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Keeping it personal: Freshman trades in label deal

A black Sharpie marks a mail-order CD with his name—a name originally known just on his MySpace page.

That’s where Belmont freshman Chase Coy’s story begins.

As mellow as his self-described “deeply personal music,” Coy, 21, slouched in a wooden chair and began to describe how his unique path started with those mail-order CDs and ended with a major label record deal.

Burned onto the CD was the Greenwood, Ind., native’s first offering to the fans he’d garnered on MySpace. That 2008 release, “The Dear Juliet EP,” met so much success that Coy released a second, “The Goodbyes and Autumn Skies EP,” later that year.

“Within the first year or so, trying to mail out those EPs to fans got really out of hand,” Coy said. “I started looking for an alternative, and that’s when we put my music on iTunes.”

In just one week, iTunes featured the EPs on its folk music homepage “with one of those big banners and everything,” he said.

The attention didn’t stop there. Big-time label Universal Republic Records started taking notice of the big banners—and the big numbers—Coy’s music was attracting. “More than anything, they were impressed with the sales numbers,” he said. “That’s how those major labels work. They flew me out to see them, and we started talking. After that, it kind of died down.”

But not for long.

Coy took matters into his own hands and spent the summer of 2009 recording “Picturesque,” the album he would eventually release as a Universal Republic recording artist.

“I finished up the album, brought it back to the label in November and said, ‘Here’s my album. Do you still want to sign me?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we do.’ That was it,” he said. “I signed my record deal in November of 2009.”

The initiative he showed early in his relationship with the label taught him a valuable lesson he still applies to his career.

“I worked with a lot of different people in a lot of different capacities, and the bottom line is no one’s going to work as hard for you as you will work for yourself,” Coy said. “If you don’t do well, your manager, your label, your booking agency—they’ll just drop you and move on to the next thing. No one’s as invested in your success as you are.”

Most of the album was finished when Coy signed his contract, but “Picturesque” wasn’t quite so picturesque without one final addition: a duet with fellow Universal Republic artist and Grammy-nominated powerhouse Colbie Caillat.

“She was one of the very first MySpace stars. ‘Bubbly’ became very popular on MySpace,” Coy said. “It was pretty serendipitous that I ended up on the same label as her. All the pieces fell into place, so it was really great.”

Caillat joined Coy on “If The Moon Fell Down,” a song originally included on Coy’s first full-length independent album, “Look How Far We’ve Come.”

“Working with her was amazing. She made me feel really comfortable producing in the studio,” he said. “Here I am—I’m 19 years old, I’m in a studio and I’m producing Colbie Caillat … like, I’m giving vocal direction to Colbie Caillat. It’s kind of just crazy that even happened.”

For Coy, it was just as crazy that he got a major record deal in the first place, especially being so close to attending college.

“My family is very conservative and places a lot of value on education,” Coy said. “For my parents, college has always been the logical step after high school. There was never a question of whether I am going to go to college or not—it was where am I going to college and what do I want to study.”

But an unexpected place eventually convinced Coy’s parents to take the leap of faith and allow their son to pursue his music career after high school and keep college as a plan B.

“They spoke to some of the faculty at Belmont who encouraged them music careers can be pretty time-sensitive,” Coy said. “If I hadn’t ever considered Belmont, if my parents didn’t come here, if they didn’t talk to the faculty, I probably would have ended up going to college someplace else instead of pursuing my music.”

Three years later, plan B was enacted after “If The Moon Fell Down” failed to make progress in radio. Coy asked to leave his contract at Universal Republic.

“Everything was in a state of flux, and I said, ‘In a perfect world, I would just rather go back to doing this independently.’ And they let me out of my contract early—a year early actually,” he said.

That’s when Coy turned back to Belmont to start studying audio engineering technology; he kept in mind some important lessons he learned while on Universal Republic’s roster.

“Working with people at major labels and different companies,” he said, “I’ve found most of them—lots of them—started in a completely different area of the music industry. I am more open to options now, and I see how many options are available. I’m just trying to be flexible and take opportunities that come my way.”

But for now, a black Sharpie will inscribe his audio engineering class projects with his name—a name now known to fans beyond any campus.

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