***First 50 tickets sold will get a free meet & greet with Jacob Whitesides!***
“Landing in Europe for the first time was one of the coolest moments of my life,” says 17-year-old singer-songwriter Jacob Whitesides. “Coming into Copenhagen airport, I was surrounded by all these fans who had been supporting me for so long. There were girls passing out. It was insane!”
Jacob’s first overseas trip was a world away from what you’d expect from a common teenage rite-of-passage. But then Jacob is hardly your typical teenager. For this is a young artist with a social media following of over 5 million people, and who went straight to #1 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart with the release of his debut EP ‘A Piece Of Me’. Already in scintillating form, he then topped the charts in the UK, Canada, Portugal, Australia, Brazil and France.
What’s more, he’s done it all on his own terms. Sure, he could’ve taken the major route and been molded into the next pop puppet, but this fiercely independent spirit instead opted to become the CEO of his own touring, merchandising and record label Double U Records which recently partnered with BMG. Empowerment is extremely important to Jacob and he’s proving how musicians can establish a credible career for themselves by using the available democratic and free media platforms to support their music. Jacob hopes his fans are inspired by this pursuit, and know that they too can have control over their destiny. No wonder Wired Magazine recognised his pioneering spirit and invited him to speak at their flagship London conference, Wired 2015.
And despite all of that, he’s still a teenager at heart. He picked up the guitar after being inspired by bluegrass kings The SteelDrivers, yet was too self-conscious to actually sing too. The turning point came when his then-girlfriend was struck with Bieber fever. “It bothered me a little, but it really bothered me when she got a life-size cardboard cut-out of him for her birthday,” he laughs. “That’s when I drew the line and realised that I had to something!”
Jacob shot his interpretation of Bieber’s ‘One Time’ on his laptop’s webcam and uploaded it that same day. “I didn’t get a ton of views or anything, but I got some good feedback,” he recalls. “Besides, I wasn’t trying to get into the YouTube scene at that point. I was just trying to win my girl back!”
Over the coming months, Jacob would play gigs in bars and restaurants – “some of the most raggedy places that I’d ever played” – around his hometown of Sevierville in Tennessee and its nearest city Knoxville with his father. At the same time, he was uploading more covers and taking his first steps as a songwriter. Soon enough he had the roots of a fanbase. And then…
“One of my fans had tweeted me: ‘Liam from One Direction has tweeted your version of ‘One Thing’. And I thought it was a joke. So I looked at my socials and they were flooded. I was freaking out and calling all of my friends, which was like two people because I didn’t have many at the time. From there on I had a lot of drive to post more videos, improve as an artist and really dive into the social media world. Reading all the positive feedback from the One Direction fans was a real motivator, and a sign that I could do something.”
Freshly enthused, Jacob took a multi-faceted approach to his career. The uploads continued and he played select shows, but the primary focus was on developing his songwriting (his first original, ‘You Are Mine’, demonstrated that there was an audience for his originals) and finding a team that could help him progress while also allowing him to maintain creative and commercial independence. Teaming up with producer/songwriter David Spencer and Manncom management company provided the foundations from which his talents could flourish.
The title of Jacob’s first EP ‘A Piece of Me’ was chosen by a fan vote in which he asked fans to pick their favorite hashtag from five different titles – it was such a success that three of the options were trending worldwide. And it was an apt title, for the EP really did present as snapshot of Jacob as a person, most notably in the nakedly honest ‘Ohio’ which addressed his estranged relationship with his father: “I haven’t spoken to him in years now, but I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned from him, and I’m grateful that I have such a great mom.”
The EP was released two days after it was completed and Jacob then hit the road for a short EP release tour ahead of dates with Fifth Harmony. It has only been months since Jacob released his charting debut EP and it didn’t take long for him to be chosen as Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing” and MTV’s Artist To Watch, among other great moments of recognition by peers and press from Rolling Stone to Cosmopolitan.)
Next on the agenda after his even bigger European tour (including a 3-shows-in-one-day in Paris) is the new EP Faces On Film. Many of the songs on the new EP are clearly inspired by Jacob’s coming of age and understanding materialism (having come from a modest background and now running a successful enterprise.) The EP also features a slide guitar guest appearance from Grammy winning blues legend, Keb’Mo, on the EP’s title track.
While the second EP continues to deliver his organic musical narrative, Faces On Film reflects a creative coming of age as well. ‘Secrets’, for example, builds from the rhythmically phrased vocals of its introduction into a soaring folk-pop hook, and the percussive stomp of ‘Shame On You’ heightens the drama with a climactic crescendo of sound that’s intensified by a bluesy guitar break and one of Jacob’s most impassioned vocals to date. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Rules of Beautiful’ strips Jacob’s sound back to an intimate tandem of piano and vocals, with an addition emotional charge courtesy of a surging accompaniment of strings.
It’s a collection of songs that allow fans to follow Jacob’s creative growth to the next level, and one that will certainly be lapped up by his ever-growing legion of fans, The Whitesiders. “They work for me as hard as I do, and they’re also great people to talk to,” summarises Jacob with a broad, appreciative smile. “I’ll be there for them, they’ll be there for me, and they are also there for each other.”
Such a stance suggests that those wild scenes in Copenhagen will soon be replicated all over the globe.
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