How One Band Made Its Mark on YouTube

The group recorded themselves performing cover songs in their tour van

The music business can be tough to break into, but Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers never expected their hard work would pay off in the form of a YouTube video.

The San Francisco-based indie folk-rock group started recording videos in their tour van as a way to pass the time on the long drives between gigs.

“We didn’t have a radio at the time, we just had our instruments,” said lead singer Nicki Bluhm in an interview at Chicago's Taste of Randolph. “It was just really fun and a great way to pass the time.”

After posting more than a dozen “van sessions” to the video sharing site, the group hit a high note with a cover of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That.”

The song was seen and shared by thousands of fans and fellow musicians, including John Oates himself, and quickly went viral, garnering more than 2 million hits on YouTube.

“It just reached the right people at the right times,” said musical director, guitarist and singer Tim Bluhm. “Once it picked up speed it was just crazy to watch.”

Tim Bluhm said the band immediately hired a publicist and searched for a management team to help them maintain their newfound popularity.

“We immediately went on tour and have been touring ever since,” Nicki Bluhm said.

The group even started their own record label and produced a self-titled album, which they released last year.

“We had a recording studio so that helped to make the records and it seemed like a very symbiotic thing to have a recording studio and to have the label so you can make the records and you can put them out on your own label,” Nicki Bluhm said.

The group thrives on being independent, with both Nicki and Tim Bluhm involved in as many aspects of the business as possible.

“It’s just critical,” Nicki Bluhm said. “Every side of it, because there’s so many sides of it. It’s just unbelievable how much it takes just between accounting, royalties, booking, all the logistics of everything and coordinating everything. It’s important I think to know every detail so you can have those expectations [of employees] because you’ve done it yourself.”

Bluhm said while the group now focuses on original content, they also try to give their fans a taste of the cover tunes that helped grow their reputation.

“It’s nice to be able to give them a taste of what got them there in the first place,” she said.

The band his since ditched their cramped, radio-less van for a bus, but they say that won’t stop them from producing their popular videos.

“We haven’t done a bus session yet but that’s next,” Nicki Bluhm said.

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