When it comes to Arkansas-born Korey Keys, music runs in the family. He’s been playing and performing since he was four years old, but never took music seriously until he attended the Berklee College of Music.
He moved to LA shortly after and soon made a name for himself, appearing on stages such as that of Jimmy Kimmel and Good Morning America.
More recently, he’s toured and performed with artists Sam Smith, Sabrina Carpenter, Paloma Faith, Rozzi, Alina Baraz, and Duckwrth just to name a select few. He’s also performed at the 1st Sunday Service with Kanye West.
Korey’s a producer, composer, and sound engineer and plays a multitude of instruments. We got the chance to speak to him about why he decided to pursue music, how he stays focused and resilient and what’s next for him.
What is your first memory of music?
My family makes everyone start playing music at four years old. Everyone plays my grandma, my aunties, my little cousins, my brothers. It’s up to you what you end up doing with that!
Through this, I found my love for gospel, jazz, and eventually R&B and composition. I went on to participate in competitions around the country and even won a few of them.
What made you go professional?
When I was slightly older, I decided to try out for Berklee’s College of Music. I’m from Arkansas, and we Arkansans tend to like to stay closer to our families. But I decided to go after my dreams and make my family proud. On a whim, I did that and when I got accepted, that was one of the most pivotal moments of my life.
I didn’t finish the program at Berklee, after two years I moved out to LA. It was rough out there at first but I kept my head down, stuck to the grind, and worked my way up. Eventually, I got the opportunity to work on some amazing things.
One of my first official gigs was with an artist (Rozzi Crane) who was with Capitol Records. Following that, I played with Joyce Wrice, toured with Alina Baraz, and then Sabrina Carpenter. By this time we were playing arenas around the country like Madison Square Garden.
Then I got the call to play for Kanye’s first Sunday Service. After that, there was another tour with Sabrina Carpenter. This one took me to Asia and around the world.
How has the pandemic changed things?
Just before the pandemic hit, I got to be in a music video with Sam Smith. We were supposed to go on tour, but just like everything else, it was canceled because of Covid. Since then, I’ve pivoted to producing, heavily.
I’ve slowly started to do gigs again, been working with Hope Tala and Kira Kosarin – it’s been pretty dope.
How have you kept going and stayed resilient?
It’s been a while since I’ve played an entire set, and that can get me down now and then. But after a few weeks of being locked down and not really doing anything, I realized that this is my break. My chance to breathe as an artist and get myself together.
I started thinking about all the things I’ve always wanted to do and was able to take the time and dig into production without any pressure. I found it easy because I’d dabbled in production a bit before but it’s been a great time to sharpen my skills.
Sounds like you’ve adapted to lockdown quite well as an artist.
I’ve been extremely lucky to be well surrounded by my support system and other artists. Still, each day has been a battle, like it has for everyone else, but I’ve been focusing my energy on learning from others. Every single day I’m not gigging or rehearsing, I’m in the studio.
I’ve also got a wife and son and so to be traveling all the time has never been ideal. Producing from home means I’ve been able to watch my son grow.
What would be your advice for artists that are struggling with the impact lockdown has had on their process or income?
Actually, during this time I’ve discovered a few things that are absolutely essential as an artist to monetize what we do and do it well.
First off, organize everything. A producer friend of mine showed me ways to organize my process and why that’s important. The reason is that you can go back to the session you did and create sample packs that you can then sell.
You can make remixes of things that you did in the past. Combinations of your work are monetizable and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be taking advantage of that.
Ideally, you need a team. This will be a little harder for people who are just starting out. I’ve been there. There are tools out there you can put to use and YouTube can teach you pretty much anything.
But as soon as you can, you need to bring people to your team so you can focus on the parts you do best. This is how you can grow the fastest. You really want to make sure that your team can hit all of the important parts of having a one-stop-shop type of business.
Currently, I have a videographer, a photographer, a creative director, writers, and sound engineers. But I can see us needing people who are organizational whizzes, those that are good at social media and web design, finance people, lawyers, and accountants – just to cover every part of what we’re trying to achieve.
And branding is so important. We put a lot of work into our brand and the studio’s brand: who we are, what we stand for, and what direction we want to go in. It’s really like any company in the world. Check out our website and social media.
What are some of your biggest challenges at the moment?
During the pandemic, finding the strength to keep going has been the hardest. My family isn’t from LA, so we don’t have a ton of help out here. It’s been difficult to stay motivated.
A few weeks ago I hit a low in terms of morale, but it was also the beginning of my bounce back. So many friends helped out. Things are starting to look up now but it’s clear that you really need to stick it out.
If you give it all, if you are a good person, it’s all going to come back to you and you will be ok.
There have been a few times where I wanted to give up, get a regular job and go back home until the pandemic was over. But because I stuck it out, I’ve been able to find a community and some really good people out there that keep me going.Korey Keys, producer, composer, and sound engineer