A successful producer-songwriter tells you how, using YouTube, he and his creative partner discovered an unknown singer-songwriter halfway around the world, launching her music career and a collaboration with multiplatinum artist Jason Mraz.
A NEW REALITY
In just a few short years, the proliferation of home studios and the first social media platforms have ushered in a whole new reality in the way music is created, produced, promoted and sold. First, MySpace, created in 2003, became a social media platform where artists like Colbie Caillat were initially able to gain popularity. YouTube followed in 2005.
Described briefly, YouTube allows users to upload videos, view, rate, share, comment, add them to playlists as well as subscribe to other users’ channels. It offers a wide variety of user-generated and corporate media videos. Available content includes video clips, TV show clips, music videos, short and documentary films, audio recordings, movie trailers, live streams, and other content such as video blogging, short original videos and educational videos.
Most of the content on YouTube is uploaded by individuals, but media corporations offer some of their material via YouTube as part of its partnership program. Unregistered users can only watch videos on the site, while registered users are permitted to upload an unlimited number of videos and add comments to them.
In May 2007, YouTube (now owned by Google) launched its Partner Program, which allowed the uploader of the video to receive a portion of the advertising revenues. YouTube became the best way to showcase talent and to view and discover talent from all over the planet, bar none and a potential revenue stream.
Two of the earliest, high-profile YouTube music talent discoveries happened in 2007: Scooter Braun discovered Justin Bieber by accidentally clicking on his video; Neal Shon of Journey, in desperate need of a vocalist to replace frontman Steve Perry, started looking on YouTube and found Arnel Pineda in the Philippines. Many others followed, including Shawn Mendes. Those events pretty much validated the entire platform we will now call “The World Wide Open Mic.”
BENEFITS FOR ALL
Even top artists and labels can be “surprised” by how powerful and far-reaching YouTube’s reach can be. Case in point, Jason Mraz… It happened twice and it was HUGE! At an ASCAP convention, producer Steve Lillywhite, (Siouxsie and the Banshees, U2, Rolling Stones, Jason Mraz, etc.) was asked for a story about his experience working with Mraz when producing his Mr. A–Z album.” His response was, “That’s the one that got away!” Although Jason’s mega-hit, “I’m Yours,” was already recorded, Lillywhite not only didn’t hear it as the single, he didn’t think it should even be on the album!
Sometime after the album’s release, Jason was touring Europe, performing in small cities and towns. “I’m Yours” had been recorded by fans at previous shows and was posted and going viral on YouTube. At one particular outdoor show, he began singing “I’m Yours,” and he was shocked as people began singing it back to him! They came out of the little shops and stores, all singing the song they had already learned. Bullseye!
YouTube had just made it clear that it was the new World Wide Open Mic and, even more so, it had become the new A&R department. The people had spoken! “I’m Yours” remains Jason’s biggest hit, closely followed by “I Won’t Give Up.”
As Jason began working on his Love Is a Four Letter Word album, he continued to tour. At a little living room show in The Netherlands, he played “I Won’t Give Up,” a slow waltzy ballad. Surely not a hit single, right? Wrong! Again, someone in the audience recorded the song and uploaded it to YouTube. As the response to the song grew, the streaming numbers quickly outpaced the other songs. The people had spoken again! Atlantic Records, Jason Mraz’s label, changed their minds about which song would be the first single off the new album. They released “I Won’t Give Up” in January of 2012 and it is now his second-biggest hit and continues to get radio and streams to this day.
Significantly, both “I’m Yours” and “I Won’t Give Up” have generated substantial publishing revenues for its writers as a result of YouTube helping to launch the songs.
COLLABORATION IS KEY
My name is Josquin Des Pres, I am a record producer, songwriter, talent scout and music entrepreneur. Originally from France, I’ve been part of the Southern California music industry for decades. Over the years, I’ve had numerous songs published by EMI, Warner Chappell, Warner Bros. TV, Universal, and others. I’ve participated in numerous co-writes with prominent songwriters such as Bernie Taupin, produced dozens of records for major and indie labels and composed for dozens of TV shows.
I’ve always been interested in discovering fresh new artists bursting with originality. If the artists have a large following, I immediately pay attention, whether I understand their music or not. Sooner or later I’ll get it. But if their music moves me and there’s a large crowd, I am definitely in.
About a year and a half ago, I teamed up with a longtime friend, songwriter Michael Natter, to create JoNa Music Group. Our goal was to work with emerging and established songwriters and artists, to write, produce and publish hit songs. Michael has had a long history of co-writing with several artists, including American Idol and X-Factor winners, as well as several hits with Jason Mraz including his six times platinum smash “I Won’t Give Up.”
YOUTUBE SENSATION RENEÉ DOMINIQUE
Reneé Dominique is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from the Philippines, known for her music and beautifully crafted videos on YouTube. These videos feature her unique voice, her ukulele and signature style as she covers the classic music of the Beatles, the Carpenters, other popular hits, as well as her original songs. Reneé’s talent has inspired and touched the hearts of millions of people of all ages across Asia, America, Europe and other parts of the world.
In this complicated music world where it’s nearly impossible to get noticed, where the industry seems to be looking for high social media numbers rather than talent and originality, Reneé Dominique has built an enormous YouTube following (close to 100 million combined views) and has placed her songs in international advertising campaigns (Samsung, Audi, Michael Kors, etc.). From afar, it would seem that she has carefully calculated every career move and did everything right. In reality, it is her unique, sophisticated voice, her old soul and peaceful charisma, that make it all happen.
In her own words: “I can say it was a dream that I never thought would come true, especially at this pace. I started on YouTube at 13 years old, clueless of where the platform would take me. All I knew, the moment I posted my first cover, was I just wanted to rediscover my love for music and share that with someone out there. I wouldn't say that it all 'just happened,' because it took six years for me to build a following for myself, going through hits and misses with label deals, and continually doing performances for special events and invitations to music festivals.”
In addition, she says trying to juggle school and keeping a fresh YouTube presence was difficult. “There were lots of times where I would feel like maybe this career wasn't meant for me; especially seeing everyone else's career flourish quite instantly through YouTube. I decided to not focus on comparing my journey to others, or worry about the number of views and statistics. Instead, I would just go back to the reason why I started in the first place—simply because I love music, and I want to share that with the world. Eventually, that's when things started to happen. Every little step and opportunity is progress for me to reach out to the dream I have.”
PRODUCTION ACROSS OCEANS
I discovered Reneé Dominique last December 2018 while dozing off in front of a television. A Samsung Galaxy commercial woke me up when I heard her angelic interpretation of Keane’s 2005 hit song “Somewhere Only We Know” playing in the background. I loved the original song upon its first release, so hearing her version immediately caught my attention. It was astounding. This singer’s ability to connect to people was second to none.
I headed to my computer to find out who she was and discovered she lived halfway around the world in Manila, Philippines. I immediately called my business partner Michael Natter at 11:30 pm and told him, “I’ve found an amazing vocalist, we have to work with her!” Sensing my enthusiasm, Michael was immediately on board and reached out to her the next day.
After a few emails and conversations, we all agreed to work together. The idea was to co-write the perfect original song that would best represent her as an artist and musician. We would work from similar DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) and exchange files and sessions from across oceans.
During the last week of 2018, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Tolan Shaw, one of the writers working with JoNa Music Group, happened to be in town visiting from Nashville. We brought the team together and reviewed many of Reneé Dominique’s previous recordings and determined her range and the best type of song to write—not only for lyrical content but key, tempo and phrasing. Tolan started strumming a series of chords and humming a few melodies that felt suitable for Reneé’s vibe. Some great lyrics were also coming together as Michael, Nancy Natter and I jumped in and started participating in the first draft of the song. The foundation was created in about three hours. We felt we had something pretty solid.
A MAJOR LABEL GETS INVOLVED
As we were focusing on writing a great song, Reneé had also been noticed by the A&R department at Universal Music, Germany. Her cover of “Somewhere Only We Know” had been at the top of the Shazam charts in Europe and was getting substantial airplay on WRTL, a prominent station that broadcasts out of Luxembourg and covers a large part of Europe.
The label’s Senior A&R Manager, Leonidas Chantzaras, had been alerted by a higher-up at the label. He then took to YouTube and confirmed her unique style after watching a series of her uploads. Leo explains: “Of course there’s a big upside that she had such a following and it helps when an artist has already made a name for themselves through social media, but if the artist doesn't have something special to offer musically it doesn’t really matter to us in the end.”
Reneé Dominique, he continues, is a special artist “who has the ability to catch your attention simply with the sound of her voice. With Reneé, it is not about heavy production, as you can hear with the minimally produced versions of her YouTube performances. Just a great voice, a ukulele or acoustic guitar are all that is needed.”
A social media presence, Leo concludes, “is important in general these days simply because that’s how you reach your fans in the easiest way and that’s how you can see how much your music connects to the audience out there. It’s a very powerful tool to build a career independently, and if done well, it can create a substantial income for the artist.”
Leo’s take from Universal Music, Germany is pretty much the same as ours at JoNa Music Group. Originality, talent and a large social media following are the main ingredients that will attract labels and publishing companies as well.
The momentum was picking up and Reneé Dominique quickly found herself signing with Universal Music, Germany. Everything was falling into place….
JASON MRAZ COMES ABOARD
As all this was taking place, Michael Natter was visiting Jason Mraz and played him our early draft of the song, just to get his thoughts. Turns out Jason had more than thoughts! He added a stronger chorus without removing any of our original parts. We started sending session files across oceans, Reneé was recording her parts in Manila, Jason would record vocal parts in the US, originally to demo them for Reneé.
However, after a few back and forth exchanges, Jason suggested he come aboard as a featured singer. We eagerly emailed Reneé about Jason’s decision to turn this song into a duet.
She explains: “The mere fact that Jason co-writes, hears my interpretation and shares his input and lyrics alone is already such a big deal to me. I knew the minute he and his team agreed, my side agreed that Universal Music would release it and make it happen. I knew it was going to be a special song that would touch people.”
Jason also brought in Chaska Lee Potter from his supporting band, Raining Jane, who helped with parts. The song was now a duet called “Could I Love You Any More” by Reneé Dominique (feat. Jason Mraz).
As producer, I recorded the instruments and proceeded along with engineer Ian Sutton to assemble several takes sent from Reneé’s studio in the Philippines along with Jason’s takes recorded by Jeff Berkley in San Diego. My main challenge was to make two artists who had never met and had never sung together sound like they were in the same room and performing this very organic song.
Once we were done with recording instruments and mixing, our in-house co-producer/ composer Fabien Renoult went on to fine-tune a few details. We finally had a product we could run by Universal. We asked for final input from Leo before moving on to post-production and mastering.
THE MRAZ “GOOD VIBES” ASIA TOUR
As if Jason hadn’t done enough, he offered to have Reneé join him on tour as he coincidentally kicked off the Asian leg of his “Good Vibes” tour in her hometown of Manila. Reneé would then travel to Singapore to join him for a second show as Jason generously offered to shoot a music video while they were there. All of this was a huge marketing asset for everyone involved. Jason Mraz and Reneé Dominique would shoot backstage and sound-check footage that could all be added to the show footage for a complete promo package. The goal now was that Universal would release the song on May 31 and the video on June 13.
As things were shaping up for the release of “Could I Love You Any More,” I headed to Asia to represent JoNa Music Group for the song’s debut on the international stage. I arrived in Manila at 6 p.m. on May 6, 2019 after a 14-hour flight from LAX and checked in to my hotel. The next morning as I was getting ready to meet up with Reneé, I ran into Jason and his band in the lobby. He was headed to get coffee and offered to get me a latte. A few minutes later, Reneé and manager Abigail Pionso arrived. Introductions were made and Jason decided we should all head to his room for an acoustic rehearsal of the song. He then suggested Reneé could also sing “Lucky,” his 2009 duet with Colbie Caillat.
The next day, we arrived at around 1 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena, a 20,000-seater in Manila. Jason and Reneé went off to the press room for some media appearances, then it was time for sound-check. A few hours later, with much anticipation, Reneé Dominique took to the stage to the roaring applause of a sold-out arena full of hometown supporters.
“This has been a dream of mine for so long. I can’t believe it is happening!” said Reneé as she was introduced by Jason. “I just want to encourage all of you that if you have a dream, hold on to it and it will all come true eventually. Thank you, Jason.” She then quoted a line from the song: “Out of seven billion people in the world, it’s a miracle to find you.” Jason humorously responded, “It is.”
THE DUET GOES VIRAL
Upon its release on May 31, 2019, the song quickly entered the Spotify Global Viral Top 50 and acquired over 10 million YouTube views in just three months.
It has become the wedding song of choice for many newlyweds around the world and has the potential to join Jason Mraz’s previous #1 single, “I Won’t Give Up,” as a heartfelt love song embedded in popular culture. Once again, YouTube––the World Wide Open Mic––brought together artists, writers, producers and record labels to create a global viral hit. It is still too early to assess the publishing returns, but the film/TV potential is immense.
When asked for advice related to the formula for her YouTube success, Reneé Dominique’s response is simple: “I believe that there are no absolute do’s & don’ts, especially on a platform like YouTube. That is why it has opened so many doors because they can be themselves. .… For me, there really isn’t any formula besides just simply being authentic in your craft."
Drawing inspiration from various creators is good and healthy—but all in all, she says:
• Market yourself doing what you are good at.
• Work on your individuality.
• Always do things with an eye toward excellence.
• What makes you different and unique is what will draw people to you.
• Balance your passion and your job. It’s so easy to fall into the cycle of doing things you may not necessarily love because that's what could sell and what can put food on the table.
• Always make sure that whatever content you put out is driven by your passion and not because that's what you think you have to do in order to gain traction. Always stay within what is good, encouraging and inspiring. I will always stand by this.
IT WORKS, USE IT!
Whether you’re a songwriter looking for a publishing deal, an artist hoping to get “discovered” or simply trying to work out the kinks in your new songs and performance, a great first step is to attend your local open mic. This is a great idea! Nothing better than a live audience to hone in your craft.
But, whatever you choose, do not ignore and underestimate the power of the “Worldwide Open Mic.” Hundreds of artists and songs have been discovered on this platform leading to lucrative film/TV placements, publishing, and record deals. The story of Reneé Dominique is a very current example.
Less than three months after the release of “Could I Love You Any More” Reneé Dominique has reunited in the US with the JoNa Music Group writing team to develop new songs, and with the helpful coordination from Leonidas Chantzaras of Universal Music, sessions have been set up with legendary hitmaker Diane Warren.
Stay tuned for more exciting new music from Reneé Dominique.
Josquin Des Pres is a producer-songwriter with credits on over 60 records and music in over 40 TV shows. Josquin owns and operates TrackStarStudios.com in La Mesa, CA.
Michael Natter is a multiplatinum songwriter. Together with Josquin Des Pres, he owns JoNaMusicGroup.com.