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Neslihan, an Internet star who is one of five singers nominated for “Best Female Breakout Artist” in the 13th Kral TV Music Awards, is steadily climbing up the stairs of the music world.

In the past, music producers in Unkapanı (Turkey’s national center of music companies) discovered new artists either through auditions or by coincidence. Those days are now over. The Arma Müzik company offered a record deal to Neslihan after one of her songs, “Hiç Sevmedim,” was downloaded thousands of times on vazgectimsenden.com, a website popular with young people that boasts more than 150,000 members. Neslihan’s first album, Karalarda Beyazlar, was released by Arma Müzik in April 2006. In March 2007, as the result of a popular vote, she became one of the top five candidates for a Kral TV music award. Voting will continue throughout April, and in May the Best Female Breakout Artist of 2006 will be announced. Like Neslihan, another candidate for this award, İrem Yağçı, also became famous online and later released an album. Both women are also university students.

In high school, Neslihan bought her first guitar by selling her university exam prep books, a decision that she hid from her family. She composed all of the lyrics and music in her first album. Her song lyrics describe stories from her life. Composer Atilla Özdemiroğlu likened her to a poet and said that her unique voice would help her succeed in the music industry. Neslihan said, “I’m afraid that money and fame will change me and that I’ll lose the sincerity I started out with.” We talked about how she got started in music, as well as her dreams for the future.

How are sales going for your first album?

It’s going well. So far 15,000 copies have been sold.

Before you took up the guitar, what was your interest in music like?

I composed the lyrics and music for all of the songs in my album. To me, music means more than just singing songs and playing the guitar; it’s about writing lyrics, composing music, and giving performances. In high school, my friends said my voice was very beautiful. I decided to pair my voice with an instrument, so I bought a guitar. I sold my university exam prep books in order to buy that guitar from my friend at a very reasonable price. I figured I’d get the books again somehow. I quietly put the guitar into the corner of my room. After a while, my family heard me playing it. Because my dad loved my compositions, it was easier for the rest of my family to accept the situation. My dad has been my greatest supporter.

How did you become famous on the Internet?

I actually don’t have much interest in the Internet; I don’t use it much. At the time, people were starting to get into that kind of thing, posting songs online and spreading them around. In my case, we decided to make an album with my father as the producer. Meanwhile, there was this website called vazgectimsenden.com where artists could post songs from their new albums, and my song, “Hiç Sevmedim,” was given a place there. After that, the song took off. I really wasn’t expecting it to be such a hit.

And it was at that point that an offer of a record deal came from Unkapanı?

Yes, but we were very surprised by the contractual aspects of the deal. The initial terms weren’t acceptable for us. When we were starting out, the album itself was not the end-all, be-all navigate to these guys. It was just a bridge for spreading a message.

Were you expecting to be in the top five on Kral TV’s competition?

Everything happened so fast. Two years have gone by, the first of which was when my song was taking off online, and the second of which was when my album was released. Throughout that time, my listeners have been incredible. I gave my first concert at Gazi University in December 2006. I was worried about attendance because even though the album was doing well, I’m not exactly a media personality and I don’t like to be in the spotlight. The performance hall had a thousand seats. I would have been happy just to fill up the hall, but 3,000 people attended, and everyone knew my songs. After that, I gave a concert at Kayseri Erciyes University with 5,000 attendees. Then I performed at three more universities, and each time it was a positive experience. Our album’s download ranking has always been among the top ten. After listening to “Hiç Sevmedim” online, the audience waiting for my album grew. That anticipation has been reflected in the album’s sales, too.

For you, what does it mean to make music?

If you do the work that you do best, you get the kind of benefits you would expect. We discovered my musical abilities a little late in the game. As I was jotting notes down and playing songs, my friends told me, “I feel calm and peaceful when you play. I can find some things from my life in your lyrics.” I started to hear that kind of comment more and more. All of this stemmed from my deep love for singing. A friend would ask me to sing a song, and I’d find myself really enjoying doing so. It’s a joy I’ve felt since I was a kid. Because I have very good ears, I can pick up any melody pretty quickly. But for me, there’s something else critically important about music, and that is writing lyrics. I ask myself, “What story can you tell through the words of a song?”

Which artists do you listen to?

My favorites are Barış Manco, Belkıs Özener, and Leman Sam. But for the most part, I’ve been listening to Sufi music since childhood. The sounds of traditional instruments like the ney, tambur, kanun, and oud affect me deeply. I also listen to Göksel Baktagir. In terms of who performs the best, Leman Sam is number one for me. I also really like Müzeyyen Senar.

What are the goals you would like to achieve?

People have always been at core of my goals on this journey. I won’t limit myself just to Istanbul or Turkey. I’ve been thinking about making an album for international audiences. This is very important for me because I chose to do my university studies in English rather than Turkish. I want to be able to reach out and speak to audiences everywhere.

You’ll finish school, of course, right?

Yes, of course. Some of my friends ask me whether I’m really still going to school, and other people tell me they would not step foot in a classroom if they were in my shoes. Nevertheless, I think it’s really important to go to class by being physically present on campus. Maybe it will take a year longer to graduate, or maybe there will be some disruptions, but I will finish school.

Before you released your album, did you meet anyone from the music industry?

Yes, I met Atilla Özdemiroğlu. We agreed to meet for half an hour, but we ended up talking for three hours. I asked about things like whether I should take any music lessons to make up for my lack of formal training. All I know is how to play the guitar, and I write lyrics and compose music on my own. But he told me that those are only tools and that my songs are uniquely beautiful. He also said that, like me, famous musician Nazan Öncel first appeared with her guitar when she was 17 years old. We also talked about different categories of musicians: composers, singers, and songwriters, as well as those poetic musicians who can express the problems of everyday people. He said I was one of the poets.

Will you take any music lessons?

Right now I’m taking guitar and written music lessons, but I’m not considering voice lessons. I’ve been told that I have a unique singing style that might be lost if I take singing classes. I agree with that, which is why I’m only going forward with guitar and written music lessons.

How do you compose your music?

It’s easy for me to empathize with people. “Hiç Sevmedim” was the story of a friend who was the same age as my older sister. I was deeply affected by her experience. She told me her story over the course of a year, and the song developed from there. Another song, “Sen,” sounds like it was written for a lover, but that actually wasn’t the case. That week, I saw a guy who ran away from home because he was furious with his mother. I also saw someone get fired from his job after working very hard for the company. That’s how “Sen” was written.

What kind of story does “Hiç Sevmedim” tell?

It describes the real-life experience of two people who are separated and can’t get back together.

Are they in love with each other?

Yes. The first half of the song and the refrain were written for my brother, who went off to Ankara for college. But the song wasn’t complete until my friend told me her story.

Can fame ruin sincerity?

If I declared that money couldn’t change me, then that would be the beginning of the end. Of course I’m worried about that. We’re human, it’s in our nature. We have to take precautions against it from happening.

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