Cathy Heller

Much as it might pain some of our friends on the airwaves, radio just isn’t that powerful a tool for 21st-century artists hoping to build a career in music. Station conglomerates, focus-grouped playlists, and aging listener demographics have all conspired to make top 40 radio (whatever that means anymore) a much more hostile environment for anyone who doesn’t already have name value (or a few million YouTube views).

Of course, YouTube has proven itself to be an occasional incubator for overnight success, but it’s also bewilderingly crowded, and more of a crap shoot for anyone hoping to make a living through their art. So what’s a singer/songwriter to do?

Well, there’s obviously no formula that will work for every artist, but Cathy Heller’s approach to building her career is instructive — not only because of how she avoided the radio conundrum (short story: she concentrated her efforts on getting her music onto television, where she’s landed her songs in commercials for Kodak, American Airlines, and Special K, as well as episodes of The Real World, Pretty Little Liars, Drop Dead Diva, and many more), but also in terms of her overall approach to developing old-fashioned relationships in an increasingly impersonal digital environment.

All of which is a relatively roundabout way of saying we connected with Cathy because she reached out with a personal email rather than relying on a mass publicity blast, and once we recovered from the shock of reading a pitch that didn’t begin with some variation of “Dear Blogger,” we were pleased to discover that along with being disarmingly sincere, she’s also a talented artist with a growing collection of warm, catchy songs. Like this one:

Cathy Heller, “Crazy in Love” (live at Popdose) (download)

We knew what we had to do: Talk to Cathy about her career (including her new album, Breaking Free) and ask her to play a couple of songs for us. We always have fun recording these episodes, but our chat with Cathy Heller was one of the more happily relaxed — and informative — shows we’ve done to date. And since she’s already invited us out for lunch (and even offered to pay for our drinks), you can bet we’ll be talking to her again. In the meantime, you can connect with Cathy at her website (or just listen for her on your TV!).

The Matt ‘N’ Jeff Radio Hour, Episode 13: Cathy Heller interview