How Being Diverse Turned Into Over 500 Licensed Placements
iSing: Do you think that a singer or an artist who really wants to be signed or working in the industry needs to come to a place like L.A.?
KK: I do. I don’t think I could have gotten to where I am without moving here. I really don’t. Now I am at the point where I am thinking of possibly moving on, but I am established enough to where I would only need to be here once or twice a month. I have enough contacts, and my relationships are pretty solid.
iSing: What were your career goals when you first started out?
KK: In the beginning it was to take over the world, and be something giant. (laughs) A pop singer. But I never liked traveling much. I had no desire to tour, but I love performing and I love creating. That’s my favourite part, creating the music, whether that be writing or in the studio or whatever. You know looking back now obviously I didn’t take over the world by becoming the next Mariah Carey.
But I am doing what I do in the way that I think suits me best. This way I am actually able to enjoy life the most. I love being in the spotlight, but also behind the scenes too.
iSing: At one point that you were signed as an artist as well, can you talk about that?
KK: I’ve been signed as an artist twice actually. After the first publishing deal I signed a record deal. We couldn’t figure out a direction, which actually wound up working to my benefit later on. When I was signed to Atlantic it was hard to figure out if I was pop singer, singer/songwriter, or R&B. I loved so many different types of music. Every time I would work with a producer who specialized in a style like R&B or in Rock the head of the label would say, “that’s the new single!” Then another song would come in that was totally different. It was like the genres were all over the place. A year and a half passed, and I finally realized I my record was never coming out. It was so all over the place that it wasn’t even close to being a record yet. So, I asked out of my deal. Everyone thought I was crazy because it is hard to get a record deal.
A few months after that I signed another deal with Virgin. I got all the way to the end of my album. They were just about to mix, and the president who was also producing my album, got fired. Everyone he was working on got dropped. I was the last one to get dropped. I was upset at first, but in the long run I wound up realizing that this was the absolute best thing that could have happened.
They wound up having to pay me to drop me. I did the album the way I wanted to do it. I started on the hard road because I now was doing it on my own, and I had to figure it out. I feel like I did. I was able to power through and grass roots it in a way, to find this niche of film and TV and promos, ad trailers, basically licensing songs.
iSing: Who were your early influences as a writer?
KK: Carol King, loved her writing. I actually really love her voice even if people say she is not a singer. She conveys the emotion in her songs better than the singers who covered her songs. Bonnie Raitt is probably my favourite singer. And, I love Elton John and Sheryl Crow’s writing. So, those are probably my biggest influences.
iSing: What instruments do you play, and how important is that to your song writing?
KK: I play piano mostly and a bit of guitar. I write a lot of different ways. But, probably the main way that I write is sitting at the piano. Being able to play an instrument to write is pretty important to me but I also try not to let it limit me because a lot of times I will sit down to a piano and end up writing a ballad. A lot of times I just hear the production and everything in my head, so the piano just serves as a base. Sometimes I will just use it for the bass notes then we build the track from there.
iSing: When you say we. Who is we?
KK: My production partner, Joe. He is amazing, plays everything I don’t play, and also mixes. We have formed a really great collaboration over the past 4 years. I tend to have a very clear vision but when I don’t Joe will take it in a direction that I could have never imagined, which is always fun too. Typically I write alone then I bring him in on the production side.
iSing: Do you do any kind of vocal training?
KK: Well, that’s an interesting question. I never did, and I still don’t, but last year I sang with Ringo Starr a lot. We did the Beatles Tribute. I was in the house band singing the backgrounds for all of the artists pretty much all that night. Then I sang at the Grammy’s, and at another event where there were a lot of artists I sang backgrounds for as well. It wound up being like two and a half weeks straight of singing. My voice was not used to that.
Normally I never warm-up, just go into the studio and my warm-up is singing. But I realize now that there is a lot to warming-up, especially if you are going to put your voice through that kind of workout every day for two and a half weeks straight. When we were done with all of that I could barely talk for two weeks. It is back like 95%, but, I have noticed some changes since that period of time which was like January-February of last year. It was horrible. I really learned the hard way.
Now whenever I have anything like that I really warm up.
ISing: Do you have a song writing process?
KK: People ask me about this a lot, and I always feel like my answer is not really a great one. I totally shut my brain off and try to let my emotions take over. The less cerebral influence that I have the better. That is why I usually write better after a glass of wine. [laugh].
Like for instance my song “Black”. I don’t even remember writing the song. I remember being up late one night, 2 or 3 in the morning. My son was asleep, so I actually had time to write. And, I just started writing this song. I was just sitting at the piano and just all the lyrics and the melody just kind of came out. I woke up the next morning, re-read all the lyrics and listened back to what I’d recorded, and I was like, what the heck! I don’t even know what this means. That has happened quite a few times where the next day I don’t even remember writing it. It is almost like the lyrics just kind of write themselves in a way.
iSing: At what point did you realize that you could make money from music?
KK: You know, I feel like I have been really fortunate since day one, from the point of view that I have never had a regular job, other than in high school. I worked at a Vet’s Office. That was the only ‘normal’ job that I ever had. Initially, I signed a record deal and then a publishing deal, then I signed another record deal. So I’ve always made a living as an artist.
In regards to earning from song writing, I kind of fell into it through being a co-writer. They got some of our songs on the “The Hills” TV series. I think that was my first placement. At some point I started seeing my ASCAP statement, so I am thinking oh okay. I love the idea of royalties. You can do something once and let it pay over and over and over, that’s amazing.
Initially, I had a problem with this because I had a publishing deal with Chrysalis. They owned my publishing so I was not able to make deals on my own. I wasn’t able to say, “Sure you can license that for $500” or whatever. It had to go to my publisher first to get it approved. And, time, and time, and time again, they were turning licencing deals down. I quickly realized I need to own everything outright, that I need to be in control, so I asked to get out of my publishing deal. They let me go 2 months later, and at that point I was on a mission to control everything. You know, writing, publishing, master, all of it. I started accumulating songs. Unintentionally or subconsciously I started writing songs that were a little less specific. Now I am doing that on purpose.
This is where what worked against me when I was signed to Atlantic started working for me. Because I love so many different types of genres. I didn’t have to be stuck in a little bubble, to be one thing. I could be whatever I wanted—dance/pop, singer/songwriter, blues—whatever I wanted.
I also started building relationships with music supervisors. Over time they started placing my music, and then they started asking me for things. Then I met other relevant people, and the list of relationships that I had just kept growing and growing to the point where I know a lot of people, and I have a great relationships with them.
iSing: Now that you are independent what would you say the challenges are of not having a label, lawyer, or management?
KK: One of the challenges is that there is always someone trying to tie you down. You have to navigate and make decisions based on what’s best for you. For instance, there are managers, lawyers, and even labels who have come to me wanting to do deals for certain things. I have to be really, really, smart so I don’t lose the control I worked so hard for. But the upside is way more than the downside for me.
iSing: What kind of equipment do you use in your home recording studio?
KK: A couple of keyboards, a couple of guitars, Universal Audio preamp. I use an iMac with Protools, KRK speakers, headphones, a Rodes NTK mic. I have a lot of plug-ins. And, that is pretty much it.
iSing: What are the skills, abilities and character traits required to take the path of an independent singer/songwriter who is in control of their own career?
KK: It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. You definitely need to be ambitious and aggressive, but in a positive way. Music supervisors, VPs, presidents of music and companies are inundated with so many emails and people sending them music, you don’t want to be that guy or that girl they don’t want to return their call to. It’s a very fine line when you are reaching out to them. You have to be very proactive without being annoying.
You have to be able to take rejection, that’s just part of this job. And, you have to work your butt off. In one week I probably pitch for 30 or 40 things. Some of them are like a theme song, a work for hire job, others are just pitches. I think at this point now I probably get close to half of them. But, it wasn’t like that before. If I got 1 out of 50 things I tried for I was excited. You have to have that attitude of like I am just going to keep trying, trying, trying. Eventually something is going to work out. If it doesn’t then maybe that is not for you. (laugh)
I have a husband and a son now, so I have to work harder to find a balance.
iSing: What is a normal working day for you?
KK: Every day is different. One day I might wake up and answer my e-mails for a couple of hours. My days are also different now because of my son. Typically I spend the morning and evening with him, whereas before I just worked straight through.
After answering emails I might try writing a song. Or, I might do a vocal for a song that we have a track for that I just haven’t gotten to yet. Or, I might listen to a couple of mixes. Or, I might work on my licensing company, where I represent other bands. Then I listen to a bunch of their songs to become familiar with the catalogue. Some days I have a lunch meeting. Sometimes I am working on a film. We’ve just wrapped Pitch Perfect 2, where I sang in the studio for a week.
Or, I might be singing on a commercial. I just finished singing for a Schick Commercial. I also recently sang at the Grammy’s or Music Cares so had to attend a lot of rehearsals for a week.
Then some days I am in the studio for a couple of hours or I just run errands all day. [laugh]. You know, and I go to the post office, and I go to the bank, and I go to the store. I am always doing something, because I can’t sit still.
iSing: Tell us about your recent work with Al Pacino.
KK: I sing in a movie that is coming out later this year called Danny Collins. Al Pacino plays an old retired rock star. I sang on one of the songs on camera. We did like an all night shoot at “The Greek”. It was fun. It’s a really good movie.
iSing: So, did you get to sit down and talk to him?
KK: Yeah, for awhile. He is really nice. He is really cool. You know, I feel like everybody that I have met for the most part, because I have now sung with a lot of my idols, have all been pretty awesome. Very few have been rude.
iSing: Do you have a top career moment to date?
KK: I would have to say singing with the Beatles was pretty amazing, doing the CBS Tribute. Being on stage singing with Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and Pharrell. And, you know everyone else who played that night. John Mayer and John Legend and Alicia Keys. That was pretty insane. That was really cool.
And, then singing with Bruce Springsteen this year was really fun too. So, as far as singing that would probably be the top. As far as like placements, you know I have certain songs that really people have heard, and it was really more because of the placement the song became really popular. “Break Left” in “The Walking Dead”. Or, “Where You Belong”, with The Fosters. I do the theme song for “The Fosters”.
And, I have a song coming out in a movie later this year, which they are calling it an Oscar contender. We will see if it is. But, my song is probably going to be really low in the mix. [laugh].
iSing: If a singer wants to go into this arena what tips would you give them?
KK: I can’t say that other people would give this advice but this is what I did, and it worked for me. Get your songs to a bunch of nonexclusive music placement companies. There are a lot of exclusives, many are great companies, but they have a lot of artists, so there are only so many opportunities that come up. If you are lucky you may get 2 or 3 a year from an exclusive.
I am a nonexclusive company, last year I did 60-something placements of my own music, and around 30 or 40 of other band’s song’s. Out of all those other bands I probably only placed maybe 1 or 2 of their songs that year.
So give your songs to a couple of different nonexclusive companies. There is really no downside, it’s not like you are being tied up with one company.
iSing: Any further advice?
KK: For me, I try everything. Anything that is not going to tie me down, I will try it. And, I don’t really have many reservations. But some people will advise not to do that. So, you know, everybody’s path is their own. Try to find something unique, something about you or your music that’s unique.
I originally wrote the song a couple of years ago. It was just something I was feeling one night. It came kind of out of nowhere. It wasn’t like anything else I was working on at the time. I wound up licensing that song in a lot of different things. One them being the trailer for “The Walking Dead”. It became so popular, people loved it so much and it was also my favorite song to perform live. So I decided to try to make an album with this feel, this tone, and this mood. Over the next couple of years I wrote the album, in the midst of doing a lot of other genres, a lot of other things, a lot of other pitches, a lot of other movies, which is why it took me forever.
Then I had eleven songs, which I though was perfect. One night my son went to sleep early so I sat at the piano, and I wrote what might be my favourite song on the album, called “Monsters In Your Head”. I immediately called Joe and said this has to go on the album. We have to do this today. Now. [laugh]. I am really happy with how it came out. Lyrically it is my favourite song on the album for sure. A couple of the songs have already been in TV shows and films. There is a movie that just came out called “The Dove”, and the song “Nothing Left To Lose”, is in the movie. It actually had probably like the biggest feature of a song in that film. So, I am excited about this album. I am really happy with it.
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