April 01, 2011

Singer/Songwriter Kina Grannis: Online and On the Rise

The days of aspiring artists soliciting demo tapes to record labels through the mail are, if not obsolete, then certainly on the decline. The internet has not only revolutionized how consumers acquire music, but also how technologically savvy artists make their music most accessible. In recent years artists like Meiko and Christina Perri have capitalized on the internet as a means to establish an audience before (if ever) having signed a recording contract.

Add to those names 25-year-old singer/songwriter Kina Grannis, whose folk-flavored-pop LP, Stairwells, is set for a revamped and expanded release on Tuesday. Originally issued last February exclusively in digital outlets, the album peaked at Number Five on the iTunes Pop Chart and sold in excess of 11,000 copies.

Not bad for someone who got her first big break on the World Wide Web.

In late 2007 Grannis entered the “Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl Challenge” online. “I needed people to come back every day and vote for me for two months,” she explains of the contest. To do so, she uploaded a new video of her performing a different song each day — “It was intense,” she recalls, giggling. “No life! No sleep!” — mixing select covers with original material. She expected she could at least get her friends and family involved, but as she says, “It didn’t take long before I realized that this was going to be something bigger than just a way to keep my friends and family voting.” What she didn’t realize, until the video for her song “Message From Your Heart” aired during Super Bowl XLII, was that she’d won, landing a deal with Interscope Records.

Disagreements over creative control later caused her to break with the label and become an independent artist. Though she seems to have no misgivings about her decision, Grannis does concede that in handling the day-to-day demands of her emergent career she now finds it rather difficult to concentrate on her craft. “It used to be that before music was my life, it was the thing I would always escape to,” she says. “Now that there is all this business stuff and all this online stuff, I find it hard to sit down and hang out with my guitar and write.”

When asked how she challenges herself creatively without having to answer to anyone, though, she’s happy to point out whose approval she most seeks and appreciates. “I think I actually have an advantage [to] having the big label breathing down your neck,” she says, “because I have this direct line with my fans and the people who are supporting me. I feel like it’s because of those people that I’m always pushed daily.”

From such interaction with her fans, Grannis acknowledges feeling the pressure of living up to their expectations. “There are these people who hold me accountable and comment on all my videos, comment on my blog posts,” she says. On top of that, the relative anonymity afforded to online commentators tends to make them especially candid with their opinions and, sometimes, cruel. “That’s always been hardest for me,” she says, “trying to grow some thicker skin.”

Getting used to performing before a live audience, particularly after she’d grown accustomed to singing in front of a webcam, didn’t make that thicker skin any easier to come by. “I was kind of shy at first,” she recalls, “and I kept to myself, but I felt this urge to be sharing [my music] with people. So I started having little shows at coffeehouses and things like that, but it was painful…. I had many a show where it ended and I’d go hide and start crying and saying, ‘Tonight was so awkward!’

“Nowadays I’m getting more used to it,” she goes on to say, and it’s a good thing too, because she’s slated to begin an extensive tour in support of Stairwells this weekend. Whatever jitters await her on the road, though, she says that she's realized one thing for sure. “The people who come to my shows now are not there to judge me,” she insists. “They’re there to enjoy themselves, have fun, and connect.”

Stairwells will be in stores both digital and retail on Tuesday, April 5. For more information, please visit the artist's official website.