Being the headliner at World Café Live is really nothing new for Gavin Becker; he was the star of the show there just two years ago. Of course, that was because the celebrated live music venue in Philadelphia was the site of his Bar Mitzvah reception. The circumstances are a bit different now. Becker will literally be taking center stage on Dec. 17, when he headlines his first solo gig at the World Café’s upstairs concert space.
The 14-year-old Villanova resident may be familiar to anyone who has seen a musical produced by companies like Walnut Street Theatre, Plays and Players and Town and Country Players — he has been a fixture on the region’s musical theater landscape since he was a young child.
But how does a teenager without a single recording to his name wind up playing one of Philadelphia’s prime spaces?
According to the disarmingly charming Shipley School freshman and member of Beth David Reform Congregation, his success is a result of the age-old formula of hard work, perseverance and social media acumen.
A quick perusal of his original songs and covers on YouTube, Soundcloud and iTunes reveals that the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist has the presence, chops and voice to warrant attention. And judging by some of his viewcounts — his spare, heartfelt rendition of Rihanna’s hit, “Stay,” has garnered 57,000 views on YouTube, and his original song, “Falling Slowly,” has 59,000 views — he is getting it.
“Nowadays, social media has changed the whole game,” Becker explained in a recent telephone interview. Showing an impressive grasp of the music industry sausage-making process, he talked about how things have changed for aspiring artists since the days of pay-for play. Whereas before the rise of social media, radio play was the crucial determinant in career trajectory, his research into how current pop stars like Justin Bieber achieved sucess showed him that visibility, likes and followers are what make the difference between dreaming and doing today.
“I’m not trying to copy Justin Bieber’s style,” Becker emphasized. “I just tried to get my name out as much as possible. I post as many things as possible to increase my chances of being found. The more covers you do, for example, the more chance that someone will see it,” which explains the preponderance of covers of hit songs on his YouTube channel.
While those view numbers are impressive, they pale in comparison to Becker’s Twitter following. There are currently over 71,000 “Gavinators” following his every tweet — more fans than could fit in Lincoln Financial Field, and certainly more than enough to make hosting a performance a viable risk for World Café Live, according to its assistant general manager and director of booking, Laura Wilson.
She says that like so many other unsigned artists, Becker first contacted her through the site’s general email, submitting videos and recordings of his work. Unlike so many others, he persisted — for almost two years — and he had that fan base. “When I have available dates, I like to go through the submissions and find new artists” to fill them, she explained. “But we are a business, so we like to have bands that will bring people out. Gavin had a nice pitch where he said, ‘Hey, I have x amount of followers on YouTube, so many Twitter followers …’ He had a really earnest, thoughtful pitch, especially for someone of a pretty young age.”
Becker still sounds pleasantly overwhelmed by his upcoming concert — which he is using as a benefit for Kids Helping Schools, a nonprofit founded by his friend, Kate Aschkenasy — as well as his exploding Twitterverse.
“It’s really amazing,” he enthused. “And it happened in just the last couple months. I had maybe 66 followers about seven months ago. It’s pretty crazy — teenage girls are tweeting me pictures they have edited, pictures of them with my name written on their arms!” In addition to the Twitpics, he also gets fan posts and emails, which impresses him even more. “I’m just pretty shocked that people would take time out of their day to write paragraphs to me,” he said with an appreciative laugh. “My friends at school are pretty shocked by it, too. They love to retweet some of them, just to laugh at me sometimes.”
Still, in the era of SnapChat, sexting and TMZ, this sudden exponential leap in popularity — and the attendant attention from tens of thousands of teenage girls — has to be potentially concerning to his parents, right?
Yes and no, according to Becker’s mother, Kari Souders. “I was shocked, especially when he started showing me some of his followers from around the world,” she said. “These young girls are … something! They really admire young boy singers, I guess. Luckily, it all seems very appropriate.”
Of course, without hiring a full-time social media consultant, there is no way for her to observe everything — “he has so many, I couldn’t keep track of them even if I wanted to,” she said. Coming across as the exact opposite of a stage mother, she insisted that “if he continues in this direction, that’s fabulous. If he doesn’t, then he’s learned a tremendous amount along the way. The only thing I’m involved with is making sure he writes appropriate things, and I’ve never had to take anything down.”
She is also involved in making sure that Becker keeps his priorities in order, although he seems to be doing just fine with that on his own. “School always comes first,” he said. “Whenever I’m not doing school-related stuff, then I’m working on my music.”
IF YOU GO
Dec. 17 at 8 p.m.,
World Café Live
3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia