Years of work for up-and-coming musician Hayden Everett culminated in just 18 minutes of music.
The third-year ethnomusicology student released his self-titled debut EP on Sept. 6, but the work that went into it began long before that. Everett, an independent artist, spent his first year of college in hallways and stairwells playing with the structure of his original songs. During his second year, he had to seek out producers and raise funds for studio-quality recordings. Through a Kickstarter campaign, he earned enough money to do just that. The singer said his music is an avenue for sharing stories and impacting others, not for catapulting him into fame.
“Music is the most powerful thing on Earth to me,” Everett said. “My goal for all the music I create is for people to be able to hear it and experience joy from it and learn from it and grow.”
Many underlying mechanics of the music industry revealed themselves to the songwriter as he worked through the creation of “Hayden Everett,” he said. And though he started the recording process in late 2018, Everett said the EP took a creative journey that can be traced back to about six months prior.
(Kick)starting up: from Pauley Pavilion to Brooklyn
Well before there were any official plans for the EP, one of its now-featured songs garnered the attention of about 9,000 students at Spring Sing in May 2018. Everett played an electric guitar version of “For I Fear” as a duet alongside fellow student Caroline Pernick, with the performance going on to win three awards, including the top prize – the Northern California Alumni Grand Sweepstakes Award.
[Related: Spring Sing 2018 | Daily Bruin]
Pernick, a third-year theater student, said she and Everett often spent time modifying and playing with his music prior to Spring Sing 2018. After countless spitballing sessions in the stairwells of Hedrick Hall, she said they had a large pool of songs to pull from but ultimately elected to play a somewhat modified version of “For I Fear.”
“We didn’t ever alter any lyrics, but we very much changed the structure of the song,” Pernick said. “The foundation was similar, but where things wound up in the pop song construction really switched.”
After the success of “For I Fear,” Everett’s drive to create an official body of work intensified, said his brother Taylor Hunt. The foundations of each track were already coming together prior to the performance, Hunt said, but his brother became motivated to get the EP out as quick as he could while also maintaining a high standard for the overall quality.
So Everett launched a Kickstarter campaign the following school year, raising money through gigs and audience donations to release his debut work by March. By the campaign’s end, he earned about $12,000 to cover the costs of production, mastering and publicity needed to bring the record to an audience. Everett said he was surprised by the outpouring of financial support his home community in the Bay Area offered.
With the newly secured funding, Everett enlisted the help of Mason Jar Music’s Jeremy McDonald – a producer known for working with the likes of Beyoncé and Kevin Garrett. The singer flew to Brooklyn, New York, for a week in December 2018 to work with McDonald to construct, mix and master the EP. But a week was not enough, Everett said, and he had to toss his original timeline for the EP to the side after only finishing basic elements like the drums and electric guitar.
“We wanted to make sure we had a map figured out,” he said. “The plan originally was actually to get the whole thing done in that week in New York. There was just way more to do than originally thought.”
To make matters worse, Everett said he came down with the flu while in Brooklyn. This resulted in a weakened singing voice, preventing him from layering vocals over the basic constructions of his and McDonald’s studio creations. While also delaying the lyrical production, the lack of recorded vocals made it more difficult to get a proper feel for the sound of each track, Everett said.
“When I left New York, nothing was really sounding completely ready yet,” he said. “You want to make sure you have a good foundation before you start vocals, but you can’t really do the bulk of the production work until after you add vocals to the track.”
Everett finished recording with Los Angeles-based music engineers Jesse Singer and Chris Soper in January, since he could not dedicate more of his time to working in New York. The duo, known together as LIKEMINDS, helped Everett track the vocals and sent them to McDonald for each song’s finishing touches.
As the initially projected release date closed in, Everett began working on visuals for his singles and the project’s cover art. One of his songs, “Color,” felt like the most compelling option for his lead single, he said, as it has a more upbeat pop sound than others on the record. His photographer used a prism during the shoot for the song’s artwork to make the lighting reflect the title, but Everett said he decided to put the photo in black and white to reflect the song’s message about shifting one’s focus from unimportant niceties such as status to more important matters.
“I think (the photo) lines up really well with the album, or with the song ‘Color,’ because the idea of the song is like, ‘We’re too wrapped up in the color,’” he said. “I think withholding that original picture and not having that be the cover is what the song is all about.”
But the timeline soon stretched out almost an extra half-year, as Everett said the perfectionist inside him called for more tinkering with the music. He also wanted to avoid releasing the EP in mid-to-late March because of the possibility it could get lost among the many releases by bigger artists in preparation for the festival season.
Hunt said his brother initially wanted to stick to the timeline he promised his supporters. But, with the EP’s overall quality on the line, the artist chose to delay the release until early September.
“(Everett’s) Kickstarter campaign projected a release date, and he was pretty worried about hitting that date,” Hunt said. “Ultimately, he decided it was important to get (the EP) right before releasing, and it was better to make people wait a little bit.”
The makeup of marketing
Everett had experience writing songs, but he had never done promotional outreach before.
“Publicity is a weird thing because I’m not super focused on social media and stuff, and that’s super required (to be considered) for a lot of press,” Everett said.
The musician worked out a deal with the marketing and publicity agency Impulse Artists for a three-month promotional run, and he said he put his trust in the team to market him well. His agent, Nate Sirotta, said they fashioned a plan to release three singles over the course of the summer to generate interest leading up to the impending EP.
A large aspect of Sirotta’s publicity strategy for Everett involved reaching out to blogs and online news sources on both local and national levels. To accomplish this, they contacted Bay Area sources, blogs based in Los Angeles and other nationally geared publishers. But before music journalists could write about Everett, he had to plan a timeline for which songs to release and when.
“Since (Everett) was a brand-new artist, it was important for us to introduce him to press and the digital space,” Sirotta said. “The first step was releasing one single from the EP and using that as an introductory piece.”
That single, “Color,” dropped in late June 2019. The release gained initial traction online, with news sources and blogs such as Atwood Magazine and Paige Backstage covering the release through reviews and features. Sirotta said receiving press coverage is important, but it’s rare for readers to find the articles themselves solely by browsing websites. Social media makes up for this viewership shortage, he said.
“Making sure the blogs and press outlets are promoting their coverage on their social media channels is just as important as getting the write-ups themselves because the majority of viewership comes from people’s Twitter feeds (or) Instagram feeds,” Sirotta said.
Social media promotion is a two-way street, though. Sirotta said part of establishing a presence online involves having artists plug articles about them on their Snapchat and Instagram stories or Facebook. For Everett, Sirotta said the social media coverage was a form of acknowledging the support received by those who wrote reviews and briefs.
“It’s really important that he was able to support any press coverage on his social channels,” Sirotta said. “It kind of creates goodwill between him and the bloggers and journalists that are covering him.”
Similar patterns of coverage and promotion took place for the next two singles, “Who Are You” and “Loud,” and spread across July, August and early September. During the three-month promotional blitz, the agency secured Sofar Sounds performances for Everett, Sirotta said.
Both the songs and performances led up to the release of his completed project, and Sept. 7 – the day after it dropped – the artist played a release show in San Francisco. And although there are no gigs lined up for the near future, Everett said he hopes to create a music video or some form of visuals for the shortest song on the project, “All Else.”
Sirotta said the typical EP marketing cycle only lasts a few months, which is shorter than that of a full-length record. And promotional aspects like online engagement are crucial for artists like Everett to continue their growth.
Music is a two-way street
The singer’s Spotify monthly listeners count has climbed to over 43,000 since the release of “Hayden Everett.” Though his social metrics have grown, he said making actual connections with listeners is the important part of his music.
When listeners click on his biography on the streaming platform, they can find his personal phone number; Everett said he makes his music out of an expression of humanity, so he wants to invite unmediated feedback from his audience. So, to alienate himself from fans would be hypocritical, he said, and he has enjoyed hearing each individualized perspective on his work.
“To have a direct line between me and the people that listen to my music – that’s why I’m doing this in the first place,” Everett said. “If people are being impacted by the songs that I write, I want to hear about that.”
He said being accessible to fans is not a strategy for gaining fame, but to further his goal of making music that moves people. And while Everett has gained thousands of listeners in the course of his promotional campaign, Sirotta said making it big in the music industry is a slow process – one that is aided by pushing content out and personally engaging with listeners.
“The main thing to remember about working with brand-new artists is that publicity does take a lot of time, and there’s a big misconception about PR, that it’s a quick overnight process,” Sirotta said. “It takes a lot of time for newer artists with smaller followings to create a narrative, grow social media numbers.”
In the wake of his record, Everett said he has already written a handful of new songs. His current budget is now focused on producing and packaging the new music, whether it be through singles or an album.
While the price of production presents a problem, the songwriter said making new music will inherently expand his audience and spread the ideas behind his lyrics. Being an independent artist makes it more difficult, but Everett said he looks forward to shifting toward the newest chapter in his career.
“One thing I’ve learned is that the best way to get new listeners is to just release more music, and that’s tried and true,” Everett said. “There’s a direct correlation with getting listeners just from putting the music out.”
How-to: break through the noise
Now that the record has had two months to settle, Everett said he’s learned a lot about creating and marketing music during the process – but he’s constantly learning more.
Everett began his journey as an independent artist, but because of the capitalist nature of the industry, he said he now considers the economic merits of signing with a label. He is not, however, currently reaching out to any companies in search of a deal.
“I think the best policy is to let (labels) come to you, and there’s been some interest, but I want to be really careful and make sure I sign a deal that is going to benefit me long-term,” Everett said.
Despite not being signed, the singer said he’s currently counting his blessings in terms of connections within the industry. To make quality music, he said it’s important for a musician to work alongside people who focus more on the artist than on aspects of industry that lead to compromising the original vision for profit.
But about 40,000 songs are being uploaded to Spotify each day. To make a name among all of the other artists and actually reach listeners, Everett said connections and a good team prove advantageous.
“I’m really fortunate to have started to get some people on my team that I’m very confident in,” Everett said. “Just to break through that noise, you have to know the right people. It’s a little too romantic to assume you’re going to get discovered, it’s not really the reality.”
Hunt said having a strong musical foundation also plays a part in setting a record apart from other recent releases. As an ethnomusicology student, Everett is versed in jazz and can aptly translate chord structures into desired tones, Hunt said.
Being in a music-based environment has also fostered Everett’s growth, Pernick said, but only by enhancing his natural gifts.
“I don’t think anybody could learn to do what he does, because I think so much of it comes from so deep within him,” Pernick said. “When he’s not working on music for school, he’s working on music for outside of school.”
As for last-minute changes, Everett said he had to learn to run with revisions to predetermined plans for his first official release. Producing a musical project always ends up consuming more time than expected, he said, and it’s better to adapt to changes rather than fighting them to stay on the initial course – it’s about quality, after all.
Even with strong music and useful connections, breaking into the music industry is difficult, Everett said. Press coverage and social followings both feed into each other in a closed loop, and he said getting into that loop is much more difficult for independent artists. But his industry connections and the possibility of getting signed will come into play as he works on upcoming releases.
“To break into the big (magazines), you have to already be established, but to be established you have to be covered by big press,” Everett said. “So it’s this weird cycle where you can’t really get in unless you have money or you’re signed to a big label. It really does take knowing the right people, and that’s a process.”