What’s a typical day in the life of singer/songwriter Ernie Halter? Turns out there’s no such thing. This do-it-yourself, grass-roots, superfan-building machine of a musician has toured all 50 states, Europe, and Asia. His songs have been featured in film and television. His YouTube and social media plays outnumber those of many major artists, and his multiple crowdfunding projects have raised a combined $50,000. He’s had more than 4 million streams on Spotify. Keys to building a thriving and self-sustaining career have included staying one step ahead of the game and maintaining a strong, personal connection to his fans.
Halter grew up just south of Los Angeles. He fell early and hard for the Beatles, and taught himself to play piano and guitar. While attending a Berklee In L.A. summer program at Claremont McKenna College, Halter felt a kinship with the other musicians and knew he’d found his niche.
“After high school, to save my parents some money, I spent two years at Fullerton College before transferring to Berklee,” Halter says. “I really loved my time at Berklee and immersed myself in all things music. The ear training courses taught me skills that I use every day.” It was Livingston Taylor’s stage performance class, however, that instilled in Halter the importance of connecting with a fan base. “His class has driven how and why I do things even to this day,” he says.
Using social media to connect with fans is standard practice today, but Halter was ahead of the curve. Before his other friends understood MySpace and YouTube, Halter was embedding code that allowed fans to share his music. He also took the time to reply to messages and get to know each new fan. The impact was enormous. While others were just realizing the potential of social media, Halter had already reached 80,000 online friends and fans. “I started on YouTube doing cover videos before that was a thing,” he says, “and a lot of the fans I have today found me through those first videos.”
One early fan stood out from the rest. A very young Justin Bieber began watching Halter’s videos religiously and attended one of his shows in Los Angeles. Bieber later performed Halter’s song, “Come Home to Me” at a show in Hong Kong and released a cover version online. “That song certainly introduced me to a whole lot of younger fans that wouldn’t have heard of me otherwise,” Halter says.
He knows the struggles of life as a musician. After years of honing his craft and his business acumen, it is still a challenge, but it’s no longer a struggle. What’s the hardest part now? “Honestly, I think the most difficult part of making a living is finding the right balance between work and family.” Halter moved his family from Los Angeles to Nashville three years ago, and he’s adjusted well. “The bar is set so high here,” he says. “The level of writing and musicianship is outstanding, but not in a cutthroat kind of way.”
What’s the most rewarding part of Halter’s career? “When someone tells me that my music has been the soundtrack to their relationship or that a song got them through a very hard time in their life—that’s the most rewarding part.” For Halter, it’s all in a day’s work.
David Petrelli is a songwriter and performer living in Nashville, Tennessee.