Do-It-Yourself Pop

Skip the tour-bus grind, singer/songwriter Yoni says. There's gold in the new media.

Most single-name musicians are too egotistical for their own good. Singers like Cher, Madonna, and Prince — yes, that type of single-name musician — can be remarkably talented and full of charisma on stage, but when not performing, they're known stinkers. Sting won't give you the time of day if you meet him in person, and there's a long list of other one-name performers, from Akon to Usher, who are reputedly the same — conceited and self-involved. But there's one exception to the sorry assessment of those with memorably simple noms de theatre: local singer/songwriter Yoni, who's as far away from ego and braggadocio as it gets.

With good looks, a slick sound, and a career trajectory that's finally on its way up, Yoni could choose to puff his chest out, but instead, he's humble and looks you in the eye with the earnestness of a man who wholeheartedly believes in the songs he creates and the messages they convey.

His cred among the Gen-Y college crowd is already solid. Says the music blog, Yoni is "boldly giving voice to the frustration of his peers, ambitious and restless college grads, eager to conquer the world but running into roadblocks and hairpin curves along the way."

"Record contract? I don't need no stinkin' record contract."
stephen bradford
"Record contract? I don't need no stinkin' record contract."

The Plantation-based singer and guitar player is only beginning to make a name for himself as a live performer — he played his first solo gig last October. But with a debut album dropping this week and a catchy lead single, "Twentysomething," developing a life of its own, Yoni hopes his chance at stardom is within reach. As an independent artist, he knows he doesn't have the funds or resources to compete with major acts, but he's cutting corners and finding ways to get his music heard in DIY fashion. He's got a bevy of websites handling online distribution for his four-song EP, Ready for More, which was released last year, and the same applies to his stellar debut album, Extra Credit. Unlike a lot of upstart rock musicians, especially those of the single-name variety, Yoni actually isn't looking for a record deal and says he's comfortable keeping things as low-budget and hands-on as possible.

"The label thing is totally not in my sights right now," Yoni says during a recent interview. "I'm very happy doing the indie thing. I want to go out and get film and TV licensing. I want to build things up on my own strategically, just the way that I envision it all coming together."

At the age of 29, Yoni is older and arguably wiser than most rock/pop performers getting their careers off the ground. Born Yoni Laviatan in London to Israeli immigrant parents, he earned a degree from the University of Florida in criminology and law, not music.

His diversity of experience is probably why he knows better than to waste his time pining for a major recording contract, as most record companies like to "discover" talent at a considerably younger age. But what he concedes in a few gray hairs, he's able to make up tenfold from his time spent cleverly plotting his venture into the pop world. Rather than hopping in a van and playing dive bars around the country, hoping for a miracle, Yoni puts his faith in opportunities offered by the new media.

"I have three TV placements [on MTV, PBS, and the Oxygen Network] already and a lot of opportunities online as well," Yoni says. The licensing means that his music can be used as background or accompaniment for shows produced for those networks, while the Internet provides lucrative merchandising opportunities.

"Television is starting to break bands," Yoni says. "It's like the new radio. Bands are breaking because their songs find the right audience on the right show. It's all about placement. To get on commercial radio, you pretty much got to be on a major label. But to be on TV, the doors are a lot more open. You can get traffic on MySpace... people see the song here, they hear it there, and it's just about working all the angles."

If MySpace has become the ultimate determiner for how popular a new song is within the online community, then Yoni's "Twentysomething" is off to a good start. Based on the downloads of individual audio files, it's been played more than 6,800 times on his MySpace site. It's the clear standout on Extra Credit, a coming-of-age track that steps on the innocent dreams of recent college grads and seeks to alert them about how life really is.

"I think that song turned out so powerful because anyone over 20 can relate to it," Yoni explains. "When you're fresh out of college or whatever school you go to, a part of you still thinks that things are just going to be handed to you — and that's not the case."

The song poignantly conveys the disillusionment of young people finding themselves whisked into the world of sputtering careers and media-driven success: "Somewhere down the line I realized/No one cares about my hungry eyes/Hungry for the world to identify/Who I am as more than just a passerby."

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