Q&A WITH CHELSEA CUTLER ’15
When I Close My Eyes
Chelsea Cutler is a singer, songwriter, and producer with over two billion cumulative streams.
When Chelsea Cutler quit Amherst College in 2017 to pursue a career in music, it was a terrifying decision. At Amherst, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Cutler was a rising star. A strong student with a coveted spot on the women’s soccer team, everything seemed to be falling into place for the then-nineteen-year-old.
But music had always been there, waiting in the wings. At Pomfret, songwriting was an outlet, an escape, a release. During her senior year on the Hilltop, Cutler started uploading her songs to SoundCloud. By the time she got to Amherst, labels had started to take notice. Then Quinn XCII came calling. "I couldn’t do both," she says. "I couldn't go to school and pursue this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." So she closed her eyes, imagined what her life could be, and said Yes.
When did your passion for music begin?
I have always really loved making and writing music. Growing up, I put so much emphasis on my soccer career and getting into college to play soccer. So much of my time at Pomfret was focused on that. I didn't give myself a ton of space to pursue music the way I wanted to.
I had a lot more free time in college. It's a little bit less organized in terms of your daily structure. I was able to spend more time focusing and getting involved in music. I was, fortunately, putting music on SoundCloud and had friends who were listening and supportive of me. I am also lucky that my manager and label found the music as well.
Did your experience playing soccer make you a better musician?
There is no part of this job that gets done alone. I can write songs alone, but then they go off to a mix engineer, a master, my management team, and the label team. There's a legal team, business team, touring crew, etc. In every facet of the industry, you have to be a team player for sure, and communication is super important. There's so much that I learned from being an athlete that I have been able to translate into how I run my businesses and how I communicate with everyone now. I'm definitely glad I had a soccer background because there's so much communication involved in what I do.
How are you making your mark on the music industry?
The music industry is a male-dominated world. It’s important for me to be an example — to be known as a female artist who writes and produces her own songs. I really didn't have that visibility at first, and definitely know how challenging it can be to navigate the in's and out's of being a woman in songwriting sessions where everyone else in the room is a man, or the people behind the computers producers or vocal engineering are men. It can be an intimidating space to get involved in, and it's become very important for me to provide that visibility.
When I was first getting my bearings out in the industry, I definitely was intimidated, and I was scared to ask to be the producer in the room for sessions. I was nervous to assert my vision. The more time that has gone on and I've had a fair amount of experiences and success, I feel more confident in navigating those situations. I also surround myself with people who are supportive of me and see the vision. There's no one in my management, in my publishing team, or my label team that has suggested that I shouldn't be writing or producing my own music — everyone's been super supportive.
What do you love about songwriting? What inspires the songs that you write today?
A lot of personal experience. Songwriting has always been a massive outlet for me — I'd rather write a song than vent to friends or go to the gym. It has always been a super natural outlet for me to talk about whatever I'm going through. Even past emotions that I haven't fully processed — it can be really cathartic.
What is your favorite part of the music industry?
My favorite part is how many different elements there are — it’s never boring. I love being in the studio and writing. I really love touring, building the live set, and performing. I have enjoyed taking part in the business side of everything. All of my interests and needs are met in the industry. I feel super stimulated in a lot of different ways.
Do you have a favorite songwriting experience?
My management has five artists, and over the pandemic, we spent a lot of time writing in Newport, Rhode Island. Those weeks were my first time spending a real significant time in Newport. Especially given that we were mid-pandemic, we spent many weeks in the cold, huddled together next to the fireplace, watching college football, and just writing music all day and all night. We would also venture down to the water and walk around and explore. Honestly, those weeks of collaboration with them were definitely my favorite. There's something really special about working in Newport.
Who do you dream of working with?
I’m really interested in getting down to Nashville. There are a lot of amazing pop and country writers down there. If I had to pick an aspirational collaboration, I really love Dan & Shay, their ability to write such great pop country music is really awesome. I think that is something that I’ve never dipped a toe into, and getting to explore a completely different genre could be really fun.
How did it feel to be named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list?
That was crazy — I woke up to texts of people congratulating me for it and had no idea what anyone was talking about. We had no communication with Forbes beforehand, it wasn't really on our radar, so I was pretty shocked when it happened. It feels surreal — it definitely wasn't something I ever thought would happen in my lifetime, so I was really taken aback. It’s very cool, and I am grateful to have been included on the list.
What is the most exciting goal you have accomplished?
I keep a list of goals I want to achieve and a relative timeline. I had a whiteboard back in my apartment where I wrote I wanted to play Radio City by 2022 or 2023, so I feel super lucky that I got to play there a bit sooner than that.
It was really special — I got to have a ton of my friends there, and my family was obviously there. I'm really grateful we got two nights because the first one definitely flew by really quickly, and it was such a whirlwind. My management team and label were there. I was so glad we got to do it the second night so we could have more of an opportunity to really soak it in. When really special things happen like that, it can go by so quickly.
I really want to sell out Radio City by myself, since this last time I did it on a joint tour with Quinn XCII. The next step is moving into arenas in New York. Arenas are definitely a little bit further in my future, but I think selling out two nights at Radio City on my own would be a really big milestone I want to achieve.
If you were to give a Chapel Talk today, what would you say?
I think I would probably talk about what makes you feel fulfilled and what makes you happy. I think growing up, there is so much pressure to follow this conventional path of getting good grades, going to a great college, and finding a nice institutional job. I think that works for a lot of people, but it was not the right fit for me. I don't think I would've been happy at all working for another company or the discipline to work a traditional Monday to Friday 9-5 job. It's really important that kids in high school or college know that there are a lot of options for finding a career path that is fulfilling and meaningful to them.
Edited for clarity and length.