Musical artists from around the world create profiles and upload music on ArtistSignal in hopes of winning the $10,000 monthly prize.
Jillian Spears Ivey of The Mailboxes remained uncertain whether she wanted to join the fray. Vying for the top spot on ArtistSignal meant constant commitment to the cause.
“Is this how I want to spend my month?” she thought to herself.
Except, she needed a piano. It was difficult to establish The Mailboxes as a legitimate band when she had to borrow the main musical instrument.
And, she decided, it was time to take her music career seriously.
She spoke with her band to present the idea. Members prayed about the opportunity. An agreement was reached to try for the top spot. They brainstormed and requested the help of family, friends and fans.
ArtistSignal’s monthly winner is chosen by voters. Every user is allowed to vote once every hour. Many of Spears’ family and friends joined in on the voting, and continued to do so after the win was in the bag.
Spears laughed and said the voting can be addictive.
Featured songs from The Mailboxes included “Keep Your Mouth Shut,” “Cold Knees,” “Fool For You,” “Talk To Me,” and “Fall & Winter,” from the band’s CD “Red Flags.” These can all be found at Artistsignal.com/themailboxes.
Spears, who goes by her maiden name when performing, provides the primary vocals in every song. Bandmates include Lee alumni Caley and Ben Johns, Spears’ husband, Logan Ivey, and current Lee student James Snider.
Artists on ArtistSignal offer rewards as an incentive for users to vote for them. Rewards were given for voting 10 times for a song download of “Apple Tree”; voting 25 times for a song download of “Talk To Me”; and voting 50 times for an album download of “Red Flags.” One of the larger rewards was a free house show in exchange for more than 100 votes. The larger rewards were taken down once the band won ArtistSignal in November.
Spears said the band is listed for about 10 house shows. The requests came from as far north as Maryland and out to Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. The band has already played at a young fan’s birthday party.
Current band members are different than the ones on board when The Mailboxes began. Spears said it is difficult to find people who are willing to put everything into creating music and playing shows.
“[The current band members] are all really good friends and great musicians, but they all have other lives as well,” Spears said. “We only placed my picture on the website because I am the only consistent person in the band.”
The band originally formed when Spears was a student at Cleveland High. She made several friends who liked the sound of her music. Eventually The Mailboxes was born.
Coming up with a name was not as easy as it might seem.
Spears explained naming a band is a delicate matter. On one hand, she and her friends did not want to take the issue too seriously. On the other hand, they wanted a name which would stick for the long haul.
Soon Spears and her friends were just naming off various objects and jokingly offering it as a name for the band.
“Hey, what if we were the mailboxes,” Spears offhandedly remarked as she and the guitarist headed into a party.
Her friend laughed, but the idea tugged at Spears.
“No, I really like it,” Spears told him. “I love that idea.”
The picture of a song being like letters written to others has stuck with Spears through high school and college.
“And I liked the idea of The Mailboxes — everyone could spell it and say it,” Spears said. “I liked that it was common, but no one would probably ever want to name their band it except for me.”
Spears said writing songs still feels really special. The act surprises her as if she does not know from where the inspiration, words and notes originate.
Maybe it is because she does not have a formula for songwriting. Sometimes it is easy, and other times she fights for the words to fit a composition. Inspiration has been known to strike at any time.
Spears said she wrote “Cold Knees” as a high school student while at the swimming pool.
Once outside of the pool she realized she had two holes at the knees of her jeans. She also noticed how frigid it was standing outside in pants with holes. Spears thought it would be funny to write a song about the experience.
She said she had just finished the piece at home when she made a startling discovery.
“I was comparing it to a relationship that I had had with a person,” Spears said. “They might fit you in some ways, but in other ways you are left cold.”
Continued Spears, “It was funny at the beginning, but then it was like this represents how this relationship didn’t fit me completely.”
Spears’ brother Justin Spears is also a musician. He was one of the driving forces behind recording “Red Flags.” Justin also helped to add additional vocals and musical instruments to the songs. As most of the songs are written with the piano, guitar or ukulele, bandmates can listen to the CD and figure out what their parts should sound like.
The songs have begun to morph the more they are played.
“It is exciting because the more you play them, the more you add to them,” Spears said. “The melody and words are not where the song ends — you keep adding to it forever and ever.”
She said she does not see herself as an exceptional songwriter. Spears said she likes to think instead of God giving her the songs. Although, not all of the songs are about God.
The thought actually gave her pause when she went to record “Red Flags.”
“He basically told me not to limit him with what he could do with those songs,” Spears said. “It does not need to have a Christian-album feel. ... My motto is I am going to write what I want to write, and I will not force my agenda on it.”
She said everything seems to be going well with The Mailboxes, which is really exciting for the recently graduated and married artist. Right now her focus is on learning more about the industry, making connections with other bands and throwing herself into her music.
It makes her happy success for The Mailboxes has not necessarily been at her hands.
“I’m glad the way I have had to do this is by other people helping me. The ArtistSignal thing wasn’t about me. It was about people believing in us and helping us,” Spears said. “The record was about people donating and giving their time and collaborating with me.”
Added Spears, “And the band is about making the songs more than they could ever be with just the piano.”