LONDON: Hailed as one of the first download divas, British singer Imogen Heap has followed in the footsteps of bands like indie rockers Arctic Monkeys by gaining a big online fan base without the aid of a record label.
Through a combination of Internet word-of-mouth, determination, desperation and a large slice of good luck, the 28-year-old has revived a career that was going nowhere fast.
Her second solo album has sold over 120,000 copies in the United States and she hopes that a licensing deal with a major record company will see its sales grow elsewhere. Yet Speak For Yourself was almost never made at all. After previous record deals fell through and with debts of several thousand dollars, the struggling songwriter took a chance by re-mortgaging her London home to fund the album. As luck would have it, the surveyor who came to value her property happened to be a fan of her old band Frou Frou, and helped her to raise the cash she needed.
“A lot of people may think that me re-mortgaging my house was scary, but it was less scary than signing another record deal,” Heap said in an interview in her cluttered recording studio on a south London warehouse estate.
“I re-mortgaged my flat because that was the only way I could get the cash to buy all this gear. I did try and get bank loans, but they took one look at my account and said you don’t have a job, so we don’t think we can really give you any money.’”
Heap released the electronic pop-style Speak For Yourself on her own label Megaphonic after unhappy experiences with record companies which she said failed to support her.
Heap’s second stroke of luck came with a commission to write the closing sequence of US TV series The OC, generating an online buzz that has snowballed ever since. A quick look at social network site www.myspace.com shows how important the Internet is now for up-and-coming artists. Heap, still with only modest record sales to her name, has 113,000 registered “friends” on the website, not far short of British megaband Coldplay which boasts 123,000.
Her profile has been viewed nearly 1.3 million times on the site, and listeners have tuned in to hear her songs 2.7 million times, although hits do not necessarily turn into downloads.
“I’m just grateful to have this record out at this time,” Heap said. “It’s perfect for people like me who don’t have so much money in the beginning, being able to just put your record on iTunes.”
“People can find out about the tune, listen to the song, go and buy it on iTunes and it comes into my bank account. It’s making it possible for musicians to put out their music and not have to worry about signing a record deal.”
Heap will be hoping that her low-budget approach to music helps her return to the rock’n’roll heights of her late teens.
Having just left school, she was hanging out with stars like Bon Jovi in the South of France, and her first concert appearance was a set between The Who and Eric Clapton at a Prince’s Trust event in London in front of more than 100,000 people.
“I haven’t been quite so rock’n’roll since,” she said.
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