How One Musician Overcame Apple’s ‘One Hit Wonder’ Effect
Chilly Gonzales has been many things over his 15+ years as a music professional. The thing you may know him for most, without even realizing it? He helped sell the first iPad.
In 2010, Apple approached Gonzales about using his song “Never Stop” in a run of commercials for the device that would become synonymous with tablet computing.
The way Gonzales tells it, “Never Stop” was barely available when Apple expressed interest in using it.
“The song had only been out on vinyl, and had only been bootlegged in a digital version for five or six days before it got on their radar,” he says. “They didn’t even have a proper MP3 of the song, just a rip that someone had done from the vinyl, analog into their computer. You had to really be on the ball to know that song existed, and they were on it within days.”
An Apple commercial can be a career-defining moment for a lesser-known artist. But at worst, it can also mean a death knell. Who wants to be known as a one-hit wonder whose only hit — remember the Caesars? — was for a TV ad?
While he is appreciative of the project for its exposure, Gonzales considers it just another part of his diverse career, which includes work with Drake, Feist and Peaches.
“I realized that the album was never going to be at the top of my pyramid,” he says. “The brand itself was the top of the pyramid, and albums can be a part of that as can performances, as can interviews, as can putting videos out on social media. But not one of those things is the product anymore. The product is your reputation.”
He is, in a way, an artist perfectly suited for the social media era. He is obsessed with his brand not as a means to support and promote his music, but just as a part of it. Consider, for example, that in 2009 he embarked on a Guinness World Record breaking performance: He played piano for just over 27 hours.
This might not seem like a good idea for anyone, but for Gonzales the timing couldn’t have been better.
“We were very early on the streaming bandwagon, because Ustream had just started up a few months before that project. We were one of the first people to do a multi-camera streaming event on Ustream,” he says.
“I opened up my Twitter account scant days before … and we ended up being the second-highest worldwide trend over those 24 hours.”
Despite his myriad efforts across social platforms, he spends the most time on Twitter (and does so completely autonomously); he praises Twitter for its simplicity. In fact, it’s the one platform he recommends to musicians trying to cut through the noise and reach an audience. “It’s something you can do every day. It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance,” he says. “It’s the minimum amount of effort and a maximum amount of marketing, disguised as access.”
Gonzalez has always experienced both luck and risk. In 2004, ready to move away from his “conceptual electronic stuff and crazy concerts,” he composed and released a record simply titled Solo Piano. Stylistically, it was at the polar opposite of his previous work as a producer and rapper. And yet it had something in common: It was not what anyone expected of him.
“It was a great success, in fact, bigger than any of the underground records I’d done,” he says. “So instead of doing a second Solo Piano right away, which might’ve been a good way to cash in on that, I learned the counter-intuitive lesson, which is to keep taking risks, keep on moving forward, keep on being more and more like myself, and then wait for the right time.”
The right time, it turned out, would be 2012. Solo Piano II came out in August. This time, the goal is to take piano music and bring it to the attention economy.
“I’m the guy that turned piano into the musical voice of the iPad. It’s very encouraging to me that piano can be updated and brought into the present.”
In this new era of his career, he’ll make a series of simple videos showing off just his hands playing the keys. But he’ll also take the stage for a performance in a bathrobe and slippers, referencing the signature absurdity from other parts of his music.
“A lot of people who play only the piano are at a disadvantage because they haven’t put in the effort to connect with their generation,” he says. “To me, that was the most important reason why I came out of music school and I turned my back on it. I wanted hot girls and hip-hop heads in my audience, and I worked my ass of to get to the point where they are.”