Sara Bareilles should consider offering her music to an advertising campaign for travel abroad programs.
The pop-soul singer-songwriter and pianist, iTunes success story and UCLA 2003 communications studies alumna credits her third-year study abroad program in Bologna, Italy, as a seminal experience.
“It was really the first time I’d been without music. I didn’t have any instruments, and I wasn’t singing,” Bareilles said. “There was no turning point where I said “˜OK, I want this to be my career,’ (but) it was the first time I realized how important music was to my well-being ““ just me being happy and feeling complete. I knew that music and songwriting, in particular, were inextricably linked to me being happy.”
Fast forward a couple of years, and this little voice ““ characterized by an unavoidable likeness to the smooth, yet forlorn, soulful sound of Fiona Apple ““ has met a big record label. The union between Bareilles and Epic Records, initiated in 2005, has been a sweet one. Bareilles’ second album and first label recording, “Little Voice,” since its July 3 release, trumped established acts like Spoon and Interpol for the coveted spot of iTunes’ No. 1 selling album.
However, with mass appeal and the backing of a major label come issues such as negotiating one’s sound through a business-minded music world. But the necessary compromises have had positive influences on Bareilles’ goal to communicate with a large audience. These compromises are embodied in “Love Song,” her infectious first single that paradoxically doubles as a battle cry against sacrificing one’s sincerity for profit-making purposes.
“As with any sort of business relationship, there’s compromise. (“Little Voice”) is maybe more commercial-sounding than I might make my next record, although I’m not there yet so I have no idea,” the self-proclaimed soul-pop artist said. “The motivation is to try to have it be appealing to a wide audience, and that’s the record label’s objective, and you sort of know that going into it. I didn’t expect to go in and get to make a record with a tambourine and a piano, but that’s not really what I wanted either. Overall, I’m really happy with what we ended up with.”
While Epic Records was one of the first labels to show interest and hit it off with Bareilles, she also states that the opportunity to meet with less commercially-minded independent labels never presented itself. Not one to mourn what could have been, Bareilles recognizes Epic’s success in sharing her music with others. The album benefited from the offering of “Love Song” as the iTunes Free Single of the Week immediately prior to its release date and from its relatively inexpensive price of $6.99.
“I am of the philosophy that the more the music is out there, the better. I know (the artist is) not making as much money, but the whole point of what I am doing is to try to share music with the world, so why wouldn’t I want to make that easier for people (who) don’t have large expendable incomes?” Bareilles said. “It’s sort of a movement that iTunes and record labels in general (are doing) in terms of breaking in a new artist. They try to make the music more accessible by a less expensive album so it encourages people to spend a few bucks and get a whole body of work as opposed to buying just a single.”
Bareilles has also enjoyed widespread exposure by opening for popular acts such as Mika and Aqualung, as well as appearing on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Though she will be opening for Maroon 5 in the fall with her best friends and bandmates Javier Dunn (guitar) and Josh Day (drums and percussion), the former UCLA Chorale and Awaken A Cappella member does not downplay her roots.
“Spring Sing was awesome. It was the biggest crowd up till that point that I had ever played in front of, and I was incredibly nervous,” she said. “It was the most real performance I had been a part of, especially (with) singing my own songs. I loved the energy of performing and being so nervous and having to fight through it.”
Bareilles performed “Gravity,” a wrenching song about love’s complexity and uncertainty, at Spring Sing, and the song ““ as well as others from “Little Voice” ““ has the potential of being featured in a future movie or advertisement. The funky and bittersweet wit of her song “Love on the Rocks,” for example, makes an appearance in the J-Lo blockbuster “Monster-in-Law.”
“I’ve never been put in the position where I was offered a big ad campaign, but I’d probably take it case by case, depending on the product. If you align yourself with a product that you actually like and all, it is exposure for your music. It’s kind of a door that is not such a bad place to go,” she said. “Everyone’s got their different sets of ideals and rules of where they want to put their music, and I know a lot of people think it’s selling out, but the reality is you’re tying to pay your rent as a musician, and it’s not always easy.”
Though Bareilles displays a savvy awareness of the business elements of her career, the power music can have, rather than the economics of music, is what drives and excites her the most.
“I think that if you find an artist that inspires you ““ whether it’s similar to what you do or totally opposite ““ I think it’s always an exciting thing,” she said. “It isn’t that I write songs like Radiohead does, but “˜OK Computer’ and “˜The Bends’ were albums that made me think about music differently and think about the landscape of music and lyrics and what can be done.”
Leaving the continent helped Bareilles realize the significance of music in her life. Now that she is beginning to receive acclaim for her decisions regarding music, Bareilles hopes that the relationship between her own music and the vast surrounding world will become even more serious.
“I just hope to be a touring musician forever. I hope to make many more albums and get to play shows that keep growing,” she said. “I’d like to see the world through music.”