College musician “gets low,” gets exposure

By Alex Stedman

For former Columbia student Dan Henig, fame came in the form of an acoustic guitar, a rap song and a coffee house gig.

Henig, who studied music at Columbia in 2010 and is now a student at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich., had a friend record his performance of an acoustic cover of Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz’s “Get Low” in a Ypsilanti, Mich., coffee shop called B-24’s. He uploaded the video to YouTube Nov. 26, as he had done many times before. It has since received more than 1.5 million hits and an endorsement from Lil Jon via Twitter.

“I was assuming it would get a few thousand hits because I started getting subscribers from my other videos,” Henig said. “The most I had on any videos on [Nov. 26] was 9,000. This much was not expected.”

Billy Jackson, Henig’s friend and director of the “Get Low” video, said the pair began posting Henig’s original songs and covers to his YouTube channel in early November, including an acoustic mashup of Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Henig said he had been performing the “Get Low” cover at live shows for almost a year before Jackson convinced him to put it on YouTube.

The duo decided it would be funny to perform the uncensored song for an unsuspecting coffee shop audience and film their reactions, Jackson said. The reactions ranged from attempts to ignore the show to stifled giggles and outright displays of approval.

“They didn’t know specifically what song I was going to do, but they knew I was going to do a song that had profanity in it,” Henig said. “I think they assumed it would be a word or two, but it was pretty rad.”

Jackson said that the next morning he woke up to a text message informing him that Henig’s video was featured on the front page of Reddit, a popular social news website. The number of views on Henig’s other videos rapidly increased, and celebrities like Carson Daly tweeted the video. Henig’s website received so much traffic that it crashed within 12 hours of the video being posted,

Jackson said.

Henig, who’s been writing music since he was 15, said the sudden notoriety has been exciting, but the increased attention does bring some concerns. He said he’s worried that he might only be known for the cover, and hopes that viewers use the video as a jumping-off point to seek out his other musical endeavors.

“I hope my image doesn’t become the guy who covers rap songs,” he said. “I really am a singer/songwriter at heart.”

Joe Bogdan, an assistant professor in the Arts, Entertainment & Media Management Department, said releasing song covers on YouTube can come with some legal risks.

“Even if the artist thinks it’s cool, the company that owns that publishing might not,” Bogdan said. “The more success [Henig] gets, the more likely it is that some lawyer is going to come knocking on his door.”

Still, Jackson said he’s happy his friend is receiving so much attention and is proud to have helped introduce him to the world.

“Thousands of people are starting to see it and they’re all like, ‘Oh my God, why aren’t you signed? You’re the next big thing,’” Jackson said. “That’s just really nice to hear that there is something coming at the end of this.”

Henig said that he considers himself blessed to be the center of attention and that the cover is bringing in new fans. Plus, he said being called a “pimp” by Lil Jon on Twitter was a highlight.

Henig said he’s currently working on an EP, and though he planned on transferring to Mercy College in New York in January, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen with the recent attention. He said he wants to tour and make a career out of music and hopes this cover will help.

“I’m not exactly the kind of guy who would sit behind a desk from 9 to 5, five days a week,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who goes into a coffee shop and does a dirty cover. So if I can make [music] my career, I’m going to be extremely pleased.”