How Karmin Made YouTube Theirs

Published February 10, 2012

ABOVE: KARMIN

The latest diamonds in the rough to emerge from the depths of YouTube, Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan, together comprise the inventive and high-energy musical duo known as Karmin. Garnering over 150 million views for their covers of everything from “Look at Me Now” to “King of Anything,” their singular take on each song features an unexpected medley of trombone, drums, rapid-fire rap, and powerful belt-it-out vocals that set them apart from the many aspiring artists who look to the website as a launch pad.

The couple, who are now engaged, met as freshmen at the Berklee School of Music, have been featured on Ellen, opened for Lady Gaga, and will make their television debut as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live alongside host Zooey Deschanel this week. Since they began posting in August 2010, they’ve also signed with Epic Records and released two popular original singles with the same trademark style as the viral clips. Speaking over the phone as they painted the town prepping for the performance and upcoming album release, Karmin explained that YouTube was just the beginning.

LI ZHOU: You guys have tackled a bunch of different genres, everything from jazz to rap; how did you figure out this pop-hip hop medley genre was a good fit for you as a duo right now?

NICK NOONAN: It was process of elimination, really. [laughs] I studied jazz trombone at Berklee, where we met, and Amy was a vocal major. It was Kanye’s Dark Twisted Fantasy album that turned us on to this genre. It’s something we really vibed with.

ZHOU: I actually just listed to your guys’ “Brokenhearted” last night and was curious to hear where you got the idea to incorporate this “cheerio” phrase into it every couple of lines, whether it had significance for you guys, or whether it was a phrase you happened to stumble upon and like and just really wanted to include?

AMY HEIDEMANN: We were recording and all of a sudden it just popped out, right?

NOONAN: Yeah, she was singing, and then she just said “Cheerio!”

HEIDEMANN: The rest of the song is loosely based on how we met- you’ll see how it comes to life in the music video. It’s like I’m completely embarrassing myself because I like this guy, am head over heels, and I’m not sure whether he likes me back.

ZHOU: So you guys touched upon “Brokenhearted”—what was the story behind the other single you released, “Crash Your Party”?

NOONAN: We kind of showed up on the nontraditional route, a little bit of a “black sheep,” and this song was kind of a way to talk about our coming into the music industry, “crashing” the party.

ZHOU: What has the transition been like from being these YouTube celebrities to doing an official physical album and doing performances for your fans?

HEIDEMANN: There are definitely lots of challenges, and it’s not easy every single day.

NOONAN: The biggest thing has been that the fans have been completely embracing and that’s been incredible, because all we had was cover stuff, we had some original stuff on our YouTube channel too, but then as soon as “Crash Your Party” and “Brokenhearted” came, they were just completely onboard, “Yup, this is awesome, let’s do it!” So that feeling, that’s just incredible. 

ZHOU: When you were doing these covers on YouTube, when you chose a song to cover, what was the process for figuring out how to put that Karmin spin onto the song?

HEIDEMANN: We actually have some of it on videotape. It’s pretty crazy. The hardest part, I think, is choosing the song, because we kinda just sit at a piano and play with it a little bit. We figure out the basic chords and then how the melody goes and stuff and then we sort of, you know, we feel what we feel. And I think because our musical tastes are sort of similar, it’s just this kind of magic that happens. I hope someday we can release some of the video footage because people can understand better. Like we start playing an Adele song and maybe it vibes and maybe it doesn’t, and so we’ll move on to LMFAO or something totally different. Depending on the day and our energy, you just never know what’s going to come out. And thankfully we were able to archive all of those on YouTube.

ZHOU: I was wondering if you ever got any favorite comments or feedback from fans that are particularly memorable, and also what you think of YouTube as a space where artists can let people have a conversation about their work?

NOONAN: First, YouTube, it’s so, so new and you can comment on any artist’s page, like they can vary from “This is the most amazing song ever,” to “Stop it right now,” you know? [laughs] So I think the funniest part about the comments in general is just that everybody has an opinion on everything. So you really, that’s actually taught us a lot too—we’re not scared, really, anymore, of taking criticism, because if you can make it out of YouTube—some of those comments can get crazy, and that was our home, that’s what became us, so if we made it through there, then we should be okay. [laughs]

HEIDEMANN: Favorite comments? I think favorite comments are, recently anyway, are people who say that they see us somewhere on TV or a music video and they feel like a proud parent, like they’ve been following us for so long, and they absolutely got us to where we are. It’s kind of amazing to see that from some of our fans. Like to hear, “I’m so proud, I’m crying right now, because I saw you guys at the beginning…”

NOONAN: Because they put us in this position. It’s, it’s their fault. [both laugh]

HEIDEMANN: Those are our favorite comments.

NOONAN: And absolutely, we hope that this could be looked at as a model that people want to be using, in the future, moving forwards. Because like you said earlier, we had over 150 million views without a label, and that’s pretty cool, and zero marketing dollars. And not to say that labels are not important, clearly they are very important, great staff with a lot of people that have years and years of experience. It’s just kind of cool that we can be, you know, allowing, thinking about these models of how to approach it.

ZHOU: Could you guys provide a small taste of what you’ll be doing on SNL? Will you be appearing in any Lonely Island digital shorts? What we can expect from your performance?

HEIDEMANN: Nothing planned with Lonely Island yet [laughs], and although we would love to be in a skit of some sort, we’re so focused on our performance. We’re going to be singing two songs that night, and it’s going to be a surprise, I think, because people are used to our YouTube setup, which is just Nick and I and a piano. We happened to have found this incredible band, we have an incredible TV show, I mean, the energy is, I mean—it’s like we’re just on YouTube, but times a million.

NOONAN: The way I like to describe is the basis of the energy that everybody loves on “Look at Me Now” if that had legs and a body, could walk around and perform and sing. It’s pretty much, if you could take all that’s special about everything and turn it into people, that’s what we’re going to be doing on Saturday Night Live.

HEIDEMANN: [laughs] Definitely a new level!

ZHOU: I’m sure people are going to enjoy seeing you guys as full-bodied individuals instead of just the top of the torso and head. [laughs] Could you describe what upcoming album you’re releasing is like, the types of genres you’re covering, and a little more of the background behind some of the songs?

HEIDEMANN: The album that’s coming in April, is called Hello and we chose that album title because there’s an amazing song on there called “Hello,” but it’s also, it’s an introduction to Karmin. It’s a new sound—we like to call it swag-pop. You’re going to hear the catchy hooks, you’re going to hear the rapping, the crazy rap verses, a lot of fast rapping and then there’s slow rapping with a lot of swag, talking about Betty Crocker in one of the songs. [laughs] There’s humor, there’s amazing messages that are a lot deeper than some of the humor, lots of wordplay. I think people will be really entertained by the whole thing.

KARMIN WILL PERFORM ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE TOMORROW EVENING. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, VISIT THEIR YOUTUBE PAGE.