Fame can be measured in various ways. For Nick Noonan of Karmin, it's the ever-decreasing amount of down time. "Literally everything is different now," writes Noonan via e-mail. "No more daytime naps!"
SOCIAL NETWORKING When Janelle Monáe tweeted them, Karmin “had 100 more Twitter followers, 6000 more views on the video, within 10 minutes.”
Oh, YouTube. You not only have the power to make a sneezing panda a celebrity and Justin Bieber the king of our spare time, but sometimes, in true fairy-tale fashion, you grant invaluable exposure to new artists.
As recently as January, Karmin were simply a Boston-based boy-girl duo of Noonan and Amy Heidemann, armed with guitar, cajon, and a fistful of harmonies. They had not yet appeared on Ellen. They had not taken to the radio airwaves with Ryan Seacrest. They had not appeared in TV ads for the 2011 NBA finals. They had not performed with Questlove, and they did not have a tongue-twisting cover that has garnered nearly 16 million hits on YouTube.
What they did have when I first talked to them in January was a Sunset Cantina mushroom melt, a Sunday afternoon off, high hopes for their latest posts to their Web site, and excitement about their recent (December) engagement to each other. That was then.
After steadily posting YouTube videos for the better part of a year, Heidemann and Noonan struck gold with a cover of Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now," prompting thousands of re-postings and sparking a tangible online buzz. They were asked to perform the track — where Heidemann takes down Busta Rhymes' fast-paced rap with almost frightening ease — on Ellen, a clip that now has 1.5 million views. They are YouTube's latest darlings, and a career seems inevitable.
But their first misstep on the way to fame? Graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2008. "That was our first mistake," Noonan told me in January. "If you ever want to be famous, don't graduate. John Mayer? Didn't graduate. . . . " Finished with school, the pair focused on making music as much as they could while working multiple part-time jobs.
"I was on the phone all day at Berklee [as a counselor in the school's online division] telling people to pursue their dreams, and there I was without 20 minutes for myself," says Heidemann, a striking brunette who hails from Nebraska and plays straight man to Noonan's goofball. She shakes her head as she recounts the numerous weekends spent singing covers with a wedding band for extra cash. "Social networking has been a huge part of it. When Janelle Monáe tweeted our video of us covering her songs, we instantly had 100 more Twitter followers, 6000 more views on the video, within 10 minutes. We had to thank her because she tripled our fan base in two minutes."
Once Heidemann discovered she had not only the ability to belt, but the control to rap flawlessly, their homemade videos began garnering a little more attention. The pair has gone from performing Top 40 covers on their YouTube channel, karmincovers (Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles, etc.), to slamming out hip-hop beats and spits that are making label reps sit up and pay attention. Five months after building the initial buzz, they're in negotiations with a handful of labels and piecing together the production team for Karmin's debut album. Though the pair consider Boston home and pledge to "rep Beantown wherever we are," it's looking like Los Angeles may be the next stop.