Musical students build up fame, 99 cents at a time

By
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The iTunes Store greets viewers with the usual charts of top artists and songs. But closer inspection reveals Brown undergraduates have also found a niche on the popular downloading site.

“Having music on iTunes – it’s an amazing way to market your music because everyone knows iTunes,” said singer-songwriter Kayla Ringelheim ’11, who has a full albumand several additional tracks on iTunes. “For some reason it really resonates with people.”

For musicians at Brown, iTunes is not an exclusive means for distributing their music or providing a major source of income, but it is one of several channels to spread their songs to a larger audience.

iTunes “just adds another layer of credibility,” said Andy Suzuki ’09, a pianist who is working to add his first album to the iTunes Store. One of the first questions people ask him, he said, is if his music is on the online music store.

“I think a lot of people get gift certificates, or they have parents’ credit cards registered on there,” said Rosalind Schonwald ’12, a Herald contributing writer who has an album on iTunes called “Model Martian Moon Boy.”

iTunes takes 30 cents for every 99-cent song purchased on its site, according to many of the student artists. There is about a two-month delay between the time of purchase and the time the musician receives a check.

“It’s like a little surprise present in the mail,” Ringelheim said.

Schonwald characterized her music as folk. She was highly influenced by Sarah McLachlan, to whom she listened in her childhood. Schonwald has also studied jazz for the past three years, which has affected her vocal style and chord structure, she said.

Ringelheim started taking piano lessons at the age of 10. Her singer-songwriter teacher inspired her to write her own music ­- songs inspired by Joni Mitchell and Norah Jones, who is “poppy or whatever, but she is good,” Ringelheim said.

Besides selling her music on iTunes, Ringelheim also performs at a “tight network” of coffeehouses up and down the East Coast. “Once you kind of get in there, there are a bunch of places you can play,” she said.

Ringelheim recently released two singles on iTunes in December: “Corner and Stone” and

“Two Suns.”

“Those two songs almost felt indulgent,” Ringelheim said. “Recording is kind of like a luxury for musicians. It’s a completely different mindset from playing live. When you are performing it is really interactive and different every time.”

iTunes is not necessarily a large source of income for these artists. “We don’t really care about making money for shows,” said Doug Berman ’09, guitar player and singer for the band Saturday Morning Project, which is made up of six Brown students. “iTunes is just another way to have our stuff out there.”

Saturday Morning Project began when Berman met with several of his friends in the Hillel practice room their freshman year to make music. They then started meeting every Saturday morning and soon formed today’s six-member band.

The group is made up of an electric violin, a piano, two guitars, a bass and drums.

Berman characterized the band’s music as “pop-concious rock music,” but added, “We play rap covers. We try to keep it fun for ourselves.”

Saturday Morning Project opened for Guster last year at Providence Piers and played at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel this past fall.

Many of the performers also play in venues around campus, specifically the Hourglass Café and the Underground. Berman said the Saturday Morning Project is trying to book Leung Gallery for a show this semester.

“We are trying to fit more people (in our shows) because, the last three shows, we have had to turn people away,” Berman said.

Suzuki also travels up and down the East Coast, performing at universities, high schools and boarding schools.

He learned to play the piano when he was young and then focused on singing. He started playing piano again at the end of his senior year in high school so he could accompany himself in a performance.

Though Suzuki often has a hard time characterizing his music, he described it as “more acoustic, singer-songwriter with some hints of R&B.” He said he is influenced by Mitchell, John Legend and John Mayer.

Suzuki’s full-length album, called “Flamingos for Dinner,” is in the final stages of recording and should be available on iTunes in March.

After graduation, Suzuki said he is planning to move to New York City “with the ultimate goal of being able to support myself through music.”