Kathleen Elle, an East Brunswick native, shares how a comment on her YouTube video sparked a career in music.
Long before performing at venues, recording music or livestreaming to her nearly 5,000 followers on Twitch, Elle first serenaded her family as a toddler with a mixture of nursery rhymes and made-up songs.
“If you ask my parents, they’ll say I basically came out singing. If you ask my brother, he’ll tell you I never shut up. The majority of our home videos are me singing nursery rhymes, Disney tunes, and nonsense compositions of my own. I once sang ‘Part of Your World’ for almost 12 hours straight on a car ride to Hilton Head,” Elle said.
At a young age, Elle’s interest in music was apparent. Yet, she struggled to grasp the concepts of the instruments and music she wanted to learn.
“Studying music did not come naturally to me. I tried piano lessons many times as a kid and quit. I tried to self-teach guitar at 8 using a DVD set and became frustrated and defeated easily,” she said.
Fortunately, those initial struggles became learning lessons as Elle’s mother connected her with a local teacher. From there, she learned some of the basics that would help establish her creative foundation.
“I learned four chords that could get me through most pop songs I wanted to learn, and I was off covering every Taylor Swift song I could,” Elle said.
As Elle entered East Brunswick High School, she took an elective as a freshman for Eric Sturr’s World of Music. With iMacs and GarageBand, the class learned how to create songs using loops and midi instruments.
Sturr soon recommended that Elle participate in an afterschool music program taught by Dr. Kenneth Lampl of Hofstra University.
“The class started with about 20 kids from all grades in the high school, and we ended the school year with five, with me being the only girl.
“We got to have our pieces performed for the entire music department because some of my fellow classmates wrote for orchestra, jazz band and the choir.
“I performed two pop songs, ‘Be My Nothing,’ the first song I ever wrote in the class, and ‘You’re To Blame,’ both of which can be found on my YouTube channel,” Elle said.
Despite these experiences, Elle still considered music a hobby. However, her perspective would begin to shift after she received a heartfelt comment on her YouTube video entitled, “Don’t Let Them In.”
“Even with that experience, music was still considered a hobby. I still wrote music, and joined choir and drama club, but I was planning through my junior year to go to college as a chemistry major.
“But one day, I started to write a song called ‘Don’t Let Them In’ after school. I guess I must’ve been having a rough day and kept singing the chorus to myself in my room, almost like a mantra.
“I put the song up on YouTube and received a comment from a girl named Keira in the Philippines who was relentlessly bullied to the point of attempting suicide once and was thinking about trying again, until she found my song.
“Realizing that I could make such an impact on someone was eye opening and so inspiring for me. I knew that music was no longer just a hobby,” she said.
That simple, yet profound, interaction was the moment she realized that a music career could be possible. After this realization, she reached out to teachers for guidance and aimed to attend the Mason Gross School of the Arts.
“I then relied on the help and support from my music technology and theory teacher, Mrs. LoPresti, and choir teacher, Dr. Sengin, for helping me find a way to pursue music as a career.
“It was their combined support that got me through the application process and propelled me to be successful at Mason Gross School of the Arts, where I graduated with a double major in Music Education and Music Composition in 2019,” Elle said.
In her senior year at Mason Gross, she self-produced a 10-track album called “Brainwaves” for her senior composition project.
“At Mason Gross, I received in depth training in music theory, arranging and orchestration, and studied classical voice. The skills I developed there helped me self-produce my first album, ‘Brainwaves,’ ” she said.
Although written in 2018, a song from that album named “Love Bandit” was featured on a recent episode of The CW’s “4400” television series.
Inspired by artists such as Taylor Swift, Carole King and Lady Gaga, Elle said she creates music with the intention of entertaining and encouraging her audiences.
“My musical style is definitely rooted in pop and soul, but my goal with every song I write is to let the meaning be the greatest influence on the arrangement,” she said.
According to Elle, “Love Bandit” symbolizes her two-fold approach to music.
“ ‘Love Bandit’ is a song about calling out and getting rid of someone who is toxic. It’s upbeat pop-rock feel is meant to be an anthem and celebration of freedom from that person.
“For me, the best feeling when performing is the realization that you are speaking to people. Music has such a transcendent quality to move and connect people. When someone comes up to me and says, ‘Your song really spoke to me,’ or ‘I feel that,’ it means everything,” Elle said.
As evidenced by the nearly 240,000 streams on Spotify, her latest single “Nervous” has resonated with a worldwide audience.
In 2021, Elle’s audience is a spectrum of in-person and virtual supporters. As the COVID-19 pandemic affected millions, social gatherings became restricted. Unable to perform due to nationwide lockdowns, Elle utilized the popular livestreaming service known as Twitch to stay connected.
“I am so grateful to have found Twitch. It has been such a lifeline for musicians and viewers alike during the pandemic. I started streaming in late September of 2019, but really had no idea what I was doing.
“But through the kindness of the music community, I learned how to stream from my laptop and raise funds for better streaming equipment. Their support is the reason why my latest single “Nervous” has almost a quarter of a million streams in just 8 months. Their support is why I learned how to live loop and added almost 200 new songs to my repertoire.
“The audience on Twitch is really unique. Aside from it being global and now having fans, and friends, from all over the world, they are all live music lovers.
“I now have devoted fans, Elle-phants (Elle fans), and regulars in my community from all over the U.S., Ireland, Brazil, Canada, Germany, France and Australia. How crazy is that? That I could make those connections from my basement,” she said.
Although her music is now streamed worldwide, Elle still credits her hometown of East Brunswick for all the people, tools and resources it provided to her.
“I’ve got deep roots in East Brunswick. I grew up in East Brunswick, went from kindergarten through East Brunswick High School, and perform regularly in town at various events and venues.
“I am a proud product of East Brunswick’s outstanding arts/music department. Without the guidance and nurturing from my music teachers, I would’ve never discovered that I could write music,” Elle said.
For more information on Kathleen Elle’s upcoming projects, Twitch channel, and more, visit https://linktr.ee/kathleen_e11e