By the time she was in third grade, Katey Smith had already sold her first piece of artwork. Her drawings and paintings made everyone believe she would someday become an artist.
But during an elementary school music program, Smith, a 2003 Huntington University alumna, belted out “Who Needs Love,” a song from a children’s musical.
It was then that it became obvious she was born to perform.
“It was one of those moments,” said her mother, Cindie Anderson. “We were all caught up in her artwork at that time. She just shocked everybody.”
Since learning to read, write, play and sing a variety of music, Smith has become a pop folk singer/songwriter and has released two studio albums. Her song “Don’t Know How to Love You” is being used in a local TV and radio commercial in Spokane, Wash.
“She chose music because she was afraid that art would become work and she wouldn’t enjoy it anymore,” Anderson said. “She didn’t think that was going to happen with music.”
Early influences in her life have led her to explore a variety of aspects of the music industry. Born to vagabond-like parents who often listened to music and went to bluegrass festivals, Smith said she thinks that continuously moving as a child can cause a person to be “footloose and fancy-free” and addicted to change.
“I am getting to the point in my life where I’m finally starting to settle down a little bit,” she said, “but I did like to bounce around and travel around and check out different things and different places to live.”
As migrant workers, Smith’s parents planted trees and picked fruit all over the U.S., moving frequently to find work. By the time Smith was 5 years old, her mother said the family had lived in about 13 different states.
“We were kind of vagabonds,” said Anderson, referring to the family’s lifestyle during the 1980s. “I wouldn’t really call it living and moving because lots of times we were living out of a Volkswagen bus. We liked to travel. We didn’t have much money, but we made it happen anyway.”
After having a second child, Anderson said there was not enough room in the Volkswagen, so the family settled on a ranch in Colorado.
Growing up in a rural area and attending a small high school, Smith said she wanted to attend a small college.
“I wanted to get some faith-based education,” she said. “I was a fairly new Christian at the time, so I really wanted to take that next step and be in an environment that was going to nurture growing in that way.”
Majoring in instrumental performance (French horn) at HU, Smith dreamed of playing in an orchestra for film and TV. She said she loves a variety of music and has always been interested in sound design.
Marlene Schleiffer, adjunct professor of music at HU, said that Smith surprised a lot of people when she sold her French horn toward the end of her senior year, after having spent four years studying under the principal horn player of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
“She wanted to do music production,” Schleiffer said. “I could see her broad interests taking her into production.”
Schleiffer saw Smith get involved with the pep band and the choir during college, as well as learn to play guitar and keyboard and sing some. Schleiffer said that although singing has become her focus now, in college it was a secondary interest.
Smith started a folk rock group, known as “Alabaster,” with a couple other women during college. She said the trio played in campus events such as the J-term Jam talent show and the Battle of the Bands.
Smith started her own recording company, Roaring Twenties Records, just a year after graduating from HU. She produces and markets her own music from her studio in Denver, Colo. She uses the stage name “Katey Laurel,” a combination of her first and middle names.
She said she writes lyrics from a Christian worldview and describes the sound of her music as being similar to that of Natalie Merchant or Sheryl Crow — adult contemporary/easy listening.
James McQuiston, of NeuFutur Magazine, called Smith’s sound “one that will operate as a blueprint for further work in the singer/songwriter genre.”
Although she is not playing in an orchestra, her dream of being involved with music for films and TV is still coming true.
“When I was playing French horn, I hoped to play movie soundtracks,” Smith said, “and now as a singer and writer, I’m really focusing heavily on trying to get my songs placed in film and TV.”
After her first commercial placement in Spokane, Smith said she is continuing to try to get listed in catalogs used by the film and TV industry. These catalogs help companies find songs that convey a particular emotion or that have a specific sound.
She also performs at several regional venues around Denver, including clubs and theaters.
Her music is available on iTunes and CDBaby.com.
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