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Young folk singer gets famous online

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mattituck (Reuters): Inside a dishevelled Long Island beach cottage on a muggy summer day, Jamie Kristine Seerman sings into a microphone, strumming a battered guitar, recording on a computer a song that she hopes will be a hit. She has no financial backing or marketing plan, but with the help of new technology, the 25-year-old who performs as Jaymay has quickly graduated from Manhattan open-mike nights to become a folk music darling. And while she says major record companies from New York to London want to sign her in hopes of making her a star, Seerman is recording and plans to release her debut album alone.

''I've been offered conventional contracts from major record labels and very indie-friendly, unconventional contracts,'' Seerman said during a break from recording. ''They have offered me everything I could want.'' But with the music industry in flux because of the Internet, iTunes and inexpensive recording, she said that for now she would rather maintain control of her work. ''For a long time, the way you were discovered was through record labels. Now it's through the Internet, through blogs, through MySpace,'' she said. ''For all I know, maybe music will all be sold as ring tones in seven years.'' Playing New York's folk clubs since August 2003, Seerman began recording songs in her Brooklyn bedroom last year using a computer program. ''It took a long time because of dogs barking and my landlord screaming. It was a very difficult setting.'' She released those recordings -- the five-song ''Sea Green, See Blue'' EP -- on the Internet site www.insound.com in February. On her MySpace page, fans have listened more than 75,000 times to her songs, which feature her seductive voice, poetic lyrics and sparse, unusual musical arrangements.

''Then in May I got a phone call from iTunes out of the blue,'' she said. ''It really took off on iTunes.'' Featured on Apple's iTunes' indie spotlight, her song ''Gray or Blue'' became a top-selling folk song in June and her EP made the top 100 albums. Those sales -- over 1,300 EPs and more than 2,500 songs sold on iTunes plus more than 500 discs sold at concerts -- are funding her first full-length album, she said. ''iTunes ...opened me up to people all over the world.'' New technology gave her another boost on July 11 when Santa Monica, Calif.-based radio station KCRW put the song ''Sea Green, See Blue'' on its popular ''Top Tune'' podcast -- making the song available for free download to people worldwide.

British entertainment lawyer Nicky Stein, who first saw Seerman perform in a New York bar 18 months ago, likened her style to Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. He began representing her in September and said he is now in ''advanced'' talks with ''two major record labels in Britain'' to release her album there.

Stein -- of London firm Clintons, which has a client roster including Paul McCartney, The Who and U2 -- said, ''I hope to conclude a deal within the next couple of months.'' He declined to name the companies involved.

Paste magazine music editor Jason Killingsworth said the music industry is so fragmented that for many artists, ''there is no compelling reason to sign up to a major record label.'' With cheap recording software and the Internet available to build a fan base, he said it often makes more sense to go it alone in the early years of an artist's career.

''These technologies have changed everything. They put the means of production in the hands of the average person in the same way blogging has made the average American Joe into a journalist,'' he said. ''The Internet is word of mouth on steroids, so these artists are building a real fan base,'' Killingsworth said. ''It seems that the artists which start with slow-building momentum are the ones that that end up sticking around for 30 years.'' Pete Giberga, who scouts and develops talent for Epic Records, said new technology had helped some artists become established without record companies.

But, he said, that new dynamic had neither made his job easier or more difficult. ''Our goal is still to sign great artists with great songs. None of that has changed.'' Raised on Long Island, Seerman graduated from university in Florida in 2003 and had wanted to work in book publishing. ''No one would hire me,'' she said. ''So, I moved back to New York ... and started playing open mikes.'' ''It was hard torture,'' she said of her early shows. ''I would stay until 2:30 or 4:30 in the morning just to play one song. No one would be left, maybe four drunk people.'' Despite that, Seerman felt being a singer was her fate.

Now as she puts the final touches on an album she hopes to release herself in America, she is in no hurry for fame. ''If I don't have my big break for the next five or 10 years, then that's just the way it is. But I feel confident that something will happen,'' she said. And while technology helped her get noticed, this young woman says she is still more bookworm than computer geek. 'I don't even know how to put songs on my iPod,'' she admitted with a smile.

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