Terra Naomi builds a music career online.
Terra Naomi has been a true original from the start. Think about it: How many singing babies have you met?
“My mom told me I was eight months old and singing before I could talk. I just always knew I was going to be a singer,” Naomi says.
And a singer she became. While she’s gained a following with her captivating sound, it’s Naomi’s unique approach to managing and promoting her music career that really sets her apart. Rewind to 2005 when Naomi regularly posted audio recordings of her songs on MySpace. That summer, she set out on a tour of the United States, driving her car from city to city and gig to gig.
“It was exhausting and expensive and hard in every way,” she remembers of the tour. “Eventually I just figured instead of driving around I would post videos for an online audience of myself performing.”
Naomi took to YouTube and began uploading her clips. She created a virtual tour that fans in any city in any country could watch at any time. At first, her videos would each pull in about 1,000 hits. Things changed rapidly, however, when YouTube founder, Chad Hurley, spotted Naomi’s posts and featured her on the site’s home page.
“All of a sudden I started getting thousands of e-mails and it was really overwhelming! People wanted to buy albums, so I really quickly made an acoustic EP. I sold 5,000 copies in one month through YouTube,” Naomi says.
She also realized she could thrive as a recording artist—and she would find most of the tools to do so online.
Reaching fans and producing music through the Internet
Naomi’s YouTube success drew the attention of multiple record labels. She worked with one label on one album, but because of personnel changes there, she eventually felt she would not be able to make the kind of music she wanted and promote it the way she desired if she remained within the label’s control.
Striking out on her own again, Naomi relied heavily on social media to communicate with her fans and increase her listener base. She funded her most recent album entirely through fan donations, using the Web site PledgeMusic. In exchange for contributions, fans received rewards ranging from CDs and posters to dinners with Naomi or personal songs written in their honor.
She also partnered with Hipstamatic, an iPhone app that converts digital photos into retro-looking snapshots. Naomi and Hipstamatic invited fans to submit photos in response to the question “What do you love?” With 100 of these photos, they created a music video to accompany the song, “You For Me.”
The Internet exposure has won Naomi worldwide recognition. She toured Europe for a month in early 2012, selling out venues in cities she had never visited before—a phenomenon she attributes entirely to YouTube. She maintains large fan bases in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, along with a contingent of listeners in India, which she toured in 2009.
Despite language barriers, her non-English-speaking fans still appreciate the message and emotion behind the music.
“I always thought if [people] can’t understand what I’m saying, are they really enjoying the show? But they’ll come up to me after and say, ‘we don’t understand the words but we understand the emotion and we know what it’s about,’ ” Naomi says.
While Naomi appreciates the unique place she’s at in her career—a level where she sells out shows but still performs in small enough venues that she can talk with her fans after performances—she does have visions of bigger stages for the future.
“I’d like to be playing venues that are too large to make it possible to hang out after the show,” says Naomi, laughing. Though she loves the interaction with her audience, and plans to always communicate directly with her fans through Facebook and other social networks, “as artists we put our hearts out there and want to reach people, and really, the more people the better,” she says.
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.