In 2010, a shy high school freshman from New Jersey named Marie Hsiao picked up guitar, freshened up her piano skills and began releasing videos of herself singing covers of songs on YouTube under the moniker Mree. She got hundreds of thousands of views and attracted the attention of a Grammy-winning artist.
"I would watch some other YouTube artists and was amazed that people were taking interest [in my music]," Hsiao says. "What I really love whenever I'd post videos, I'd stay up late to read comments and it's so crazy that these people know me and I don't know them all."
For a young person hoping to break into the music industry, getting the attention of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is quite an accomplishment. In 2012, the Grammy-winner shared Mree's cover of his song, "Michicant," from Bon Iver's self-titled 2011 album.
"I was in school and my mom called me and she said, 'Marie, you have to sit down,'" Hsiao says. "Justin [Vernon] had shared my video with his fans on Twitter and it was one of the most surprising and reassuring things to hear as a musician. Having one of my biggest influences not only take a look at my stuff but also to like it enough to share it."
Hsiao cites Vernon as one of her biggest influences, along with Imogen Heap and Sufjan Stevens. Hsiao has covered some of their music, along with other songs she has found influential. She has posted covers of songs including Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love," a mellow version of the electro-pop song "Kids" by MGMT and covers of various other artists, including Jonsi, Ingrid Michaelson and The Dirty Projectors.
Now Hsiao has found a voice of her own. with her original folk-influenced songs and albums, which she accompanies on the guitar or piano.
"I picked up the piano again and just started trying things out," Hsiao says. "I came up with this one song and there was something really amazing about having words to say and have a message get across to people."
In 2011, Hsiao released "Grow," the first of her two full length albums. In 2013 she released her sophomore album, "Winterwell," which she also recorded and produced herself.
"My previous album was singer-songwritery," Hsiao says. "I was getting a little bit better at percussion and I wanted to put some of that into my new album."
Hsiao is working on anEP she plans to release by the end of this year.
Although she self-released her two albums, Hsiao is open to working with others and relinquishing some creative control over her music.
"I think there's definitely a way to work with somebody else and have an open conversation and have our ideas kind of bounce off of each other," Hsiao says. "I think I would be open to working with someone else to try it out and see where it goes."
Hsiao studies recorded music at New York University, where she is learning more about herself and her music. She is improving her songwriting skills, learning more about production, engineering and the business aspects of the music industry.
"The classes I took are really, really helpful for me," Hsiao says. "I was in a kind of songwriting rut and being with students my age and getting feedback and encouragement — it helps me not be so precious about my work and make it the best song it might be."
Hsiao has been seeing her music gain a more widespread audience. Her songs have been used on MTV's "16 and Pregnant," ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," Fox's "Bones" and a Target holiday commercial, among others.
"The first experience I had with that was this Target commercial for the holiday Christmas ad," Hsiao says. "I didn't have a TV at my apartment and I came back home for Christmas and we were all sitting around the table and suddenly, it came on [the TV] and my heart just started beating really fast. It was like a dream."
•When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8
•Where: Martin Guitar Lyrikplatz, Frank Banko Alehouse Cinema, ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Bethlehem
•How much: FreeCopyright © 2015, CT Now