LOVE, FATE & WORK WITH AMOR KISMET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I transition more and more from the sidelines to the playing field, I hope to still share my thoughts on the music industry. With trailblazers in artist management becoming increasingly visible, I think more and more people will want to become managers and hopefully aspire to be good ones. Growing up a music industry nerd and idolizing people like Larry Rudolph and Johnny Wright, I knew this was something I wanted to do, but felt like no one around me had any idea what I was talking about. Although I’m no expert, I hope I can provide some informal insight through detailing the very beginning stages of working with a particularly exciting new client, Atlanta-based girl group Amor Kismet.

In April 2012, I wrote an entry on here titled, “Where Have All the Girl Groups Gone?” Since then, a few have broken out to various degrees of success (Little Mix, Fifth Harmony), some have reunited (Danity Kane, TLC), and others have attempted to recreate a model that’s broken (G.R.L.). In the entry, I said, “…good things come in 3s,” and predicted the next group girl group would fuse many genres to allow for multi-format radio support. A year later, I stumbled across a YouTube video by Amor Kismet.

While prefab groups can sometimes work, it’s clear that these three sisters have been singing together their entire lives. Some things can’t be manufactured—and those harmonies are one of them. Based on the huge success of incredibly talented groups like Destiny’s Child and TLC, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that’s the type of group Amor Kismet should be. It’s been the knee-jerk reaction of many people we’ve considered working with. But, this is a girl group for a different time. With all due to respect to Tina Knowles, there are no cheesy matching outfits or synchronized dance routines here. Even today’s successful boy bands, who are marketed to the same demographic as *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were a decade ago, stay far away from that aesthetic. In short, this is not a paint-by-numbers girl group.

So far, the girls have written all of their own music and play guitar, congas, and tambourine. Still, they are the kind of act that could hit top 40 with the right song and capture a young audience. After all, they are 19, 21, and 24 respectively, and are by no means old souls, with some of the most vibrant personalities I’ve come across. However, their music is of the sound and quality that could also appeal to a more mature, record-buying audience. A blend of pop, R&B, neo soul, jazz, and even Latin music (they name Selena Quintanilla-Pérez as one of their biggest influences), creates a sound that’s contemporary, but classic. With an image that leans more trendy and modern, but music that sounds organic and timeless, we want to strike the balance somewhere in-between. It’s that dichotomy that initially drew me to the group. Artists like Sade and Norah Jones captured the Barnes & Noble/Starbucks demographic and Adele really raised the bar, by not only successfully doing that, but also expanding far beyond it with 21. Although lofty, I believe Amor Kismet is the type of act that could create a soulful, acclaimed body of work, while still scoring radio hits and shifting units.

In June, things really started to take off for Amor Kismet. Bill Werde, Billboard’s editorial director, named the group the winners of his #FlashUnsigned Twitter competition, saying, “3 gorgeous sisters sing like angels w ton of personality. Unsigned? Not for long.” His endorsement and continued support has been a huge source of fuel for the girls. In many ways, he’s been the Clive to their Whitney (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYRLlbUJcPo). Using his influence on a new form of mass media, he not only introduced them to key players in the music industry, but also to a much wider audience. Since then, things have taken off more quickly than any of us expected.

On the heels of their #FlashUnsigned win, we launched Amor Kismet’s first website and revamped all of their social media pages. While they’ve always had a strong YouTube presence, when I first started working with them this spring, they had no more than 500 followers across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram combined. We now have over 35K followers across those channels. However, social media is about so much more than just the numbers. When used smartly, an independent act can garner the right attention from the right people. Social media has led incredibly talented band members, Grammy-winning songwriters and producers, and invaluable feedback our way.

Social media also brought the girls to their super savvy lawyer, Martin Frascogna, who has worked to protect their music and get everything in order before we take the next steps. In addition to my gig as an artist manager and once-every-six months blogger, I’m also a law student and can’t stress the importance of making sure all that (and by “all that,” I mean many of the things artists never consider—from band agreements to trademarking the group’s name) is taken care of. Having a strong legal team around the girls has also been incredibly important in working to secure partnerships and sponsorship opportunities. All three girls have been dedicated vegans for the greater part of the past decade, and simply looking at them and seeing the energy they have has made me seriously consider it. Right now, our attention is on engaging partners that make sense with who the girls are and what they’re already doing in their everyday lives.

Beyond everything else, the most important focus has to remain on the creative product. The girls have been working with vocal instructor Jan Smith (Usher, Rob Thomas, Justin Bieber) and that’s been almost as exciting for me as it has for them. She’s kind of a legend in this business and has worked with so many artists that I’m a fan of, so it’s pretty cool to know she’s investing her time and energy into Amor Kismet’s artistic development. The past few months have also brought many other creative firsts in the development process: photo shoots, video shoots, performing with a band, and spending time in the studio with some very talented producers. Although some of the aforementioned projects have been completed to various degrees of success, I’m confident we have a stronger vision than ever before—both musically and stylistically—and are this close to getting it right. Collectively, we do not want to put anything out there that’s not up to our standards or the standards of those who support us. Based on some of my previous posts, you can see how easy it is to call out flaws from the outside. But, it can be much more difficult when you’re so closely attached to the project (except for the girls, who are harder on themselves than I ever could be). It’s something I’ve become much more acutely aware of during this process and makes me very appreciative of other perspectives that have been offered along the way.

For the first time since winning #FlashUnsigned, we will be shooting and premiering videos for new original music in January 2014. With a very commercial group, we want to show off everything they have to offer as performers, as opposed to just releasing recorded music. However, we do plan to follow the video series with a (free) EP later in the year. I’m a believer in not putting anything out for sale until the demand is there, so the product will not be about making money, but rather building interest. While being transparent as possible and not sounding too much like a third party observer, there are a lot of other things in the works that I can’t reveal just yet. What I can say, is that moving forward, we want to make sure that everything is completed with purpose and strengthens Amor Kismet’s growing brand.

In addition to their obvious talent (which is truly only half the battle), I can’t say enough about how dedicated to their craft, eager to take on new experiences, and open to collaboration, these girls are. Without those things, none of what is written above matters. Luckily, we’re all on the same page when it comes to the creative vision and business strategy, and their mom, who co-manages them, provides support in ways that I never could. Although so many exciting things have happened in a short period of time, I’m most thankful for the communication and rapport I have with the girls. Very rarely does a day go by when we’re not in touch multiple times and that’s the way it should be. It’s been a wild second half of 2013 and I can’t wait to see what we can do with a full year ahead of us. For more on Amor Kismet, visit www.amorkismet.com.

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December 9, 2013 · 1:31 AM

IDENTIFYING THE SUSPEX

Since the release of “Right Now” in 2000, Mitch Allan has been responsible for some seriously catchy tunes. Although “Right Now” may not be as ubiquitous as other power pop songs from the same era, like “All The Small Things” or “My Own Worst Enemy,” it’s equally strong in terms of craftsmanship. As part of the band SR-71, Allan co-wrote and produced “Right Now” with a name that might be even more familiar, Butch Walker. “Right Now” was included on SR-71′s debut 2000 release, Now You See Inside, which also included production from John Shanks. Along with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, Walker and Shanks helped define pop/rock music throughout the 2000s, writing and producing hits for A-list artists like Avril Lavigne, P!nk, Katy Perry, and Kelly Clarkson.

During that time, Allan also churned out some (hugely underrated) singles for artists like Jessie James and Katharine McPhee, contributed to platinum albums from Daughtry and Disney’s successful Camp Rock and Hannah Montana soundtracks, and was perhaps best known for writing Bowling for Soup’s ultimate guilty pleasure hit, “1985.” He also wrote American Idol’s 2009 coronation single, “No Boundaries,” with two equally talented songwriters, Kara DioGuardi (“Ain’t No Other Man”) and Cathy Dennis (“Toxic”). While on paper that sounds like it should have been an absolute smash, DioGuardi later admitted the song almost “destroyed” her career, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Although never quite reaching the status of superstar hitmaker like some of his contemporaries, even if he stopped there, Allan still would have achieved more success as a songwriter and producer than most could ever dream of. Lucky for us, he didn’t.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Suspex, that’s okay. I didn’t know exactly who–or what–it was until today. I heard the name associated with Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” and Fifth Harmony’s “Miss Movin’ On,” but never bothered to Google it. The best surprise is when you look something up you know nothing about and end up finding something familiar–which happens a lot in this industry. It’s even better when that something familiar is Mitch Allan, who has long deserved the kind of success as a songwriter and producer that he’s about to get. Paired with Jason Evigan, similarly from the alternative rock scene, the best pop music of the year is coming from a somewhat unlikely source. While the name might not yet sound familiar, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard their work.

Heart Attack” (co-written with the phenomenal Nikki Williams), dominated the pop charts this spring. From the explosive opening (complete with strings!) to Lovato’s impressive layered vocals, the song is filled with hooks and legitimized her standing as one of the reigning teen queens in pop music. “Miss Movin’ On,” Fifth Harmony’s debut single following their third place finish on The X Factor, follows a similar sonic blueprint and looks to make them the first success story from the U.S. edition of the show–a female One Direction, if you will. Taking a page from other reality show successes, the single is reminiscent of Jordin Sparks’ powerful “Battlefield” and Kelly Clarkson’s sassy “Miss Independent” (maybe they were all screwed over by “Mr. Know It All”?), while still maintaining a fresh energy. Like Allan’s earliest pop/punk productions, the song kicks off with an intensity that builds throughout, complete with “we mean serious business” stomps on the bridge. The lyrics are also pretty clever and the way “So call me, call me, call me miss movin’ on” is structured will be stuck in your head for days, believe me.

Although not yet a single, “Save the Day,” The Suspex’s track on Selena Gomez’s new album, is the clear standout. Gomez apparently won “Save the Day” over J.Lo, and it’s clear to see why they both wanted it. The track has a similar world dance sound to some of J.Lo’s most recent work with RedOne (and even evokes the pinnacle of her dance pop material, “Waiting for Tonight”) except… it’s better. The guitar and drums remain prominent against a throbbing dance beat, elevating the song from the tired crop of rehashed, uninspired electropop tracks. And, thankfully, there are no jarring dubstep breaks.

Already responsible for three of the best pop songs of the year, according to their Facebook bio, the duo is currently working on tracks with Cassadee Pope, MKS (a.k.a. Sugababes 1.0), Lea Michele, Rita Ora, and Sia–just to name a few. Perhaps the go-to songwriting/production team for this decade have been positively identified?

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Filed under Future, New Music, Producers, Songwriters, Successes

THE WORD OF THE LORDE

I was recently tipped off on New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, who I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from in the near future.

Although her music may best be described as alternative, in the same vein as artists like Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine, there’s certainly a radio friendly, melodic element to the tracks posted on her site. She has a haunting, ethereal tone and unique singing voice, but also shows off a competent flow on songs like “Million Dollar Bills” and “Royals.”

Although most of the songs on her debut EP have relatively sparse instrumentation, there’s something about them that sounds epic. What’s even more impressive, at only 16-years-old, she wrote the tracks herself. If they’re any indication of what’s in store for her debut, we have a lot to look forward to. Lorde strikes the balance between cool and accessible, in terms of lyrics, sound, and image–hitting the sweet spot for pop success. With the buzz growing in New Zealand, it’s only a matter of times before she breaks internationally. Watch this space.

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Filed under Future, New Music, Songwriters

THEY’VE GOT THAT BOOM BOOM

Once every few years, I stumble upon a new artist that I truly get excited about. There are many up-and-coming artists I enjoy, but only a few that I can feel in the pit of my stomach. It happened when I first listened to Katy Perry’s “Ur So Gay” EP. And again after seeing Lady Gaga’s “THE FAME: Part One” video and hearing a clip of “Poker Face” for the first time. We all know how it turned out for them.

This week, I came across The Boom Boom. I recognized the band’s female singer, Kara Lane, from a previous pop project, but this group feels different. It’s more honest, raw, and there’s an undeniable chemistry between the three self-described “perpetual underachievers.” In addition to Kara, The Boom Boom consists of Bobby Boom on turntables, synths, and vocals, and Alex the Rockstar on drums and keys.

As the group’s primary vocalist, Kara possesses an intangible star quality. It’s not something that can be taught or learned over time. You either have it or you don’t–and she does. Her voice not only packs a punch, but she also has a great tone. It’s unique, but still radio friendly, and she already has a signature “thing” (listen for the little yelps and growls that can be heard on quite a few of their originals and covers). Bobby and Alex, two super talented musicians in their own right, complete the group, bringing everything together to create the dynamic pop sound of The Boom Boom.

The Boom Boom have already won Perez Hilton’s “Can YOU Sing???” contest three times, and one of their first videos I saw was a cover of Phillip Phillips’ “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Interesting choice for a group that likes their synths and leans electropop, but their dream pop soundscape takes the track to an entirely new realm. The climax comes during the bridge when Bobby joins Kara on vocals for an incredible melodic blend. Backed by Alex’s rhythms, it’s a combination that can’t be beat.

More recently, their cover of Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” won Perez’s cover contest. In the description of that video, The Boom Boom declare their love for the song’s producer, Greg Kurstin. As a pop music junkie, I’m very familiar with Kurstin’s incredible work. But, I think you’d be surprised at how many artists and professionals in the industry have no idea who he is (or at least not what he’s responsible for). That kind of awareness on The Boom Boom’s behalf bodes very well for their future. In fact, I could totally see them on something like the Kurstin-produced “Catch You” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

Although their covers initially drew me in, The Boom Boom’s original material really sealed the deal. Their original tracks are just as well-written and expertly crafted as the pop hits they’ve covered. “It’s Not Love (But I Love It)” and “Toy” are full throttle electropop smashes with cheeky lyrics that match the equally clever production. A softer sound is displayed on songs like “Imagining” and “Stoned on the School Bus.” But don’t let the dreamy keys and strings fool you. The honesty and angst are still very present in the lyrics. “They misunderstood me my whole life,” Kara laments as the middle 8 of “Stoned on the School Bus” reaches its peak. If you happen to enjoy unique, relatable lyrics, infectious melodies, a proper build and song structure, and original production, I suggest you check out their stuff (that means all of you are listening right now, right?).

One of my favorites, “Do About Me,” seems to sum up The Boom Boom. The peppy production makes it an absolute ear worm, but the lyrics are much deeper than the sound would suggest. The best pop songs are ones that still sound like pop songs, but actually have something to say. “Do About Me” achieves that and the light/dark dichotomy can also be see in the band’s image. The dark cartoon that precedes many of their YouTube videos sums it up perfectly. They are part superhero and part underachiever–which essentially defines our generation.

I’m not big on making comparisons, but there’s also something about them that’s early No Doubt. Most of their original material leans electro, but I can also hear some garage rock and alternative influences seeping in. Perhaps they’re the middle ground between No Doubt and another group that helped define 90s pop: Aqua (while on the subject of cheesy 90s music, would it be too much to ask for The Boom Boom to somehow incorporate Vengaboys’ appropriately titled #1 hit “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” into one of their songs?!). From their sound, to their look, to their performances, The Boom Boom seem very unaffected. I hope that wherever this industry takes them, that remains intact. Although they currently list their location as “mom’s basement,” I don’t think that will be accurate for too long. These unlikely superheroes may just save pop music…

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THE RIGHT WAY

I love it when something exciting happens on the charts and a new(ish) artist makes an unexpected debut. Without much promotion beyond social media and next to no radio airplay, Ariana Grande’s “The Way” shot to #1 on the iTunes charts within hours this week. It’s also placed within the top 20 on many iTunes charts worldwide. Granted, she has over 5 million Twitter followers, but artists with double that have released singles that have failed to do even half of what “The Way” has already accomplished. But before we get to that, let’s rewind a little bit.

At the end of 2011, Grande released “Put Your Hearts Up.” The juvenile single butchered a sample of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” (I don’t know in what world that made any sense) and came complete with incredibly cheesy artwork and an equally terrible video. Everything about this single release has been a stark contrast from that. Even though the video for “The Way” is a low budget affair, it’s not something that looks like it would better suit a 12-year-old. It’s age appropriate and she makes out with Mac Miller at the end, which, at the very least, provides a memorable scene that will get people talking (and speculating). A juicy rumor is always helpful when jumpstarting a career and it’s the kind of thing that will send her young fans into a frenzy.

The song itself is sexy, but subtle enough in a way that it’s not desperate. Teen acts, especially coming from Disney or Nickelodeon, seem to never strike an appropriate balance as recording artists. It’s either too cheesy (see: Selena Gomez “Who Says”) or too overt (see: Miley Cyrus circa “Can’t Be Tamed”). Looking at the most recent crop of Disney stars that have released extremely juvenile material and maintained similarly vanilla images, it’s hard to imagine that Britney Spears released “…Baby One More Time” at sixteen-years-old. In 1998, she seductively cooed and showed her midriff and everyone survived. In fact, that’s why she became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet and why Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez, et al. will never be.

“…Baby One More Time” didn’t sound like a sixteen-year-old was singing it, and “The Way” doesn’t exactly sound like a nineteen-year-old’s record (at least in the post-2001 era, where everything has been significantly toned down for teen acts). Grande’s voice and delivery (the breathy vocals, mixed with some powerhouse moments, and those whistle notes!) is reminiscent of Mariah Carey and that makes people pay attention. If the song came on the radio, I’m sure people would listen a little closer and wonder, “Who is this?” While sounding like another singer can be both a blessing and a curse, I think it’s a good thing for Ariana. Besides, if you have to be compared to another female vocalist, Mariah Carey isn’t too shabby. It’s the kind of comparison her PR people can really milk for some extra attention.

Beyond the lyrics and delivery, “The Way” is also a welcome throwback to the late 90s (or mid-2000s) pop/R&B and doesn’t follow the Dr. Luke-produced electropop trend (it’s on the way out, believe me). It’s a light, refreshing jam that sounds perfect for spring and summer, complete with a Big Pun sample (yes, the same one that Thalia used on her one and only crossover single). Miller also adds a bit of a “cool” factor that will further legitimize Grande as more than a Victorious cast member trying to launch a singing career. Like “…Baby One More Time,” it’s just sexy enough that it will reach an audience beyond 12-year-old girls and hopefully establish Grande as an actual recording artist, and not just a Nickelodeon star.

With Z100 and KIIS already on board, it doesn’t look like her quick ascent to the top of the iTunes chart will be a flash in the pan (a la Tamar Braxton’s “Love and War.”) She needs to continue visiting radio stations across the country and secure some high profile performance spots. She certainly has the chops to pull off a solid performance and hopefully her stage presence is equally impressive. A slutty Rolling Stone cover might also help, but I digress. If not, she will go the way of Leona Lewis, who is doing something, somewhere right now. On a similar note, Jordin Sparks co-wrote this song, so I hope she enjoys the royalty checks.

I also hope Grande has a killer ballad to include on her album. She definitely has the voice to do it. Mariah Carey built her early career on ballads and released “Vision of Love” at 20-years-old. I understand that we’ve been conditioned over the past decade to accept 20-year-olds singing about sleepovers and Barbie dolls, but with ballads also making a comeback on pop radio, Grande could really seal the deal with a modern slow jam.

Ariana’s got people talking, listening, and buying. Here’s to hoping they don’t drop the ball and keep the forward momentum going. I think she’s got what it takes…

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Filed under Future, New Music, New Singles, Sales, Successes

BREAKING & ENTERING

Havana Brown had a hit this summer with “We Run the Night,” but we could be hearing from another female Aussie in 2013. Samantha Jade won this season of The X Factor in Australia, but isn’t’ exactly a stranger to the music industry. She’s written songs for JoJo and Ashley Tisdale, was signed to Jive Records, and is featured on David Guetta’s album “One Love.” However, I’m all for not-so-amateur contestants appearing on singing competition shows (see: Cassadee Pope) and getting a second shot at success. Samantha’s winning single, “What You’ve Done to Me,” is far better than what most winners get to release following their coronation. The song was co-written by Jörgen Elofsson, who, by no surprise, is Swedish and a product of Cheiron Studios. He’s been penning hits for well over a decade, spanning from Britney Spears’ “(You Drive Me) Crazy” to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Samantha’s song is the catchy pop we’ve come to expect, with a carefree electropop sound reminiscent of “Call Me Maybe.” Of course, the track has already hit #1 in her native Australia–but is the rest of the world next? This definitely sounds like it could be a hit worldwide, so it will be interesting to see if Sony gives it a push in 2013. She’s also really hot (see above) and the kind of commercial artist that wouldn’t have a shot in hell at winning The X Factor in the US, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Filed under Future, Music on TV, New Music, New Singles

A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY, A LITTLE BIT ROCK & ROLL

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In 2010, I featured Hey Monday in a “…Should be More Famous” post. Fast forward a couple years, and the band’s lead singer, Cassadee Pope, just won The Voice. I’m a sucker for music competition shows, but the previous two seasons of The Voice didn’t possess a single competitor who had star quality. Cassadee does. Now, let’s hope they don’t screw it up.

During her stint on the show, three of Cassadee’s cover songs hit #1 on iTunes. All three of them were country tunes. With the success of those singles and Blake Shelton as her mentor, there’s undoubtedly going to be some push for her to go country. But, Cassadee’s not a country artist. Given her history with Hey Monday and (apparently unconditional) love of Avril Lavigne, it’s pretty clear her heart lies in pop/rock. And let’s face it–Blake’s legion of fans were probably the ones more apt to download “Over You” as opposed to “Not Over You.” Having her record a country album would be like Carrie Underwood releasing a rock record based on the popularity of her Idol performance of “Alone.” Even with Blake’s blessing, it would probably be an uphill battle for Cassadee on country radio. First and foremost, she’s a female. She also has tattoos and used to front a pop/rock band. Cue the shock and horror. All the country starpower in the world won’t change the minds of country radio’s staunchy PDs. But, I digress and will save that rant for another post.

Although it wouldn’t be in her best interest to release a full on country album, that doesn’t mean country songwriters shouldn’t be commissioned to work on her debut. In fact, they absolutely should. Above all, it’s Cassadee interpretation of the lyrics that sold those songs. Something like an updated version of her cover of Faith Hill’s “Cry” would work–and based on what I’ve heard Cassadee tell the press, that’s exactly what she’s looking for. Songs with solid stories can be backed by instruments besides fiddle, banjo or steel guitar. It’s also a given that Blake will appear on her debut album and a duet in the vein of “Just a Fool,” would be just as perfect for him and Cassadee as it was for him and Christina. Pairing well-written songs with Cassadee’s signature sound would be an appealing compromise for both the pop/rock and country fans she’s attracted throughout the course of her career and the show.

When it all comes down to it, Cassadee just needs a great song–and quick. On one hand, there’s nothing worse than a rushed album with lackluster singles and a bunch of filler; I’m not saying her album has to be out in a month (even though Cassadee is apparently ready to release something as soon as January). But, they need to, at the very least, release the lead single during the spring season of The Voice. If the previous winner doesn’t have any original material out before the next cycle’s champion, then they run the risk of quickly being forgotten. The album doesn’t have to be her “Breakaway,” just her “Thankful.” She can try on some different sounds and genres, but the first single has to be great. I understand why talent show winners, like The Voice’s very own Jermaine Paul or The X Factor’s Melanie Amaro, didn’t get good material to release. Their success was confined to the few months within the show and they never really had a shot on mainstream relevancy. Cassadee does. Based on what I’ve heard, it seems like Cassadee has a clear, and ambitious, sense of what she needs to do and when she needs to do it by. I hope that once more people (i.e. the label) start getting involved in the project, it doesn’t stray off course. In fact, I hope she’s writing a hit song with her roommate, Alli Tamposi, of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” as I’m posting this…

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Filed under More Famous, Music on TV, Successes