Dylan Hartigan’s life changed when he made his debut on Season 14 of The Voice in 2018. While building a fanbase with his emotionally bare folk-rock sound, it was nothing in comparison to the millions of viewers he found himself in front of as a member of judge Kelly Clarkson’s team.
Now, a year later, Hartigan is busy putting together his debut album. While being co-produced by Maggie Rose, represented by Starstruck Entertainment who also represents Clarkson, Hartigan is taking the independent route for this album. While life is much closer to the grind of most artists rather than the glamour of The Voice, Hartigan has been able to dig in and define who he is as an artist. While he isn’t particularly interested in being a pop star, there is no denying that he has a message that he wants to resonate across the world.
Terrence Smith: So, you’re currently in the process of recording your debut album which you’re raising funding for through Indiegogo. What is it like to put an album together this way?
Dylan Hartigan: It’s been an interesting process. I’ve had the privilege of working with some unbelievable artists during the entire thing. I went down to Nashville for a week where we had the whole entire Nashville experience, which is pretty wild if you ever get the chance. I’m writing with a bunch of great artists like Them Vibes and Maggie Rose, Maggie Rose is co-producing the entire album with Bobby Holland. We’re still having conversations with Kelly and everything like that. The whole thing is very in-family and on-brand with the show.
It’s good, it draws on a lot of painful memories and things I’ve just experienced in the past boiling back up again and having to be put on a recording. It’s a whole new experience for me, I guess. It’s one thing to perform songs that hit you in the gut live and in front of people, but it’s another thing to sit down and try to put those songs on a recording — and listen back and tell yourself whether they are good enough, or not, to be sent out into the world.
TS: You have this strong team behind you but are still following an independent route for your debut album. Do you relish the freedom of putting it together independently, or would you have preferred a major label with larger backing but less control?
DH: Here’s the thing. I love my independence and how much creative control I have over the process. This is everything I’ve been striving for basically my entire life. I’ve been in the industry from when I was 3-years-old and up until three years ago, I haven’t been making decisions for myself, even once.
I’ve always been writing folk-rock music and I’ve always wanted to perform it, but I’ve constantly been surrounded by people who were supposed to be my mentors — and people I looked up to — telling me that I wasn’t good enough to make this kind of music, and that I had to monetize my looks or go the route that makes the most money.
While I always knew in the back of my head that wasn’t my goal, it wasn’t the most important thing in my life, I had no choice because I was a kid and really didn’t know what I was doing.
But, on the independent side of it, I wouldn’t be able to do any of what I’m doing right now if it weren’t for the people in my corner. All of the artists that I went down to Nashville and had writing sessions with, most of the songs on the album are just written by me.
But the diversity on the album, the things that add peaks and valleys to the album I suppose, are thanks to other artists coming in and helping me to step out of my comfort zone in terms of my artistry.
So, with that aspect in it, it’s very much a group effort, but I’m really proud of the fact I can kind of step out of a stereotype of something that I could have been very easily thrown into after being on such a large platform in front of so many people. I can kind of step out of that and do my own thing, create my own art without someone leering over me the entire time.
TS: What should your fans who are familiar with you through ‘The Voice’ expect? Is there anything that will surprise them?
DH: I think it’s going to be a lot rawer than what anybody will expect. I think it’s going to be much more rooted than most artists that come off of the show just because it’s a really difficult process coming off of the show in terms of just for me, the confidence and fear of losing the artist that you are during the whole entire process. There is a lot of polishing. I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. It may deteriorate a little bit in terms of people looking for a more pop sound or a more radio-friendly sound, but it is radio-friendly — just not pop.
TS: How did your appearance on ‘The Voice’ impact your career, beyond the audience and connections you made? Did it change your view of the industry or of yourself as an artist?
DH: They are a very polished machine, the show. They know exactly what they are doing, and they are very good at doing it. From my standpoint, I had just kind of stepped out of the business side of it and really submerged myself into the artistic realm for about a year before I went on the show. I was very ‘Woo woo! I like performing without my shoes on and feeling the Earth beneath my feet!’ That mumbo jumbo that most people don’t believe that I believe with my whole entire heart.
Coming on to the show, it was kind of like stepping on to an assembly line in a sense that it is so perfectly done that it’s hard to have yourself in both mindsets, business, and the artistic aspects. It opened me up to blending those two worlds together. It was good in that sense of helping me to figure out how to be more professional while also keeping the artistry.
TS: What do you wish you had known before going into it?
DH: Yeah, I wish I had known Kelly (laughs). In all seriousness, I wish I had known how genuinely hard it was going to be to make the music that I always wanted to make. I always knew in the back of my head how difficult it was going to be, but for some reason, there was something in my head when I was getting farther on ‘The Voice’ that made me think ‘It’s going to be easier now.’ After I came off ‘The Voice’ I thought ‘Let’s do this, let’s go play shows for 200-plus people in awesome venues where they have green rooms in the back and I can drink free La Croix for hours.’
It’s totally not.
I’m still sleeping in my van that doesn’t have a bed in it, I’m still crashing on couches that don’t have sheets or pillows because my friends don’t do laundry. I’m still buying PBR with dollar bills that I find in dirty old jeans. It’s so hard, man.
You would think that something like ‘The Voice’ would be able to accelerate, but if anything it makes it hard to catch up to the momentum. It’s like you hit a bullseye fresh out the gate, and then you can’t get it on the board after that.
TS: What would you say to someone that is looking to make it on ‘The Voice’ today, and would you recommend the platform for success in the music industry?
DH: I would 100 percent recommend using that platform to perform prior to building an audience beforehand. It’s very easy to go on that show as an artist and not really present yourself as an artist, more as a human being and the person that you are. I would definitely recommend going on that platform.
The machine of ‘The Voice’ is without a doubt scary and complicated, but with all of the connections you have the potential of making and if you can figure out a business strategy beforehand, before going on an audition, having a song to immediately release.
Going in there knowing it’s a competition and that is all that it is and just trying to make as many connections as possible.
I know people from the social platforms from the show. I know Kelly, I know producers, and I try to keep in touch with as many of those people as possible because the show is so high up. They make sure they have really good people on set and all of that, so if you have the opportunity to make connections with people like that you should take it.
TS: With the trajectory of your career completely shifting due to your time on ‘The Voice,’ where do you see your career progressing from here?
DH: I see it kind of unfolding like a flower, in the sense that I felt kind of rooted in the Earth and the things that it gives us. In this world with so many problems, music is such a medicine and not enough artists are using it to their advantage. I don’t mean monetizing it, using it to their advantage in that they can make a difference and help the world become a better place. It’s not happening.
It can happen in any genre, it can happen with any person or whatever. It’s the words that you use and the lyrics that you sing.
So what I see happening for me in the coming years is, hopefully, if I have an eighth of the success of the people I look up to and model myself after, I see people realizing that through my lyricism and my artistry, the real feelings and emotion that I put into my music. Being able to get behind it, having it help them, being able to share the energy. Being in a room with no technology and no fear, no struggle because what they are listening to can pull them out of that and into their own infinite reality for the moment.
That’s the goal. It’s not a business goal, even though in the long run I hope that I can do this for a living. But the goal is to have as many people in a room sharing the emotion, the love. Just forgetting everything and fixing themselves. If I can get that, it’d be cool.