- Terelle Jerricks
By Melina Paris and Terelle Jerricks
[Editor’s Note: The print edition included a mis-attributed quote to TONI that has been deleted in the online version of the story.]
YouTube views for unsigned independent music artists are probably a better measure than Nielsan Soundscan in determining the likeability of a song. It is the one measure that doesn’t discriminate according to whether you’re signed to a label or have distribution deal.
True, there are some variables to consider, such as how many of an artist’s singles are on the YouTube under a single account, the general online virility of the music video itself. In the most recent edition of Random Lengths News ran a feature on Carson R&B singer Tenelle Luafalemana and her debut single Bulletproof, which garnered 45,000 views in about a month. Around that same period of time, San Pedro singer-songwriter TONI caught our attention with 35,000 views during the same time period. But when we got ready to interview her for this story, the views on her single, “All I Want Is You,’”had rocketed from 35,000 views to 105,000. The change happened in less than a week.
Generally speaking, indie artists can’t afford online marketing firms that can achieve instant YouTube views using various online tricks the way City Attorney Carmen Trutanich did during his run for Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Toni Shepard is no exception.
“All I Want Is You” has the right ingredients: it’s very catchy, a high energy dance song that quickly builds in layers, thanks to the production efforts of Yang Song. The track also features the lyrical flows of rapper Killahboy Onwon,whose raw high energy verses provides a nice contrast to TONI’s vocals, and the lyrical contributions from San Bernandino rapper-songwriter JXClusive. The team assembled is actually a testament to TONI’s resourcefulness.
To produce the song, she relied on friends with specialized expertise and hired others she’d found on Craigslist, finding quality people through trial and error.
“We just put out posts on Craigslist and looked at everyone’s reels and filtered through to find the best ones. In doing that you formulate a team, if it works out these are people you’ll work with the rest of your life because they were there when you had no money and they did the best they could do.”
During an interview with Random Lengths at Sacred Grounds, explained her process of putting the song and video together.
“I put up a post on Craigslist eight months ago and found a producer, Yang Song,” TONI explained. “He barely spoke any English but he was really good. You could hear it in his work and he was willing to collaborate for free. So I went to his home studio and we tracked the song.”
“When he produced the beat there was a part of the beat I couldn’t write or sing to. Yang told me that was for the rapper, ok well I guess we’re gonna have a rapper.”
TONI explained that the project was delayed for awhile after relations with the first rapper they chose to work with fell apart. They had actually came across Killahboy’s name previously through a friend of a friend.
“We went back to Killahboy Onwon; I really liked him in the first place,” she said. “I loved his energy, he’s unique, exciting and passionate and I was really excited to have him on the track.”
It turned out the two went to Narbonne High School, but didn’t know each other.
“It’s really cool to see how things worked out, we came from the same town (Harbor City) but got our starts in two completely different worlds, he went to work and took care of his family and I went to university.
If Killahboy and TONI were complete contrasts, she and JXClusive, were kindred spirits creatively. JXClusive added an indispensable element to the song.
“He came up with this really cool catchy melody during the bridge, and included the lines “You’re beautiful…” I loved those notes,” she said.
Filmed in part at the Hernandez Ranch portion of Peck Park, the video has a fun feel good element featuring TONI and Onwon and a group friends. Since this is the only video TONI has online, it was easy to get confused by whether TONI was the name of an individual artist or the name of the band. The confusion compounded with TONI’s drastic wardrobe changes gave the impression that TONI had a twin.
Aside from these minor issues, the video was tightly crafted and most importantly, locally produced.
“The second day we had no budget,” TONI explained. “It was only supposed to be a one day shoot… So everything happened impromptu and I created my own outfits.”
The end result were the inclusion of downtown San Pedro businesses such as Sacred Grounds, Threads of Time, and Crimsin Lounge in the video.
We asked about the 105,000 views in less than a week and what it took for it to happen.
TONI smiled and began her answer with a reflection on what the process was like in the beginning, two years ago versus what the process is like now.
“I felt more excited in the beginning, more optimistic,” TONI began. “I thought if I get over “X” amount of views people will notice us or want to sign us or give us money but it doesn’t happen that way. It really doesn’t.”
TONI noted that most people think the song’s lyrics is about a relationship or about talking to another person, saying you don’t really want their money or anything else, just them. She set the record straight, explaining, “the song is really about yourself and asking yourself to remain true and once you figure out who you are – which is the light – someone who should be shining, then you don’t really need anything else.”
She explained that the song was inspired by a favorite Bible verse, Matthew 5:14.
“It talks about being the light, and sitting on the hill, it’s who you are – which is a light,” she said.
TONI isn’t concerned about putting together a full on album at this point.
“I feel like we’re in the age of singles,” TONI explained. “I’m definitely going for putting out an EP with 5 or 6 songs on it though. [But] For me it’s about get my single, promoting the heck out of it and getting a following started. I want to hold off on an album until I have financial backing, whether it comes in the form of a record company or sponsor. So it’s little by little, song by song you know and it’s about finding genuine people to work with in this industry.”
As for future and ongoing projects, TONI said she’s open to everything, but it seemed like she was already doing everything.
“I’m open to everything, the more you say yes the more that can come to you,” she said.
She said she sent out an audition tape to the producer for The Voice, that’s in the works now. She’s also on a reality show pilot based on her life.
“You just have to have the right team, who produces good quality, professional work. It’s got to be good, it’s an impression that you’re making; best foot forward, nothing else will do.”