The YouTube Generation: Grimmie and Ward

The birth, emergence and streamlining of YouTube over the past six years has opened a new avenue for artists to share their talents with a worldwide audience. Two of the most popular and gifted artists at the head of this movement are Christina Grimmie and Tyler Ward, both young singer-songwriters determined to use the site as a launching pad for their burgeoning careers.

There’s no denying the platform YouTube provides as the site gathers more than two billion views each day. Although Grimmie and Ward are both currently unsigned, they’ve been able to carve out their own corner of the site as the ninth and 22nd most subscribed musicians, respectively.

Grimmie, who may be better known by her YouTube username “zeldaxlove64,” admits that even though she’d been singing her whole life, she had never really thought about performing online.

“At first I didn’t want to do [YouTube] at all, but one of my best friends convinced me because she had told me about a YouTube artist that had about 30,000 subscribers [who] sang subpar,” she said. “My friend was just like, ‘Christina, why don’t you just throw something up there [and] see what happens because you’re 12 times better than this girl.’”

With her friend’s encouragement, Grimmie finally decided, admittedly “out of boredom, out of fun,” to upload a video of herself singing and rapidly gained a following, ultimately being contacted by Brian Teefey, her current manager and Selena Gomez’s stepfather.

Just 16 years old, Grimmie, who lists Christina Aguilera as one of her favorite artists and biggest influences, is blessed with a powerful, mature voice. For the most part, her videos feature her singing and accompanying herself on the piano without any editing.

“I want to make it seem very real, very natural, so I’m just going to stick to me doing my thing on piano and singing,” she said. “That’ll actually draw a little bit more attention, if you can sing a song really great with just your voice and piano.”

Ward, found on YouTube at “tylerwardmusic,” likewise had no expectations for the kind of fan base that he has now.

“To be honest I just wanted to put some videos up because it seemed like the cool thing to do,” he said.

Ward set 10,000 hits as an early goal, but now routinely shatters that, with his most viewed video, a cover of B.O.B’s “Airplanes,” at more than 12 million views.

In addition to singing and songwriting, Ward is also a full-time producer with his own recording studio.

“I want to do it all. I want to do songwriting, I want to do performing and I want to do production,” he said. “But now is the time to focus on my performing career, so in the next two, three, or four years I’m really going to push that.”

Ward describes his style as mostly pop rock and has very high production quality on his videos, using a high-definition camera to film and edit the audio at his studio.

“I’ve always liked incorporating good sound,” he said. “The first two years were all live videos, but I always put a little bit of reverb on the voice, a little bit of fine tuning just making it sound good.”

Both artists have successfully ridden the YouTube wave to where they are now and are fully aware of what the site has allowed them to do.

“The platform of YouTube is huge,” said Ward. “So you know you’re going to get a lot of exposure.”

That exposure is huge for Ward, as the sales from his shows, merchandise and digital downloads allow him to make a living off his music.

Grimmie acknowledges this large viewership but also warns that it’s not always pleasant, citing some negative feedback she received on her rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Back to December.”

“You can’t please everybody, and you’re definitely going to have your haters and those people that just don’t like you,” she said.

Still, Grimmie hasn’t let the negativity get in her way as she currently has more than 600,000 subscribers and nearly 90 million views.

This sizable fan base helped Grimmie rise to the top of the MyYouTube competition, a recent contest based primarily on user subscriptions and recommendations. She beat out a variety of other more established artists, finishing at the top of a heap that featured Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber behind her in the top five.

“I was very, very nervous considering there were really big pop artists in it,” said Grimmie. “But things turned out well for me, and I’m No. 1, which is really, really awesome and I thank God every day for it.”

Grimmie is currently hoping to get signed in the near future, a logical next step for her career. Until then, she will continue making videos and taking opportunities such as the City of Hope concert on March 20, where she’ll be opening for Gomez and the Jonas Brothers.

While Grimmie is taking things as they come, Ward has a more specific goal. Despite the fact that his videos generate an eye-popping number of views (currently more than 105 million) and help him take in enough revenue to make YouTube a full-time job, he finds that there is still a stigma associated with being a YouTube artist.

“Some people are like, ‘Oh, you do videos on YouTube.’ They don’t understand the new media wave that’s taking place,” he said. “The challenge is branding it into the mainstream.”

Ward thinks that the best way to help people appreciate the YouTube movement is bringing it to them through more traditional forms of media such as television and radio.

“Once we make that transition and crossover, I feel that YouTube artists in general will be taken more seriously,” said Ward.

Ward seems ready for such a move, as he’s currently shopping an original song to interested artists such as Kelly Clarkson and the Dixie Chicks as well as receiving offers for record deals himself. For Ward, the talent and opportunities are there, so he focuses instead on trying to revitalize the music industry.

“I love the idea of being independent,” he said. “[I’m] trying to literally change the way music is broadcasted and delivered to people … We’re on the brink of something really special [with YouTube and new media] and I’m just really happy to be a part of that.”

Reach the reporter at matthew.leung@asu.edu


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