How Artists are Standing Out Today

How Artists are Standing Out Today

Last week I was a keynote speaker at the Musik & Talang (Music & Talent) conference in Vasa, Finland.  Besides the great times romping around the city watching live music and swapping NY stories with fellow-keynoter and all-round fun gal, Ariel Hyatt, I endeavored to inspire my audience with examples of artists who are cutting tributaries off the mainstream.

Here is what I shared on some of the artists who I think illustrate new frontiers in getting their signal through a dense media culture:

1. Radio on the TV – Ingrid Michaelson

Yeah, a bit old hat, but she’s still a poster child for the age of the indie artist. Her rise to success as a singer-songwriter began on the internet and was propelled through a television show. And she’s done it all without the help of a record label. While living with her parents Michaelson posted a few songs on her MySpace page, an LA  music supervisor loved the quirky, heartfelt nature of her music, and decided to place her work on the hit TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. This led to deals with Old Navy, appearances on Conan, Leno and Letterman, and a national tour. The TV was her radio and the right placement catapulted her from Staten Island obscurity to international celebrity. She remains fiercely independent, releasing her music on her own label, 24 Cabin Records, and growing her career at her own pace.


2. Hybrid Action – Vampire Weekend

Afro-Punk?  Brilliant hybrid and media-magnetic! No matter what your opinion is about their music, VW clocked over 12 million views on YouTube as an ‘unknown’ band in 2008 and then appeared in both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines before their debut album. I think if you can find an interesting stylistic combination that helps describe your music, you’ll have more success cutting through all the noise. Having “vampire” in their name didn’t hurt either. It was smart, timely and helped spread the buzz.


3. Creatively Viral – Steve Porter

It has been said that the recombinant (the bootleg, the remix, the mash-up) has become the characteristic marker of early 21st century art. Materials now include bigger clumps of cultural sediment and everything in the history of media is fair game: artists painting pictures over road maps, placing photos within comic book landscapes, Kanye West splicing together his own song “Gold Digger” with Ray Charles “I Got A Woman.”

From early beginnings as a DJ out of Amherst, MA Porter quickly became the darling of the House Music market. After several years of globetrotting as a DJ, Porter tired of touring and returned to western MA to set up Porterhouse Media, a music and video production company. One of his first productions was a music video remix of the original Slap Chop infomercial, dubbing it “Rap Chop”. After posting it to YouTube on April 25, 2009, it quickly spread over the internet to become world famous. As of this month, it has been viewed over 13 million times. This viral exposure led to high-revenue music and video production projects for ABC, Disney, ESPN, the NBA, NBC and FedEx.

The mix of a creative mashup and that little 3 inch screen helped Steve Porter re-purpose to a new career path.


4. Flexing with Formats – Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh, solo artist and founding member of alternative rock band Throwing Muses, is moving beyond the traditional CD and download formats. Check out her latest release, Crooked – available as an app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. In addition to including the album in high-quality lossless digital format, the app also includes a range of visuals, artwork and audio commentary. Additionally, it includes lyrics and an essay written by Hersh specifically for each song, exclusive interactive content, video content and a forum where fans can interact with her via both text and live web chats. Multiple formats for a segmenting listening audience. Smart outreach.

Getting your own signal through all the media noise out there poses a singular challenge for artists today. It’s nothing easy and all of these careers are worth exploring in much greater detail for ideas you may be able to adapt, remix and employ in your own music career.

Be inspired, don’t re-invent the wheel, and try standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before you so can hopefully see further up the road.

-Peter Spellman (



  1. i think the ‘vampire’ in vampire weekend was a bit more luck than anything – it was based on a home movie the lead singer made some years before the vampire rage began if i can remember correctly. There’s no doubting the hybrid is what makes vampire weekend, vampire weekend though.

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