Your Story, Her Take: How Singer-Songwriter Katie Stump Transforms Others’ Experiences Into Original Songs
L.A.-based singer/songwriter Katie Stump has written nearly 400 songs in her short but prolific 23 years and works with Songfinch to help fuel her burgeoning music career. Straddling the line somewhere between pop, folk and country, Katie crafts beautiful music from the honest sentiments that our customers share with her. She truly puts her heart into the heartfelt gift of an original song.
While none of her family members performed music professionally, singing abounded in Katie Stump’s household as she grew up. Her father played acoustic guitar and would sing James Taylor, The Beatles, Crosby Stills Nash and more ‘60s classics with his guitar. During family reunions, holiday get-togethers and summer vacations, her dad and his brothers would all play and sing together, creating completely unrehearsed five-part harmonies.
“I just grew up with that as a way of life and I guess it kind of rubbed off on me just inherently,” Katie said, who began to experiment with music as soon as her life began.
“I had written songs since I was like barely able to walk,” she said. “Just little things here and there that didn’t really amount to anything. But when I was 15-years-old, I remember I had just gone through this boy thing. It was stupid, but it was something to write about. I sat down with my guitar, really frustrated about the situation, so I worked through my feelings by writing this song called, ‘Crazy.’”
A teenaged girl’s creative expression of her pain and confusion, “Crazy” was the first song Katie wrote that she felt good about, she said, and its quality actually surprised her. She shared it with her friends and counselors during summer camp, and after hearing lots of positive and genuine encouragement from these people who she looked up to, Katie officially began her lifelong pursuit of songwriting. She began playing gigs around her hometown of Fullerton, California, including a favorite venue of hers, McClain’s Coffee Shop, gradually sculpting her hobby into a vocation.
“Then, when I went to apply to college, I was faced with this kind of decision of, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’” Katie said.
Ultimately, Katie chose to attend University of Southern California. Admittedly apprehensive of jumping into the idea of being a full-time performing artist, she applied for the music industry program and studied the business side of her passion. However, after seeing the talent and togetherness of those studying music performance, Katie quickly changed her academic career and plunged into a life of songwriting.
“I switched my major to the Popular Music Performance major, which is amazing that it even exists, and from then on it’s just been like non-stop, 24/7, music is the only thing that I think about,” Katie said.
Ask any alum who studied in the Popular Music Program at USC and they’ll tell you the same: their tight-knit group of classmates are a Pop Family who all work together to test out their strengths and help each other grow.
“Everyone knows everybody’s specialty, and no one’s afraid to reach out to each other if they think someone is a good fit for a project that they’re working on, and it continues well beyond graduation. I still reach out to my classmates now for things and I’m writing with several of them for their artist projects. We all work together and it’s really, really awesome.”
Katie graduated in May 2016 after writing hundreds of original songs; releasing three full works, including her popular EP, Feels Like Home; and a network of friends, colleagues and producers with whom she’d continue to collaborate. Despite her early successes, breaking into the music industry is a difficult task for any who choose to undergo it.
“The idea of trying to be a full-time songwriter scared me a bit coming out of college, but it never really made me think, ‘Maybe I should really go do something else.’ I never really second-guessed music. Obviously it’s not the most lucrative industry, but all it did was challenge me to figure out how to make it all work.”
The key to her success, Katie said, has been keeping herself busy. Since leaving school, she’s been writing tons of songs with other talented writers in Los Angeles, providing demo vocals, working on side projects such as writing and recording songs for Songfinch, collaborating on special passion projects, as well as developing her own artist project.
“Getting out of school and realizing the things about myself, I just totally transformed the direction of the type of music I’m working with now, how I value my own time and how I work with other people.”
Katie once said that if her music was a cake, it would be a pop singer-songwriter flavor with country filling and some folk icing on top. To develop this unique genre-blending style, melodies from the heart and lyrics from the soul, Katie follows a loose process by which she writes.
“Obviously every writer will tell you it’s different every time you sit down, but I do have a bit of a process. I usually like to throw out concepts really early in the game, no matter what I’m doing, if it’s for a track or if it’s just for piano, if I’m writing alone or if I’m writing with other people. I’m always thinking,’What is the concept?’, which is the title really.”
“I have a list in my phone of about 200 song titles that just pop into my head every once in awhile.Some of them are vague and I don’t really know what they mean, and some of them I know exactly what I want to write about but just haven’t had the inspiration yet. I’m always thinking of titles, that thesis statement of a song.”
As a professional songwriter, Katie splits her time between working on her own projects and creating work for other performing artists. When writing songs to be performed or recorded by another artist, songwriters have the unique challenge of crafting art designed to express someone else’s emotions. They draw from their own experiences, from the sights they’ve seen and the emotions they’ve felt, and immerse themselves into that thesis statement of a song in order to make it feel as real as possible.
Similarly, writing for Songfinch requires the special ability to adapt the customers’ stories as your own and bring to life their feelings, memories and experiences into an original song for them to share as unique gift.
“With Songfinch songs, my little game that I play is to read the brief, read what [the customers] literally say on the page they want, and then read further into what they actually want,” Katie explained. “So often in music, you get people who say one thing, but in their minds they actually want something else but they just don’t know how to express it.”
“With ‘Sister,’ the customer said, ‘We want this to be about them [our daughters], but we want this to be something they can share with each other for their entire lives.’ So I thought, ‘I can’t make this too pigeon-holed to who they are right this second, because they’re going to change, they’re going to grow up, and they’re going to grow apart and grow back together, because there is always a really complex relationship between siblings. So I tried to lean towards that.”
“Then, I take all the details and I just play a little puzzle game to fit everything in. I reword things and structure them into a storyline. It’s all helping people express the things they feel when they don’t know how to say it.”