Dropping 'Labels': How Katelyn Tarver’s Latest Hit Came to Be

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Being "your own label" is about so much more than the dedication to staying independent as an artist. It's about freeing yourself from the pressure to fit neatly into any category and, instead, giving yourself the power to evolve and ultimately decide who you are. 

One artist who's taking the concept of breaking free from labels is actress and singer/songwriter Katelyn Tarver, whose track, "Labels" is literally an anthem speaking out about how detrimental labels can be. Its accompanying video features many different types of people singing its empowering words that echo an important sentiment: be yourself — that's beautiful.

We couldn't wait to dive further into Katelyn's process behind the song, along with finding a little bit more about her eclectic and incredible background in entertainment. From her inspiration behind "Labels" to how she balances both sides of her career, Katelyn takes us through her journey below.

How did your journey first begin as an artist?

I did a show in 2003 called American Juniors. It was like American Idol for kids. Really! Ryan Seacrest and everything! I loved music before that, but it was never really anything I thought of pursuing professionally until I did that show. Something clicked in my brain that summer though, and all I wanted from then on was to be a singer and make music.

As both an actress and a singer, did you always want to do both? How do you balance the two? Do they support each other in some ways?

Music and singing were my first loves, but I’ve really grown to love and appreciate acting as I’ve done it more. It can be hard to balance at times, but I think they do feed into each in a nice way creatively. Both push you to observe people and yourself, and dissect emotion and channel it. You just end up expressing it differently.

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You’re an artist who’s also a songwriter. What’s your songwriting process like?

Well, in general, I like to just write stream-of-consciousness ideas on a page as much as I can, so I can always feel like I’m tapped into what’s going on with me. It can be deep or sad or stupid or funny or anything. It usually helps me get stuff out without the pressure of knowing if it’s a song yet, but it usually turns into one.

Then, if I’m in a session or just on my own, I’ll start with some chords and see how it makes me feel and kind of follow that. I try to get the melody really nailed down before I put in the words, because I like having a framework to go off of. Then, I start writing and hope for the best. And snacks. Lots of snacks.

The story behind “Labels” is so profound and empowering. What was your inspiration? Does it come from a personal place?

Thank you! It does come from a personal place, yes. I was at this low point of self doubt and frustration and had pretty much hit my breaking point with trying to please people and figure out what everyone wanted from me as an artist and as a person.

I was so sick of wallowing in this negative place, so as I was talking about it in the session, I was just like okay! Enough! I can’t keep giving into this feeling that I’m not good enough. Because, at some point, you end up being the only one holding yourself back. So, I wrote "Labels" to remind myself of that. To help me get my shit together!

Talk through your concept for the “Labels” video. How did that come together? What was the goal?

I wanted the video to represent this idea that we all are guilty of putting labels on people and making assumptions about people based on how they look, what they wear, etc., etc. So, I liked the concept of seeing all different types of people, singing the song and making the message of "Labels" their own. I think it really came through with the performances they gave, and I am so happy with the final result.

Why do you think it’s important to free yourself of labels in all aspects of life?

I just think if you’re not careful, they can be limiting and hurtful and hold us back from seeing people as unique and complex. And seeing ourselves that way, too. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for!

Have you seen our I Am My Own Label campaign? With it and “Labels” sharing so many strong similarities, how does the sentiment of “I Am My Own Label” resonate with you?

Yes, and I love it! I’ve been burned by the major label thing, and it’s heartbreaking. You feel like you have no power and no voice. Seeing so many independent artists killing it on AWAL and doing it their own way is inspiring.

You’ve said, “When you work towards something for so long, and it’s not going the way you thought it would, it’s easy to start believing the voices that aren’t yours.” How do you rise above that?

Good question. It’s hard. I think the best way for me to combat that feeling is to remember that it’s about the art. It’s about my music. It’s about connecting with people. It’s about writing stuff that you care about and being able to share it. I can’t obsess over numbers and “what’s working” and who likes me… that is only going to make me feel bad. And probably make for worse art in the process.

What do you hope everyone who listens to “Labels” takes away from its message?

I hope people feel empowered and strong! Like I said earlier, you are more than what people have assumed about you. You can break out of the box that people have put you in, or that you’ve put yourself in. Stop trying to please everybody and go do that thing you’ve been wanting to do.

What is your ultimate dream as an artist?

To make people feel encouraged and less alone.

AWAL Insights™ Into Katelyn Tarver's Journey

  • Since partnering with AWAL nearly two years ago, Katelyn has earned over 19.5 million streams across Spotify and Apple Music.
  • Although the US accounts for 39% of her streams, regionally, Katelyn's music is most popular in Los Angeles, New York, and San Paolo, Brazil!

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  • 75% of Katelyn's streaming listeners are female.

How has your experience with AWAL been so far?

Great! I love working with a company that is all about empowering artists and challenging the norm. I feel supported and excited for what’s ahead!

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