Up-and-coming rapper Jake Miller is in Syracuse, N.Y., tonight on his national tour promoting his "The Road Less Traveled" EP.
It wasn't that long ago that the 20-year-old from Weston, Fla., would buy tickets to a Miami Heat game and take stacks of his mixtapes down to the front row and pass them out to famous musicians.
"Making music in my room wasn't enough. I was feeling down. I had to get it in the hands of people who were in the business," said Miller, who taught himself to play guitar. "I printed up about 10 mixtapes, and at halftime or at breaks, I would run down amid the chaos and hand out my music."
Miller said he would give his CDs to Lil Wayne, Birdman, DJ Khaled, T-Pain and Chris Brown, among others.
"It cost a lot of money to buy tickets to get in, and I wouldn't even care at all about watching the game -- even though I'm a huge sports fan," he said. "My main focus was to get my music to them."
It worked, as he became a YouTube sensation with millions of views for his songs "A Million Lives" and "Like Me." In 2011, he opened for Snoop Dogg. Then Mac Miller. Then Flo Rida. Then Ne-Yo. He even played at halftime of the Heat playoff game last year.
Now he's on a national tour and he's working on his full-length album to be released at the end of the year.
Playbook had a few minutes to talk with Miller.
Pretty brave to run down to hand your stuff to big-time musicians.
"Growing up, I started making music, but I didn't think I had a future. It was just a hobby. I was going to go to college at FSU, but then I started to get a little buzz around my school about my music, and it turned into something bigger than I ever thought it would be. I decided not to go to college and take a year off. Well, that was two years ago."
What did your parents say about that decision?
"They always supported me. They saw me start from nothing. I got feedback from my whole family and people in the music industry. I started getting my music played on local radio stations and then TV stations. If I didn't have positive feedback, I wouldn't have taken the risk. These people in the music business said I had potential."
But the music business isn't easy.
"Early on, it was a weird time for me. I took this big risk, and I see all my friends left to go to college and I would see their pictures on Facebook. I was feeling jealous. I didn't know whether I had made the right decision. So I had to just run around these stadiums and arenas to give out my mixtapes."
And now your music is climbing the charts.
"I was making these songs and no one was hearing them. All of sudden, I have everybody's attention. I used to hear my song on the radio once in a while. Now 'A Million Lives' plays three times a day. Now at my show, fans have heard my music before I start performing."
What has been touring been like?
"I started in January, and it's been the most amazing experience of my life. I'm writing this full-length album to be done at the end of the year, and I'll do another tour after that. If you would have asked me six months ago about a goal, I would say a No. 1 album. Well, I hit No. 1 on iTunes with my EP in the first 10 minutes. I hate to tell people who doubted me, 'I told you so.' I took a huge risk. I'm really lucky it came together. I'm in a really good place right now."