Reality television and the media have distorted our vision of what it means to become a successful recording artist in the 21st Century.
Shows like American Idol skew the audience and participants into believing life comes down to either winning a million dollar contract or being thrown on a bus back home. The more realistic version of the truth can be seen through the eyes of the people we may know, live next door to, or graduated high school with—and in this case, it may be all three.
More than six years ago, brother and sister Herndon High alums Jasmine and Matt Commerce packed their cars and headed to the West Coast. Their destination was San Diego, California. Their goal was to turn their passion of singing and songwriting into full-time careers. After years of thousands of phone calls, reams of flyers and hitting the pavement, Matt and Jasmine are booked solid, playing either solo or as a duo for audiences most every night of the week in Southern California.
“We’ve lived off music and only music for the last eight years,” Jasmine said. “We have never had a manager. We have had offers, but nothing that we felt was worth it yet and it has all been our own work.”
Jasmine will soon finish recording a folk-pop album with Sean Watkins (Nickle Creek, WPA) whom she met at a concert in New York after winning a national songwriting contest for Sony/ATV and Nine West.
“They flew me to New York and put me up in a really great hotel and Nine West gave me a wardrobe,” she said. “I got to record my song ['Meant to Be'] with Grammy Award winner [producer] Mike Mangini in 2009.”
Jasmine says she is stoked to work with Watkins and plans on recording up to 10 songs. Matt is currently recording his second CD and plans to release it this July. He says he gets compared to Jack Johnson at least twice a day and Jasmine has been compared to Joss Stone, whom she has opened for. Matt says his style is surf rock with “a hint of country,” while Jasmine plays predominantly folk pop.
“Jasmine’s music you listen to when you are sitting down—it’s lyrically driven and storytelling,” Matt said. “My music is more geared for when you are standing up.”
This time around, Matt has changed the way he will approach promoting his CD and feels he holds a stronger understanding of the business now.
“I’m kind of abandoning that approach that I can do it all. I need somebody who’s really good at search engine optimization, connections in different cities and people with Internet prowess,” he said. “I’ve got more connections in radio stations and everything I didn’t have, when I released the first one.”
Matt usually plays clubs and bars while Jasmine enjoys performing in coffee houses and other seated venues like Belly, Hotel Café, and The Mint. However, the siblings feel their best while playing together up to three times a day, several days a week at nursing homes for the elderly.
The idea of playing nursing homes originated when Jasmine had originally planned to move to New York City for acting after graduating Mary Washington with her bachelor’s in theatre and dance in 2000. But her plans changed when she brought home something even more special than her degree—a beautiful 8-month-old daughter named Ella.
“It was unplanned but I wouldn’t change a stroke. It was sort of like my plans changed. It really wasn’t fair to [Ella] and it wasn’t a lifestyle choice I was willing to make considering this new life,” she said. “So I moved back to Herndon and stayed there for two years and nannied. I had a sales job, a theatre degree, a child and I have been a single mother since day one.”
Jasmine had grown up playing violin and had a strong musical and singing background with honors choir and private voice lessons during high school at Herndon. And music entered her life once again when her friend’s mother called and asked if she would come to the nursing home where she worked to play some love songs for the residents on Valentine’s Day. Jasmine brought her guitar and played ballads from the 1920s and 30s. At the end of an hour, the manager cut her a check for 90 dollars.
“I picked up the phone and started calling all the places around Herndon, Reston, Sterling and said ‘I can play all of these songs, what if I come in?’” Jasmine said. “And they said ‘how much?’ and I said ‘100 dollars an hour’ and they said ‘OK.’ Within two months I was making over two grand a month just playing music.”
Matt soon graduated from William and Mary and planned on taking a teaching job in Richmond. He also had a background in music, playing cello and stand-up bass through high school. And when Jasmine invited him to come along and play at the retirement home with her one-day, his plans soon changed as well.
“I didn’t know how to sing at all. It was really cool and I instantly fell in love with the idea,” he said. “The people there don’t have the ability to get out and have fun. I heard a lady say once, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had since my husband died.’ You hear stuff like that and you realize this is real and really rewarding.”
Jasmine taught her younger brother to sing and the duo began playing senior centers, rehab centers, parties and branched out into the NOVA music scene. After a while, Jasmine felt they had oversaturated the area. She wanted to expand her career and live somewhere with a more artistic atmosphere. She used the skills she learned at her “soul-sucking” sales job and cold called everywhere in San Diego to book gigs.
Soon enough, she and her brother had saved enough money to move out west with Ella, who had just turned six.
“Maybe eight out of ten times I was rejected, but I learned persistence pays off,” Jasmine said. “I applied that to calling the places I play and a lot of it was trial and error. That brought us out to San Diego and we had 20 different accounts set up before we left Herndon.”
Faith in God has always been important to Jasmine. She believes he has intervened and opened up doors that otherwise would never presented themselves.
“I’m a Christian and I really feel those are the times in my life where I can tell God is just working because it just worked,” she said. ”It was almost ridiculous that I would call these people up and they’d never seen me or heard me. I would just give them a rate and they’d be like ‘want to come every other week?”
The young folk singer remains open minded and respects the beliefs of everyone she meets. “If someone has an honest, other experience on life, who I am I to say they’re right or wrong?”
Matt says he is spiritual and believes faith means a lot to his family and others, but has not quite decided yet.
“I’m kind if currently a try-theist, meaning I will trying all the religions out right now,” he said. “But I haven’t settled in on my exact belief system. But, that’s not to say I don’t always ask for guidance.”
One thing is definite. Matt and Jasmine Commerce have succeeded at living their dreams in a beautiful seaside city in southern California. What could possibly make it better? Jasmine has an idea.
“You know where I’d love to play? I would love to play Wolf Trap. I used to work there for about three summers as an usher and backstage and its such a neat, neat place.”