Jacob Whitesides’ music career began in the teeny-est way.
Today he’s 18, with a record deal (of sorts), his own company and a social media following of 5 million-plus. It’s good stuff and big, with the potential of getting bigger, should pop radio latch on to his recently released single, “Lovesick.”
But it all began four years ago, on YouTube, partly as a way of impressing a girl. Whitesides posted an acoustic cover of Justin Bieber’s “One Time,” hoping to charm his then-girlfriend. He uploaded a cover of One Direction’s “One Thing,” which grabbed the attention of 1D’s Liam Payne, who tweeted the link and sparked a surge of interest that went beyond just fans.
Music industry executives took notice, too. Whitesides was asked to audition for “The X Factor” reality show but didn’t advance far, which is a good thing, he said in a phone interview last week. He had friends who made it deep into the competition but, despite the fame and record deals, ended up unhappy because they were told what to perform, when to do it, and lost control over their careers.
“I saw them slowly lose so much passion for music,” Whitesides said, “and that was really upsetting for me, being someone who had so much control over what I was doing with my life.”
Whitesides had that control because he wasn’t bound to an ironclad reality show contract, and he didn’t accept the early record deals thrown his way. Instead, he spent the next couple of years continuing to upload and perform covers, dabbling in songwriting and building a devoted fan base.
Then, one year ago and with the clout of a multimillion-person fan base, he signed a deal with BMG. The pact allows him to have his own record label (Double U Records) while using BMG for “label services” – essentially, for helping get his music on the radio and spread his reach internationally.
Whitesides chatted with The News about his new deal and what’s next. Here are excerpts of that conversation:
Q: Looking back, how important was it for you to be patient in building your career?
A: I’m super thankful I was patient. Patience has always been key. When all these huge offers start coming in, people see dollar signs. People see fame. I just knew that it was a lie. Unless you really hit it off in radio right away – a lot of my friends didn’t, and they were getting put in so many horrible positions where they were getting stuck. They weren’t even allowed to release music. I’m just thankful that even at a young age I got to experience something like “X Factor” and I got to meet enough people just to know that I needed to be patient until the right deal came around.”
Q: How are you enjoying the songwriting process?
A: Being able to tour and experience all of the stuff that comes from touring, and then being able to come back to Nashville, it’s almost like therapy to be able to get into a session and talk about all of the things that I’m going through. It’s so much more real to me. And it’s easier for me to fight for something that I believe in – my music, and my message I’m getting across to fans, and helping people get through hard times. I have a song (“Ohio”) about the relationship that I had – or kind of the lack of relationship that I had – with my father, because of some personal issues. I wrote a song about it, and it connected with the fans. That’s really special for me, even on a touring basis, being able to go on stage and feel a connection. I wouldn’t be able to do this day in and day out if there was nothing I was fighting for, if there was no connection with the fans.
Q: What’s the key for people wanting to break in to the industry?
A: Consistency. In the pop culture that we’re in right now, it’s really easy to see what everyone else is doing because everything is so public. You look on Instagram and even not in the music industry, even in real life, people have nicer cars than you. You see people that have nicer houses than you. It’s the same thing in music. When you’re out here working your (butt) off, you see people that are doing better than you and it gets discouraging. You have to really not get discouraged by that stuff. Let that stuff motivate you and fuel you. And stay consistent. You have to continue to post, you have to continue to create relationships. Another key thing for me is really fighting the urge to go commercial and write songs you don’t believe in. And really staying personal with the fans, and staying open with them. Don’t hide things from the fans, because they will find them and they will not be your fan anymore. I’ve seen that happen with many artists. And then patience is really, really important. Being patient and not getting frustrated. It doesn’t happen overnight. For some people it does, but even then, it takes a lot of work and you have to remain as patient as possible and not jump at everything that seems really glamorous at first. You have to really think about it.