Singer-songwriter Matthew Santos is one of a growing number of young, talented, male singer-songwriters showcasing his music in what has become a newly standardized manner: by way of iTunes, through MySpace, by word of mouth and on independent labels. He’s a child of the digital age, and that isn’t such a bad thing.

“It’s a special experience finding someone like Ray LaMontagne through word of mouth or through a friend,” Santos said. “Times are definitely changing, and it’s changed the music industry in ways that I think are great, but in some ways that are not.”

Santos, who will perform tonight at 9 p.m. in the Michigan Union Ballroom, released his first solo album, Matters of the Bittersweet, on CandyRat Records last month. His EP, As a Crow Flies, is now available on iTunes. Unfortunately, the song-by-song downloading habits of the masses do have their pitfalls.

“The album is an experience,” Santos said. “If you just take certain parts of an album, it’s like just having an appetizer or some French fries. You’ve got to get the whole package if you really want to support an artist or get into what he’s doing.”

Global exposure through the Internet and television has also given Santos a larger view of his audience.

“I think it’s great because anyone in the world can listen to your music. You don’t have to be in the same place or the same area code,” Santos said. “You could be in Nova Scotia and people from Glasgow can listen to your music. There are no borders or boundaries. Your ideal audience could be in the U.K. And it’s good to test the waters. We’ve gotten an amazing response from people.”

For those searching for the whole package in the form of a guitar-strumming rising star, Santos’s free show tonight should help. He will also hold signing at the Motivation Boutique on South University Avenue before the show from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

With influences as diverse as Martin Sexton, Bjork, Jeff Buckley and Tamil violinist Lakshminarayanan Subramaniam, Santos culls from a mixed bag of talented vocalists and instrumentalists, and it shows. His voice can be husky like LaMontagne or sugary and soft like Patrick Watson. His intensely personal songs aren’t the melancholic musings one comes to expect from these turbulent times, either. His take is refreshingly proactive and optimistic.

“I’m trying to write songs that aren’t complaining or whining. I never feel like a victim, so I never write from the ‘victim’ standpoint, saying ‘Oh, she broke my heart,’ or ‘Oh, she’s the worst,’ ” Santos said. It’s not about that. It’s really about taking responsibility for your actions and your choices and living with that choice.”

The past year has been quite a whirlwind for Santos. He performed at the mtvU Woodie Awards and recorded a track with Lupe Fiasco for his lauded Food & Liquor album. Santos will also appear on three songs on Fiasco’s upcoming album The Cool. The duo is also set to perform “Superstar” on “Late Night with David Letterman” on Dec. 19.

“Lupe and I are actually long-lost brothers, and we finally found each other again in the Attic Studios through a mutual friend of ours,” he said.

Santos said his medium is linked not to current state of culture, but rather to the human condition as it stands.

“There’s a certain timeless aspect to (singer-songwriters). It’s not a product of the times,” Santos said. “I think people are gravitating toward what’s real. You listen to some of James Taylor’s stuff, and it’s still banging today.”

So after his signing, head on over to his free show at the Union – Santos has all the markings of a musician you can say that you saw way back when.

Matt Santos
Tonight at 9 p.m.
At the Michigan Union Ballroom


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