Crowd-sourcing to crowd-pleasing: The rise of Kat Edmonson
The 29-year-old Texan, an old-school chanteuse with a contemporary lilt, has funded production of her second album via a community workshop and through crowd-sourcing, essentially getting the people who like her to pay for it. The album, “Way Down Low”, has now been picked up by Sony which is “launching” the singer outside the United States as an up-and-comer in a more traditional manner.
It is a far cry from her first album, which Edmonson simply charged to her credit card. “Go into debt and pay it back (was the idea),” the singer told me after performing at a church in central London.
The 2009 album was relatively successful and she garnered enough attention to appear with Lyle Lovett on Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” on U.S. television but she was still pretty strapped for cash. So her second album came about differently. First, she hooked up with METalliance, a U.S. community foundation of established music producers and audio engineers who record artists they like for free, and paid for by having music fans come in to watch how they did it.
After that, however, Edmonson needed to pay for the music to be mixed. She wanted it done by Al Schmitt, whose credits include working with Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall and a host of jazz and rock greats. So Edmonson put a video of her work on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, offering incentives ranging from future downloads to performances at private parties in exchange for funding pledges.
“I raised $50,000,” she said, and watched the album rise in the United States to No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart for new or developing acts.
Edmonson doesn’t call herself a jazz singer, but only out of modesty. She says she would be loathe to so link herself to the greats of the genre. “I would be (embarrassed) to enter into a room full of scat singers,” she said.
Instead, she simply says she sings the “American Songbook” – a catalogue of generally mid-20th century songs, many from musicals. She sings them with a soft, enchanting voice that is full of expression – and jazzy, whether she likes it or not.
The traditional songbook style is on display throughout “Way Down Low”, particularly on the tracks “Champagne” and “I’m Not In Love”, which include witty lyrics about never drinking again and about going through life wearing “entirely sensible shoes”. But it also includes a couple of more contemporary tunes in “I Don’t Know” and “Lucky”, which are closer to something a muted Adele or Duffy might come up with.
The latter song has already made its mark in the United States. It has been sold for television, film and commercials and is on the soundtrack of the Tina Fey comedy film “Admission” that was released in March.
In Europe, Edmonson is planning concerts in Germany and Britain and then is scheduled to perform in July at the Montreux Jazz Festival on the same bill as George Benson.
(This is an edited version of an article I wrote for my regular employer, Reuters)