With his sweetheart smile and bad-boy biceps, Jake Miller looks like the pop star record labels could only dream of sculpting. But he has more than good looks and catchy hooks: He has a backbone.
Originally a rapper from Weston, Florida, Miller etched his name onto the Billboard charts by the age of 21 with his single "First Flight Home." Only three years later, though, he would lose what promised to be his golden ticket to stardom: his deal with Warner Bros. Records.
The label canceled his tour and dropped him in 2017 — in the same week he parted ways with his longtime girlfriend since the age of 15. Heartbroken and lost, Miller had every excuse to give up. He could have packed up his Los Angeles apartment and taken the first flight back to his comfortable South Florida life with his supportive parents.
But Miller is not one to quit.
Instead, he rolled out of bed and banged out his frustrations on the keyboard standing by his night table. Soon, his heartbreak formed the LP 2:00am in LA, which he released as an independent artist, just as he had launched his career.
“Fans don’t care who the label is. They just care that I make the best music possible,” Miller says, crediting his fan base for keeping him sane during that trying time.
After years of hopping through L.A.’s hottest studios and collaborating with top songwriters, he returned to the origin: the music. He once again poured out the kind of music he had made in his bedroom, like the songs he first recorded in his Weston home and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook.
“I think what really connects with people is vulnerability and being honest,” Miller says. “I only write about things that really move me emotionally." He finds it easier to write songs by himself now.
Without Warner to promote his music, book his songwriting sessions, or cut the checks, Miller had to reinvent his business model. He taught himself to play the piano and produce beats by studying YouTube tutorials. He learned how to mix and master his tracks — a job usually reserved for trained sound engineers. He designed his tour merchandise. He made music videos in his garage with his roommates, who happened to be cinematographers. Essentially, he became an entrepreneur. What is the most important lesson he learned?
“If you want something done right, do it yourself,” Miller says.
Like his army of fans that calls itself the Millertary, he fights like a trooper. The hard work has paid off.
In 2018, Red Music, a subdivision of Sony Music Entertainment, signed him. Red respects the creative freedom Miller harnessed as an independent artist and gives him complete control over every decision — from choice of songwriting collaborators to merchandise design.
“They trust me, and that’s every artist’s dream,” he says of the label.
Miller refuses to stop until he becomes a “household name.” Constantly creating, he writes two to three song ideas per day. His single “Wait for You,” off his latest EP, Based on a True Story, marked his return to the Billboard charts this year. The upbeat ballad, a romantic pledge to wait for true love, is based on heart-to-heart advice he gave a friend. But the lyrics might as well be Miller’s promise to his own eternal passion: music. "I will wait for you," he croons, "no matter how long I have to."
Before signing his first record deal and moving to Los Angeles, the now-26-year-old singer-songwriter grew up in the Broward suburb of Weston with his sister and parents. In fact, the opening track on his EP, “Skinnydip,” is an ode to the glory days of his youth and points to the hollowness of Los Angeles: "Now we out in L.A./Everything just seems fake."
“I had a normal childhood. I played all the sports, and we always had music in the house,” Miller says.
His father played in a rock band, and his mother sings the National Anthem at NBA games and other sporting events. In a music room in their home, Jake would play drums while his father played guitar.
After high school, Miller enrolled at the University of Miami. Within a few weeks, though, he realized he could pursue music full-time. His parents agreed to let him forgo school if he succeeded in the music industry within one year. If it didn't work out, he'd have to return to finish college. By the next year, his single had peaked on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40.
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Always supportive, his father would coach Miller back when he played travel baseball avidly. “‘Imagine you’re in a bubble,” he says his father would say on the field, “because there are people in the crowd who are screaming at your team or the opposite team and it’s getting noisy.”
His father’s lesson is one Miller applies to his music career.
“A lot of people are saying a lot of things, on comments, tweets, and messages, whether it be good things or bad things, and it’s a lot to take in sometimes. But you just have to put yourself in a bubble, do what you love, and not let the outside world distract you,” Miller says.
Though he's living in Los Angeles to concentrate on his music career, Miller hopes to return to South Florida to settle down with a family after retiring. Until then, he's tending to that little business of superstardom.