Keith Harkin took a big risk in creating and releasing his album on such a grand scale, and no doubt this was an expensive project. His music is amazing, and he is a sexy blond Irish man with charisma and a great personality. Surely it should be easy for such a person to make it big in music. Frankly, so long as he keeps wearing his pants tight and making flirtatious comments on social media, he’s going to be a hit with teenage girls. He has a great music video on youtube now, for one of the songs off of his new album, “Don’t Forget About Me”, and even graces the world with some lovely shots of himself sans shirt in this video.
But, Keith is not going for the flash of fame that boy bands and today’s top 40 pop stars receive. In order for his music career to last, he needs to be taken seriously as a mainstream musician by more than just today’s teenagers and his very loyal but numerically limited Celtic Thunder fans. Launching his album during the current Celtic Thunder tour means he can’t devote all his time to his album promotion efforts, of course. And since he is playing Celtic Thunder shows for the rest of the year, he is spending much of his available time and energy ‘preaching to the choir’, showing off his amazingness to all of us existing fans, instead of focusing entirely on building a new fanbase out of folks who have not yet heard of him.
If Keith was working with anyone but David Foster to launch his new album and solo career, I’d have been very worried for him, considering all the challenges facing any emerging artist. As it is, having followed Josh Groban’s career for years, I get the sense that Mr. Foster is a great asset for Keith, and someone who will do everything he can to ensure that Keith is successful. So, I am only a little worried, or maybe just ‘concerned’ about Keith as he continues to promote himself whenever and wherever he can. To some extent we Celtic Thunder fans just have to trust that Mr. Foster will take good care of our beloved Irish singer, and trust that between his skill and judgement and Keith’s abilities and general amazingness, all will work out for the best. At least Keith has someone like Mr. Foster and the folks at Verve to support him, while Paul Byrom is a bit more reliant on his flock of loyal fans to promote him and his efforts.
For Paul Byrom‘s current project his fans have been banding together to fill the seats that will make special kickstarter concerts happen, providing money for Paul to create an amazing video recorded show that he can take to PBS. Fans in cities throughout the US and Canada are organizing shows to fit the specifications of Paul’s $10,000 pledge parameters. Sadly I still know no one in Fort Collins who is enough of a fan to pay $250 for a ticket to see him, and I can’t honestly afford it myself either, so at least as of today there’s not much chance Paul will be singing in Fort Collins by way of his kickstarter project. Still, I am glad so many people in so many places have been busy setting up these grand-scale pledges for him.
Paul has been helping get the word out about these special concert arrangements, too, making an event on facebook, “Private Concert with Paul Byrom…”, and also providing information through his blog, to help these groups find enough participants. Fans in the vicinity of Saint Louis, Chicago, Connecticut, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Virginia, or New York, or in Vancouver, B.C. Canada can find contact information to opt into one of these concerts. And, of course, while I may not have money to spare right now, if there are folks in Colorado who want to set one of these concerts up, I can certainly help coordinate such an effort.
The initial rush has died down, both for Keith Harkin’s new album and for Paul Byrom’s kickstarter, and now the real work sets in. Despite having fans across several continents, the total number of Celtic Thunder fans is not overwhelming compared to the fanbases of people like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Josh Groban, so while it may seem from inside the online fan communities as if Keith Harkin and Paul Byrom have already made it big, these guys have a bit more work to do to get into the mainstream music charts. Since their existing fanbases are also spread thin across the whole planet, it is a good thing that Thunderheads are so active online and so willing to put in real effort to promote their beloved Irish lads. These guys are most certainly worth it, but being a loyal fan of Keith Harkin, Paul Byrom, or any of the Celtic Thunder musicians can be a lot more work than being a similarly loyal Justin Bieber fan.
Looking just at the numbers on social media, the Celtic Thunder singers, past and present, with the exception of Damian, have about as many ‘likes’ as many of the local bands and artists I have met. The venues Celtic Thunder books are not stadiums, and all of our beloved Celtic Thunder musicians can still walk around town on their days off, anywhere, without being constantly wary of fans recognizing them. In a lot of ways, actually, Celtic Thunder is a music act on par with many of the local bands that are taken for granted in most cities, only Celtic Thunder, as a major production from overseas with an elaborate stage and moderately large cast requires a bigger operating budget. Looking at it this way, Celtic Thunder is even more impressive than just a top selling world music act. This is a band which, like ballet companies, Irish dance troupes and ethnic folk singers, peddles its music on public television during pledge drives. Somehow Celtic Thunder manages to appeal to enough people to sustain major tours every year and record album sales for more than an album a year ever since they began in 2008. It’s worked well so far, thankfully, but PBS pledge specials are not the ideal image one wants as an emerging mainstream artist, which is what Keith is becoming. And, for Paul Byrom to ‘make it big’, he also needs to emerge as a world-class singer whose career is not wholly dependent on US public television support.
If I had the magic solution to make Keith and Paul instantly that successful as solo artists, I would not be worried about money any longer myself. I think both of these men have what it takes to be lasting, successful, influential musicians in the US and the world, but it will be interesting to see what it takes to get them the attention they deserve. Somehow I suspect the Thunderheads will remain an important part of Keith’s and Paul’s successes for many years to come.