Dancing Astronaut presents Supernovas 006: KARRA
Supernovas is a recurring Dancing Astronaut feature dedicated to vocalists in the dance space who, with their own idiosyncratic vocal signatures and unique lyrical perspectives, have played pivotal roles in bringing electronic records to life. Each installment in the monthly series spotlights one vocalist. The serial continues with Supernovas 006: KARRA.
The COVID-19 pandemic came with many changes. Among them was how KARRA would use her voice.
“Probably right when quarantine started, that was my shift [to] focusing on growing my socials and becoming an independent solo pop artist,” she says in “The Good & Bad of the EDM Industry,” a 26-minute YouTube vlog in which she dissects the pros and cons that come with the title “singer-songwriter.”
Exposure, live shows, streaming, credit, royalties, fees; in the video, the songstress discursively shuffles through all of these facets of the role that she sought even before she stepped onto the grounds of Belmont University in Nashville and declared her major (music business). And, she’s the first to admit that the pros and cons associated with being a singer-songwriter in the electronic music industry aren’t always black and white. But to understand how KARRA is applying her voice these days is to first acknowledge that she’s not trying to paint the pluses and minuses in any dichotomous light.
“There is so much good that comes from [working as a singer-songwriter]. I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities otherwise, so I don’t want to ever make it seem like it’s just bad stuff; I just want to be that person who isn’t sugarcoating anything,” the Jersey-born vocalist tells Dancing Astronaut on a Zoom call from California. “My way of making a difference now is by educating people and teaching them how to negotiate a deal, what to expect as a singer-songwriter, what you deserve…basically all of the information that I wish I knew when I was going into the industry.”
KARRA’s status as a key voice in the dance/electronic space, with credits alongside Habstrakt, serial collaborator KSHMR, Steve Aoki, Seven Lions, and Armin van Buuren, among many others, has provided the springboard for her to extend the power and the reach of her voice from lyrics and toplines to a paradigm shift: the industry’s understanding and perception of the singer-songwriter. In past Supernovas installments, namely 003 Jonathan Mendelsohn and 004 HALIENE, the industry’s historical treatment of singer-songwriters as secondary to the producer has emerged as a precedent on the precipice of a very necessary shift, and KARRA has been at the core of the awareness-building efforts to elicit change.
“There are improvements,” she tells Dancing Astronaut, when asked to provide a status update of where, specifically, the industry sits in the context of progress made to equalize the singer-songwriter and the producer. The recent uptick in the use of song titling conventions that visually credit the singer-songwriter (i.e., “[producer name] with [singer-songwriter name]” and “[producer name] and/& [singer-songwriter name]”) is an advancement, she attests. This practice, if increasingly adopted by producers, can help aid singer-songwriter visibility. Producers and music journalists/editorial outlets can also take steps to further focalize signer-songwriters by tagging them both in social media posts promoting the song(s) and in the body copy of track posts, and by including the singer-songwriter’s name in the headline of the given article.
Albeit progress, the progress at present is still nominal, KARRA says, admitting that she is “kind of shying away from the dance scene because of the fact that it is still difficult for [her] to get a fair deal or get paid for opportunities.”
“I don’t think that’s ever going to change, unfortunately,” she states, explaining that she thinks the lack of “fair deal[s]” is “just the reality of the situation” based on the electronic/dance music industry’s organization around the producer:
“Overall, I think the producer is going to have the spotlight in dance music. The producers are the ones on stage, they’re the ones that are the brand. So when you’re kind of stepping into somebody else’s world as [a singer-songwriter], you’re doing so as kind of an afterthought in a lot of ways. I hate to say that, but I feel like a lot of my vocals have been taken and treated as such. It’s a little disheartening.”
In 2021, though, KARRA is seeking a spotlight all her own—and its lights started to flicker on in July 2020.
“I signed a production deal with KSHMR and my boyfriend [Reid Stefan] about a year ago, and we put out the first single in my pop project ‘No Evil’ and a couple of songs since then,” KARRA said.
The latest stop on her pop course is February’s “Underwater,” which was later accompanied by a Luke Bond-supplied remix in June that—in tandem with the Reid Stefan remix of “No Evil”—illustrates KARRA’s intention to “incorporate dance” in her pop plans.
“I will forever do dance music because in my opinion, dance festivals are the best events in the world. Nothing can compare to it and I love being a part of that. I love hearing my voice on stage at shows and being on stage with collaborators, but for me personally, I don’t want to be viewed as just a dance vocalist,” KARRA explained, elaborating,
“I want to be a pop artist, and that’s why I’m not actively trying to be featured on an EDC lineup or things like that. I think my path is taking me in a different direction, but [the electronic/dance music industry] has been such a huge part of my life that I will continue to educate people and help people try to navigate it.
I’m never going to stop making videos and educating people about it because people just don’t know any better when they’re starting out and trying to figure out their life. They’re just eager to hop into any opportunity, which to a certain extent is okay, but it’s always important to remember like, ‘Hey, you know, your voice is on the song. If your name isn’t on the song, you aren’t entitled to those performance royalties.’ I didn’t know that I got screwed out of a lot of royalties because of something like that. Or, ‘I deserve the master percentage because I own the master because that’s my voice, my recording, I deserve my publishing because I wrote the song.’
There are all things that I’m going to continue to talk about so people realize it’s how it’s done because labels and producers can absolutely take advantage of people’s willingness to have an opportunity. And I can see that it’s a huge void that was missing because of the response I’ve been getting from it.”
She calls 2020 a “foundational year,” and it’s cear that 2021 will continue this trend, considering that she’d “just gotten back from Los Angeles” with KSHMR and is “very close to wrapping up [their] next batch of songs.” They’ve “got a release schedule” and one by one, the records can be expected to come out via KARRA’s own label, Lazer Jungle Studios.
Over the years, KARRA and KSHMR—who were connected by one of KARRA’s friends when KSHMR needed a vocal—have shared credits on “Slow,” “The World We Left Behind,” “Devil Inside Me,” and “Mystical Beginning,” and developed a close friendship through their continued collaboration. Ironically, although KARRA and KSHMR “had a few misses before [they] actually landed something,” they’ve had several bullseyes since, and their professional relationship is proof of the enduring synergy that can arise out of balanced, equal partnerships between singer-songwriters and producers, KARRA asserts.
“There are so many awesome producers who I still talk to and work with every day because of the fact that they treated me fairly and I had such a good experience with them, so I think on the other side, producers are going to get so much farther if they are aware of the issues [that singer-songwriters face].”
In the months ahead, KARRA will continue to shape her pop project, which, interestingly, is funded completely by sales from her website. IAMKARRA.com hosts a variety of different tools that she has created and made available for purchase, such as KARRA FOR WAVES, her signature vocal chain preset for Waves Plugins; vocal templates; and MasterClass-style videos on music management, singing for beginners, and other topics with industry relevance.
“I plan on expanding [the website] to do something that no other artist [in the dance space] is really doing,” KARRA said. “I’m gaining a following through the content I’m creating because it’s helpful to people, and they’re also providing me the opportunity to be independent and put out my music because they’re buying my products. It’s helpful on both ends, so it’s kind of a cool situation that I have set up.”
As our interview nears its close, KARRA, who is acutely aware that she is entering a pivotal next phase in her creative trajectory with the advent of her pop project, is emphatic that though she is seeking her own spotlight and a greater sense of autonomy and identity in her artistic undertakings, the aspiration to be a main voice in dance/electronic is very much attainable for those who seek to become just that—if they understand both the complexities of the role and the industry. “I want to highlight that you can be a very successful dance singer if you know how to navigate the music business; you just need to be knowledgeable about how you do it,” she states.
KARRA pauses momentarily, before concluding, “and really, the beauty in dance music is that it allows for people like me who had no experience or any sort of connection to the music industry to make a name for themselves. For that, I’m thankful.”
Stream KARRA’s hand-curated Supernovas playlist featuring 10 of her songs below.
Featured image: Reid Stefan