Artist of the Month


Kelsea Ballerini

Knowing what lies in one’s heart and chasing that vision is how dreams come true. As a young girl growing up in Knoxville, TN, Kelsea’s vision did not include the wedding dress and white picket fence that her friends talked about. Instead, Kelsea was dreaming up wardrobe changes and stage sets for the major tour she knew she would embark upon one day. As she launches her debut single on Black River Entertainment, Kelsea is entering country music authentically with a song she co-wrote.
“I love this song,” Kelsea smiles as she explains the message behind her new single, “Love Me Like You Mean It.” “It’s just a fun, happy, kind of sassy, quirky, song from a confident girl saying, ‘If you’re gonna do this, do it right.’”

For Kelsea, doing it right evolved from her first musical influences, before she penned a single note. She admits getting very caught up in the pop scene of the 2000s, listening to Britney Spears and *NSYNC, while her parents played tunes by Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder.
“I kind of got this weird mix of old classic music with all the Top 40 pop on the radio,” she says. “I first remember listening to and falling in love with country music when I heard Keith Urban’s ‘Stupid Boy,’ by Sarah Buxton. That song made me want to start listening to and writing music.” From there, the doors flew open and Kelsea began listening to everyone from the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain to Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift.

Around age 12, Kelsea started journaling, then writing poems and ultimately singing her poems. “I didn’t start out with the intention of anyone hearing it,” Kelsea confesses. “I was writing for me, to say the things I needed to say.” Thus songwriting became an outlet for Kelsea and the playground where she learned the art of being vulnerable.

Armed with a penchant for songwriting, Kelsea took her first steps into the recording studio when she was 14. Her mom had given her the studio time as a birthday gift with the intention of simply recording some of Kelsea’s songs so that she had a way to look back on them; however, the opposite happened and her passion deepened. She only looked forward to writing and recording more of her music. “I kind of loved it. I kind of loved it a lot,” Kelsea laughs.

This first studio experience also led to Kelsea’s introduction into the music industry. A representative from the recording studio was visually moved by her performance. “He told me that he got chill bumps listening to my music and asked me if this was something I wanted to do,” recalls Kelsea. “Then he said, if I did, he would take me to Nashville and make it happen.” Kelsea made that first trip to Nashville and recorded a demo session. After a second trip, a broken- hearted Kelsea left without the record deal that she anticipated.
“I remember that there were a bunch of young females launching around that time,” Kelsea says. “Because of that, a lot of people around me were saying, ‘This will be easy for you.’ So, going into my first meeting at a label I had a lot of confidence. I broke out my guitar from its pink sparkly case, played one song and was stopped. He looked right at me and, referencing an established artist, said, ‘“That Girl” has already made it.’ Then he motioned that the meeting was over.”

Heartbroken, Kelsea cancelled her second label meeting and went home. A few weeks later she had a change of heart when she realized her dreams were still very much alive. “I figured I had two options,” she says. “I could give up or get better. I decided to use that negative experience to find out who I am, and prove him wrong.”

Instead of trying to write what was already out there, Kelsea looked for influences at her roots, going back to listening to Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra. She began to find her voice when she stopped focusing on being commercial and started being Kelsea. “I realized I didn’t have to try to write music to ‘sound’ country—I’m from Tennessee!” she exclaims. “All I have to do is open my heart and open my mouth and country comes out.”

At this point, Kelsea’s music came alive. “That’s when I fell in love with it, when I felt like I started being honest with it,” she says. “Once I figured out my sound, something in me changed, and the drive I had to write more, and really do this, was reenergized.” Kelsea knew she was ready and at age 15 she made the move to Nashville.

Shortly after moving to Music City, Kelsea utilized social media to make connections and get meetings with people in the music industry. Kelsea ended up catching the attention of the executives at Black River Entertainment, where she signed a publishing deal in 2013. “I’ve always thought that music is a gift that’s been given to me. It’s something that I need to protect, and do right by,” shares Kelsea. “I was slow to sign my publishing deal, even after wanting it for all those years. Knowing in my heart Black River was the perfect fit and home for me made this a dream come true,” recalls Kelsea.

Not even a year after signing that publishing deal, Kelsea had another dream come true in the form of a gift at the Black River Entertainment Christmas party.
“I got my record deal wrapped up in a Christmas gift! It was amazing,” she exclaims. “I knew after signing a publishing deal that without a doubt, BRE is where I wanted my artist career to be. Getting my record deal felt like the perfect piece of the puzzle was coming together, in that moment. To me, Black River is not just a label, it is a family that I wanted to be a bigger part of. When I signed the record deal, in my heart I thought, ‘What do you want to say to the world? Because now, there are people who are going to help you say it.’”

The Black River Entertainment recording artist wants to do it all, just as she has envisioned since she was 14. Kelsea laughs and says, “Dreams do come true. I’m seeing it first hand. While I do want to do it all, the arena tours and award shows, most of all, I just want to put out good music that matters.”

~ CMT.com

Click here to nominate the Eagle 99.3 Artist of the Month for November.

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