It's a great time to be a musician
- Katrina Stone on the power of independence
Artlist caught up with top-performing pop and folk artist Katrina Stone to find out about her background, her journey and why she’ll always be independent.
Most of us have heard Katrina Stone’s music before, even if we don’t realize it. She’s one of Artlist’s top-performing artists so her productions pop up in flower commercials, home interiors adverts and brand endorsements the world over. Apple, Wayfair, Pez and Hulu all picked her happy-go-lucky folk tune “Never Wanna Grow Up” for their international ad campaigns, and she’s a favorite with filmmakers too. They select her soaring pop and soul productions to soundtrack the emotional climax of their projects - but her talent extends far beyond the recording studio. Katrina’s a performer. She’s at her happiest playing intimate shows in dusty basements in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming - although she likes playing sold-out stadiums too. In just 5 years Katrina has released 5 albums and 5 EPs under her full name and 3 albums under aliases. She’s toured the US a few times over and played SXSW, Warped Tour and the Playboy Mansion. But perhaps unusually for an artist with such experience, Katrina has spent the majority of her career independent. And that’s exactly how she plans to stay.
It all started at a horse ranch
“I’m a navy brat,” Katrina says. “We grew up all over - Hawaii, San Diego, Monterey, New Mexico. I think at one point we were in Georgia.” Katrina’s speaking from her home in Nashville, Tennessee. She certainly looks like a star - silky orange hair, sparkling blue eyes, the cheekbones, the lips, the teeth. She holds herself like a star too. We’re speaking over Zoom but her voice still demands attention. The woman’s got presence.
When Katrina was 12 the family moved to a horse ranch in Colorado. Perhaps it was the sudden stability or the fresh mountain air or the uninterrupted remoteness of it all - but around the time they moved, Katrina started to sing. “I just kind of fell in love with singing. Every instrument I learned to play was just a method to get me singing my own songs.”
Trying to find her way
Her teachers weren’t so enthusiastic about her career of choice. “I got laughed at so many times for saying I want to be a singer when I grow up. Still to this day people's idea of making it is a record deal and plays on the radio and everybody knowing your name. But I'm kind of like - guys, I made it. I make a living making music.” Katrina found their cynicism motivating and would spend her pocket money recording Shania Twain covers in a local studio and entering singing competitions in the area.
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After high school Katrina spent a brief stint in music college training as an opera singer, but she found the environment oppressive. In order to succeed in opera, she had to sound exactly the same as everyone else which really isn’t her style. So she studied Sociology instead and enjoyed music as a hobby, singing at the odd event and writing and playing in her spare time. “To be honest, at the time I didn’t realize there were so many avenues in music I could take,” she says. Katrina married her husband in 2005 and he supported her while she built a career as an artist. “I was cutting my own independent albums and touring and hustling really hard. I made some breakthroughs, won some competitions. I was singing in a pop-punk band but nothing really major.”
“That’s where everything came together. I started working with licensing companies and realized I can make a living with people using my songs in whatever video it might be."
The turning point came in 2012 when Katrina won a competition to perform at South by Southwest. She flew to Los Angeles to make a music video and attended a few co-writing sessions with major studios. “And that was when I realized, like, all these people are making a living from songwriting.” Six months later, Katrina, her husband and their toddler daughter were sharing a tiny apartment in North Hollywood.
“We just worked really hard,” Katrina says. “That’s where everything came together. I started working with licensing companies and realized I can make a living with people using my songs in whatever video it might be, it could be a graduation video or wedding video, or it could be a huge commercial. It got my music out there, you know.”
Katrina started working with Artlist in 2018 and says it’s now her main source of income. “Even if it's not directly coming from Artlist, they put so many songs out into the world and I’m in so many videos that somebody will hear my song and reach out to me.” Katrina says that big brands will hear her music in a film or advert and will then pay her royalties to use it in their commercial. “So I get these secondary projects just from getting the music out there.”
“I just love the place we’re at right now - because we’re kind of bringing those labels to their knees a little bit.”
Although Katrina’s worked with several licensing companies before, she says Artlist is by far the best energy. The team includes musicians and music lovers, and she can feel that through their communication. “The kindness and the appreciation for what I do as an artist - Artlist really gets it,” Katrina says.
Katrina’s proud to be independent. She can write, rest, tour, release whenever she wants. But it wasn’t always this way. In 2006 Katrina won a record label through a competition - but it wasn’t quite the big break she expected. “They just kept me for 2 years, and I couldn't do anything.”
Katrina explains that sometimes big labels will sign an act just to make sure no one else does. She says for the 2 years she was signed, she wasn’t allowed to release any music because the label had a similar act and they didn’t want them to compete. “Such a small percentage of artists that get signed to a label see their album actually come out,” Katrina says. "They shelve them - that’s what they call it. The album’s finished and paid for, but the label won’t release it.”
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Katrina learned many lessons from that experience. “I encourage artists to really think it through - like you’re giving up your freedom for what, like, a little bit of money upfront. You can make that money on your own.”
“It's a great time to be a musician,” she continues. “Honestly. 20 years ago I just sort of struggled and struggled until I got a record deal, but we're living in this time where we have every resource, every opportunity to do exactly what we want and to find our people in our market.” Katrina says she has a strong following in Brazil. She would never have known that 20 years ago, but now she has access to that audience and information. “I just love the place we’re at right now - because we’re kind of bringing those labels to their knees a little bit.”
Katrina’s feeling optimistic about the future. She’s setting up a new life in Nashville, a city made for intimate performances in dusty basements. For now, she’s limiting her time on social media because she struggles to find balance with Instagram, but Katrina’s strength lies in knowing how to keep her focus. She plans to release her 6th album soon and says she’ll never stop writing music - because it just doesn’t get old. “Honestly, I haven't really burned out. I’ll never burn out sitting in my studio with my guitar and writing a song or lyrics. Honestly - creating music now is just as fulfilling as it was on day one.”
To feature Katrina Stone in your project, advert or film, check out her page on Artlist
Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, Red Bulletin and more. She likes to explore youth and sub-culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her around the world. You can contact and/or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.