Fog shrouds the New York City skyline, with wind-fueled rain coming down just hard enough to warrant the use of an umbrella. It’s gloomy – the kind of weather that’s best enjoyed inside, hopefully with a cup of hot cider – but you can’t tell by looking at singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz’s smiling face.
She’s smiling because she wants to take a good picture for this rooftop photo shoot, an extension of her participation in the Lincoln MKZ Pop-Up performances that took place in various locations all over New York City during the first week of December. But she’s also smiling because she’s genuinely having a good time, in between shots taking time to re-enact her own version of a circus act with the umbrella. In fact, whether she’s recording music, performing, doing a photo shoot, or doing interviews, she’s often having a good time. It’s just who she is.
And being herself is exactly what has helped Sara amass an impressive online following, boosting her music career.
“I don’t really have any pretense with it. To me, it’s just about the music, telling a story and having a good time. Just uniting everybody through the music,” Sara explains.
She describes herself as a “super positive person” and that positivity informs how she approaches her craft. Her response to the negativity of the world is to counter it by creating music that uplifts.
“Everyone loves music, so I feel like if you can find one thing that everyone has in common, then you can kind of go from there and just spread that positivity,” Sara says.
Sara’s popularity stems from the way she often reimagines the old and the new in her online performances, which are mainly covers and original music – whether it’s singing a popular cartoon’s theme song in the style of a jazz standard, or laying down her raspy, vintage vocals over a modern beat. The result is a performance that surprises and captivates the listener.
“I’ve always come from an old-school place with music, because that’s what I grew up listening to. And I think people seem to like it because there’s something so timeless about great music. You don’t hear it much anymore, so we put it in the context of things that people are familiar with, (which) makes it more relatable and more accessible,” Sara says.
Sara can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of her life. She grew up listening to the jazz and 60s and ’70s singer-songwriters her parents loved, and her dad played in rock and roll bands all over Chicago. But it wasn’t until she attended one of her first concerts at age seven that she knew she wanted to perform.
“[The performer] invited me up [to the stage] because he saw this little kid singing in the audience. When I was on that stage, with the lights and stuff, that’s when [performing] really kinda clicked and I got serious about it,” Sara explains.
A few years later, she started writing her own songs. She was 11 years old and had just begun to learn the guitar. Her songwriting process continues to be organic and reflect the world around her. She’s interested in weaving narratives and considers herself a “storyteller”.
“I love to watch people, and make up stories about them,” Sara remarks. “I’ll be picking up stuff from walking around and making notes as I go about the day. But I’ll sit down and, usually, it’ll start with a melody. I’ll just start singing something, and it’s like a musical alchemy: You start putting together the words that kind of go with music.”
She uses co-writers if the connection feels right, but she considers her fans to be her greatest collaborators.
“Everybody’s been really positive, so I love being able to just put a video up and see what people think about it. I’ve learned a lot, and that’s what I like about it: learning from people,” Sara smiles.
Seeing that people are interested in what she’s doing motivates her to keep creating. Even though her online fan base has increased over the years, she still takes the time to interact with the comments left on her videos. And she mirrors that accessibility in her live performances.
“What I love about performing live is you can tell immediately what’s working and what’s not,” Sara says, her eyes widening. “You can see what resonates with people and then take that and go more in that direction. I love that immediate feedback. So I definitely like to talk to the audience.”
Her love for relating to an audience came in handy when she was engaged in the Pop-Up performances. The event served as a midday pick-up, brightening the mundane workweek for those who were in the area, and celebrated the launch of the new Lincoln MKZ, illustrating how the automobile brings elevated fun to the status quo. New Yorkers are used to performers vying for their attention, so Sara was faced with the intriguing challenge of connecting with an audience that has their pick when it comes to entertainment.
It’s near the end of the photo shoot and Sara has exchanged her smile for a more pensive look. But even without the smile, her vibrancy still shines through, thanks in part to the way her ruby red coat contrasts with the overcast skyline. In a way, it parallels her own music and musical journey – the color contrast helps her stand apart physically and, in the same vein, the way she melds seemingly disparate genres helps her stand apart as an artist.