The Moment I Knew I Wanted to Make Music: Courtney McKenna

by - September 13, 2022

From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a singer, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York City and started meeting other artists that I knew wholeheartedly that I could be a performer and make music for a career.

I grew up singing in church and school choir. As a pre-teen, I knew instinctively how to channel my emotions into song. Singing has always given me great joy and I would sing for hours. I applied to talent shows and I performed where I could without a car, but I never fully felt supported enough to believe that I could make it as a professional.

When it came time for college, I chose to study marketing because I saw the success that my grandpa had in business and I wanted the same for myself. I had no idea that music school was an option at the time. I had been sewing my own clothes and even sold some of my shirts around town to a few local boutiques so I thought that with a marketing degree, I could learn to run my own fashion business.

I quickly became burnt out from going to school while working and holding a leadership role in my sorority. For the first time in my life, I was ready to quit. I was having constant headaches and was secretly depressed. I started therapy and decided to take summer courses so I could graduate early and move to a larger city to ‘start my life’. Looking back I can see that college was something that was expected of me and not necessarily something I wanted to do.

After I graduated, I sold my car and moved to Italy for nearly a year. I struggled to support myself with babysitting jobs and teaching English. I landed in Brooklyn with just enough money to sublet a room for one month in Williamsburg. I continued to babysit, took on restaurant jobs and any other kind of work I could find to pay my bills so I could intern for the global fashion PR firm Karla Otto. Even with all the glamorous parties and clothing, I quickly realized that the fashion industry was not where I wanted to be and I felt very lost.

I started dating a guitar player and writing songs again. I found a local Craigslist ad for a backup singer in an R&B group out of Newark and I auditioned. I performed with them and another folk duo just for fun. I was of the mindset that I was automatically disqualified from becoming a professional musician because I had no official training for it. I jumped around from bartender job to art job to marketing job, but I finally started to feel like I had found my purpose.

Three years into my time in New York City, I decided to travel to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival outside of Tennessee with some girlfriends. I saw LP perform on a smaller stage and I was mesmerized by their voice. It was a music festival experience that any aspiring artist could dream of. By the end of it, I was convinced that I would not attend another music festival until I was performing at it. I continued to teach myself guitar and focused on writing my own songs. At this point, all of my roommates were making music and I was warming up to the idea of performing.

The following year I met an artist named Sky. She had made $40,000 from a sync placement of one of her songs and was not even well-known as an artist. The two of us became quick friends over music and fashion and I ended up driving cross-country with her to help her move out to Los Angeles. I flew back to New York with a changed perspective. If she could make money from music, so could I…

That October I gave my first performance for Greenpoint Open Studios and I haven’t looked back since. My focus has been music.

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