How a small town girl succeeded in the entertainment buisness from her college dorm room

Kate Voegele plays her guitar inside of her home studio, while surrounding herself with paintings and paint material \ (photo courtesy of Kate Voegele Instagram)

By Tiffany Contreras
Culture Editor

She began writing songs in a small town while just a freshman in high school and continued when she entered college. In a big world of aspiring musicians, she was chosen and offered a deal she could not turn down while sitting in her college dorm room.

Kate Voegele grew up in Bay Village, Ohio – a suburb right outside of Cleveland – in a musical environment from which she drew inspiration while watching her father perform. “My dad plays guitar and writes awesome music,” she explains. “So I grew up watching him play coffee houses, write and record songs in our house, and I always thought it would be so cool to do that too.” It was not long after then that she asked her father to teach her about guitar and lyricism. “He taught me how to play when I was a freshman in high school and I was totally hooked,” she recalls. “I loved how writing songs helped me work through any and everything I was going through in my life.” Additionally, growing up in an environment, where everyone knew everyone, allowed her to better express her vulnerability by writing lyrics that were “human” about what she and everyone in her town were going through.

Voegele gained much success with her craft, so much that she showcased her music for numerous record labels; however, when they were not what she had expected, she took a different path. “I just felt uninspired by the environment and vibe at most of them,” she shares the discouragement that led her to major in art at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “I wanted to have a year of ‘college experience’ because I knew that being in that type of new adventure in my life would be challenging, and things that are challenging almost always inspire great songs.”
While attending college and continuing her musical skills, she was able to work on painting – her other passion which she intertwines with music and life. “It’s where I go for inspiration when I hit writer’s block,” she says. “I think so often in life and in art, we put so much pressure on ourselves to do something better than the next person when really, we should just be having fun making something out of nothing and letting it happen naturally for its own sake.” And fine and performing arts have done just that. “To me art and painting help perpetuate that and encourage me to be creative in a more fearless way.” Needless to say, her favorite subject in college was drawing because she was able to sit down and sketch for two hours; similarly, she shares her worst subject that coincides with many college students. “My worst subject has always been math. I hate it,” she admits. “It drives me crazy that there’s only one right answer to every question. I’ve always preferred classes like literature and history, where everybody’s interpretation of a novel or event is a little bit different.”

The college experience gave her much to write about, but also time to think about her dream in music and whether she would make it. All musicians doubt their chances of pursuing their dream as a career at least at one point in their lives, Voegele was no exception. Her doubts included people believing that having a career in music would not supply a steady or stable workplace, but that only resulted in strengthening her ambition. “It was scary as hell, but that’s why I knew I had to do it,” she says. “I think what kept me going was simply the undeniable fact that I loved it too much. I couldn’t not make it a number one priority.” Her persistence paid off when she was sitting in her college dorm room and received a message on MySpace from founder Tom Anderson, who was creating his own record label and wanted to sign her as his first artist. “I left college in Ohio to make a record, started touring with acts like Natasha Bedingfield,” she shares on her website.

Voegele’s fast rise allowed her to create three records – Don’t Look Away (2007);A Fine Mess (2009); Gravity Happens (2011) – and have had success with each one. However, she did not forget her struggles in life or in her pursuit to achieve her dream, and this she shares in the most important song she has written, Lift Me Up. “It was on my second record, and it’s a song I wrote about being brave in the face of adversity and not giving up, even when things look pretty bleak.” With a soft piano melody that begins the song, she sings lyrics “So loud, the voices of all my doubts / Telling me to give up / To pack up and leave town” that document the doubts she had on her way to get where she is now. Following with a more dramatized piano melody comes lyrics that state her hardships and how she pulled through, which surely resonate with anyone who has or is going through a hard time. “Somewhere, everybody starts there / Counting on a small prayer lost in a nightmare / But I’m here, and suddenly it’s so clear / The struggle through the long years / It taught me to outrun my fears / And everything that’s worth having / Comes with trials worth withstanding.” And when fans tell her how empowering this or any of her songs have been in their lives, “that’s the most rewarding thing in the world.”

It was also rewarding when she decided to audition for the first time for a role on the CW’s hit series One Tree Hill of a girl named Mia who would play a song on a couple of episodes. Her ambition led her to give the audition all she had, which landed her the part and allowed her to share her music with a worldwide audience. She would record songs for her upcoming albums and debut them on the show to receive feedback from the fans, and the most gratifying feeling was performing them live for all of them. “I love taking the music I’ve worked so hard to write and create and arrange and bring it to the people who want to hear it and who get it,” she says of live performing. “That’s the coolest part of my job – making something that makes somebody else’s day better. Plus, the traveling part of touring is amazing! I love vintage shopping in new cities.”

The touring and vintage shopping might have taken longer than expected with a three year gap of music from her last album release, Gravity Happens, in May of 2011. Although, with sporadic lyric and music composing, it is evident that she is taking her time to create something that will be difficult not to love. “I often hear a melodic hook and record that first, then I go back and try to find the right words to fit with it,” she explains of the songwriting process. “Or on the flipside, I’ll have a lyric I absolutely love, and I work to find how it sings best until I have something that sounds like a song people would want to sing along to.” Gravity Happens consists of folk, pop, and pop/rock tunes, but – as for what each artist aims for – her upcoming album will demonstrate how she has grown as a person and an artist, but still will entail her signature voice and tunes. “It’s an evolution from my last record, so there are definitely common threads,” she shares. “Musically, I take more risks, and that’s always incredibly fun as an artist; and lyrically, I think this record is even more vulnerable and real than anything I’ve put out before.”

As a musician who tried to be noticed in a small town, Voegele understands what it is like to grow up without many resources to expose music. “I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, which is rad, but also not necessarily the epicenter of the music business; so I understand it can be difficult to stand out,” she shares. “I started ten years ago, and my first deal was with MySpace Records; so, for me, the internet was everything: social media and building a buzz. The great news is, ten years later, it’s 100 times easier to share what you’re doing with the entire world, as long as you have an internet connection.” As social media rises, so do musicians’ chances of pursuing their lifelong dreams. “My advice is to get some solid YouTube videos of the music you make and put it everywhere; be a loudspeaker for yourself and the music you make.” And in her eyes, as well as in the rest of the world’s, “2014 is such an amazing time to be a musician because there are so many social resources online.”
In the near future, the Coachella Valley might be able to prepare to see Voegele and thank her for the advice and great music, as she is anxious to visit. “I can’t believe I’ve never been! I’m dying to go,” she says of the Valley. “Not just for the festival, but also because I absolutely love exploring California. Making it a must for this year to get out that way!” Although she has not finished college, she hopes to obtain a degree in Fine Arts. Perhaps you will see her sitting next to you in one of your art classes someday.


Article published in College of the Desert’s The Chaparral

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