The Telegram - St. John's, Newfoundland

Allison Crowe is shown in this publicity photo at Trinity College, Dublin. — Photo by Billie Woods
Allison Crowe is shown in this publicity photo at Trinity College, Dublin. — Photo by Billie Woods
Singer struts her stuff online  

Savvy, free Internet marketing replaces record deals at the new mecca of the music biz

Special to The Telegram

Allison Crowe isn’t bitter that she hasn’t been offered a big glossy record deal. In fact, she actually has been offered a big New York-produced record glossier than the thousands of fake-autographed Justin Timberlake 8x10s that fly fervently through the mail for his adoring fans to sleep with every night.

“They told me at first that I had complete creative control,” Crowe says of her three-week stint living in New York City. “But very quickly it became about getting rid of my manager, and hiring more writers to ‘work with me,’ which really meant writing the songs for me, so I got out of there pretty quick!” she says with a laugh.

The 25-year-old Nanaimo, B.C., native has a nearly celestial sound, her piano and vocals hauntingly heartfelt and throbbing with raw emotion. When watching the YouTube video that launched her successful career, it is obvious from the way she smirk-sings from the side of her mouth and the provocative tease smouldering from her eyes that she has the most fun when performing.

That YouTube video was produced for under C$200, and shows Crowe performing a pristine yet playful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Websites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace can make anyone a star, which is unfortunately evident from the too many painful home videos of teenage girls doing their rendition of those cheerleaders from “Saturday Night Live.” However, the right people plus the right talent making the right moves can equal success.

And speaking of “SNL,” a performer named Andy Samberg — now a very popular cast member, in particular for his SNL Digital Shorts, one of which stars Justin Timberlake — made his way onto the landmark show thanks to his Lonely Island comedy troupe’s website.

“You have to make sure the right people see what you post on the sites,” says Crowe, explaining how to ensure your talent shines through those teenage girl home-video imitations.

“You don’t just put it out there and expect that people will look at it. A lot of what I do online has to do with messaging people, them messaging you back and starting dialogues and stuff. Then you put your work up for them to see, they tell others about it, and it just spirals. Things like Facebook help, too — you can make events and invite people you know to the event, and then those people can invite other people, and so on. So it’s a great, free way to network and get yourself out there.”

Crowe started off by doing open-mike nights near her hometown, then got her own gigs, moved on to coffee houses and theatres, and was eventually able to travel and tour more frequently. She has played all over Canada and the U.K. Spring 2008 will see her jet-setting to France, Germany, Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Austria, England and Wales. Copies of her most recent CD, “This Little Bird,” are selling well from both live performance sales, as well as on iTunes and via her website. There is also the website Jamendo, where listeners can check out artists, and donate if they dig it.

Crowe records all her material herself, as opposed to using an expensive studio.

“Recording yourself is a big part of the (music) revolution, because it falls along the same lines of creative control,” she emphasizes.

“Once you learn the software (Cubase) and how to record, having the ability to do that so affordably and portably is freeing up people to record whenever they want to. It’s super low-budget. Even with the video — I did one that was about $15,000 and no one ever saw the thing! But then I did the ‘Tidings’ DVD, which cost about $2,000, and has lots of videos. But being able to create more freely has a lot to do with that revolution that’s happening out there — you can record, you can create, you can get it out there.”

And so, the decision to walk away from the traditional mecca of music biz — the elusive record deal — was not a difficult one for Crowe. Artistic collaboration with someone you know and trust is one thing, but being paired with “industry-employed writers” is sort of like an arranged marriage, she said — you can’t be expected to create an artistic expression of love and passion if you’re doing it with a stranger.

Crowe will perform at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre Friday night.