Hot Licks: TONI
Meet Toni Shepherd, the rising lesbian star behind the Youtube sensation "All I Want Is You."
Toni Nicole Shepherd (TONI, as she's billed) has a beautiful voice and a hit single. She had a loving girlfriend to direct the video, a small but already enthusiastic fan base waiting to see it and plans for her first five-song EP after. Since TONI has the talent and the support, it seems like the hardest part of making "All I Want is You" a success story was taken care of already. But as it turned out, that was just the qualifying round and the real trials were still ahead.
"The first day was horrible," TONI says of the shoot. "We were only planning to shoot one day but the DP was three hours late and my makeup artist didn't show up and my hair person didn't show up and I ended up scrambling around going to the beauty school trying to find somebody. It was nerve-wrecking!"
"All I Want is You" is a bona fide hit and was shot over the course of two days on a budget that could fit in standard 3.5 by 6 inch envelope. It's TONI's first video and only her second single, and it's director Nai Qazi's first music video as well. For largely untested talent, the results are remarkable; they just had to let virtually everything go wrong first.
TONI, born in L.A. and raised in Harbor City, Calif., wrote her first song when she was seven (an ode to a classroom crush), so there was never much of a question that she would be recording artist when she grew up. With her first single, 2011's "Music Keeps me Alive," under her belt, "All I Want is You" presented the next progressive step in her career. But what are the obstacles between a young indie artist and her first day in the limelight? First, the ambitiousness of the project:
"I listened to the song a couple times and came up with this hi-def concept," says director Nai Qazi. "The first time I closed my eyes I got the crazy budget version." But it was immediately clear that Qazi's "crazy budget" plans were just too big. The slim difference between too big and just right underscores how tight of a budget they were on: "This hi-def concept [was] only about $400 more than we wanted to spend." But while $400 is not that much money in the grand scheme of things, it's certainly a lot when you have nothing to begin with.
Money, of course, was the second biggest obstacle. "All I Want is You" shot for $1,100, a small sum for the most part but still difficult to raise. How far did the ladies have to go for funding? TONI's mother contributed $600—in change.
"I save my quarters," says TONI"s mom, Carla Sumoge. "I give it away as Christmas gifts, stuff like that," she says. Forking over 2,400 individual quarters to cover more than half of her daughter's video debut wasn't a problem for Sumoge—although actually spending it proved tricky.
Even after Sumoge's hefty (thirty pounds) contribution the shoot still faced money problems: Collaborator Killahboy Onwon came up short, too. "It's me, my wife and my daughter, and we just don't have much beyond bills," says Killahboy (real name: Manny Montes), a 27-year-old rapper and working man from TONI's hometown. "I was telling them I was going to put in a hundred every paycheck, but that didn't work out." Montes and TONI's crew eventually "pulled it together", but like everyone else, it was touch and go.
Another hazard: TONI and Qazi were dating at the time. What's it like working so closely with your significant other? "You have to learn to separate your personal from your business," says TONI. "The night before the first day of the video we got into an argument and it was crying all night, puffy eyes and all, and then it was [time to] get up at six in the morning and do costumes and shoot this video."
But perhaps the biggest obstacle turned out to be just the shoot itself: "We didn't have any extra hands," says Qazi. "We had everybody who is in the video, and me." So what happens when, for example, the director of photography goes missing and someone must retrieve something from his other car? "We needed a PA to run up there but there weren't any. My friend is super-sick with the stomach flu, but I begged him and he drives all the way over there."
Even after all that, the first day of shooting didn't adjourn until midnight, but even then TONI and Qazi couldn't find enough satisfactory footage, necessitating a second shoot and a whole new round of fundraising (TONI styled hair on the side to come up with the money).
Like any simple plan, "All I Want is You" seemed tailored to go awry. But when the last problem was put to bed it turned out to be worth it all: "All I Want is You" posted to YouTube in late June, garnering 30,000 views in a few days and a 100,000 in just under a month, formidable numbers for an indie artist's first trip out the gate. "Our first reaction was just, wow," says Montes, "It was like an MTV-ready video."
"I'm not going to lie, as soon as I saw it was super excited," said Qazi.
Mom liked it too: "I thought it was awesome. I was very proud," says Sumoge.
TONI is working on a debut EP, The Best of Times. Does the title apply to her "All I Want is You" experience? Judging from the payoff, we'd guess yes.
Check out the video "All I Want is You" below: