Colbie Caillat: A MySpace Star on the Rise

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007

Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly" illustrates the difference between bubbling under and bubbling over.

A year ago, the now 22-year-old Caillat (pronounced "kah-LAY") was working at the front desk of a Malibu, Calif., tanning salon checking customers in and out, and, in her spare time, writing songs with singer-songwriter pal Jason Reeves. One of their first efforts was "Bubbly," a sunny, upbeat infatuation anthem with a sweetly innocent outlook ("Every time I see your bubbly face / I get the tinglies in a silly place / It starts in my toes and I crinkle my nose / Wherever it goes, I always know.")

Caillat recorded a demo of "Bubbly" in September, and eventually, albeit circuitously, it landed on the behemoth social networking Web site MySpace, where Caillat had been "talking" to her friends for a year or so.

"I never really understood the whole thing, thought it was really weird," she says. "Then one of my good friends said people make music pages on MySpace where other people can hear your music. He created the page and uploaded my song and showed me how to use it, and one day I started getting friends on there, started getting responses to the music.

"That's when I started seeing where things could go, but I didn't know I was going to get a career out of it," Caillat adds with a hearty laugh. "I just thought it was a good place to hear other people's input on my music, if they liked it or not."

They liked: Dozens of friends became hundreds, became thousands. In October, soon after Caillat passed the 6,000-friend mark, Rolling Stone hailed her as one of the music scene's most promising unsigned artists and noted that the singer "may not stay unsigned for long."

Long enough, though, to be the No. 1 unsigned artist on MySpace for four successive months, during which Caillat garnered an impressive 10 million plays and kept signing up friends. As of press time, the total surpassed 166,000, with total plays of more than 16 million.

Record labels can count, and they started courting Caillat, who signed with Universal in March. The numbers remained impressive after Caillat's debut album was released July 17: Within hours of its release, "Coco" debuted at No. 1 on iTunes' albums chart. (Don't dismiss that: The online store is now among the top five music retailers in the country.) With sales of 51,000 albums, "Coco" opened at No. 5 on Billboard's Top Albums chart.

"It's really exciting," Caillat said during a recent call from Florida, where she was ending a stateside tour and getting ready for a quick trip to Germany. "A lot of work but a lot of fun."

"Coco's" success is also a good illustration of knowing when you're ready and when you're not. After all, Caillat was just 15 when she started working with producer Mikal Blue, singing songs he wrote as runway music for St. John Knits fashion shows.

And she did have the environment thing going for her, growing up in Malibu, surrounded by music. Her father, Ken Caillat, is a record producer, probably best known for producing and engineering Fleetwood Mac's gigantic "Rumours" and "Tusk" albums in the late '70s, and in the '90s remastering dozens of classic albums for the 5.1 DVD audio format. Plus he had his own record label, Immergent.

In fact, Ken Caillat may have been the biggest help to his daughter by not catering to her understandable but unfocused desires.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company