Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Julia Nunes: Singer-Songwriter, YouTube artist

I'm a bit delayed in writing about Julia Nunes (pronounced "Noons"). (Tom blogged about her way back in May.)

She's a college student in upstate New York, who over the past few months has built up a strong YouTube following, with more than 30,000 subscribers and with many of her videos topping 200,000 views.

Her "schtick", at first glance, is performing covers of pop hits directly into her iSight camera, while accompanying herself on ukulele. She won a uke manufacturer's "World Ukulele Video Contest" back in December for her cover of Destiny's Child's "Survivor."

Here's a characteristic performance from last September, of NSYNC's "Bye, Bye, Bye":

(Link to video)

Where most amateur musicians with Macs might use GarageBand as songwriting tool, Nunes started using the iSight and iMovie for that purpose after taking a high school new media class, performing in-progress songs as videos (according to an interview she gave this year). She got comfortable adding harmony tracks, percussion, or alternate guitar or ukulele tracks by listening to the main video playback using iPod earbuds, and then editing the multiple tracks/takes together.

Here's her cover of The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" featuring herself on harmony vocals:

(Link to video)

Nunes' comfort in performing to the camera, her clever multitracking, and her goofy enthusiasm make her a terrific match for YouTube. But I think even more than these, it is her willingness to publish unpolished or unguarded moments that creates a feeling of sincerity and authenticity, and builds an emotional connection with her viewers.

Here, for example, is an original song of hers entitled "First Impressions", in which emotion flits across her face in reaction to both the lyrics and the awkwardness of a couple of her chord changes.

(Link to video)

Revealing this kind of vulnerability is antithetical to traditional showmanship, but creates a powerful emotional hook particular to online/portable video (small formats where the viewer stays close to the screen, enhancing a feeling of intimacy). Plus she responds in video to the many video comments she receives, and has started up a separate YouTube channel just for videos of her talking to her fans and peers.

In fact it's as a YouTube artist that I most admire Nunes. I ponied up the $10 to order her CD of original songs, which pretty much matches one's conception of an album by an earnest college freshman singer-songwriter. (It doesn't feature the song above, but does include both a studio and live version of her hit single.)

It'll be interesting over time to see what kind of musical "career" she can build, either through touring and live performances (she opened for Ben Folds for a few nights in May, and headlines a show at the Knitting Factory next week) or as a mostly online presence. Like Jonathan Coulton, she's got just enough technical savvy to have established something like a direct relationship with her fan base, even if it is using someone else's platform.

Speaking of which, she's savvy enough to know that the still image shown to represent YouTube videos comes from the exact middle of the video. So she cleverly spliced this quick flash frame into her video of "Build Me Up, Buttercup" so as not to give away a surprise she had in store.

(Link to video)

You can visit Nunes' main YouTube page or on MySpace, or buy her CD at her home page.


Anonymous said...

nice write up i think you completely hit the nail on the head.

Robin S. Fox, Social Media Coach said...

Wow -- thanks for the heads up on this artist. Your article was a great read, and I really enjoyed Nunes' vidoes. Not sure I would have found them without your post.

Tim said...


I subscribe to 50 Youtube channels, but I can't say I'm obsessed with any of them.

You've just given me channel #51, and my first YouTube personality addiction.

Tim said...

This is great information. Oddly enough, Skidmore College is right down the street from my house. Maybe I've passed Julia on the street, and I never even knew it.

Anonymous said...

Are you guys aware she's trying to keep her college a secret? Get with the program man.

cjereneta said...


The anonymous commenter above suggests that Nunes is trying to keep her college a secret.

I'll admit that my inclusion of the school name was a superfluous detail. But two of the articles I link to provided me that information, one from the college's own newspaper.

So while I'm content to cave to my irrational fear of displeasing people and remove the school name from the body of the article, I won't delete the links (because it is important to me to credit the sources from which I get my information).

I don't have any way of knowing from the comment itself if the commenter is an acquaintance speaking on behalf of Nunes or merely a protective fan (although the tone suggests the latter).

As Nunes' fame grows this year (and beyond) she'll likely be faced with some of the unfortunate bullshit of internet celebrity, especially as it affects women. My hope is that she'll be spared as much of it as possible.

But if I found her college without even seeking out that information, the genie left the building a long time ago. And this post (before or after the edit) won't make a whit of difference in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I am the "latter". I'm just impressed with how tight lipped her circle has been over the last year regarding where she studies. And you're right, with growing fame, those journalists will spill the beans more and more often.

Keep your sources definitely, but if it were my blog I wouldn't mention it in the body. That's just me, and it may not even matter anymore as you said.

I just don't want some weirdo finder her you know? She invites infatuation.