Singer-songwriter Mia Bergmann dreams of landing a major label music deal for the country-pop music she makes even though the Ocean City High School sophomore hasn't yet turned 16.
But, Bergmann, 15, of Margate, doesn't sit around wishing and hoping. She's already working to build an audience on her own.
Bergmann performs live in southern New Jersey at such events as the Margate Fall Festival. She also records her own acoustic versions of famous songs and makes them available to hear on her YouTube page.
The teen has made seven songs that she has written available as free downloads at her website miabergmannmusic.com.
"They are basically just to give people a way to get to know me before they say I want to basically invest in you. When they are buying your album, they are investing in you, and they are kind of staying, 'I really like you. I trust you. I want to buy your music. I want to spend my money on you,'" Bergmann said. "Before any relationship, you have to date first. You have to kind of test out the water first, so that's what it is."
As the major record labels have declined in influence in recent years, more southern New Jersey musicians and singers are taking the distribution of their artistic expression into their own hands by putting videos on YouTube, making songs available for purchase on iTunes, putting full-length CDs up for sale at cdbaby.com and using social media to spread the word about their product.
They have more control over the business side of their careers now, but they have to do the legwork and figure out all the pitfalls and advantages of the methods they use.
One of the things Bergmann learned was the consequences of using iTunes as a place to sell your music. iTunes is fine if an artist wants to stay independent and has no interest in signing a major label deal. The problem with iTunes is actual sales numbers can be tracked through iTunes, so if an artist is trying to impress a label, but can't manage to sell their music on their own, it might not be the best service to use. The songs from Bergmann's first independent CD two years ago are for sale for iTunes, but her next independent project to be released next year will not be.
Singer Melanie Rice, of Smithville, released her first full length CD, "He Loves, She Loves," with the late pianist George Mesterhazy in 2000 in a totally different atmosphere for the business side of music.
Rice releases a new CD, "This Love of Mine," this month. Rice is using TuneCore, an online music service founded in 2005, to distribute her music both electronically and physically. Rice will use an email blast to more than 2,500 of her contacts to inform people about her CD and upcoming gigs.
The social media side of things, including Facebook, didn't exist 13 years ago. Rice was a co-producer and musical coordinator of the LGBT film "A Perfect Ending" last year. The film's distribution in Europeexposed her to fans on that continent. Postings on her Facebook page lets her know there is interest in her CD from Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. YouTube didn't exist when Rice put out her last CD. Rice has footage on YouTube that she uploaded from a recent live performance. She also plans to add a video montage for her new song "What Matters Most."
"A lot of artists have to be entrepreneurs now. They have to kind of wear all the hats unless they have the money to spend on a publicist, an agent, a manager and things like that," said Rice, 55. Some artists even have radio promotion people trying to win them airplay as opposed to waiting to be signed by a label.
Even musical acts that have record deals are making use of social media to enhance what the company can do for them.
Paul Jost's band, The Jost Project, released a new CD in September, titled "Can't Find My Way Home." Dot Time Records, a jazz and world music label based in New York and Europe, released the CD, which features Jost on vocals and harmonica, Tony Miceli on vibraphone and Kevin MacConnell on bass..
"This social media stuff is really important, just staying on everyone's radar. As things progress, there aren't record stores anymore. That whole thing has gone to the wayside. You still want to have access to your material to be purchased while you are in a place that you are playing while the promotion is there at the same time. You don't want to get promotion out until you have been there. All those things have to come together," said Jost, a Vineland resident.
There are live clips on YouTube of The Jost Project that were recorded at Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro in Somers Point, World Cafe Live and Chris Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia of the band giving its jazz interpretations of such songs as Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home."
"It's good to keep stuff active, here is another video, so things don't get stagnant, and people don't forget about you. To me, it's a very short window of opportunity that you have to make something happen," said Jost, 60, who added the group tries to keep its Facebook page pretty active. "You want to try to hit on everything. You want everybody talking about it at the same time. You want to have videos. You want to have stuff on iTunes."
Erik Simonsen is a singer/songwriter and a long-time educator from Lower Cape May. Simonsen, 44, has dealt with music companies in the past with his rock group Twelve:01. In this day and age, Simonsen said the market is more productive online.
Simonsen created a CD and coloring book that can be purchased together or separately titled "E is for Erik." Simonsen describes it as a 12-song musical journey that introduces young children to an array of basic lessons, covering subjects such as culture, language arts and math. The album is a compilation of children's songs written and performed by Simonsen, who has performed the songs at school assemblies throughout the state, he said.
The CD has been submitted for Grammy consideration for best children's album, best record album, non-classical and album of the year.
"We do plan on shopping it as far as networking educational companies... but it just seems that iTunes and Amazon, they seem more accessible to teachers," said Simonsen, who added he plans to add clips of performances of the songs to YouTube soon. "We do have an official website, which is eisforerikmusic.com. We have, of course, a Facebook page.
Stephanie Waszen, 59, of Galloway Township, only started writing song lyrics three years ago. Waszen met last year for the first time with William Kennedy of the Musically Speaking Studios in Blackwood, Camden County. Kennedy put Waszen's words to music and recorded the songs. Waszen now has three songs available for sale on iTunes, "On Borrowed Time," "Missing You," and "No Surprise. " Vocalist Jade Evans sings lead on "On Borrowed Time" and "Missing You," and Elizabeth Sausto , 26, of Galloway Township, does the lead vocals on "No Surprise." There is a lyrical video on YouTube for the song "Missing You."
Waszen and Sausto have appeared in musicals together and both work with the Atlantic County Library System.
"We were surprised how fast it happened... It wasn't what I expected. It was a little daunting to me. It was very exhilarating. Recording a song is like being a celebrity," said Sausto, who added she was most thrilled about seeing a song that she sang on available for sale on iTunes. "I played a 30 second clip of myself (on iTunes). I said, 'Wow, this is pretty incredible.'"
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Finding local musicians and their music
The music of the artists referred to in this story can be heard in the following ways:
miabergmannmusic.com: From Bergmann's website, you can visit her Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, iTunes and Reverb Nation pages.
Rice hosts a CD release concert for her new disc, "This Love of Mine," 7 tonight in The Screening Room at Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic City. A meet and greet with Rice and her accompanists will be held immediately after the show. Tickets are $15.
The collection of 15 songs will be released early this month on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Rhapsody and a host of other Internet music sites as well as through mretalent.com
The Jost Project
Waszen's three songs, "No Surprise," "On Borrowed Time" and "I Miss You (feat. Jade Evans), are available at apple.com/itunes