Photo: Antonio Agosto
GRAMMY-Winning Singer/Songwriter And Producer Kalani Pe'a: Creating Music With Your Authenticity And Finding Your Voice
In a brand-new editorial series, the Recording Academy has asked its Membership to reflect on their career journeys, the current state of the music industry and what we can do to collectively and positively move forward in the current social climate. Below, two-time GRAMMY-winning Hawaiian singer/songwriter Kalani Pe'a shares his open letter with GRAMMY.com readers.
When we hear the word "authenticity," we think of traditional, something new or original. We automatically assume the word exemplifies one's creativity—someone who is innovative, unique and different from the rest. I'm all about that and much more. I'm not the typical Hawaiian slack key or 'ukulele artist most people expect me to be. I am a singer who speaks Hawaiian fluently, dressed in sequin blazers and Hawaiian print bowties, singing Hawaiian, contemporary and soul music. I also do Motown in Hawaiian if I had to, because I can as a modern, two-time GRAMMY-winning Hawaiian musician.
As an independent musician who is the co-founder and CEO of Pe'a Records & Entertainment, I am proud to own all of my music. I am my own label, publishing and entertainment company. My husband, Allan B. Cool, is also the co-founder and CEO of our company. We do everything on our own. We own all publishing rights to my music and we operate our own label. I answer to no one other than my husband.
Allan is also a two-time GRAMMY-winning co-producer on my debut and sophomore albums. I am an independent singer/songwriter who won two GRAMMY awards, making history as the first Native Hawaiian to win a GRAMMY award with my debut album, E Walea, in 2017 in the Best Regional Roots Music category. I made history again winning another GRAMMY award in 2019 with my sophomore album, No 'Ane'i.
But it's not about the history-making. It's not about the accolades. The awards don't define the true you. Awards shouldn't be able to demonstrate the person you've become. It's about making and creating music, arranging songs, finding a safe spot or space at home and jotting down lyrics and arranging music. The Recording Academy, and winning GRAMMY awards as a Hawaiian, contemporary and soul artist, has given me the opportunity to network and build relationships with thousands of members in the Academy: musicians, songwriters, producers and engineers at the Academy's functions, especially when we celebrate once a year at the GRAMMY Awards in L.A.
The GRAMMYs gave me a full-time job as a touring musician. I am a devoted member, and I love to listen and network with all types of musicians, music-makers and creators around the world. This pandemic has really affected many of us, where all of our shows and concerts got cancelled. We really had to learn to save or generate income in order to survive.
The questions came to mind: How are you paying for your mortgage? Other household bills? Food? Or medical bills? If I've lost shows, what do I do next? How will I survive as a multi-GRAMMY-winning, full-time touring musician during this crisis?
I had to plan a "horizon scanning" concept. Meaning, I had to plan out goals for the entire year. Some may be short-term or long-term, but these were goals that help me reflect and embrace what was truly in my reach. I panicked for a bit, but I had to collect my fears, throw them in a bottle and send that bottle away across the ocean and hopefully never see those fears return to me.
My life as a GRAMMY-winning artist changed forever. I left a full-time teaching job five years ago to live my dreams. During this crisis, I am applying for numerous COVID-19 relief grants and cultural, competitive and music grants to help me stay afloat as a musician. I have applied to grants to help me start my third solo project, coming out later in 2021, so that I have monies to start music video content and other digital marketing content. I don't come from any label. I have to work harder as an indie artist. The struggle is real, but I am doing my best to continue to create music each day.
I am ready to tour again and sell out shows across Hawai'i, the West and East Coast of the U.S. and Japan. I look forward to performing in Europe in the upcoming years, sharing Hawaiian language and music across the globe. I encourage all music creators to continue finding your voice: Share it through songwriting and arranging new music. Never give up.
I encourage artists to apply for COVID-19 relief funds and grants. If you get denied the first round, never give up on these grants. There are performing arts centers who truly believe in your gift. Share and speak about it. Do grants first then loans as the last resort. When the grants for music are out there, dive into it. Prepare 3-4 hours out of the day to apply for them and also gather your best work as supportive documents. I am also uploading new and old content on all social media platforms every day.
Whether we're stuck at home, continuously post something on social media about your music. Post a blog, an old pic, some new material, some teasers for upcoming music or projects, a piece of bread or something you drank on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. Consistently post any content, whether about music or family, during this pandemic and be engaging with your audience. Do Live feeds and talk about your music creation, sing a song or two. I was honored to have done a few Live performances.
I am that type of musician that doesn't ask for donations or has a personal Venmo or PayPal. Every musician has their own goals and objectives when it comes to making a living. Some musicians play in bars or hotels on Maui and others are touring musicians like me. What I've done the last few months was host a 30-minute to 1-hour show. The first show was last May where I sang some of my original compositions and I had a donation link that went directly to the Alzheimer's Association. My grandmother, who turned 90 in November, suffers from Alzheimer's disease. I try my best to donate a part of my concert proceeds to the association to take care of our kupuna (elders) and their caregivers.
My second online show was 1 hour in June, and I gave away prizes. I had local businesses and entrepreneurs, who are makers, creators and bakers of Hawai'i, donate their "art" to me, and I gave it away as prizes. Thousands tuned in and were anxious to win. I did this to build a collaboration with local businesses who are the face of Maui and Hawai'i altogether. I wanted to support the businesses during these trying times. It brought awareness to these local brands in a time like this. Many have moved to all online shopping.
We musicians have bills to pay, so how do we stay relevant? Social media and digital marketing are important resources to stay relevant as a working musician. Get on all platforms, from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok. The audiences and target audiences vary from each platform, but engage with your audience. You have fans all over the world if you're a recording artist. Start a website, update your website or create a Wiki page. On social media, you can post 50 times a day, but consistently share your work.
We are indie artists. We are our own label. We do everything on our own and we don't have the support like artists do with big labels. We need to be creative and authentic in our own way as indies, as music-makers, creators and shakers of today. Continue creating and making music. Our music is our medicine. The world needs that medicine during this time. Let's heal the world with our creation of music, being ourselves as the music-makers while building "bridges," not "walls" or "cages," around the world.
Also, know your value. If Live performances on social media is what you're good at, do it. I personally refuse to have a PayPal or Venmo link; however, it's up to you as a musician. Everyone has different goals. Know your value and surround yourself with likeminded and valuable people. If you already sell $100 tickets for your shows, why do a free online concert?
Think of strategies on how to earn your income during this pandemic. Will you create an online ticketing show? Will you have a donation link set up and sell merchandise online? Or will you help other local businesses thrive by doing gift giveaways during your little online show?
Be the voice during this pandemic. Continue making music. Focus on value. Be authentic. Never change your sound. Never allow anyone to define your success as an indie artist and be you.
Learn more about Kalani Pe'a and his music.
For info on grant-writing for musicians and COVID-19 relief funds for artists and musicians, visit Kalani Pe'a's official Facebook page.
Learn more about the Recording Academy's Membership.