Viral video fame takes college pals Karmin by surprise

As seen on YouTube

Pop band Karmin is by its own admission a “digital age success.” The duo of Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan have millions of hits on their videos on YouTube, and when they play The Civic Theatre on Wednesday night, it will be in support of their debut album, “Pulses.”

Pop success is not necessarily the path they envisioned for themselves, but they’re learning how to handle it.

Heidemann and Noonan met while attending the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. Noonan was studying jazz trombone and didn’t imagine a future on the charts. “If you would have told me that, I’d have slapped you right in the face,” he said. “I was very much a music snob heavy into jazz.”

Heidemann, on the other hand, admits that she grew up on R&B and always hoped to be a pop artist. “That’s where the rapping came from,” she said. “I’d have never believed you if you told me we’d blow up on account of my rapping ability.”

After graduation in 2008, they found themselves working to pay the bills at the cost of their music. Heidemann had a cubicle job and Noonan worked in a gym. Writing at the end of the day became a way for the couple — now engaged — to be together and do something creative.

“I think we lost our minds,” Heidemann said, laughing. “You have to be really crazy to dedicate yourself to something like this.”

In 2011, they released a video of the two behind Noonan’s electric keyboard performing Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” that went viral quickly, partly on the strength of their couple-next-door looks and her way with the tongue-twisting lyrics. The video earned them more than 3 million views on YouTube in four days.

“We posted the video on April 11 that gave us 2,000 emails in our inbox the next morning,” Heidemann said. “The next day, we were on the phone with ‘Ellen’’s producers.” The immediate explosion of attention told them they were on to something even before “Ellen” reached out to them and invited them to perform the song live on the show.

“‘Ellen’ only catapulted it further,” Noonan said.

According to Heidemann, “We felt the effects immediately. It felt like every eyeball was turned to us. It felt like something was exploding. We just didn’t know how big it was going to go.” As exciting as it was, the success was also daunting — so much so that both lost a noticeable amount of weight. That attention also brought them offers from major record companies including Epic Records, which eventually signed Karmin.

The video was part of a strategy to release videos of covers of songs that were popular and regularly searched for online, counting on the power of certain search terms to pull their songs up the YouTube and Google search pages. They covered hits by Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Wayne, Adele, Lady Gaga and more in a personal, intimate way to give people a way to discover and connect to the band.

Their success on YouTube has given Heidemann and Noonan reason to pay close attention to the online video platform and figure out what success there means. One thing that surprised them is that an influx of negative comments on a video corresponded to everything going up. According to Noonan, “We start to see sales jump. We start to see views jump. We start to see social interaction jump. I think we’re finding a new audience (when that happens).”

YouTube success has not, however, correlated directly with sales. With the online world as used to free content as it is, viewers don’t necessarily become buyers. They do, however, go to concerts. “That’s our bread and butter,” Heidemann said. “It’s the live shows where those kids can come and get value from actually seeing us in person.”

“Pulses” is the band’s official debut album, though Karmin released an EP, “Hello,” in 2012. It wasn’t planned as their introduction to the recorded world. Heidemann and Noonan saw themselves as album artists, but when the release of their own album was pushed back, they put something out to stay in the public eye and maintain momentum. The album that would become “Phases” was delayed because L.A. Reid — CEO of Epic and former judge on “The X Factor” — wanted more singles options.

“Frankly, it pissed us off, but it’s the nature of the business,” Noonan said. The results seem to have been worth it, though. The album debuted March 25 at number 11 on the iTunes album charts.

How did the rappers feel about having their songs covered by Karmin? Chris Brown liked it, they say, and shortly after their “Look at Me Now” became an online sensation, his song went back up the charts. “We never met Lil’ Wayne, but we heard from his management that he really dug it,” Heidemann said.