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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Tube talents

Accidental YouTube sensations are scoring gigs and making headway in their music career
The Straits Times - April 13, 2012
By: Melissa Kok
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Tube talents Greyson Chance found fame with his rendition of Lady Gaga's Paparazzi in a YouTube video. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE

Who needs music talent scouts any more? The hard slog through the live music pub circuit might as well be obsolete too.

If anyone wants to make it as a musician, post a YouTube video. The benefits of this route are plentiful and the pitfalls few.

You could take as long as you need to get the video right - no one will know all the mistakes you had made.

You need never face jeer-mongers face-to-face - rejection is far easier to take when you do not have people shouting nasty things at you in person.

If some people like your video, those few people could grow to a legion of adoring fans in a short time because word is spread easily and quickly through the Internet.

And if you catch the attention of someone important in music industry, you can count on launching your career formally. Canadian pop star Justin Bieber's YouTube video in 2008 won over someone who knew R&B superstar Usher. Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi's videos found favour with American rock band The Raconteurs' drummer and she signed a contract with Brushfire Records, which is partly owned by American singer-songwriter Jack Johnson.

Filipino powerhouse Charice Pempengco and baby-faced American crooner Greyson Chance are other names who have parlayed YouTube popularity into a thriving music career.

Chance, 14, will be staging his first full-length concert in Singapore on Wednesday at Resorts World Sentosa.

Even those who have not reached the heights of Bieber-mania can carve out a career outside YouTube. Chance's opening act is another teen YouTube star, Camryn Magness.

Australian twins Sonia and Janice Lee, also known as Jayesslee, have two sold-out shows next month at the 1,700-seat Kallang Theatre. They had previously performed ticketed shows in Singapore twice - at live music venue Tab and at the HTC Likes Awards last year.

Record label Warner Music is organising a YouTube Stars concert at the 3,000-capacity Coliseum at Hard Rock Hotel next month, featuring six artists including Korean-American pop singer David Choi, Portuguese singer-songwriter Ana Free, Filipino-American Joseph Vincent, Californian teen singer Tiffany Alvord and Singaporean CLO.

South Korean acoustic finger-style guitarist Sungha Jung, who has played with guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel, is performing two shows at the 577-seat DBS Auditorium next month. One show is already sold out. He last performed here in December at the DBS Auditorium. The 15-year-old prodigy found fame on YouTube when his instrumental performance of The Pirates Of The Caribbean theme two years ago went viral.

If the ticket sales to these gigs are anything to go by, it shows the musicians have the critical mass to make it big in the real world. More importantly, their fans show more commitment than just clicking a mouse to watch a video.

While the Internet is a great platform to kickstart a music career, these YouTube-minted stars tell Life! it was never their intention to do so.

They did it initially as a hobby or out of boredom.

Twenty-six-year-old Choi, known for his original modern pop ballads about friendships and love, started his YouTube account back in 2006. He now has close to a million subscribers on his YouTube channel. 'I was bored and I just wanted to sign up with a cool website. I would say I got lucky I was on YouTube in the beginning when not a lot of people were using it, and it just kind of grew from there,' he says.

YouTube celebrities say they feel one of the contributing factors to their popularity is the fact that they are 'genuine' and 'honest' with their music.Janice of Jayesslee says: 'I think the thing we've learnt from this YouTube thing is that it's important to be real. People want to see the real you.'

Of course it helps greatly if the real you is good-looking. It is no coincidence that Bieber, Chance, Choi, Jayesslee, Free and Alvord are all easy on the eye.

The next hurdle after getting the attention of a critical mass of netizens is performing live - and YouTube stars say the transition from online to the real world can be daunting.

Singaporean aspiring singer-songwriter Clarence Liew Oliviero, 19, who puts up videos of cover songs on his YouTube channel regularly, has performed at the Esplanade a couple of times.

He says: 'It's different when you're at home, just recording with you and a camera. Performing outside, you have to have a bit of charisma. '

Janice says she and her sister still get stage fright when they perform live, but their confidence has improved over time.

Mr Clarence Yap, Esplanade's assistant director of programming, notes that a million hits on YouTube can be indicative of an artist's popularity, but it may not mean that he or she will be liked here. He says: 'Watching artists in a live performance setting is still the best way to help understand whether they can carry a stage for a whole show. At the same time, we can also find out who their audiences are.'

Mr Yap says besides social media platforms, the Esplanade's programming team listens to the artist's recorded material, get recommendations through word of mouth and visits venues with live music performances. He says: 'We try to watch them in different contexts to see their range and musicality. This means we don't just rely on recorded studio or bedroom renditions.'

Among the YouTube personas who have performed at Esplanade previously are local singer-songwriter Ling Kai and Choi.

Veteran local musician Daniel Sassoon, 36, says YouTube certainly can get you noticed, but if the artist wants to reach a level of mainstream success, he inevitably has to 'work through the mechanisation of the record industry'. That means touring, recording and producing albums, being signed onto a label and 'packaged and promoted'.

And not everyone will make the cut. He says: 'YouTube is just a means for them to be discovered. For every huge success, there'll be people with moderate success, and many others with little or no success.'

So is this YouTube fame to record deal success a new industry model?

Sassoon adds: 'It's a new option, but at the end of the day, success is dependent on whether people are willing to pay money to see them and buy their records.'

It is also tougher for artists these days to get attention online, with so much more video content being uploaded onto YouTube these days compared to a few years ago. According to the YouTube website, 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, or one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second. Four billion videos are viewed every day.

Portuguese singer Ana Free, 24, who joined YouTube in 2007 when the site was launched, says: 'It's tough because once everyone's realised how it works, everybody wants a piece of it.'

Still, other famous artists, including British pop-soul singer James Morrison, prefer the traditional way of making it big in the music industry. He was in Singapore recently for promotions.

Morrison, 27, who started out performing cover songs in bars and clubs before he scored big with his 2006 hit single You Give Me Something, says: 'I'm really pleased and proud of myself that I was able to carve a career out of music the natural way.

'But I don't think people who go on TV shows such as The X Factor or online are any less capable, it's just that it's not my way or my choice of getting into the music industry.'


Where: Festive Grand, Resorts World Sentosa

When: 18 April, 7.30pm

Admission: S$70, $97, S$115 and $125 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to )


Where: The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel

When: May 5, 7pm

Admission: $70 from Sistic


Where: DBS Auditorium, 6 Shenton Way

When: May 26, 3pm

Admission: $48, $58 and $68 from Gatecrash (call 6100-2005 or go to

Info: Go to for more details


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