out perform // outlast // out work
Tomorrow’s Michael Jackson is making minimum wage right now, writing tunes for his friends’ parties and flipping burgers. Tomorrow’s Sean Connery is a father driving his kids to school, playing scenes in his head and living a thousand lives simultaneous with his own. Tomorrow the world will know them. But today? They’ll appear here.
October 17, 2013
2016 was, without a doubt, the biggest year for many of our friends. They’ve raised more money, reached more people, and released more content than many of the past years combined. There was a time when I struggled to populate these “People to Watch” lists, but these days it’s incredibly difficult to choose who to leave off. What used to be three or four artists that I kept up with has exploded into nearly 100. My social media feeds are constantly buzzing with their releases and news. It seems like I’ve got my hands into everything. I’m following dancers and musicians, photographers and game developers, DJs and comic book writers. The need for press like ours is long gone for many of these folks, but they’ve kept a special place in their hearts for us and are always happy to talk over their lives with us. This year I’ve decided to go a little deeper into who I’ve chosen and what I think we can expect from them in 2017. If you’re a new reader, welcome! I hope I can introduce you to some great new music and art.
Potential: We’ve chosen Mawule as our top person to watch this year for a couple of reasons. The most important of these is that he uses his music to directly address crucial issues in our society. His songs mean something. Mawule tackles racial inequality alongside fellow musicians Ill Se7en and Bianca Mikahn in “Black is Beautiful.” “Let’s make this useful,” it says, “Our lives are fruitful. Change what you’re used to- black is beautiful.” Mawule turns his sights on victim blaming, rape culture, and materialism in his album “Chosen” released earlier this year. Purpose doesn’t come at the expense of his sound, however. His songs are undeniably his own, tracks I can listen to on repeat without getting sick of them. He comfortably walks the line between entertainment and humanitarianism, and in the few short months since I began listening has risen near the top of my most played music.
Prediction: Mawule is a bit of a wild card this year. He spends a lot of time working on college campuses and may lean toward public speaking/education, but he’s also released several updates from the studio. I think we’ll still see a lot more interest in “Chosen” throughout 2017, as well as a successful collection of new, relevant music.
Potential: If we’re being honest here, Zoe does a lot more for us than we can do for her. She gets more interaction on her social media pages alone than we do, yet she’s still invested time into us when she can. In many ways she’s already achieved the success that her peers can only hope for; her work has been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, on billboards and NYC ad campaigns, she’s worked with celebrities and toured internationally, yet I still can’t help but feel that Rain is underrecognized for the quality of work she’s been releasing. This isn’t about who she’s worked alongside- it’s about the life she imbues into her photos. Rain doesn’t just take a good shot either. She adds interesting little twists and series into her work. I was especially impressed with her “first in line” series this past spring when she branched into a bit of photojournalism, documenting the first people in line at each of Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis‘s tour shows.
Prediction: Zoe Rain is a versatile, ambitious artist who maintains a steady release of new content. I think that in the upcoming year we’ll see her branching out more into videos and directing as well as some interesting photos/series in high traffic areas and publications. Rain has already set into place the work, experience, and brand necessary to amass a significantly larger following in 2017.
Potential: The boys of SondorBlue dominate when it comes to potential. When I found them in Charleston, SC earlier this year I watched as their EP Kickstarter rapidly surpassed its original goal. Whatever this band used to be before it was SondorBlue, it already had fans lining up for the release of their debut EP. These guys have two great things going for them- active fan participation and meticulous planning. I had the opportunity to visit with them one evening in their Charleston home and was impressed by the amount of planning material I found when I got there. They had daily goals mapped out for the next month, practices and shows already lined up. It’s like SondorBlue has already made it and are now just going through the necessary motions. I’ve attended several of their shows, noting at each one the number of fans singing along with the band.
Prediction: SondorBlue moves quickly, but they’re conservative with the number of songs they release. Instead of pushing out mass quantities, they perfect each track before allowing it into the public. They play shows nearly every week in the Charleston area, and I’ve seen a few pre-tour updates that suggest they will be traveling this year as well. “Realometer”, SondorBlue’s debut EP took several months to complete, so it’s hard telling if we’ll see an album release this year. If they record early I expect we’ll see one in the fall. Without a doubt there will be other forms of content in the mean time, likely in the form of a music video or two and some standalone songs.
Potential: Anyone who has spent any time at all following this blog knows how impressed I am with Soren Bryce. She’s the original “Person to Watch”, the monumental success story that every other story on this website has grown from. For more than four years I have followed as Soren surpassed all of my expectations. She’s like a stock market line that never falls but just keeps climbing faster. The only person I’ve seen able to compete with Soren is Soren herself, and she always wins. Last year she toured twice and finished recording her first full-length album (set for release in late summer, 2017).
Prediction: Throughout 2016 I noticed Soren’s music popping up on several television shows including MTV‘s “Finding Carter” and Syfy‘s “Wynonna Earp.” Both sparked a good amount of interaction with the shows’ fans, and I’m willing to bet we’ll see a few more TV exclusive songs popping up in 2017. The obvious prediction here is a ground-breaking release in Soren’s first album. Her marketing team generally seems direct and calculated, preferring to release a smaller amount of content through bigger names. With NPR, MTV, Billboard, and Syfy already using her work it really wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see Soren appearing in a few more mainstream media outlets even before her album releases. I’m hoping to see a couple of music videos early next year as well, but there is no basis for a prediction on them so far.
Potential: After an ambitious double-EP in 2015 and ending up in the Starbucks music rotation, Leah Nobel spent much of the past year preparing and recording her upcoming album, “Running in Borrowed Shoes.” Nobel conducted 100 interviews as she worked on her album, using these interviews as the basis for the songs she wrote.
Prediction: “Running in Borrowed Shoes” may turn out to be the most popular album release of any on this list. Authenticity and an interest in varied perspectives are at a premium right now, with masses of dedicated fans flocking to places like StoryCorps and Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York.” Nobel specifically sought interviews with members of marginalized/controversial groups such as American Muslims, which I expect will make this album stand out as especially relevant in 2017.
Potential: Without a doubt, Elia Esparza was the big winner in 2016. Rising several places since we last saw her in our “People to Watch” list, Elia’s music career is absolutely booming. After joining Adam Levine‘s team and making national television on NBC’s The Voice a few months ago, Elia was launched headlong into the public eye. She sang the National Anthem and performed her latest single “Fool’s Gold” at the Hyundai Sun Bowl on December 30th.
Prediction: Elia is at a critical moment in her music career. By the end of 2016 she’d built a solid momentum as she headed into the upcoming year, and a few well-placed content releases could continue to accelerate the hype currently surrounding her. Elia’s ability to work with both American English and Spanish pop will serve her well as interest in multicultural entertainment continues to gain popularity, and I believe she has a real opportunity to serve as an icon to the millions of Spanish-speaking American kids looking for representation in our entertainment. 2017 is really Elia’s to do with as she will. She has the content, dedication, and personable vibe to make this another year of incredible impact. I predict that an album is likely already in the works, but will not show up until late this year. A music video and a few standalone singles seem the next logical step in the mean time.
Potential: Here’s what I know- Malece Miller danced her way right up to the final few positions on Season 10 of FOX’s televised competition So You Think You Can Dance. She’s worked in Disney movies and TV dramas, taught at big conventions and toured multiple times with dancing violinist/internet sensation Lindsey Stirling. She’s tireless, fierce, graceful. As comfortable in hip hop as she is in contemporary dance, Malece is one of those people that you just want to keep watching. After seeing her perform live, I happen to know she doesn’t rely on multiple takes to mesmerize the audience. The exhibition of her talent, the performance, is where Malece shines the brightest.
Prediction: Malece is scheduled to tour with Lindsey Stirling in Europe for the first part of 2017, but she’s shown a marked interest in commercial work in the past. After this tour ends I predict a couple of different paths opening for her: the first is that another artist hires her for their tour. After wracking up years of experience with Stirling, this path just makes sense. The second, however, is that Malece heads back into commercial work and starts popping up on some bigger name music videos or print campaigns. So far opportunities have made themselves available to Miller without her marketing herself too heavily, and it seems to be working well for her.
Potential: Katie Rose, along with Mawule, was one of the discoveries I stumbled upon right before the end of 2016. She was the one of the only people to compete with him for a spot on my most played music list. Finding someone that I like and listen to this much is pretty rare, and add to it the fact that she’s from right here in Charleston and you have the formula for someone I can’t help but cheer for. But, as many musicians may have found out once this list was released, cool music alone won’t make you a Person to Watch. A protege of Charleston’s sweetheart/American Idol hero Elise Testone, Katie is one of the most confident, uplifting singers around. Her seven song EP Everything Yesterday is a collection of nerdy feel-good music that lets your mind wander.
Prediction: We’re going to see Katie put some important pieces into place in the upcoming year. With live concert schedule already in place and her debut EP out of the way, I predict that we’re going to see some major adjustments to Katie’s online presence. She’ll likely end up playing some bigger shows in and out of Charleston, and may even be able to get an album released by the end of 2017. It’s all speculation at this point. Should we see anything as great as Everything Yesterday in the upcoming year, Katie should have no problem reaching a wider audience and establishing herself as a big name around town.
Potential: Will Coles is the mind behind many of the best shots on Elia Esparza’s social media pages. For as long as I’ve been following him (roughly a year), Coles has been a content creating machine, releasing thousands of stunning images across Instagram and Twitter. The hard work and relentless dedication I’ve seen in Coles is unmatched- the amount of time necessary to create this many images is absolutely staggering. Professional, meticulous, and driven, Coles I would not be the least bit surprised to see this photographer land some major clients in the upcoming year.
Prediction: Coles has his marketing strategy down to a science. He releases new photos nearly every day and has amassed an enormous body of work. I think we’ll see him take that work and use it to connect with some influential people or brands in the coming year while continuing to expand his online presence.
Potential: In the time since becoming a viral sensation, sibling musician Nathan & Eva Leach have been relatively quiet. The two continue to release videos through their YouTube channel and have maintained a strong following for their music. Their down-to-earth aesthetic, vocal/instrumental mastery, and good-hearted personalities have kept them relevant despite taking an alternative path to the drop-everything-and-release-an-album mentality that often seems to follow a musician going viral. Nathan & Eva have very little in the way of marketing or merchandise, but they are well positioned for either should they choose to explore those avenues in 2017.
Prediction: It’s hard to know what to expect from the Leaches this year, but one thing is for sure- whatever they choose will be met with ample support. I think we’ll see them pushing around a few different ideas as well as more live shows in the Charleston area. If we’re lucky we’ll see an album in the works and a possible release late in the year. Charleston musicians have yet to capitalize on features/shows with the Leaches, but given their talent and expansive fan base that is unlikely to last long.
Potential: Little Stranger inhabits a relatively undeveloped niche at this point in time. They sound much like you’d expect from singer-songwriter/rapper duo, with all the strangeness that their name implies. Stylistically reminiscent of The Gorillaz, John and Kevin Shields command total control over every track and performance. John is half-smiling, dreamy-eyed singer-songwriter leading an unsuspecting crowd toward the flurry and fury that is Kevin Shields. Toward the end of the year Little Stranger began releasing some high quality video content that I believe is going to kick off some big releases in the coming months.
Prediction: On December 20th, Little Stranger released their latest single “Queens of the Nile” along with its video counterpart. This is the third in a string of music videos to emerge in late 2016, and my guess is that the pair has a few more coming soon. John and Kevin have confirmed that they’ve been working on a few new tracks over the past month, but it remains to be seen whether they will be released individually or as part of an album. My guess is that we’ll see an album release near the middle of 2017, as well as an early tour and several singles/music videos.
Potential: In its first year, Night Vale Presents managed the release and production of four hit podcasts. Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor, Cecil Baldwin, and the rest of the Night Vale team have taken a small, independent show and morphed it into an entertainment giant. Their shows have showcased dozens of independent voice actors and musicians all under the theme of each episode’s story format. Each of the four Night Vale Presents podcasts are unique, well-written, and impeccably performed.
Prediction: The easy prediction is that each of the four established podcasts (Welcome to Night Vale, Alice isn’t Dead, The Orbiting Human Circus, and Within the Wires) will be renewed for additional seasons. I think Night Vale Presents will continue its rapid growth, live tours, and unexpected twists, as well as pick up a few more series. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some new products on the line, such as Night Vale vinyl records or another spinoff novel.
Potential: Sean Young is an indie game developer known for the games Magicite and Roguelands. Both titles take a modern-retro/2D aesthetic similar to the hit game Shovel Knight and mix in elements rarely seen together such as platforming, crafting, and coop. Both games were met with moderate success, but it’s the one currently in development that really has me excited.
Prediction: What solidified Young’s spot on our list this year were his regular posts about his upcoming mobile game Dragonbolt. I often feel that there is a monopoly on mobile gaming, an overly commercialized, generic wall of unfulfilling time wasters that I know I shouldn’t download in the first place. I think that Dragonbolt may be a fresh alternative to all that. Sean Young has a way of pushing through genre and stale tropes. He did it with both of his previous games and, should that also be the case for this one, will likely appeal to a wide audience of people looking for something a little different to play on their mobile devices.
Potential: Eric Barone does not have great photography available. He does not have a glorious personal web page. What he does have is an incredibly successful video game. Early last year Barone released Stardew Valley, a deep, relaxed game of relationships and growth. Stardew Valley builds off of town/farm franchises like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, allowing players to purchase farm land and begin growing their own little homestead. What truly makes this game stand out, however, is the way Barone weaved the player’s story through those of the nearby townspeople. You catch a homeless man digging through the garbage in town late at night. You help a veteran cope with PTSD and rebuild his broken family relationships. You invest time and money from your farm into small businesses and stand up to an encroaching corporation. The values set out by Stardew Valley had a profound impact on its players as well, evidenced by this Kotaku article in which players opted to buy the game for people who would have otherwise pirated it.
Prediction: Stardew Valley made it onto Xbox One and PS4 just before the end of the year, a huge step for Barone. I expect that he will be spending a good part of 2017 making adjustments to the console editions and creating a bit more content to release in updates. As for late 2017, I think Barone will be working on something new for us. Whether he decides to create a new title or he is hired to work on someone else’s he’ll bring his fans along with him.
Potential: Arcadian Atlas. Siblings Taylor and Becca Bair, founders of Twin Otter Studios, have been hard at work on their tactical RPG for over a year now. After raising over $95,000 through their Kickstarter campaign in the Spring, development for the game is well underway. Though the release date is currently slated for February, 2018, some important things have led me to believe that 2017 will not be a silent year for this team. With a few big industry names like Bioshock’s Ken Levine paying Arcadian Atlas some attention, I foresee the potential for career side quests.
Prediction: Without a doubt much of the year will be devoted to developing Arcadian Atlas, but I think we’ll see an increase in media attention as 2017 progresses. Small documentary-style films like Surviving Indie featuring Becca Bair are the beginning of what I believe will be several media outlets paying close attention to Twin Otter Studios.
Potential: There’s only one reason this Boy Wonder didn’t rank near the top of the list this year- the small number of songs. Limited content is both Pierce’s beauty and his curse. Preferring mastery over a large body of work, Pierce has been incredibly guarded about the music he releases. The result is that there is not a single song I could find by him that wasn’t incredibly well made. The other result is that there were relatively few to choose from. Quality, originality, depth- Pierce has it all woven through every bit of music available. Song versus song there are very few people I’ve come across that can compete with Pierce Alexander.
Prediction: I feel that this is the year Pierce will put together a full EP. He’s been pushing at several different options for a while now, writing and performing plenty of songs that have yet to be recorded. Given Pierce’s incredible skill and potential, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to see him releasing a collection of songs that really take off.
Potential: Brash is definitely the most controversial of my choices this year for several reasons, the first of these being that he is my real-life-honest-to-goodness brother. I debated whether or not this disqualified him from making the list this year and concluded that, as this is a free promotional service that I provide, nepotism is my right. That being said, I truly believe I would have him on this list were we not related. Brash has released several songs that I will never promote, but after listening his entire collection as a whole dozens of times I was struck by the story and progress living inside them. His emphasis on overcoming trauma and addiction, his dedication to personal development, and practical insights had me pressing replay over and over. Brash’s musical journey is bringing people together around Charleston, too, establishing a creative outlet for many of his peers that may not have had a good opportunity to do so otherwise. He’s helping voices be heard and, in that way, I strive to be like him. Over the past few months Brash has released more than twenty different tracks with several local artists, each of significantly higher quality than the last.
Prediction: Music production seems to be a piece of Brash’s daily life. He’s released an incredible number of songs in a short period of time, and their quality has rapidly improved. At the time of this writing Brash is set to release a twelve track mixtape, Trial By Fire, just in time for the new year. No one has grown as quickly this past year as Brash, and should he continue to do so he will undoubtedly carve a name for himself in Charleston and beyond before 2017 comes to a close.