NEW YORK (Billboard) - Regina Spektor doesn’t own a TV or a radio. In fact, as her manager Ron Shapiro puts it, “Most of her being lives in another time.”
But the 26-year-old singer/songwriter — who names the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday and Chopin among her biggest influences — is making music that resonates in the here and now.
Spektor’s ambitious major-label debut “Begin to Hope” has sold 160,000 units since last summer, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It hit No. 1 in December on the iTunes alternative album chart in the United States, topping releases by far more visible acts like My Chemical Romance and the Killers.
“What’s really interesting about that is she’s the only female right now in the top 50 on the iTunes alternative chart — which is inspiring but depressing at the same time,” says Michael Goldstone, the president of her Sire Records label.
The Russian-born, Bronx, N.Y.-bred artist has been involved in every aspect of her presentation in the marketplace — from the music itself to imaging.
“You won’t find a whole lot of new acts being signed within any of the major labels that are being given this level of control, and that’s a testimony to Regina’s importance and her unique talent,” said Goldstone.
The pensive Spektor admits, “I’m not living the life that’s for me; it’s a very hard life I’ve been living the past couple of years. I hate to say that, because there’s a reason why you try to make music — you want to put it out there for people to hear — but I’d love to have more time to work and be by myself.”
Shapiro says the game plan for 2007 is to keep Spektor visible but not make her feel uncomfortable. VH1 is expected to boost the rotation for the video for the album’s first single “Fidelity.” And while Spektor tours Europe in January and February, Sire will launch a TV ad campaign at home targeting consumers who are returning the CDs they got for Christmas or are using their iTunes gift cards.
This is of particular importance because, according to the label, 22% of Spektor’s sales are digital. In line with that fact, February 13 will see the release of an iTunes-exclusive consisting of live recordings chosen by Spektor.
Never falling below the top 30, the album reclaimed the Heatseekers summit 25 weeks later on December 16, simultaneously cracking The Billboard 200 for the first time since July 15.
Goldstone attributes the album’s ongoing success to a traditional approach that, in large part, Spektor has overseen and directed herself. She has guided Sire, along with PR firm Big Hassle and Ron Shapiro Management, through an “old-school, word-of-mouth” campaign, Goldstone says, fueled by “hard work and belief.”
Specktor’s crusade began with her previous disc, 2002’s “Soviet Kitsch,” which she self-released in 2002; Sire reissued it two years later.
“When you talk about the development of ‘Begin to Hope’ in the marketplace, you can’t skip over ‘Soviet Kitsch,’ “ Goldstone says. “So much of the work we did was selling 500 records a week for two years. We worked it in a blue-collar way. We never even really announced it. When you have an artist that has great instincts, you support those instincts.”
That strategy has thus far proved wise. According to Nielsen SoundScan, “Soviet Kitsch” has hit the 54,000 mark, and “Begin to Hope” has moved 160,000 units.
Goldstone, Shapiro and Warner Bros. VP of marketing Mitra Darab can hardly contain themselves when talking about why they felt compelled to run with Spektor’s ideas, calling her everything from “a genius” to “a culture-changing artist” with a convincing lack of preciousness or pretension. As Goldstone puts it,
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