What does it take for a music artist to hit it big these days? The pool of talent is more crowded than ever, and competition from all sides is forcing prospective young artists into unexpected territory. Meanwhile, the routes to fame have become more diverse. Musicians strumming guitar at home can broadcast original material to millions online while listeners flock to free streaming services to hunt for the next new sound. The internet has given way to new avenues of discovery, but Millennial artists struggling to make it are still being tested in the real world where production and distribution still matter, and where innovation is everything.
So what is it really like for a young musician building their career from the ground up today? Musician Jerid Nowell knows the non-traditional path well. Has worked his way to an acclaimed EP release with a small team of independent creatives and a hybrid music style that is hard to define. Rock, alternative, and pop tags categorize his 5-track debut Outburst. We talked to him to get a look at the what it’s like to mix together the new and old ways of making it big, the journey to a record label, how collaboration defines artistry for up-and-comers, and what platforms matter most to young listeners:
Ypulse: Did you always dream of being a solo artist?
Jerid Nowell: No, I dreamt of being a musician. It wasn’t until I got to New York that I started getting people on my team that sort of opened my eyes to that area of music. I was in a band for a lot of my life in high school and after, I play the guitar and piano, and always imagined myself playing that way. Initially, if I was in a band I was happy. When I got here, I eventually got a lot more interested in becoming a solo artist and progressed in that direction.
YP: What’s your genre of choice? Describe to us your sound.
JN: It kind of changes all the time. I think that’s the sign of a musician who’s not afraid to change their style and be unique. I’ve always been really interested in folk music, which has had a huge impact on me and on the way that I play.
YP: How do you see certain genres winning over each other within your generation of listeners?
JN: I see almost a revolution of sorts, of people who are hungry for good, honest music. It tends to revert back to old school hip-hop or folk music or even spoken word—things that represent beauty in simplistics. I see a large number of people going back to stuff like that because of the current lack of it. Music like that used to be out all the time, that’s all we had. Now we have all of these other genres where it’s obviously the machine trying to pump out money, so the music is always going to be separated.
YP: The bulk of music exploration takes place online these days. Tell us about your online presence.
JN: We just released an EP on iTunes called Outburst. It’s on Spotify, Grooveshark, and you can find it streaming on Vibe.com as well. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—I’m very easy to find.
YP: What platforms do you feel are the most important in having a strong presence online as a musician?
JN: I like SoundCloud a lot because it’s free, it’s out there for anyone who wants it. It’s where I used to get all of my underground music before an artist actually got released on iTunes. I make sure people get to know the non-musician side of me on Instagram and Twitter. I feel like you can probably learn a lot about someone these days by checking their Instagram. It gives 15-second windows into who they are. I don’t know any band that doesn’t have an Instagram or a Twitter. People want to know how to reach you, and want to do it quickly without searching a lot of places, so it’s really easy to plug yourself if you can tell people to go to one place.
YP: How would you describe the community of young artists and how connections are made?
JN: Collaboration is seeing a renaissance. You’ve got stuff like “Hey Brother” from Avicii on his True album pushing EDM to become the new country. Stuff like that is popping up all over the place because people are doing stuff that just hasn’t been done before. Collaborations are all over the place. Not only is it good for the music because it’s new, but it’s forcing younger artists—19 to 20 or 16 to 17-year-olds—to listen to this and say, I have to come up with something different. That keeps music alive. Collaboration is one of the biggest keys to success for anyone and everyone trying to get into the music industry.
YP: Describe to us the makeup of the music industry today. Is it filled with corporate bigwigs or is it developing a more Millennial mindset?
JN: No it’s younger. Everyone on my label is my age or maybe even a little bit younger. Everyone I meet, the label execs and the people that I’m talking to, they’re not that much older either. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but the artists themselves have to unfortunately start really, really early if you want to stay ahead. While that has its drawbacks, at the same time platforms like YouTube are lowering the age requirement for fulfilling your dreams, which I think is just awesome.
YP: Has it become harder to get noticed nowadays because there’s so much competition online?
JN: Yes. When you have bands coming out everyday, the internet becomes this black hole of noise sometimes. If you are satisfied with the top 20 then you will hear it because the machine will pump it out like you wouldn’t believe. Unfortunately, a good portion of the artists who come out today are in it for the fame instead of the music. But there is good music out there, and the people who are willing to look for it will find it.
YP: You just wrapped up shooting the music video for your first single off the EP. How do music videos have an impact on artists today?
JN: I think music videos help a lot, especially for me. We’ve released the single so people are familiar with it, people are hungry for a story around it, and I’m excited to give it to them. We’re doing a music video along with a bunch of other online videos to give fans what they’re asking for.
YP: How does just being online compare to playing live shows, radio appearances, and TV spots?
JN: Playing live is sort of the equalizer because a lot of things can look good online, but if you don’t have that live aspect (which is also where you’re going to get your money as an artist) then people aren’t going to look you up after the show. You can only do so much before you have to perform your stuff. Online is a huge outlet to promote yourself as an artist and as a brand, it will get fans to come see you in person. It’s not only a great tool, it’s necessary. But the internet can only go so far until you have to earn your keep. As a musician I will play pretty much anywhere. Starting out in the position that I’m in, I’m excited for that.