Ernie Halter is an alien. He's an alien because he played one Star Trek: Voyager (he was beamed away), and he's an alien because his time in cyberspace has defined, in large part, the direction of his musical career. Through dedicated, hard work, Halter's music is now beamed (okay, streamed) in staggering numbers around the globe.
Yet, before becoming an Internet star, Halter's career began strumming and picking, like so many others, in any coffee shop that would have him. Halter eventually amassed enough songs to record an album -- but couldn't afford to do so. He tried calling in some favors from fellow musicians with recording gear and knowledge, but "you can't really tell your friends to make you a priority when you're not paying them," he says from his Nashville home.
Inspired by Patty Griffin's stripped-down approach to recording, Halter took a single stereo microphone into his bathroom and "recorded all the songs I had or knew and just tried to get the best performance I could out of them."
Lo-Fidelity is an album full of the funky, cool grooves upon which Halter has balanced his career. A blend of vintage soul, singer-songwriter melodies, and a hint of Beatles-esque pop, Halter's style is laid back, inherently soulful, and relaxed. It's music for a sunny Sunday afternoon or twilight around a beach bonfire.
"I'd say that's very me. I'd say soulful is the big thing," he says. "I love Stevie [Wonder] and Ray Charles and Aretha [Franklin]. That's my wheelhouse. But, I also love the Beatles, James Taylor, and the songwriter tradition. I think it really connects with who I am."
Then Halter discovered a then-fledgling MySpace. Directing fans from his personal website, Halter's well-conceived MySpace pages generated plenty of buzz, and when other musicians finally got on the bandwagon, Halter already was way ahead of the curve. He parlayed this growing popularity into more gigs (where he was amazed to meet the people who found him on MySpace), but in a turnabout, soon directed his legion of followers back to his personal website because MySpace initially lacked a music player. At ErnieHalter.com, "Whisper" was available to hear or download. So many people downloaded the song, his website crashed.
"Not to say I was doing this before it was cool, but I was doing this before it was cool," he says with a laugh. "I was on MySpace oversharing. I was on YouTube making goofy cover videos. I was too enthusiastic."
That enthusiasm eventually ensnared Justin Bieber, too. The Bieb covered "Come Home to Me," garnering 635,000 listens on YouTube and counting.
"I don't think it really affected my street cred because I sustain a career by getting to know my fans, and they getting to know me," he says. "The fans who know me know it would be cool that someone that big would find a small artist like me and cover one of my songs."
Though MySpace and other Internet sites have propelled some (very few) artists to greater stardom, Halter says has done well enough by it to keep his career afloat. He's released seven albums and his songs have amassed more than 10 million plays on Spotify alone. This has allowed Halter to assemble a fan base substantial enough to be able to tour around the world, even if the venues are frequently coffee shops.
"That was 10 years ago," he says of "jumpstarting" his career online. "Had I not done it, things would have played out differently . . . [It] has given me the flexibility to do what I want, how I want and when I want."
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!