In 2006, British singer Conor Maynard began uploading cover videos to his YouTube channel. The musician, who hails from Brighton, offered soulful versions of everything from Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" to Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)." (The latter currently has more than 9 million views.) But he never meant to transition to an actual pop artist himself.
"When I first started it was really just a hobby," Maynard says. "And I think that's what made it such an incredible shock when it really started to blow up."
The popular cover tunes earned Maynard a label deal with EMI's Parlophone in 2009 and the attention of artists like Ne-Yo and Pharrell Williams. Maynard recorded his debut album, "Contrast," over two years with a slew of producers around the world, including Williams, Stargate, and Benny Blanco. The initial idea was pretty basic. "The first year of recording was really discovering what path I wanted to take as an artist," says Maynard, who wrote much of the set.
Contrast was released in the United Kingdom last July, bowing at No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart and producing three top 10 singles, according to the Official Charts Co. The singer began his foray into America around the same time, offering "Vegas Girl" as his debut U.S. single. The track peaked at No. 27 on Mainstream Top 40 and was followed by Maynard's current U.S. single, "Turn Around" featuring Ne-Yo, which hit No. 36 in its third week on the same chart. Initially slated to drop in September, Contrast will finally be released in the States on Jan. 8 via Capitol.
"We worked off of the template he established, and then we started building a story for him in America, with fan engagement, digital marketing and street marketing campaigns to help build a U.S. following before he actually came into the country," Capitol VP of marketing Tara Chiari says. "There are those [fans] that are going to be aware of what's already come out in other countries, but we have to do our job and make fans know that this is what's available in America."
Maynard will promote the disc heavily around its release, appearing on "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Good Morning America," and embarking on a five-day tour. The trek, which kicks off Jan. 10 at New York's Studio at Webster Hall, was selected by Maynard's fans-the Mayniacs-via social media.
"When we really started working [Maynard] at pop radio and started looking at our single sales, he was connecting with Middle America," Chiari says. "To see a market like Detroit stand out in the top five markets wasn't so surprising to me, because there are Mayniacs there that have been with him since day one."
Maynard, who will embark on a full U.S. tour at some point in 2013, adds, "I wanted to show my appreciation for the fans that had been there since the beginning."
As for those frequent comparisons to Justin Bieber? Maynard doesn't seem very concerned. "I saw what was behind the comparison early on -- we're both from YouTube, we're both young," he says. "But I felt like what people weren't seeing was on the music side. Once the album was released in the U.K. people started to realize, 'Oh, it's not that kind of thing.' And once it's out here people will see that again."