Doing It My Way

Jacob Whitesides

For many of you who regularly read the Weekly Music Commentary, you might remember three weeks ago I spoke about the negative thoughts my friend expressed regarding young singers today. At the time I did not try to change his thinking. One reason was I did not feel any evidence would really make a difference for him. If I had him listen to some examples he probably would just push them aside as more of the same. I learned a while ago that it is difficult for people to change beliefs, especially when they are based upon appreciation of art. Another reason I decided against any debate was because at the time I happened to be listening to another very good young singer/songwriter: Jacob Whitesides. Young Whitesides offers me the opportunity to show the diversity found in today’s young entertainers. If you never heard of Jacob Whitesides, or any of his very new music, then let this be an introduction to you as well.

Much like teen powerhouse Becky G whom I featured three weeks ago, seventeen year old Jacob Whitesides is emerging on the music scene very fast. The young singer/songwriter from East Tennessee is currently on tour along with girl group Fifth Harmony, and it seems like he is gaining more fans by the minute. Today, social media provides a boost for a young artist like nothing before. From humble beginnings in Eastern Tennessee, Whitesides has created an international musical phenomenon on his own, without the backing of a record label, starting with a series of YouTube covers that attracted a global following and set the stage for this next chapter. After posting his first YouTube video – filmed by his younger sister–his videos have now amassed an incredible 10 million views. In addition, Whitesides has racked up 1.5 million Twitter followers (he has been steadily gaining roughly 20,000 new followers a week), over 1.3 million Facebook likes, almost 900,000 Instagram fans and almost 700,000 Vine subscribers.

In spite of the increase in fame, most fans of Whitesides view him as humble, gracious and genuine. After listening to a couple of interviews I must say the description seems on the money.  Jacob Whitesides appeared here in South Florida last week, and I wanted to see him perform live but a scheduling conflict prevented me from attending. However, I have been able to view videos of a few of his live performances. Like so many others who have seen Whitesides live, another description comes to mind: poise. He looks and sounds like a performer with years of experience, yet he is only beginning his musical career.

Of all the amazing things Jacob Whitesides has accomplished, at the top must be the release of his EP A Piece of Me. Released on February 14, 2015, the songs are very well written musically and lyrically. Whitesides does exceptional guitar work, especially considering he taught himself just a few years ago. As I listened to the EP, each song seemed to be better than the last. That perception bodes well for the future studio album Jacob Whitesides is currently working to complete. In one of his recent interviews he explained that he made the mistake of scheduling an EP release party without having completed the EP. Therefore he was forced to quickly complete the six songs for release. Everything worked out well and A Piece of Me is a success.

Another very interesting fact about Jacob Whitesides is that he has created a major buzz without the backing of a record label. In fact, the recordings come under his own record label: JW Records. As I learned of his feat it reminded me of some of the things I attempted (somewhat successfully) in my younger years. One of the things I heard from many music industry folks was that you can’t release records on your own. One very good friend and record promoter told me it took guts (not his word choice) to even try to release records on your own label. To some extent, twenty five years ago that may have been true. At that time in order to release you own records you had to be ready to lose a lot of money before you made any from record sales. Manufacturing prices alone cost a big chunk of investment, and the little guy had no choice but to spend like the major companies.

I recently had a conversation about this with a long time music industry person who reiterated how different things are today. The advice one might give to a young aspiring artist is far less imposing than years ago. In fact, even at seventeen years old Jacob Whitesides provides a model of how to get started in today’s music industry. Without that huge manufacturing investment, and even that very large bill from the recording studio and mastering lab, promotion becomes the biggest hurdle. With the advancements of social media even music promotion can be much less expensive.

Should Jacob Whitesides or any other successful artist continue to court major record companies? That is a big question. I’m sure with the sheer numbers Whitesides has amassed with his early efforts he has heard overtures from some record companies. He should take some time and thought before signing anything. A lot depends upon his overall goals. Right now, JW Records should do just fine representing the interests of Jacob Whitesides. For now, go ahead and download A Piece of Me for your MP3 library. You will be able to listen to one of the reasons the music future is bright.

photo by William Hereford

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