By Siobhan Crise
2:40 PM EST, March 4, 2013
Before February of 2012, it's fair to say that not many people in Connecticut knew that Sonic was a drive-thru burger joint.
Thanks to Giorgio Fareira, the guitar-strumming singer who charmed the Wallingford restaurant's employees with his musical order of tater tots and cherry limeade, Sonic achieved a brief YouTube fame. The burger chain benefited from a level of free publicity — close to three million YouTube views and counting – that ad agencies dream about.
But what of the 24-year-old Fareira himself? Did the Bridgeport-based songwriter, who goes by the moniker The Interstate Life, use his flurry of fame to launch a recording career? The answer says a lot about the shape of the music industry and the mind-boggling level of media consumption on YouTube.
Ever before his fateful fast-food stop on January 31, 2012, Fareira was an experienced performer. He started writing songs when he was 18, formed (and later dissolved) a band with two Brooklyn-based musicians, and had regularly played his own material at open-mic sessions at Two Boots and Acoustic Café in Bridgeport. Plus he already had a couple of YouTube videos under his belt.
When interest in the heart-warming, off-the-cuff clip exploded, he turned to friend and recent music industry studies graduate Drew Angus for help with capitalizing on the momentum. The YouTube success itself led to a small burst other major media, including mentions on CNN and the Huffington Post, an interview with a top U.K. commercial radio station, and a segment and interview on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." (Sonic also gave Fareira $50 thousand to kickstart his music career.)
Using the stroke of fame, Westport-based Angus, 23, says he "contacted everybody under the sun" who could help Fareira get a foot in the door of the music industry. Angus helped fix a free four-hour recording session in Los Angeles in February, got Fareira to the South by Southwest music festival in March 2012, and arranged for renowned music producer Rob Fraboni to work on the Begin EP, which was released in August. "Frankly, you've got to know people," says Angus. "You have to just open all stops."
Fareira and Angus also landed A&R meetings with Columbia Records, A&M/Octone Records, Universal Republic Records and Atlantic Records. But, Angus says, despite best efforts, "nobody bit." Record labels, no longer the omnipotent channels of music distribution, just won't take a gamble on an artist without a proven track record; and without a catalog of songs ready to go, it was tough to use the three-minute video as a launching point, Angus says.
Furthermore, three million hits is just a drop in the ocean of YouTube. (Even music maestro Scooter Braun couldn't get a deal for the young Justin Bieber in his early days, despite some 54 million YouTube views, according to a profile in The New Yorker).
The failure to get a recording contract isn't deterring the softly-spoken Fareira in the slightest: instead he's promoting himself directly to 800 million people, that is, the monthly audience on YouTube. It's his showcase of choice because of the multiple opportunities it offers: advertising dollars can be earned, there's a chance of being scooped up for the nationwide DigiTour of YouTube starlets, and it's a way of showing off his acting skills. "I kind of like the whole YouTube platform," he says. "There's different kinds of gigs you could possibly get."
The democracy of the modern music scene means that while a "DIY artist," like Fareira, can access hundreds of millions of people, through YouTube and sales channels like iTunes and Bandcamp and streaming services such as Spotify and Rhapsody, but those millions of people can do exactly the same. "You have these hobbyists and then you have professional musicians duking it out together," Angus says.
Still, former teen amateur actor Fareira has built a following of 6,000 YouTube channel subscribers, which is not bad in comparison with the 121,000 subscribers to the channel of Grammy Award winners Mumford and Sons. (Fareira's friend originally uploaded the Sonic iPhone video and as the hit rate exploded, he was savvy enough to direct viewers to his own channel).
He's currently aiming to post one video a week — typically a cover song and a message to his audience all over the globe (one fan in Australia regularly sends souvenirs). His most recent music release, for iTunes download only, is a cover of "Some Nights" by fun. and the snappy video directed by Fareira's pal Nate Ziller (who himself has a 5+ million viral hit), has attracted 1,500 views.
Between making videos, working his day job at Starbucks in Fairfield, learning to play keyboard, and writing new songs, Fareira says he doesn't have time for live gigs in the near future, though he hopes to appear again at this summer's Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport.
He's also busy studying an online program with Berklee College of Music to help with recording his own demos to send out. And he's not given up hope of one day playing prestigious venues like Madison Square Garden. "You never know," he says.
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