By now, it’s no secret that You Tube can be the catalyst for immense success in the entertainment industry; chances are if you know a hopeful comedian, stylist, makeup artist, graphic designer, dancer and of course, musician, they’ve taken to the video-sharing site in an attempt to broadcast their talents and grab the world’s attention. But, for every unknown-turned-Justin Bieber success story (read: worldwide pop culture phenomenon) there are countless others who remain lost in the shadows of the millions upon millions of videos that are posted online every single day. If Ally Rhodes has anything to say about it, she won’t be one of those lost voices.
The singer-songwriter has been a fixture on the You Tube “covers scene” since 2008 and since then, her channel has garnered over 6 million views and over 40,000 subscribers. “I did not expect it to be even remotely fruitful,” Rhodes insists, “so the amount of support I’ve gotten on YouTube has been completely overwhelming.”
The Omaha, Nebraska native didn’t grow up in a musical family but still she always felt drawn to the craft. “I started singing basically as soon as I could talk, and started writing songs basically as soon as I could form fluent sentences. I don’t really know why I started. I think it was just something that came very naturally to me,” says Rhodes. It was only after seeing Titanic as a child that she asked her parents to buy her piano so she could learn to play Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” that she brought music into her home for the very first time.
By 2007, Rhodes had discovered what she describes as the “You Tube covers scene,” the always-growing group of users who upload videos of themselves performing covers of popular songs. She was inspired by many of the singers she heard and decided to try it out for herself. Rhodes says, “I was really shy at the time and I wouldn’t sing in front of anyone I knew, but I wanted some feedback because I had never had any, so I posted some songs on there with the camera turned away from me so you couldn’t see my face.” Despite her best efforts to remain anonymous, a fellow student at her school found the channel and called her out. “I lied through my teeth about it, but I think he knew anyway,” says Rhodes. “I went home a deleted that channel and made a new one a year or so later, which is the one I have now.”
Rhodes has come a long way from the timid girl who couldn’t show her face in front of the camera to having posted almost 200 videos of both covers including Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” (Rhodes’ personal favorite over the past four years) and her own original songs. In fact, it was the release of her E.P. that first made her realize just how far the support she has received on You Tube has spread. “I don’t know if I would call myself a success story per se,” says Rhodes, “but the first time I ever felt like a bit of a success was when I released my E.P. and people actually bought it. I actually gasped aloud when I saw my first month’s sales!” She has since released a full-length titled Illuminated, which is available on Amazon MP3 and Spotify, as will her forthcoming album. Her voice is soft and sweetly melodic but also commanding and versatile enough to make both her emotional and ethereal “River Song” and hipster rap phenom Kid Cudi’s “Up, Up and Away” sound entirely her own.
Further evidence of her growing popularity, is the mini-tour of England Rhodes got to play last November, which she insists is the most exciting thing she’s done. She says, “All but one of the shows I played were with people I met from You Tube and most of the people who came to watch were either more You Tube friends or subscribers that I had never met but finally got the chance to. It was incredible to see these people in real life when I was so used to seeing them on a computer screen.” Some of her covers have also been discovered and re-posted or commented on by the original artists, which Rhodes says is “such an honor.”
Of course, it hasn’t all been easy for Rhodes. Some of her cover have received negative reviews from fans of the originals, the worst in recent memory being her unique rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love,” though she insists this treatment is rare and “never particularly rude.” Despite that, Rhodes remains more excited than intimidated to post her videos. Her advice for anyone who might be as hesitant to start a channel as she was when she deleted her first channel? “My advice … is always DO IT. 100% of the time. Making videos will increase your confidence tenfold and you can find such wonderful people on there. It’s one of the best ways to get feedback on your material from unbiased sources, too.”
Although Rhodes is already looking forward to releasing a new album, saying that she would “like to be able to do one per year” and embarking on a Midwest tour, she insists she is not looking to leave You Tube behind anytime soon. “You Tube has been such a massive part of my life for such a long time that now my whole life seems a product of it,” she says. “I’ve just started a schedule where I post a new video every Wednesday, and I hope to keep doing that for as long as I can.” For someone who is slowly but steadily climbing the ranks from online unknown to celebrated artist, it’s refreshing to see that she has not forgotten where she got her start. “My ultimate career goal is to just be able to make music every day,” she says. Here’s hoping that Rhodes reaches that goal.
All Images courtesy of Ally Rhodes
Kerri Jarema is the creator and editor of Lydia Magazine. She was born and raised in New York City and still calls it home. When she isn’t busy writing and editing she can usually be found with her nose in a book, watching way too much TV, fangirling on Tumblr, singing very loud when no one is around, obsessing over everything British and exploring her favorite neighborhoods. Find her on Twitter@kerrajar.