A few weeks ago I ran a post about Mat Weddle of Obadiah Parker, and his success with his acoustic cover of Outcast’s “Hey Ya”. I had the pleasure of talking with Matt over the past week about the song, his new project, and his thoughts of using the web to promote them.
Well, I learned how to play music when I was in High School youth group at my church. I was really close with my youth pastor and one day he asked if I would sing with the band that week. I had never sung before but I really wanted to be a part of the band so I was stoked!
I think that learning how to play music in church has influenced what I do now a lot. What we did in High School was to take the worship songs that everyone was doing and try to make them our own and figure out what we could do to make it fun and interesting. Which is pretty much exactly what I do when I want to cover a song.
Me and a couple friends from that youth group band started to play some of my original songs and some covers in local coffee shops and music venues. We started to get a little bit of a fan base and we released an EP. But everything was going extremely slow and we often felt like frustrated musicians.
2. Did you ever think of recording “Hey Ya” as a commercial single, or did you just start playing it live without a thought?
Ha! Not at all. We just thought it was a fun song to play and people liked it. It really started as self parody. We were pretty much saying, “Hey, we can take any song and make it slow and boring!”
3. How did the video get on YouTube? Was it a planned event, in the hopes of gaining attention, or did it happen by mistake?
Well, I performed the song one night at a local coffee shop and a friend of mine video taped the whole performance. A fan that was there that night asked my friend if he could have the video and he ended up editing Hey Ya with the original music video and uploading it. We thought that he did a good job but we really didn’t think much of it other than that.
4. I discussed on this blog about a month ago about the large amount of views the video has gotten over the past couple of years. After doing some research I did rush over to by the recorded version. Did you sell a lot of albums, or at least singles, from the popularity of the cover? Has your fan-base grown because of it?
Yeah absolutely. The song and the album were one of the top sellers for iTunes in 2007 in their folk music section. After everyone takes their percentage it’s not enough money to where I can record an album but we were able to build a really large fan base. I’ve got so many emails from people around the world saying how much they loved the cover and how it lead them to the original music that we’ve done.
5. You mention on your new video at obadiahparker.com about how you waited for some interest from a label. How long have you been trying to court a major label? What do you think are the reasons why you haven’t gotten a record deal?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know if we were ever courting labels but we were hoping that they would see the video and be interested in it. (I am absolutely terrible at anything having to do with marketing!) The more I’ve talked to people in the industry the more that I’ve discovered that labels are just not signing that many bands these days. Even before the economy turned, record labels were hurting badly from people getting music from the internet and burned CDs. They became much more concerned with how much money a band was going to make rather than how good a band was or how good they could be.
I think the biggest thing we had to offer a label was potential. But we needed help and a lot of nurturing to become commercially successful. I don’t really know the reason that labels chose to take a pass on us but I would bet it had a lot to do with the dwindling amount of resources that they were able to spend in artist development.
Or they thought we sucked. That’s always a possibility.
6. I spend a lot of time teaching artists a kind of new-school mentality of just doing it all themselves, obviously using the Internet as the means of distribution and marketing. Do you think it’s possible to achieve success this way?
It has to be. There’s not a reliable system of being signed to a major label and getting a professional record made and marketed anymore. There’s so many opportunities for independent artists right now: lots of quality home recording studios, tons of social networking websites like YouTube and MySpace to harvest fans, and the technology to reach out and connect with a fan base in ways that have never been done before.
7. You’re recording your first album in January, and giving fans access to the behind the scenes of it for $10, called the Elihu Project. I think this is super-savvy stuff, and want to know how you came up with the idea behind it.
Thanks! But really my wife Lisa came up with it. We were trying to figure out a way to take advantage of all the fans that we’ve been able to gather from the YouTube video. We didn’t want to do another acoustic hip-hop cover and we didn’t want to ask for charity. With The Elihu Project we’re offering fans an opportunity to partner with us in making this record and pushing Obadiah Parker to the next level of artistic and commercial success. We’re asking for $10 but we’ve already got a great response from our members who feel that they’re getting more than their money’s worth.
8. What can you tell us about the album creatively that will get us interested in watching it be made? What kinds of things will we know about, and what kinds of media will bring it to our attention.
The project is all about what it’s like for an independent artist to make his first studio album. I’m posting lyrics as soon as I write them, recording initial song ideas, video taping the demo recording process and eventually taking the video camera to Nashville with us to document the experience of being in the studio. The project also gives fans the opportunity to provide feedback and opinions every step of the way and even be a part of some decision making processes down the road. So far, one of the most exciting things has been to hear the fans react to the songs in their infant stages and be able to have pretty raw and open dialogue about the record, the process and my life in general.
9. Finally, in one word, how would describe how to go about becoming successful as a musician today?
Well, I’m going to conveniently ignore the whole “one word” part of that question and say something extremely cliche instead. First, you have to determine what success looks like for you. If you want to become famous or sell a ton of music I really don’t know how to help you. For me I’ve discovered that I want to make the best music that I possibly can and if there are people who appreciate it then it’s a bonus. There are a ton of opportunities to grow as an artist and connect with the people that find and like what I’m doing. I’m just trying to have faith that God is going to take care of the rest.
The other thing is that you have to be true to yourself. Play the music that you would want to listen to, choose a band name that you like, play in the venues that you want to go see shows. There might be a lot of people telling you what you should do but if you do all those things and don’t end up where you want to be AND you don’t even really like the music that you play – that’s failure. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, even if only a few people connect with your music that’s a huge accomplishment that is worth being proud of.
You know, it’s ironic that I’m adding more to the answer that was only supposed to be one word!
And hit up Obadiah Parker @ Myspace while you’re at it.