Mike Posner Takes 'Cooler' Route to Success
It's a warm day in May, and Mike Posner is engaging in a game of "Posner Says" during his performance at the Bamboozle Music Festival at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.
"When I say 'Bam,' you say 'Boozle.' Bam!" the 23-year-old yells into the mic, removing his black T-shirt and throwing it out into the crowd.
"Boozle!" his fans -- mostly excitable teenage females -- shriek back, as a gaggle of girls start a tug-of-war over the garment, eventually shredding it to pieces.
"Now say, 'Hell fuck yeah!' " he commands while jumping in the air and waving his free hand from side to side.
"Hell fuck yeah!" they scream back.
It's been only two years since Mike Posner began singing and releasing his own music, but the raspy-voiced singer/songwriter/producer has managed to gain a following that's evolved from his local college circuit to Web-savvy teenagers around the country. Now, the Duke University graduate -- he was awarded his BA in sociology just days after his Bamboozle performance -- is readying the release of his debut album, "31 Minutes to Take Off," due Aug. 10 on J Records.
"I ended up signing my record deal after my junior year in college and decided to go back to school to finish my senior year," Posner says. "I finished in three-and-a-half years with a 3.6 GPA. I did a good job at building my career, and at the same time my mom's happy."
"31 Minutes to Take Off," co-produced by Posner and celebrated young beatmaker Benny Blanco (Ke$ha, Katy Perry, 3OH!3), features appearances by Boyz II Men, Travis Barker and songwriter Teddy Riley. Its first single, the sing-songy electro-pop hit "Cooler Than Me," reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other standout tracks include "Do You Wanna?," which finds Posner courting a love interest over bluesy guitars and horns; "Cheated," where he regretfully sings about not cheating on a former lover; and the candid "Gone in September," on which he cheats plenty.
"I watched one of his shows on YouTube," Blanco says, "and I was like, 'This dude's going to be a star.' He had everyone in the audience singing every word to his song and no one even knew who he was. The dude's an instant winner and the ladies love him."
"Mike exudes confidence," says J/RCA Records A&R president Peter Edge, who signed Posner to the label. "I've been in the business for a while, and I know you don't find that kind of attitude every day. A lot of artists don't quite know what they want to do at such a young age. Mike's ambition is remarkable."
Posner got his start producing music at the age of 13 when he convinced his mother to buy him a keyboard. But after years of shopping around his beats with minimal success -- the only recognizable act he produced was Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music artist Big Sean, who appears on the remix to "Cooler Than Me" -- the Southfield, Mich., native decided to start laying his own vocals down with a very strategic plan in mind.
"I wanted to do two mixtapes and get a deal to make an album, but my first mixtape [March 2009's "A Matter of Time"], which I made in my college dorm room, kind of achieved what I thought would take two mixtapes to do," Posner says.
Posner's career accelerated when he posted his mixtapes to iTunes U, a service that typically hosts free podcasts of university lectures.
"I wanted my music to be free, but didn't want to go through any weird file-sharing site," Posner says. "So I found this loophole on iTunes and convinced the people at Duke to put my CD up."
The "loophole," as Posner puts it, mainly consisted of him misleading Duke University officials into believing that "A Matter of Time" was a school project. "I put it up there and told friends to tell friends. I started a Facebook event and invited people to it. I also leveraged a few relationships and got it posted on a few big blogs like 2DopeBoyz.com and Okay Player. Within months I was doing shows around the coast and people were singing the words to my songs."
NEXT: Posner Takes His Show on the Road
His second mixtape, "One Foot Out the Door," was released in October 2009. Like the first tape, it was distributed on iTunes U. But this time, iTunes caught on to his chicanery and the tapes were removed two weeks later. Still, "One Foot Out the Door" managed to boost his downloads to more than 100,000 combined during those weeks, according to Posner.
By the time "One Foot Out the Door" was released, Posner had already been courted by various labels, including Jay-Z's Roc Nation. But J Records understood his vision the best, he says, and so he went with his "gut feeling."
"He had a very novel and interesting way to distribute music, and it hit a chord with us," RCA Music Group executive VP/GM Tom Corson says. "We give mixtapes away for free all the time, and those don't connect. But somehow, his did and he sold over 100,000 between the two of them. That's magic. Kids don't share things that way unless they're excited."
While "Cooler Than Me" is the only single to be released before the actual album, Posner's label is confident the song's momentum will carry him through release week. The second single for "31 Minutes to Take Off" is yet to be announced.
To promote the album, the plan is to continue taking Posner's show on the road, manager Dan Weisman says. He is currently on the Vans Warped tour through Aug. 15. Posner will do some European dates shortly after, and then begin his U.S. headlining tour, Up in the Air, which runs through October. He will travel to Australia in November, return to the States for Christmas and will start recording a new album in January.
"We have a college tour from February to April, and hopefully by the time that's done, we'll have a new album ready to go out," Weisman says.
"31 Minutes to Take Off" will also be streamed on MySpace a week before release.
While Justin Timberlake takes a hiatus from the spotlight and Robin Thicke figures out which direction to take his music next, Posner has found that there may be an opening for a blue-eyed soul singer with some swagger. And he plans on taking full advantage of the opportunity.
"I want to make songs that will bring people together," he says. "My music doesn't sound like anyone else's, and it's important for me that it stays that way. If I regurgitate what others are doing, then there's no point in me living this lifestyle. I would probably quit."