk people.”
Despite that, Seerman felt being a singer was her fate.
Now as she puts the final touches on an album she hopes to
release herself in America, Seerman is in no hurry for fame.
“If I don’t have my big break for the next five or 10
years, then that’s just the way it is. But I feel confident
that something will happen,” she said.
And while technology helped her get noticed, this young
woman says she is still more bookworm than computer geek.
“I don’t even know how to put songs on my iPod,” she
admitted with a smile.