You probably haven’t heard of him, but 15-year-old Johnny Orlando may be Canada’s next big pop-music export.
The Toronto singer and songwriter has just inked a record deal with Universal Music Canada, released a new single and performed a free show in Nathan Philips Square for his young fans — some of whom travelled hours to be there.
“It’s still pretty unbelievable,” he tells CBC News.
Like many up-and-coming musical artists these days, gradually building a huge online following has been key to breaking into the industry.
“YouTube gave me a chance,” Johnny says. “Social media is a great tool to allow young artists and young creators of any kind to express themselves, to get content out there.”
Watch as the teenage musician talks about how he got started in the business and the musicians he looks up to.
Jeffrey Remedios, president and CEO of Universal Music Canada, says Johnny’s homegrown fan base is what first caught his attention. Universal had asked Johnny — who was then unsigned — to come to an event to promote another artist. The only problem was that many of the fans who showed up wanted to see Johnny instead.
“That’s where things got started,” Remedios says.
Orlando also built his following offline by touring North America and overseas. Last year, he says, he performed at 40 to 50 concerts.
Family support has been another crucial part of his young musical career — so much so that Johnny’s father, Dale, is relieved that his son has signed to a major label partly for practical reasons.
“It really was a family business,” Dale says. Having Universal come has been “an incredible help” because it took a lot of the responsibility off their shoulders and gave the family access to more resources.
Johnny’s sister Darian says helping her brother has become “kind of a full-time job.” When she’s not in class at Ryerson University in Toronto, she helps respond to emails and manage his social media accounts.
Dale remembers the first video that his son uploaded seven years ago, a cover of Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe. At the time, both parents were unsure of whether it was a good idea, but figured no one would see the video except friends and relatives.
Johnny’s latest single, a duet with 13-year-old American actress and social media star Mackenzie Ziegler, was released on Friday and has so far garnered more than 330,000 views.
“It’s already on Spotify playlists. It was charting in like 30 countries, which is insane,” Johnny says.
This summer he’ll be performing at concerts across Europe, and he’s working on an EP that should be released in the coming months.
Within the next five years, Johnny says he hopes to follow in the footsteps of other Canadian musicians like Drake or the Weeknd, “doing stadiums, meeting a tonne of fans from around the world, going to countries that I’ve never been to before, and just exploring music and myself.”