It's HARD to imagine many people who wouldn't quickly surrender to the catchy melodies, playful R&B-tinged; rhythms and John Legend-by-way-of-Stevie Wonder vocals that come together in rising pop singer Eric Hutchinson's music. The bean counter on his MySpace page has clocked past 1 1/2 million plays for a handful of his songs, suggesting this New York-based musician is well past cult-hero status.
Yet just last year, Hutchinson was dropped by Warner Bros. Records after the label's subsidiary to which he had been signed, Maverick Records, folded before his album was finished. So Hutchinson did what most singer-songwriters in their 20s have done when confronted by that all-too-common scenario: He felt depressed, briefly considered giving up, recommitted to his passion for music and soldiered on.
"It was a slap in the face, but looking back, maybe it was a good one," Hutchinson said late last week on a rare day off back home in New York. It's a generous turnaround, considering that when Maverick started to go under, Hutchinson got a phone call one day while on tour telling him that the album he'd recently started recording was on hold, and his tour was abruptly called off.
"They said, 'Everything's frozen. You can't stay in your hotel tonight. We're shipping you home,' " he said. "The good part is I learned that a career in this business is very fragile, but the other thing I was reminded of is why I was doing it in the first place, which is that I really love it."
Now Hutchinson is having the last laugh. His major-label debut album, "Sounds Like This," is slated for release Tuesday and includes new recordings of two songs he'd started working on for the Maverick album, but mostly it's stuff he's written since. The real twist? He's back in the Warner Bros. fold.
After his Maverick deal fell apart, Hutchinson decided to post tracks on MySpace, and word of mouth began to build. "I decided I didn't want to wait any more looking for a deal," he said.
A week after the album became available on iTunes, Web gossip king Perez Hilton, who had been tipped to it by one of his readers, posted links to the album's iTunes page and later sponsored a showcase in L.A. for Hutchinson.
"It was very catchy," Hilton said Tuesday. "It did what all good music does -- it established an immediate, visceral connection."
Hutchinson's world exploded. "I woke up, my in-box was flooded. Everybody was calling," he said. "I was touring on the West Coast at the time, and it was a complete frenzy. The album jumped into the Top 10 on iTunes, and my manager got calls from tons of record labels."
Quicker than you can spell "Internet phenomenon" -- which could be the title of the new tour Hutchinson is co-headlining with Marie Digby that brings them to the El Rey Theatre on June 20 -- a bidding war ensued with Warner Bros. emerging victorious.
"The idea of being back on a major label was exciting, but I was a little scared, and because of what happened with Maverick, a little skeptical.
"When I first heard that [Warner Bros. executives] were interested, I was offended -- I didn't understand it," he said. "Then I found out that the label's A&R; guy Craig Aaronson didn't know I'd been on Maverick. It came down to [Warner Chief Executive] Tom Whalley and him, and I really felt that they believed in the project and what I wanted to do. But it was a weird experience."
If the form of Hutchinson's success epitomizes life in the 21st century music business, the essence is pretty much the way it's always been.
"I don't think there is an old-school way anymore," he said. "It's a great thing when fans discover you live, but a lot of people have randomly seen me on iTunes, or YouTube, or read about me on somebody else's website or on a blog.
"My manager talks about that, that it takes three or four little things before somebody pays attention. Hopefully one day those little things add up to something."