KARRA on her artistic journey, hearing her samples at EDC, and more

“Making a living off of art is probably one of the most challenging and mentally exhausting experiences a person can go through,” KARRA tells us.

“But when you believe in your vision so much nothing else is an option.”

The journey of singer-songwriter, producer, vocalist, and sample pack creator KARRA has been, in her words, a rollercoaster. She’s enjoying career high after high, due in no small part to releasing two sample packs (KARRA Vocal Sample Pack Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) on Splice. Her toplines, consisting of lush, dreamy vocal processing, earworm melodies, and a penchant for spellbinding harmonies, have now been sampled by the likes of David Guetta, Jai Wolf, Kayzo, and more. She recently attended EDC, and heard her humbly recorded home studio vocals skyrocketing from the stages of Space Jesus, DaTweekaz, Chris Lake, and more. KARRA has now signed a publishing deal with Ultra Records, continues to work on high-profile collaborations, and enjoys the freedom of creating her art full-time from her home studio in Topanga Canyon.

But it wasn’t always this fruitful. “I was still a manager at Jersey Mike’s making sandwiches three days a week while my first sample pack was released,” she recalls. “You wouldn’t believe how many songs never worked out, or how many times I’ve gotten taken advantage of or screwed over.” The highs of hearing your work go far beyond where you’d ever imagine, the lows of supporting yourself in an increasingly competitive and emotionally, financially, and spiritually draining industry – all of these encapsulate the creator’s journey. We’re excited to sit down and speak with KARRA about her career as a producer and vocalist, maintaining strength through adversity, creating sample packs, and more.

To start, walk us through your process of recording vocals.

Being someone with a musical background over a technical one, my strengths lie in capturing the essence of the voice. My instinct and attention are naturally drawn to the vocal performance itself, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s incredibly important to have the recording and vocal chain perfected before putting a singer in the booth. For the last 5 years I’ve been in vocal sessions almost every single day, and what I’ve realized was that the more complete my vocal sounded in my headphones, the more confident, inspired, and excited I was during my performance, resulting in a better final recordings every time. Not only that, but channeling the right atmosphere and ambiance is an equally important first step in this process. It may sound silly, but I’ve invested a lot of my time and effort into quirky decorations, cool lighting, and the perfect essential oil scents, and have turned my house into an oasis in order to put my co-writers in a different headspace. I use Pro Tools to track vocalists because of how simple the layout is, and my recording chain includes a SonyC800 microphone, Vintech X73 pre-amp, Tube-Tech compressor, and the Apollo 8. My vocal chain includes autotune, RVOX, CLA-76, H-Delay, and D-Verb.

Now that all of the technical aspects are in place, we can get to the good stuff! I always like to think of myself as a guide. When I’m recording someone, I want to help them, but I never want to put too much pressure on them. Having someone re-record a take 100 times is probably the worst thing you can do to their self-esteem and psyche. If it’s not working the way you had imagined it in your head, either accept it for what it is, which most of the time is actually really dope though we fail to realize, or have the singer do what comes naturally to them and rework the idea. You must be a support system in order to channel an impactful performance. This is where having knowledge in vocal technique comes to play. Being a vocal producer is so much more than pressing record and manipulating plugins. It’s the art of human connection and designing an inspiring energy where artists are excited and comfortable to be their most vulnerable self. If the vibe is off, the song is off – plain and simple!

Tell us about creating your two vocal packs with Splice. How do you go about crafting your signature lush and layered vocal sounds? How does the process of creating a pack differ from say, writing your own songs or working on collaborations? We would love to know in what ways thinking about crafting samples impacts your writing process as a whole.

I think the best part about creating these two packs was how freeing the process was. When writing an original song, you’re constantly crippled by the reality of having to please so many layers of people before the song is actually released. I didn’t have that same anxiety looming over my head with this project because if someone happens to not like a sample, they can simply move on to the next sound. With these packs I collaborated with Matthew Steeper, who’s an incredible vocal producer and co-writer of mine who took the reigns on the vocal processing. At the time I wasn’t vocal producing at all, but in a year’s time I’ve managed to learn and be a hired producer for some of the industry’s biggest heavy-hitters. I’m proof that anyone’s capable of anything they set their mind to, and this is why I encourage all vocalists to take the leap and learn these skills, as it’s so important for self-sufficiency and expanding the level of opportunity you can achieve in this space.

I have these packs to thank for being a huge motivation for me to fully step into my role as a vocal producer. The inspiration for these packs stems from many years of writing and recording music of all genres. Being a songwriter in a city like LA, you’re fully immersed in a melting pot of people with different backgrounds and stylistic influences. Being an observer and collaborator of these people lit an unstoppable fire in me to do more, write more, and sing more. This experience helped us formulate a system for the packs. We started by singing over a variety of productions, which later turned into the reference tracks from which we pulled our samples. Lyrics and melody come so naturally to me that this was just a fun exercise to let loose and just sing!

Your story as a sound designer, crafting these vocal packs and then hearing your work on tracks by the likes of David Guetta and stages across EDC, is inspiring. Can you speak to us about hearing your vocals in these new avenues? How has releasing these vocal packs impacted you as an artist?

It’s unreal! I truly never thought these packs would reach the places that they did, and that itself took me by surprise. The first time I heard my samples in a show was when I performed with Sam Feldt during Miami Music Week. I heard my samples twice in the opening sets of the night, and that was my “aha” moment. It’s different when you see the numbers of how many downloads the packs have gotten, but to physically hear them at a show across the country was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Same for EDC! I heard my samples in a total of about three or four sets that night, including performances by Space Jesus, DaTweekaz, and Chris Lake. I’m sure I unknowingly heard them way more often since people use my vocals for chops and FX. It would be amazing to be able to keep track of who used them in each set, but that would just be impossible.

Hearing my vocals live is great and all, but I get even more excited when I see that the biggest artists in the world are using them in their music. I didn’t even realize my sample was an entire vocal over one of the new David Guetta records with Jack Back, “Back and Forth,” until one of my friends texted it to me and was like, “IS THIS YOU?!” I honestly couldn’t believe it! On top of that, I’ve had people like Trevor Dahl from Cheat Codes, Jai Wolf, Standerwick, Cade, Kayzo, and I’m sure many more, use my samples in their work. I also remember working with the legendary Rock Mafia team for the first time and one of the first things Tim said was, “Hey I see you on that Splice chart!” That meant so much to me coming from a producer with countless plaques and success. In fact, almost every time I work with someone new in the pop / EDM world, they mention how they use my samples in their productions. I would say the biggest impact this has had on me as an artist was the exposure within the music industry. I’m now a familiar face, and somewhat of a household name in the production community, and that was my intention from the start. I don’t care as much about being a public figure, but more about being a dominating influence in the music industry itself. To know that my vocals are contributing to some of the biggest records in the world and everything in between makes me feel like my job was well done.

Throughout your journey, what kept you motivated to maintain the drive to keep creating, particularly in a highly competitive industry like music? What advice do you have for other young artists trying to get themselves heard, sustain themselves, and support themselves through their art? What kept you going until reaching breakthroughs like you have now?

I honestly get teary-eyed just thinking about my journey because it’s been such a rollercoaster with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I was still a manager at Jersey Mike’s making sandwiches three days a week while my first sample pack was released. At that time I had cuts with Seven Lions, Gareth Emery (which was announced ASOT tune of the year), LOUDPVCK, Breathe Carolina (which charted on Billboard), Paris Blohm, and countless others, but it still wasn’t enough to stay afloat. Making a living off of art is probably one of the most challenging and mentally exhausting experiences a person can go through, but when you believe in your vision so much, nothing else is an option. My motivation to keep going stems from many different places, but mostly within myself. I knew I could do this, and therefore I had to do it. I wouldn’t be satisfied or happy if I didn’t do it. I’ve probably written and fully recorded close to 450 songs, and I have my parents to thank for instilling that manic work ethic inside of me. Failure was never option, and I never viewed rejection as failure, just one more obstacle to jump over. You wouldn’t believe how many songs never worked out, or how many times I’ve gotten taken advantage of or screwed over. That’s part of it, and if I didn’t have my wonderful manager, David Lovett, constantly telling me “pick and choose your battles,” “think about the bigger picture,” and “take a deep breath,” it would’ve been very difficult for me to survive.

If I were to give one piece of advice to other young artists, it’s simply to be persistent, believe in yourself, manifest specific goals, and learn to fully love yourself. Putting your health first may seem like an odd way of thinking, but the moment I put my mind, body, and spirit first was the moment my purpose grew stronger and my vision grew clearer. It didn’t happen overnight – I actually still struggle mentally at times, but my emotions are much more balanced, and now that I’m happier, my music reflects that. I’m able to work longer hours, juggle more responsibilities, and more importantly help other upcoming artists. In a year’s time I’ve managed to quit my part-time job, learn how to produce vocals, lose 17 pounds, write and record about 10 songs a week, sign a huge publishing deal with Ultra Records, and move into my dream home at the top of Topanga Canyon with my boyfriend and production partner, Reid Stefan, and our baby, Kitty Bear. These are all things that I wrote down on my whiteboard and manifested every single day until they came true. The only way I was able to sustain myself throughout this journey was by taking every single opportunity that came my way, every paid gig, every meeting, and every session, because I knew it would lead me here.

In 5 words (or more), can you share with us the things that embody your creative process and give you inspiration? Whether it’s technical, atmospheric, ritualistic, emotional, etc. – we want to know what you need to fuel your creativity and what keeps you inspired.

Before I tell you my key words, I want to share a story. At the beginning of the year, Reid and I were living in a cramped one-bedroom apartment. The music we were making was good, but it wasn’t next-level. We felt like something was missing. We weren’t feeling inspired and we felt trapped, in need of a breakthrough. That’s when I decided to take him for a trip on his birthday. I looked on AirbnB and found a home called “Pirates of the Caribbean Getaway” in Topanga Canyon, CA. The owner had created a tree house with epic movie props and a hot tub, and at night the trees lit up with these magical lasers. It was so beautiful we just sat there crying, and it was then we realized what we were doing wrong. That home owner sold us an experience. An out-of-this-world experience for just one night.

We realized that our music wasn’t capturing that magic because we weren’t living that magic every single day. The best songs are the ones that are so authentic that they take you to a very specific place that the listener hasn’t been to before, or maybe even somewhere they have been before. So many people don’t even realize how much humans are influenced by their surroundings. We knew this was the next step in our journey, and not even two months later we found a tree house of our own, and started our vision of “Laser Jungle Studios.” When people come over, they feel like they’re escaping the daily grind of the city, and it’s a breath of fresh air. This is why I’m so inspired by the following things: Nature, colors, scents, relationships, outer space, stories, high quality, manifestation, meditation, yoga, experiences, emotions, lights, and sunlight.

October 17, 2018

Ken Herman Ken Herman is a producer under the name Exitpost and is an editor of the Splice blog.