Since January, a lot has changed for Pittsburgh vocalist KELS.
She has moved to Atlanta, inked a global distribution deal and is working on new music featuring genre-bending collaborations.
Her voice gets her through the door — but her personality keeps her there.
KELS energy and passion for music is evident in her life and work. Though new to the game, her distribution deal allows her to focus more on the music, while Cage Riot, her distribution company, handles all backend work.
The singer delivered a fresh single on Friday, June 17, titled, “Be Fine.” The single was blaring over a speaker in Atlanta’s, Centennial Olympic Park.
KELS spoke with Zenger about the importance of live performances, how her new deal changes her approach, and the creative ways she hopes to broaden her audience.
Zenger: Things have really picked up for you since our last interview. How is everything evolving?
KELS: It’s been crazy. I moved to Atlanta in January. It’s been really great because it’s a whole new scene of music. I’m starting from the ground up again with live performances, which is cool because it’s a network opportunity. Living in a new city has definitely pushed me, to start from scratch where no one knows me.
Zenger: You seem to truly enjoy your live performances. You even put one of your live tracks out on digital platforms.
KELS: It’s interesting because I’ve done a singer/songwriter showcase here, so that was a super-stripped-down acoustic session. That was one of my favorite performances, and the reaction was great, because I tend to be pretty different from everybody on the lineup. Just in terms of my style, I put on jazz, R&B and pop and mesh them together. People really seem to like it. I’m also itching to get another performance, but I’m so new here. I’m trying to network right now. I did an open mic a few weeks ago. I’m just trying to get my name out there.
Zenger: On Instagram, you showed your followers a bit of the creative process behind the new single, “Get Fine.” What prompted that?
KELS: I like people to know how a song can evolve. A lot of times it’s not just being in the studio, a producer plays a beat, and then you write an amazing song. Sometimes, that can happen. But a lot of times, especially for me, I’m always trying to find something that sounds different, so that I can put my own spin on it. So it can be something people have never heard before. I’m always following producers, listening to YouTube beats, underground producers, to try and find a sound that nobody is doing, and I try to put my own thing on that.
People seem to like the whole evolution of a song. I try to do that for every song that I put out, because it could take two years. First, it’s finding a beat, then putting a voice note away because I don’t really like it yet and revisiting it when I feel more creative. Songs can take anywhere from a few months to a few years if I’m not feeling it right when I write it.
A lot of times what I will do is, I’ll write something if I feel it at the moment, and then I’ll come back and be like, “Was that whack or was it cool?” I don’t know if it’s actually cool, or I’m on a creative high. I try to take my time. In this music climate, it’s hard to take your time because everybody wants music all the time. It’s really consumption-based, which is good for me because I’m new and want to get as much out as I can. But it’s tough as an independent artist.
Zenger: I understand there is a billboard of you in Atlanta for “Be Fine.”
KELS: Yes! I am so excited. I didn’t want to say anything to anybody because it seems so surreal to me. I felt like, there is no way that this is actually happening. On the release date of the single, Friday, that billboard will have my album art, and my distributor, Cage Riot. They are handling the market and the push for this song, so we’re really excited.
We’ve never had distribution before. It’s always been through DistroKid or uploading it and seeing what happens. It’s at Centennial Olympic Park, which is in the middle of Atlanta. I will be there Friday. I have handouts with the QR codes where people can scan and get to the song, I’m going to have a sign saying: “This Is My Song!” Just getting people to draw the connection. We will have a speaker out there playing the song. For three hours, I’m going to annoy the heck out of people who just wanted to sit there.
Zenger: Tell us about your global distribution deal.
KELS: It is going to take my music to a whole new level. Before, I was just uploading my singles, doing the marketing myself. Now, I can spend a lot more time being creative and writing songs, as opposed to submitting to blogs, submitting to playlists, constantly trying to find a new audience for my music.
I find that TikTok is where I have the most fans right now, so I’m still doing things like that, but with the global distribution, they have access to Spotify’s playlisting — and all the things that can help me reach a global audience. In the past, I’ve only been able to focus on grassroots.
Zenger: Do you feel like you will be able to be more creative now that you can focus more on just the music aspect of your career?
KELS: Exactly! It’s interesting because I read every single comment the fans make on my TikTok, so I’m actually gathering a lot of data from to see what people really like, what my next release should be: guitar-based or piano-based. We’re planning to tour next year, and I’m using TikTok for that, as well.
People are commenting what city they are from, and we’re gathering where the fan base is it, because I would like to sell out my first tour.
Zenger: What type of collaborations do you have in store?
KELS: We have at least four that are currently being written, mixed or mastered. We’re trying to figure out the fit and where it makes sense with the singles that are dropping. You should expect at least two to go live this year. It’s really crossed genres. I’m doing one with a guy who is rock-based. I’m doing one with a trap rapper. Different things, but it all makes sense with my voice. It’s exciting.
Zenger: What’s your message to music lovers right now?
KELS: We have to blow this single out of the water. I’m hoping to drop this and promote it in such creative ways that it reaches a totally different audience. Stream “Be Fine!”
Edited by Fern Siegel and Matthew B. Hall
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