Sometimes all it takes is one good idea to spark a revolution. That’s how Terra Naomi became YouTube’s first breakout music star when she launched her innovative “Virtual Summer Tour” from her Hollywood apartment in 2006. By “touring” online with daily videos shot live from her bedroom, Naomi scored an accidental viral hit with her song “Say It’s Possible” and ended up inspiring a generation of webcam singer-songwriters.
Naomi didn’t set out to be an Internet pioneer, but today she continues to forge new ground online as she explores different channels to bring her music to her fans, from weekly Ustream live broadcasts to Twitter-only releases. After a major label deal that proved to be an ill fit, Naomi has learned that she prefers the intimacy and immediacy of bringing her music straight to her fans.
At times she’s had to learn the hard way which direction she’d like to take her music career. It’s been a wild ride, full of contradictions and extremes – starting with classical voice and piano, segueing into drug addiction, veering over into rehab and songwriting, a move to NYC, a move to LA, independent tours, a major label album, a move to London and back to LA – and somehow this emerging artist feels like it’s all just beginning.
“I’m starting over,” she says. “I know who I am now, and I know who I am not. I know the artist I want to be. I had so many people telling me what to do and how to do it, and I listened, out of fear. Now I listen to myself.”
Born on a farm in upstate New York (“my parents grew carrots, and we had apple trees and cats – does that count as a real farm?”), Naomi poured her emotion into art and music, playing piano and French horn, and then went on to pursue a degree in opera.
“I love singing and knew it was how I wanted to spend my life, and I come from a family where you go to college, so I chose to pursue a degree in music, but I was also confused and self-destructive,” she explains. “I would stumble into class after being out all night, on the days I actually went to class. The stuff I learned was definitely not in the curriculum…”
Naomi’s sardonic wit is evident in her songs as well. Listen to “The Vicodin Song” or “Happy Story,” and you will feel the dichotomy. Her music is equal parts darkness and light, strength and fragility. Songs like “Everybody Knows” and “The Other Man” showcase heartache and longing, but there is always a sense of hope. Of course, some songs are all hope without the darkness, like “You For Me,” which has become a fan favorite. Several fans have even proposed marriage to their significant others while Naomi personally dedicated the song by request.
After moving to Los Angeles in 2003 to work with producer Paul Fox (XTC, The Sugarcubes, 10,000 Maniacs), Naomi toured the United States for the next three years, sometimes alone in her car and sometimes opening for other artists. She became a regular at the Hotel Café, a hotspot for LA’s burgeoning singer-songwriter community. Naomi struggled without the support of a label, often playing for small crowds and building her fan base, one person at a time, but thanks to the rising power of the Internet, everything was about to change.
Tired of driving around the country at a time when fuel costs were at an all-time high, Naomi decided to stay home for the summer of 2006 and began posting daily videos on YouTube, then a fledgling startup. “Say It’s Possible,” recorded in her apartment with a Sony Handycam and a halogen floor lamp, was featured on YouTube, inspiring fans worldwide to post hundreds of “YouTube covers” in a wide range of styles, including versions in seven languages, even Mandarin. Naomi went on to receive the inaugural YouTube Video Award for “Best Music Video” for “Say It’s Possible,” garnering appearances on NBC’s The Today Show and CBS’ The Early Show. Naomi was featured in articles for Reuters, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times of London, The Independent and went on to place her songs in TV shows like “Private Practice” and “American Idol” and the feature films “Because I Said So” and “Sherrybaby.”
After signing a publishing deal with Universal Music and a record deal with Island Records, Naomi moved to London and found herself playing in front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium, as the only new artist at Live Earth, performing alongside Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas. It seemed like kismet had brought her there.
“At Universal’s Grammy party in LA, I looked across the room and saw Al Gore, so I went up to him and told him that “Say It’s Possible” was inspired by his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ I told him how it changed my life. Next thing I knew, he gave me his email address and asked me to send him a link to the video!”
London was full of intense highs and lows. Naomi toured the UK with The Fray and Martha Wainwright, played various festivals including V Fest, Hyde Park Calling and Latitude Festival, and released her first studio album “Under The Influence” in November 2007, to mixed reviews.
“It was the classic story – we didn’t make the right album,” she realized. “It didn’t connect with fans who had embraced my organic, acoustic online performances, and critics were confused when they loved my live show, which was very raw and honest, and then listened to the album which was overproduced and glossy.”
Promotion of the album stopped and Naomi delivered her newest songs to the label with the intention of moving on to the second album, at which point the head of Island Records, also her A&R, announced that he was leaving. Naomi once again braced herself for a major transition, left Island Records and moved back to Los Angeles in June 2008 to start anew.
Here, in the city where it all took off four years ago, she assembled a new team, wrote new songs, reconnected with her online fans and toured the United States, Canada, India and Italy on 100% fan-funded tours. In 2009, she played sold-out opera houses in Italy and a groundbreaking first Western music concert in Kashmir. Armed with everything she’s learned about herself and the music business, Terra Naomi is embracing the DIY spirit that has been with her all along.
“I had this choir teacher in high school who always said, ‘It’s not the mistakes you make, it’s how you recover.’ He was talking about our choir performances, of course, but it works for everything.”
For more information, please visit terranaomi.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org