Reviewing ‘Hello’ and Karmin’s Past

Today Karmin released their new album, Hello, and I was just lucky enough to have previewed it last week!

Karmin, photo courtesy of Epic Records.

The Daringest Duo had recently explained that the album is dedicated to their fans and centered around their journey to success.

The album has the track ‘Walking on the Moon’ up first, and is not to be confused with the Police song. ‘Walking on the Moon’ includes soft melodies and sentimental lyrics, a catchy repetitive riff, and Amy Heidemann’s insane rapping. The instrumentation and rhythm remind me of Kanye West’s past endeavors, but the song straddles the line between being a love song and an assertive hip hop feel.

Of course we have their well known single, ‘Brokenhearted’ on there as well along with…well, the rest of their story!

My favorite track may just be ‘I Told You So’. It’s everything I would look forward to in a pop song. Unexpected instrumentation-we get some horns in here-and a different musical style. Guitars, synth, rapping, and an eastern sound. I’ve always loved it when artists incorporate harmonic minor, Phrygian, Persian scales…all that jazz! The duo cited the different skills and musical styles they learned at Berklee as an influence as to what went into their songs. ‘I Told You So’ is a great example of this.

During the last interview session I had with the two, they mentioned working with other songwriters on a few tracks. I can hear this in the track ‘Too Many Fish’, as it has a very Beyonce feel to it, but Karmin carries it well. ‘I’m Just Saying” is a sort of ‘go get ’em’ anthem, with a very straightforward pop feel.

‘Coming Up Strong’, a track already loved by fans, was written solely by Heidemann and Noonan. This surprised me. Upon listening to it for the first time, I felt that the track had a country pop feel to it, which made me question who the co-writers were. Turns out Noonan and Heidemann know a thing or two about the songwriting formula! The song is heartfelt and broken up well by Heidemann’s rapping over powerful harmonies.

The title track, ‘Hello’, may just be my second favorite track. Sure, the synths sound familiar to many pop songs, and the ‘hellos’ remind me of some Nirvana riffs, but the rapping makes this song. I love how the lyrics are a grand hello to new listeners and fans, while the rapping addresses those who criticized Karmin on their journey or didn’t believe they could make it. It’s just great. Even if you don’t like pop or rap, you have to give them a hand on this one. Sometimes you just want to say ‘look what I did, even when you didn’t think I could’ to anyone who put you down along the way, and Karmin’s ‘Hello’ does this without sounding mean or cocky. It’s reassurance for anyone facing the same journey.

The album is diverse and catchy, and I really enjoyed it. You can definitely tell that the two are talented musicians and well trained, which is very welcome in today’s industry. I’m very excited to see where they will go from here…but I also wanted to touch upon their past.

I contacted the Galaxy of Stars Talent Search in Nebraska about Amy Heidemann’s win, which led to her to Berklee College of Music.

Wynne Adams, the executive producer for the Galaxy of Stars Talent Search, first met Heidemann when she competed at the Adams County Fair in Hastings, Nebraska. She won second place!

Adams remembers Heidemann well.

“When I first saw Amy perform in 2003 in the Galaxy of Stars Talent Search I knew she had the ‘Shine Factor’, as we call it in the Galaxy of Stars. It is the presence and energy that radiates from a performer that can’t be taught or explained it ‘just is’.  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!”
She also recalled the following:
In 2005 as 1st Place Winner in the Galaxy of Stars Talent Search Finals in Lincoln, Nebraska, Amy was awarded a recording session at Upper Room Studios, owners Mike and Dawn Chavanu in Kearney, Nebraska. She recorded an original CD produced by Wynne Adams. She used local musicians from Kearney, NE on the project. The project was entitled, Eventually.  
The project included six songs which, according to the Galaxy of Stars website, was “submitted to the Berklee College of Music and opened the door to Amy receiving a four year scholarship”.

Amy Heidemann won first place in the Galaxy of Stars competition in Nebraska. This led to her recording an album, which was submitted to Berklee College of Music. (2005)

Amy Heidemann, 2003. Heidemann was a local star and won a talent competition before recording an album, which was submitted to Berklee College of Music.

As for Noonan, The Bangor Daily News had a great piece about his time in Maine, where he was a prominent member of the music community:
“The whole school system was really supportive of music. My whole family is really supportive of me and what I do. Old Town has one of the best jazz programs in the state. I had some amazing teachers. I was lucky all around,” said Noonan, who cites teachers David Saucier, Shianne Wheeler and Jeffrey A. Priest as inspirations.
-Bangor Daily News, 4/29/11
I had read that Noonan also received a four year scholarship, but was not able to confirm. When I met him at the Rethink Music conference, he mentioned going to music and jazz competitions, one which had taken place at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, where we were speaking at the time!
Bravo to Karmin, and how far they have come! It’s great to see how involved the two were in their communities, and how much raw talent the two have.
As for Hello, you should see for yourself. I am willing to bet you will not be disappointed. Get yourself to iTunes or Newbury Comics!

Rethink Music with Karmin and Amanda Palmer

The Rethink Music Conference is where music industry nerds in Boston are flocking to.

The biggest thing I took from Rethink Music was the advice from fellow musicians who had launched their careers from Boston.

As mentioned in my last post, Amy Heidemann from Karmin had discussed guerrilla marketing and promoting ones’ self via the internet. In addition, Amanda Palmer discussed being attainable to an audience and booking gigs when you don’t quite fit in.

    Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

When asked about getting started on the Youtube videos, Heidemann mentioned that she and Nick Noonan had posted material before, but were not satisfied with the hits the videos were getting. Citing advice from peers at Berkleemusic.com, where Heidemann was working at the time, they did some research. They found which top singles were trending, learned how to tag videos so that they were more visible, and showed personality in their videos. Eventually, Noonan convinced Heidemann to rap on a video. And a Youtube sensation was born!

Was it the novelty? I am sure that is part of it. But you can’t deny that they can both sing, play their instruments, and have excellent stage presence. Many comments on their videos note their energy, enthusiasm, and…smiling. Because, though it seems obvious, lots of us forget to smile when we sing! In fact, I am guilty of this when I drum. I am often told I look sad, or like I am about to beat up Billy for lunch money. Whoever Billy is.

    Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

Amanda Palmer discussed the fact that she is so accessible to her fans-no, not fans. She stated that she prefers not to say fans, because it makes it sound as if she is above them. She mentioned being okay with the term ‘audience’, but seemed to favor ‘community’.

When asked if she ever becomes afraid that she will get a stalker, she just laughed. Since she is so open about her life, she joked as to why anyone would want to find skeletons in her closet, when they are all out in the open. She makes a valid point. Where’s the mystery?

Palmer realizes she uses social media to the Nth degree, but she also realizes that it is a huge part of her success. Palmer has utilizes social media to connect with her community and spread her music. She compared it to when she was a street performer in Harvard Square years ago-as a living statue. She said that no matter what, she could always estimate making a certain amount each day. She never walked away empty handed. Likewise, when she gives away her music for free, people often feel compelled to pay. It’s the gesture that makes an impact on the audience; your music being available to them.

Even when recording, Palmer kept on connecting with others to make the music happen. She mentioned that she would be in the studio and need an instrument that they didn’t have. She would tweet about it and, sure enough, a follower on Twitter would get one to her.

Not only does this interaction show her ‘fans’ (can I say that?) that she is responding to them, it shows that it is really her. Palmer noted her dislike for artists that have others pose as them on Twitter just for self promotion, without taking the time to actually interact.

Lastly, I asked her about getting gigs in Boston. I feel that, sometimes, venues stick to certain genres. They want to be sure they get a certain amount of people in for the show. So, how does a musician get a foot in the door if their genre can’t easily be classified as rock or pop or folk?

Amanda Palmer poses at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Fard.

Palmer said she used to play galleries and parties, until she had enough of a following to prove she could sell tickets for a show at a local venue.

I know a lot of you do that, so props to you!

Lastly, I’d like to share an email that was forwarded to me from Deer In Headlights, by one of their team members (and SYM band member) Andrew Hall, who attends the boxing club that Nick Noonan had been working before. Since I was reviewing their band history over the past few days and hearing stories from many who saw them when they were performing out on Newbury Street and handing out EPs, I thought I would share!

Guess who knows tonight’s SNL musical guest Karmin? You!

The Ring Boxing Club’s own Nick Noonan and his fiancee Amy Heidemann — will be debuting two songs from their upcoming album on tonight’s show.

Here’s a pic of the duo as seen on Entertainment Weekly:

http://music-mix.ew.com/2012/02/11/karmin-snl-new-album/

For those of you who may not know,
Nick was our front desk guy extraordinaire for two years — working 12-6 every day at The Ring and pumping out YouTube covers from his apartment every night after work. One day this past spring he and Amy posted a video of Chris Brown’s “Look at me Now,” and they were launched to stardom.

Here’s an insider secret for you — a couple of weeks before they were discovered, Nick and Amy wrote the background music for the video on the home page of The Ring’s website.

Thanks, Karmin, and best of luck tonight! We’ll be watching!

Ah! Ferklempt! It is such a great story. Thanks for the note, Andrew!

What do you think of all this? Youtube guerrilla marketing? Being super accessible to fans? Giving your music away for free?

Note: Heads up that I will be chatting with Karmin again this Friday about their album release! Hello is out May 8th!

Karmin! Hello, Boston.

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.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

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.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

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.

What’s next?

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)?

NN: No.

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.

AH: Definitely.

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.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

Sidenote: I may be joining Karmin and Epic Records for another interview THIS Friday, to talk about their album release. Stay tuned!