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Young YouTube sensation gets big-league help on debut single

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On Monday, Internet sensation Maria Aragon will launch her recording career with the release of her debut single, Nothin' But a Beat.

"For my first song, I wanted something I wrote myself," says the 14-year-old Filipina, who has amassed a huge YouTube following based on her steady output of cover songs. "I made sure it was something I'd want to sing live. I wanted an upbeat song that would get my fans dancing and feeling good."

 

Nothin' But a Beat can be heard online here by Free Press readers, and was introduced Monday morning on top 40 radio station Energy 106. It will be played there exclusively until it's available for download in late September.

"It's a great pop-dance song," says Energy program director Adam West. "It has a funk bassline to it. I really like the sound of it."

The three-minute, 50-second radio version of the tune will be immediately added to the station's musical rotation, which typically means about 30 spins a week. Audience reaction will determine whether the number of plays is bumped up.

"People are anxious to hear something original and new from her," says West. "She already has a built-in fan base."

Maria's co-writer on Nothin' But a Beat is prominent American producer Narada Michael Walden, who wrote and recorded breakthrough hits of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. They have been working together in his Tarpan Studios in San Francisco for two years.

Walden, a well-known drummer, started by asking her to write a number of song titles; the list included Nothin' But a Beat, and that became their starting point.

"The song is about how dancing can help you through the hard times," says Maria, who starts Grade 9 next month at Isaac Brock School. "Sometimes you need to dance it out when you are stressed. When your favourite song comes on, it puts you in a better mood. I know how that feels, letting all your stress go away and focus on the beat."

 

With the title in hand, Walden and Aragon then jumped on the idea and "blew out" the melody. She wasn't sure initially of the direction of the song, but once she heard her voice on it, she was converted, he says.

 

Walden is comfortable working with young talent, having launched the career of then 11-year-old R&B singer Stacy Lattisaw, who had five hit albums in the early '80s. Houston and Carey were both 19 when he starting collaborating with them.

"When you are 14 and have great talent, it doesn't matter," says Walden. "It's about the music. That's how it goes for me -- I get a little inspiration, and look at her, and vibe her and her audience, and then run with it. Then she writes the lyrics and sings it."

Walden plays most of the instruments heard on the song, including drums, bass and keyboards. After laying down those tracks, he sent legendary sax player Jim Horn into a Nashville studio with his horn section to record an overdub. Horn was one of the most in-demand session players from the '60s to the '80s; his tuneful work can be heard on The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, Running on Empty by Jackson Browne, You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin by the Righteous Brothers and Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra.

"It's all about her being heard," says Walden. "Once people hear her, they'll love her, because she's got a real gift."

Monday is a important milestone in Aragon's career as she emerges from the relative safety of her YouTube channel, where she has 280,000 subscribers. Her homemade video of Born This Way was discovered there by Lady Gaga, who directed millions of fans to view it. She may sound awfully grown up on Nothin' But a Beat, but she is still a bubbly young teen when she gushes about the prospect of hearing herself on the radio.

"I'm so excited for that to happen," she says. "Hearing my name on the radio is already overwhelming. Hearing my music on the radio will probably make me freak out."

A plan is in the works to shoot a video of Nothin' But a Beat next month, and Aragon's fans will be invited to participate.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2014 D1

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Updated on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 6:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video, changes headline

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