Middlebury teen musician builds following online

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(Host) The road to a successful career in pop music has never been an easy one. In recent years, though, the Internet has created new possibilities for artists to have their music heard.

Now younger artists are using popular social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to launch careers.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, one Middlebury performer is building a following online, one fan at a time.

(Zind) Forget the radio play and the record company promotion. Forget, even, a regular Website.

For a young musician like 19 year old Jer Coons the social networking site MySpace has been the key to his budding career. He communicates with fans there, he posts videos and he sells his music.

(Zind) Coons MySpace page allows him to interact and express himself in a way that a Website or blog couldn’t. He has more than four thousand MySpace friends so far and he spends a couple of hours each communicating with them. It’s that personalized touch that turns the casual listener into the diehard fan.

(Coons) "The Internet is such an amazing plain that levels everything, if you can get in touch with a band that you really appreciate their music and a guy from a band you like is writing back to you and answering your questions."

(Zind) Coons launched his career in Vermont but increasingly he’s playing outside of the state at colleges and clubs throughout the Northeast.

Granted, his success is modest at this point, but it’s a start.

When he plays at Higher Ground in South Burlington Friday night he expects about two hundred people to turnout. One small measure of his success is that Coons has a band backing him up now – a group from Addison called The Grift.

Scrolling through the comments posted on Coons MySpace page, it’s clear that most of his fans are teenage girls – a fact he acknowledges in his online bio when he describes his music as quote "pop that your boyfriend isn’t afraid to listen to." Having an audience of mostly teenage girls is fine with him.

(Coons) "They’re some of the most perceptive and some of the most interesting music listeners because they are constantly looking for the new thing and they’re constantly looking for independent musicians that oftentimes fall under the radar and my music is particularly conducive to that crowd."

(Zind) Selling content online to teenagers is right in line with today’s music buying trends. Last year, nearly half the teenage music buyers didn’t buy any CDs, they downloaded all their music. The download site iTunes is now second only to Wal-Mart stores in music sales.

And increasingly young people are looking for music and video content on social network sites like Face Book and MySpace. That works to the advantage of new independent artists like Coons.

(Zind) Coons’ music is like him. He’s bright and articulate. He’s also funny and self-effacing. That’s evident in a comical self-produced video on his MySpace page about being late to school.

(Jer singing) "I’m late, I’m late its time for me to wake, I’m awake and now…"

(Zind) The video features Coon’s parents: His father Addison Country Sheriff Jim Coons and his mother Julie who support his career.

(Mother) "Jer, you’re going to be late for school!"

(Zind) Actually, Coons isn’t running late for school these days. He dropped out of college last spring. He says it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision – but the writing was on the wall.

(Coons) "I realized that it was probably time to leave school when I was playing shows pretty much every single weekend. When you’re skipping class to write songs and they’re music classes, you know there’s something wrong."

(Zind) For now Coons is back living at his parents’ house. When he isn’t working for a local mail order cufflinks company he’s likely to be practicing in a basement in a room full of musical equipment.

(Zind) Coons has just finished recording a new album which will be available online this fall. Of course he’d love to have a big record deal and if he’s going to have a long term career, it’s probably essential. But he thinks he can go a long way making and marketing music on his own.

(Coons) "It’s definitely very grassroots and very independent. That’s certainly something that I’ve aspired to: independence. But at the same time I’m trying to make a career out of it."

(Zind) In the pop music world, success, even modest success well-short of stardom, is hard to attain and it can be very fleeting.

Coons says all his friends are in college now and he’s aware that he’s chosen a difficult path.

But he says he really had no choice.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.

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