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Many creative talents get their start in unexpected places. For LA-based hit songwriter Jack Smith, his journey began in the world of online gaming commentary. As a teenager, Smith launched a YouTube channel focused on walkthroughs and easter eggs for popular video games. He quickly gained a following for his quirky sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of gaming lore.
However, over time Smith became bored with simply commentating on other people's creations. He started experimenting with mixing his own original music into his videos as background tracks. To his surprise, this simple addition gained lots of positive feedback from viewers. Many commented that they loved his "beats" and wanted to know if he had full songs available.
This encouragement motivated Smith to dig deeper into music production as a creative outlet. He was a lifelong gamer with no formal music training, but he was determined to teach himself. He spent hours studying composition software, watching tutorial videos, and experimenting with blending electronic samples and instrumental riffs.
After months of effort, Smith completed his first full-length song and nervously uploaded it to his channel. The track was an upbeat, danceable number laced with tongue-in-cheek references to classic video games. To his shock, it immediately went viral within the gaming community. The catchy song racked up millions of streams as it was shared across forums and social media.
For Smith, this response validated his creative instincts. Though it started as a hobby, he now saw real potential in pursuing music professionally. He was reluctant to leave behind his gaming roots, but the lure of following his artistic passion ultimately won out.
Landing a track in a big-budget video game can be a huge boost for any up-and-coming musician. The gaming audience represents millions of potential new listeners. Having a song featured in gameplay or promotions can quickly catapult an artist from obscurity to widespread recognition.
For Smith, this opportunity came knocking when he was contacted out of the blue by a producer for the new installment of the massively popular Warrior Quest franchise. They had come across Smith's music through his YouTube channel and were interested in licensing one of his tracks. This was the break that Smith had been waiting for.
Getting a song directly integrated into the gameplay of Warrior Quest XXII would give his music repeat exposure to a built-in audience. The game had a reputation for its immersive atmosphere and cinematic cutscenes. Smith knew his track could reach millions of engaged listeners by complementing these gaming moments.
Of course, landing the deal involved navigating complex legal negotiations and contracts. There were also specific creative parameters, requiring Smith to subtly tweak his composition to fit the game's vibe. This process taught him valuable lessons about collaborating with other creators and brands while retaining his artistic vision.
In the end, the months of back-and-forth proved worthwhile. When Warrior Quest XXII launched, Smith's pulsating EDM track "Quest On" set the tone during a climactic battle scene. He watched in awe as gameplay footage featuring his music racked up millions of views online.
Almost overnight, Smith gained a huge following among avid gamers who were captivated by "Quest On." They praised how it complemented and enhanced the on-screen action. His inboxes were flooded with requests for the full track and inquiries about future releases.
Major gaming sites interviewed Smith about the creative process behind "Quest On." He was able to share how his passion for music intersected with his lifelong gamer fandom. This helped establish his reputation both within the gaming scene and among music fans more broadly.
The thrill of potential success drew Smith to Los Angeles, but the reality of starting from scratch in the hyper-competitive music industry soon set in. Though his gaming background earned him a built-in fanbase, he lacked connections within the insular world of LA producers, labels and publishers.
Without contacts to get his music heard by industry gatekeepers, Smith faced an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a professional songwriter. Other transplants to LA could lean on networks from music schools, internships or local scenes back home. Smith"s outsider status left him navigating a murky, cutthroat terrain that favored those blessed with access.
Cold calling and emailing major companies as an unknown artist rarely yields more than auto-reply form letters. The city overflows with talented musicians hustling their demos to anyone who will listen. Without a reputable industry referral or co-sign, it is easy for submissions to pile up unheard in label inboxes.
To break through, Smith learned to leverage his ingenuity and work ethic. He took a "do-it-yourself" approach, recording tracks in his makeshift home studio between odd jobs making ends meet. Smith maximized tools like social media to directly engage potential fans, while honing his live performance skills at open mics across the city.
Other LA transplants echo the challenge of starting from zero contacts. Singer Cassidy Klein describes pounding the pavement delivering her demo to downtown record company offices in person, only to be greeted by indifference. Many companies won"t even accept unsolicited submissions anymore due to rampant industry spamming.
Rapper Damien Gates recalls months of networking by attending any free music industry event he could find, just to build a Rolodex of contacts. He says you have to work a room relentlessly and follow up with determination to convert a brief business card exchange into a real career lead.
Booking agent Andrea Flores sympathizes with new artists, but explains that gatekeepers need a reason to pay attention when inundated with more pitches than they could ever listen to. A good contact or co-sign catches their eye; otherwise, it takes something special in the music to give an unknown priority.
Simply being talented at singing or producing is not necessarily enough, according to many LA transplants. Making it requires entrepreneurial hustle plus an intangible "it factor" to capture insider interest. Some get discouraged and return home after months of finding closed doors. But for those tenacious enough to put in the groundwork, a big break may be just one cold call away.
Finding one's artistic voice can be a lifelong journey of experimentation and discovery. For any creative talent, their formative influences shape the foundation of their style. By exploring a diverse palette of sounds and genres during their developmental years, artists discover their own unique voice.
Smith credits the eclectic musical tastes of his parents for initially sparking his creative spirit. He reminisces about riding in the back of his dad's old Buick listening to Queen, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin. His mother introduced him to innovators like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Elvis Costello. Absorbing the artistry of these icons expanded his understanding of the possibilities of pop music.
In high school, Smith fell in love with 90s alternative rock and electronic dance music. The soundscape of acts like Radiohead, The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers inspired his early songwriting experiments. He was drawn to music that took him on a journey " songs with depth, unexpected twists, and inventive sonic textures.
Later immersing himself in the production techniques of modern hip-hop, trap, and synthwave gave Smith insight into crafting layered, hard-hitting beats. Though he had no formal training, he pieced together his knowledge by deconstructing productions from Dr. Dre, Kanye West, and Daft Punk.
This diversity of influences allowed Smith to develop a distinctive style that blended and bended genres. His tracks combine the anthemic vocals of prog rock, the gritty beats of hip-hop, and the synthesized sheen of EDM. He lives for sonic combinations that make listeners think, "I"ve never heard anything quite like this before."
For other musicians, early influences nurture their artistry in different ways. Indie folk artist Lily Chen points to the barebones recordings of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as her inspiration for keeping things simple. The character in their unembellished voices and acoustic guitars shaped her minimalist approach.
LA session guitarist Mark Lopez credits the complex soloing of classic rock icons like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton for pushing his playing to new technical heights. Studying their fretwork gave him the motivation to put in long hours wood-shedding his scales.
Producer Billie Jean Banks finds inspiration in the rich jazz tradition of artists like Miles Davis, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. Their bold improvisational skills fuel her ambition to blend genres by introducing jazz elements into modern hip-hop and R&B tracks.
The road to music industry success is paved with small, often humbling beginnings. Most artists start out far from the limelight, honing their craft at open mics and near-empty venues. While not glamorous, embracing this grind helps develop the stamina needed for bigger stages down the line.
For Smith, gigging in dive bars and hole-in-the-wall clubs was a rite of passage. Early on, he sometimes played for audiences in the single digits. While frustrating, he viewed each gig as a chance to strengthen his performance chops. Smith recalls a particularly demoralizing night when only the sound guy and bartender were present for his set. But he funneled his embarrassment into passion, winning over the two-person crowd with his energetic showmanship.
Other LA musicians echo similar tales of paying dues. Singer Maya Lopez remembers belting her heart out to an empty room after the three audience members left mid-song. Comedian Nate Schwartz describes doing stand-up at a coffee shop while patrons actively ignored him and continued their conversations. But he kept delivering punchlines with conviction, practicing his timing for when he finally got laughs.
Open mics can be even more intimidating, forcing artists to put themselves out there without the benefit of a built-in audience. The crowds are often comprised solely of other musicians waiting their turn, listening with apathetic politeness. But for newcomers, it represents a trial by fire opportunity to develop confidence.
Rapper Darius Hayes recalls his first open mic at a hole-in-the-wall bar. Taking the stage alone without a hype man or band forced him to find his voice and connect with the crowd. Singer Divya Desai remembers her hands shaking so hard she could barely tune her guitar for her first open mic. But the experience of pushing past those nerves steeled her for larger venues.
According to Lopez, enduring these rites of passage builds Artists" chops even when shows feel fruitless. Hustling to load gear, balance sound, work a tough room and recover from mistakes gives performers skills they"ll eventually apply on bigger stages. While dispiriting, paying dues in obscurity allows talents to evolve without the pressures of wider exposure.
For unsigned artists, industry showcases represent a high-stakes opportunity to make career magic happen. These events allow talent access to influential record label executives, publishers, and managers in an intimate, curated setting. Standing out during a brief showcase slot can lead to the discovery that launches a career. But the pressure is intense, with no room for mistakes under the watchful eyes of impassive power players.
When Smith landed a slot at LA"s prestigious UpNext Fest, he knew he had one shot to seize his destiny. Hundreds of breakout hopefuls applied for just 30 highly coveted performance spots. The festival assembled elite industry tastemakers looking to discover new talent and broker lucrative signings. Smith would take the stage alongside more seasoned acts with buzz - he was the underdog no one expected to shine.
In an instant, bad luck threatened to derail Smith"s big break. The touring van containing all his band"s gear broke down hours before their set. But Smith rallied his crew to piece together whatever local backline equipment they could scramble to borrow at the last minute.
Taking the stage, Smith was determined not to let the setback sabotage his energy. He gave a magnetic performance, oozing charisma and prodding the crowd to pump their fists along. Against all odds, Smith left everything on the stage,Even with the janky borrowed equipment, his passion shone through and carried the day.
In the audience, maverick label head Vincent Stark took notice. He saw Smith"s hunger and recognized a special spark in the young upstart. While other acts went through familiar motions, Smith"s unexpected fire caught his eye. After Smith"s set, Stark approached to give his card and discuss Smith"s potential.
This conversation set the ball rolling on a lucrative record deal. Soon Smith was in the studio with an A-list producer polishing tracks for his major label debut. For an unsigned talent, a single impressive industry showcase can rewrite their trajectory overnight.
Other LA artists recount similar turning points. Jazz singer Theo Hayes was ready to give up before a well-connected producer randomly caught his Soho lounge gig. Indie rapper Maya James got signed immediately after a fiery South by Southwest performance. TheEGirl scored a publishing deal after passing her work to hitmaker Pharell's manager at a Grammy party.
For many artists, having one catchy hit song seems like the pinnacle of success. But converting fleeting fame into a sustainable career often requires reinventing their sound and reimagining their artistic boundaries. Expanding beyond the novelty of a lone hit to become a versatile, in-demand songwriter is a major level up.
Pop singer Kat Valdez topped the charts with her dance floor anthem "Cha Cha Slide." However, she soon felt trapped by expectations to simply churn out recycled versions of this one formula. Valdez knew she had more creativity to offer. She dove into quieter, jazz-influenced melodies that showcased greater vocal range and storytelling. Songwriting for other artists allowed Valdez to flex new musical muscles in R&B, country, and folk-pop. This opened the door to co-writing gigs with mega-stars who might have pegged her as a one-trick pony based on "Cha Cha Slide" alone.
Rapper Jay Dub scored a viral smash with "Yolo Swag," which permanently branded him as a party rap caricature. However, Dub yearned to get more vulnerable and philosophical in his writing. He started releasing raw, introspective solo albums and submitting tracks telling meaningful stories to top-liners. Dub explained, "I wanted the freedom to show every dimension of myself." This surprising reinvention rejuvenated his career with new creative depth. He soon became an in-demand co-writer sought after by artists like Drake and Khalid.
Norwegian EDM producer Vlad Holiday was ubiquitously known for the thumping dance hit "Bright Nights." But after a few years of coasting on that sound, he found himself stuck and uninspired. Holiday wiped the slate clean and began experimenting with mellow, minimalist techno instrumentals evoking icy Scandinavian landscapes. He also submitted moodier down-tempo tracks for pop and hip-hop artists. Fans expecting Holiday to remake "Bright Nights" were shocked by his turn toward cinematic mood music. But this pivot toward more sophistication and versatility is expanding the perception of Holiday"s talents as a song crafter.
Working with iconic artists can be both a dream come true and an intense pressure cooker for rising talents. As a songwriter, being tapped to co-write or feature on a track with a household name represents the ultimate validation of your skills. However, it also means matching the creativity of idols you may have grown up listening to. Living up to expectations and gelling together different artistic voices is a delicate balancing act.
When country starlet Ruby Ray got asked by Dolly Parton to collaborate on the duet "Sisters" for Parton"s album, she nearly fainted. Ray shares, "I had to pinch myself realizing I was about to go line-for-line with my lifelong musical hero." However, Parton"s down-home humility and encouragement allowed the two to organically trade lyrics and harmonize based on mutual creative respect. Ray describes their studio chemistry feeling as natural as chatting with an old friend on a front porch. The positive experience taught Ray to approach even the most daunting creative team-ups as opportunities for artistic growth.
Other times, collaborating with legacy artists involves smoothing generational divides in musical approaches. Rapper Corey G. landed a feature spot on funk pioneer George Clinton"s recent comeback album. But in the studio, he found their styles clashed as Clinton pushed old school funk grooves while Corey tried to pull things in a modern trap direction. Corey learned to find compromise that honored Clinton"s roots while still reflecting Corey"s contemporary sound. This experience taught Corey humility in adapting to artists with long legacies.
Navigating creative tension requires diplomacy too. Singer Lalah James admits being starstruck when R&B icon Mariah Carey recorded a feature on her single "Forever More." In the studio, Carey immediately wanted changes to the instrumentation and melody. James had to check her ego and find gracious ways to defend her original vision while still being open to Carey"s suggested improvements. In the end, Carey"s expertise resulted in a compromise that elevated the song. But it required trusting communication, not just awestruck deference to a legend.
Sometimes, an organic collaboration arises from unexpected common ground. Veteran country singer Darla Trainor assumed she had little in common with 20-something pop phenom Bells Jessup. But during a casual writing session, they discovered a shared love for vintage 60s girl groups. This inspired their collab "Two of a Kind," which blended Nashville twang with Motown bounce. Both artists report learning from each other"s genres while bonding over music history.
Established artists can also be energized by emerging voices. Rock icon MickAWS was in a creative rut before free-spirited indie singer Flora Idaho brought him an infectious folk-pop melody. Their leftfield duet "Rising Wind" ended up rejuvenating AWS"s sound. Meanwhile, the cred of working with a legend launched Idaho"s solo career. AWS reflects, "Young talent like Flora keeps us veterans on our toes and expands our musical horizons."