Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff

Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff


For the third installment of The Song, our new monthly artist spotlight, we welcome singer/songwriter Amy Hall. In her interview, Amy offers the following advice to young artists: "join communities like Totem Star, STG, and other clubs and organizations that have to do with art and music, even if it's in your high school." Click here to check out her new artist profile page and show her some love on her Bandcamp!


Image via

Written by Jahlil (Jawzilla) Kirby

I know the struggle of having a dream, putting in the work, spending hard earned money on studio time, then posting it online to receive ... 50 views. It's even more frustrating seeing other artists have more ease getting support and more views than you. Here you will learn the business side of making yourself heard. 

1. Be ready to expand. Have a catalog of content ready and really polish yourself up the best you can before you try to promote yourself. Remember, you're going to have a much harder time promoting what doesn't exist yet and you have to think about if the listeners might want more. It might not be a bad idea to see what successful artists are doing to promote themselves that you aren't. This can be artists as big as Macklemore, who performs around the world, to artists that are local. Every artist offers something you can learn from. One of the reasons OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) and Tyler The Creator blew up is their originality and their amazing energy that goes along with their performance. Developing your skills and raising the quality of your music helps a lot. There are a lot of people that won't give artists a break and expect artists to have professional quality and be up to par before they even give them a chance, so keep that in mind. 

2. Social media offers tremendous opportunities to network and market yourself. Instagram is a great tool to use. Through the power of hashtags you can find people anywhere on Instagram that might be willing to work with you, creating opportunities to collab, share shows, and give shout outs to get to audiences you didn't have before. Join a group on Facebook! There's tons of groups you can join that allow you to network with people from all over the globe. There's definitely more social media platforms you can use but Instagram and Facebook are two solid platforms to start off with. You just have to stay up to date to find newer platforms and see what works for you. 

3. A solid way to expand your audience is to reach out to your community! This can be going to open mics and building yourself up from there if you're making zero noise at the moment. Working with other people builds a group that will give as much as you and others put in. A major example of this is the BEASTCOAST movement in NYC. A$AP MOB, Pro Era, and the Flatbush Zombies are the 3 top groups coming out of this movement and major artists today like Joey Bada$$, A$AP Rocky, and A$AP Ferg are a few of the artists that came out of this collective that all do shows together, do songs together, tour together, and show overall support of each other openly. You can't deny the success they've received from it. 

4. Using promotion isn't always a bad thing. More things than you know actually fall into this category. This may be free or may cost some money; but be careful not to get hustled. Ensure that the promotion technique is legit and gives you real results that don't just look good or give you numbers that aren't really there (like buying views). If you're still in school, this can be performing at your school assembly and gaining the support of your friends and peers. This could be sending your music to radios stations (e.g. college and local radio stations) to hopefully get played on air. This could be sending your music to blogs to try to get them to promote it on their page.

Tunecore is an example of a service that helps distribute music but it is NOT free. And of course theres the face to face word of mouth technique that if done correctly works really well. Building a street team is one example of this technique and can work great if the strategy is well thought out and the team is managed well. Even Tech N9ne has a street team and it's success speaks for itself. This means that you don't need to be signed to a label to gain a following. Other resources like a manager or a publicist aren't one hundred percent necessary, but they can be amazing tools to help you grow if you find the right people and can afford their services. There's a lot of options you just have to find them and experiment with what works for you and the audience you want to attempt to make your fans. 

5. Understand your audience's vibe and meet them halfway. Some of you decide your own line between selling out and appealing to other audiences. The most important thing about spreading your music is knowing who to spread it to while staying true to your craft. If you make Punk or Hip Hop, you'll more than likely have more success promoting at a skate park than your grandmothers bible club. One method could be finding some artists that you sound like or have a similar vibe to and reaching out to fans in that field. Instagram is a great tool for this. When you know who's listening to your music or who you want to listen to your music, you can better form your sound to their liking and have better success with the outcome of your music.

Jahlil (Jawzilla) Kirby is a regular at Totem Star and is interning with us through the SPOKES, the youth leadership body of Youth Speaks SeattleTotem Star and the Arts Corps Teen Leadership Program. Check out Jawzilla's music HERE.

ALLI 2017

L to R: LIO, Mirabai Kukathas, Zora Seboulisa, Monica Elenes, and Daniel Pak. Photo Credit: Amy Piñon

L to R: LIO, Mirabai Kukathas, Zora Seboulisa, Monica Elenes, and Daniel Pak. Photo Credit: Amy Piñon


Written by Mirabai Jyothi Kukathas

The first week of July 2017 was one of the best weeks of my life. Totem Star, Youth Speaks, and our awesome mutual sponsor Arts Corps put on the Arts Leadership Liberation Institute (ALLI) for the second year running. ALLI is a weeklong art intensive for poets, musicians, and visual artists. We spent the week building community, partaking in social justice-related workshops, and creating pieces of art to share at the end of the week.

When I applied to ALLI, I didn’t think I would actually get in. I knew some of the people involved and didn’t think I was accomplished enough to spend a week with such talented artists. When I did get in, I was both excited and incredibly nervous. However, my nerves melted away almost as soon as I walked into Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, where ALLI was held. One thing that cannot be said enough about the Youthspeaks/Totem Star family is how kind and welcoming it is.

We spent the majority of the first day getting to know one another. We began with everyone putting an object of emotional value in the center of the circle we sat in, summing up the object’s significance in one or two words. We went back around the circle and everyone took an object that symbolized something they needed more of in their lives. I put in a statue of the goddess Saraswati, symbolizing ancestry and inspiration, and took a picture which represented resiliance. At the end we gave the items back to their owners, thanking them for the characteristics they embodied. It was so nice to fill up the room with love and strength, and doing so really set the tone for the supportive environment of ALLI.    

LIO wows the crowd with her poetry. Photo credit: Amy Piñon. 

LIO wows the crowd with her poetry. Photo credit: Amy Piñon. 


For the rest of the week we’d spend the mornings together, still getting to know each other, learning about outreach and organization, and even taking a workshop led by Anakbayan. In the afternoon we would divide into our three pathways (spoken-word poetry, music, and visual art) and get working on our pieces. I loved catching glimpses of half-finished paintings and hearing snippets of poems when I popped out into the hall. The whole place seemed alive with art and excitement.

During the course of the week, my friend Zora and I wrote a song. It started off as just a baseline and a short poem of hers, but together we expanded the lyrics and wrote a melody. For the most part she did the lyrics and I did the melody, but worked together for the entire process, bouncing ideas off each other and getting excited after our eureka moments. At the end of the week we had created something I was really proud of, something I never thought I’d be able to to do. For me, that was the best part about ALLI: doing something I never thought I could. Proving myself wrong. Gaining some confidence.

The song-writing process. L to R: Zora and Mirabai. Photo credit: Amy Piñon.

The song-writing process. L to R: Zora and Mirabai. Photo credit: Amy Piñon.


At the end of the week we put on a block party, open mic, and showcase. A bunch of people from the community showed up (some even brought food!), got to know each other, performed at the open mic, and partook in the general awesomeness. The showcase itself was electric; I could not believe everyone created what they did in just five days. It’d been a long time since I’d performed in front of people, but when I was singing up there everything felt right. I owe a lot to ALLI for getting me into the Youth Speaks/Totem Star community, building my confidence and skills, and for a truly amazing week I will never forget.


To see more ALLI stories, click here.


To see all performances from the ALLI showcase, click here



Jewelz Cypher Performing Live. Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff

Jewelz Cypher Performing Live. Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff


Written by kidLIO

Have you ever seen Beyonce, The Queen Bee, herself reading song lyrics from a paper in her hands? From her phone? I haven’t either. It only displays her perfectionism in physical and mental memorization of her song and dance lyrics. As artists, and as entertainers, that plan to move around their stages, there needs to be a sense of urgency and desire to memorize the lyrics to our own songs. This is crucial towards our overall performance, in focusing on the song, the number of people we connect with in the crowd, and our art, itself.

Here are some tips and techniques to memorize your song lyrics
The overall performance depends on how much the artist has paid attention to the song and on performing it rather than just remembering the lyrics. There are tons of different ways to focus on the song you are performing by simply remembering the words based on what kind of learner you are.

If you are a Visual learner, you may find that remembering the outline of which you wrote your song on paper may help you further remember exactly how each verse flows, the words and the intensity of which the words should be stricken with.

If you be more of an Auditory learner, you may find that memorizing the song by the instrumental solo crossing into the bridge helps more because you remember what specific instrumentals are cueing a special set of lyrics in the coming moments. Try practicing with accompaniment and memorize your cues, sounds, scats and runs.

Lastly, being a Kinesthetic learner means that you react best to memorizing lyrics through movement-- like dance moves. I don’t doubt that this helps Beyonce remember her lyrics if she is focused on the dancing and not the words. Practice using hand gestures, body sways or even full on dance-moves (shall you be comfortable) if you find that it helps you remember what comes next.

Finding a mental or physical technique can help your overall performance in total.

Learn more about whether you are a Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic learner

Connecting with your crowd and getting them as involved with you as you may be with them is crucial to how much entertainment your crowd will be coming back for, how they’ll decide whether or not to support you, and if they think you are the real deal. Standing completely still on a stage may not get you to Madison Square Garden as quick as someone with more confidence in their movements. Learning to be confident with every step you take may begin with your appearance, how you present yourself on stage. Take the time find your individual artist style. Take quizzes to find the accuracy of your artist’s fashion style and do your best to attain it.

Artists speak on the do's and don'ts in front of a crowd to engage with the crowd and have the crowd engage with you. Follow the link below.

A recap of the most important do’s and don’ts:
          DO NOT show the crowd that you are unprepared
          DO address the crowd. Easy hooks, call and responses, etc.
          DO NOT turn your back to the crowd
          DO know your audience

Memorizing your words by following the technique of knowing who you are on stage, making songs easy to follow, and simply having fun will make this all the more effortless.

Finally, the outcome of your specific artist is sometimes mostly defined by what you show you are prepared and not prepared for. Being able to memorize your lyrics comes along with knowing what you, as a human being and an artist, want the world to hear and see and know of you. Any song that you perform shall be one from the heart, that way it’ll be easier to locate your soul and spirit when performing. Another big strategy to take along with you as an artist and a human is to never compare yourself to other people. If you take care of yourself, you’ll take care of your music. You’ll take better care of the lyrics, perfect the amount of emotion that comes with it, and the vibe that you share with your audience. What you share and your message is all a part of your artist but to relate to the message at any given time, even if it may not be on stage, should be something you are easily prepared for. Which means memorization is key. If you know your story, you don’t have to recall it, you can just be it.

For more info on how to find that inner being that channeled your lyrics at first, click the following link:

The point here, is there are several elements that are all branched together that explain exactly what it is that you need to do in order to strengthen your memorization; sometimes it begins with knowing your performance goes on to knowing your crowd, and may end with you always knowing YOU. Don’t compare yourself to Beyonce; compare yourself to your artist. What do they have in common? How does that define your lyrics? If you know you, you know your lyrics.

For more tips on memorization, check out the links below


Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff

For the second installment of The Song, our new monthly artist spotlight, we welcome poet/lyricist/visual artist King Cobb. In his interview, King Cobb offers the following advice to young artists: "truthfully do what makes you happy, and don't stress or worry about anything else. You've only got this life. Make it count." Click here to check out his new artist profile page and show him some love on her SoundCloud!


Photo Credit: Nick Turner

Photo Credit: Nick Turner

Check out the Crosscut article entitled "Reggae Artist Supports Youth Through Music" written by JaLynn Montes featuring Totem Star Co-Founder Daniel Pak.

The article highlights Pak's history, how he came to stating Totem Star, and also discusses his work with Kore Ionz including their latest video release "Superhero." 

Below is a snippet of the Crosscut article by JaLynn Montes:
"Daniel Pak has been making music for the good part of his 37 years on the planet. While on hiatus from his studies in metallurgical engineering and on a visit with friends, he had an epiphany: music was meant to be the center of his life’s work.

He was feeling 'sick and tired of seeing the status quo,' he says, 'with oppression and violence being so pervasive; it [was] maddening.'

Music, he figured, would connect him 'with like-minded people who really want change to happen.'

So he rejected an attractive offer to work as a high-paid nuclear engineer at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, where Pak was raised. Instead, he chose to pursue a career as an artist, or, as he puts it, 'a culture worker.'"

Check out the entire article at


Royalty. L to R: Jawzilla, Jayla Nickens, Jewelz Cypher, and King Cobb. Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff

Royalty. L to R: Jawzilla, Jayla Nickens, Jewelz Cypher, and King Cobb. Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff


It was July 2016 and we were sitting in a social justice workshop led by Henry Luke as part of the Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute. The partnership between Arts Corps, Youth Speaks Seattle, and Totem Star brought twenty talented youth together from all over the city for a week-long intensive arts summer camp featuring pathways in music, spoken word, and visual art.

Henry had posted quotes in the space and encouraged us to walk around the room, reading the quotes, and forming impromptu collaborative arts teams based on what quote spoke most strongly to us as a means of getting to know one another. Jayla Nickens (Cleveland High School) and I found common interest in a quote with the theme of "standing together" and decided that our impromptu collaborative project would be to co-write a hook for a song. I grabbed a guitar and put some chords together while she wrote:

"If we stand together, it'd be harder for them to tear us apart. It'll only get better. Don't let them break us down."

In just minutes, Jayla had an amazing melody to go with her lyrics and we performed it for everyone. Enthusiastic applause, screaming, and shouting ensued.

Immediately following the workshop, we broke out into our first session as a music pathway, while the poets and visual artists went off to their rooms. Jayla knew rapper King Cobb from Cleveland, but was just meeting rapper/producer Jawzilla and rapper Jewelz Cypher for the first time. The three rappers were all inspired by the hook that Jayla wrote, and they decided right then and there that the best way to get to know each other was to write a song based on the hook.

Jayla and I started to work on the beat and in no time she was in the vocal room laying down the hook while the other three started writing. You could feel the intensity of the creative energy flowing through the room. By the end of the two hour session, we had recorded a rough arrangement of what was to become "Stand Together," released in June 2017 on the Resistance Mixtape.

Royalty would go on to perform "Stand Together" live at the ALLI showcase, Columbia City Beatwalk, and Winter Magic. The song was recently licensed by local documentary filmmaker Devon de Lena for a film she will soon release on the Seattle Channel. Seeing them bond as a newly-formed group, discover collective joy, and develop their live performance skills on stage was truly magical.

Check out "Stand Together" by Royalty - living proof of the power of community building and collaboration.

- Daniel Pak



Photo by Daniel Pak

Photo by Daniel Pak


KO!!! Nikkita Oliver is an organizer, educator, teaching-artist, and attorney who has contributed to the vibrancy of Seattle through her art and advocacy. Last Friday she was our special guest for The Story and spoke about overcoming challenges as a young person. She told stories about growing up singing in the choir, discovering her love of poetry, and how she questioned a law school professor in front of the whole class. Thank you for sharing your inspiring stories Nikkita! 



So you've spent hours in the studio recording and mixing your song and you're finally happy with the final mix. You've mastered the track using Landr or some other mastering service and you're ready to release it on SoundCloud for the world to hear.

But before you release your song, we encourage you to read through these blogs we've found that offer some great advice on maximizing your reach. Happy releasing!!!


8 Simple Steps to Maximize your SoundCloud Experience

8 Ways to Actually Get Heard on SoundCloud

11 Tips & Tricks I Used to Make a Following on SoundCloud with 4 CiTieS

The 13 Biggest Mistakes Artists Make on SoundCloud


Got any tips, mistakes, or horror stories about your SoundCloud experience? If so, share them in the comments section!


Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff

Photo Credit: Amber Zbitnoff


This month we're excited to introduce The Song, our new monthly artist spotlight where we feature one of our artists on their own artist page with links to new songs and an exclusive interview. Kicking things off this month is singer/songwriter/rapper LIO, who advises other young artists to "never forget that if you have tons to say, even though the world may not want to hear it, it is your duty to say it anyway!" Click here to check out her new artist profile page and show her some love on her SoundCloud!



I remember the first time I saw the Grammy award-winning band Ozomatli on stage at the Showbox. It must have been like 2001 or something. Their blend of salsa, jazz, funk, reggae, rap - the sound of the streets of Los Angeles - absolutely blew my mind. I also distinctly remember watching their bass player Wil-Dog Abers rocking out and having the time of his life.

(Fast forward sixteen years)

Tim Lennon of The Vera Project connected us to Wil-Dog and Sergio Muñoz, who are working on the interactive music remix platform 8Stem. After doing a video shoot on Orcas Island they came down to the Totem Star studio to meet our recording artists for a really special installment of The Story.


Wil-Dog recreated his rhythmic thought process on his remix of Dionisio by Chancha Vía Circuito, taking us from Chancha's home of Argentina to visit with Brazilian samba, Columbian cumbia, Puerto Rican salsa, and Mexican banda. Wil-Dog took us on a YouTube adventure of examples from each rhythmic style as he walked us through his remix - felt like we just toured through Latin America!

The biggest takeaway from our time with Wil-Dog was feeling his infectious enthusiasm and excitement in learning about rhythmic styles from all over the world, as it truly perpetuates more humanity and connectedness through sharing and appreciating the music of all cultures. And it's a lot of fun! We're excited to build on this new friendship with Wil-Dog and Sergio! Special shout out to Adam Farish of 8Stem for coming through and showing us how to use their interactive remix platform, which is surely the future of enjoying and sharing music. Viva la musica!


All photos by Paul Laughlin


Close To The Sun. Photo by Mary Elworth

Close To The Sun. Photo by Mary Elworth


House Party 4 was lit!!! We were a little hesitant to do it during spring break, but the stars aligned and the room was packed! The sign up sheet was completely full within 20 minutes of doors opening, thanks to the incredible Monica Elenes (Hip Hop Artist Residency), who got all of the performers got on stage. Politically-charged rapper ZAG rocked his new single "Ahmed," which he premiered at More Music at The Moore. Lashaunycee surprised us with a new song called "Someday Maybe," with beautiful melodic hooks (she needs to bring a choir next time) intermingling with her introspective rap verses. Joseph sang a beautiful cover of CNCO's "Tan Fácil." And to close it out, Close To The Sun put on a dance party that got everyone out of their seats (and even flat on the floor). Big thanks to DJ Funky Fresh Fernando for setting a great vibe and keeping the energy high between sets. Incredible night of music. If you missed it, don't worry, House Party 5 is coming your way in early May - stay tuned!

ZAG. Photo by Mary Elworth.

ZAG. Photo by Mary Elworth.

Lashaunycee. Photo by Mary Elworth.

Lashaunycee. Photo by Mary Elworth.

Joseph. Photo by Mary Elworth.

Joseph. Photo by Mary Elworth.

Photo by Mary Elworth

Photo by Mary Elworth




The House Party is always one of our most popular events. Our name for an open mic, a House Party is where you'll see a singer-songwriter taking risks and trying out that new song they've been working on or a rapper freestyling a verse to a beat played by a band who all just met for the first time. Collaboration and improvisation are always welcomed at a House Party! In fact, at House Party 3 in February, two parents got our of their seats and performed a song together, with co-founders Daniel Pak and Thaddeus Turner holding it down on drums and bass (anyone got a video of that performance?). The coolest thing about a House Party is to see a diverse group of folks from different neighborhoods coming together to celebrate youth voice, creativity, and community building at its finest. All through music!

House Party 4 will be on Friday, April 14, 2017 at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Doors open and sign ups start at 5:30pm, and the open mic runs from 6-8pm. Light snacks and refreshments provided. All ages welcome, and as always, every House Party is free to the general public thanks to our partnership with 4Culture, Office of Arts & Culture, and Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.



Brian Myers (aka Bee) was the tour manager for Blue Scholars from 2005-2009. He managed the band on several national tours, hitting the road with artists like Gza, Hieroglyphics, and Flobots, also working behind the scenes on the main stage at Bumbershoot when Blue Scholars opened for Kanye West. Bee also took care of support artists on Blue Scholars tours, one being a rapper by the name of Macklemore.

We had a great session of The Story with Bee in October, with one of our artists taking six full pages of notes from the conversation, which hit topics ranging from booking shows, touring (and how to get along with people out on the road), to tips on how to get the most out of a soundcheck. We're still trying to get our hands on those six pages of notes, and when we do, we'll post them, with permission of course. Until then, if you want to hear some of his wisdom, you can find Bee at Uli's Famous Sausage (he's the marketing director), or at a Totem Star board meeting (he's the Vice President of our board).

Fun fact: Bee and co-founder Thaddeus Turner gave Totem Star its name back in 2011!



If you're reading this blog, then you're looking at our brand new website crafted by the amazing creatives from C'mon Team! Led by Krista Welch (photo + social media), the creative team included Amber Zbitnoff (photo), Luke Knecht (video), Sabrina Hounshell (photo + graphic design), and Julia Peterson (content writing + website design). In just 72 hours, the team created our new website, a promo video, imagery, a new social media plan, updated web content, and a brand new logo. For free!

"We're a group of creatives that visits non-profits around the world to create digital content and tell the story of their organization and cause online all at no cost to the non-profits," C'mon Team! states in its mission. "Our aim is to give back to the givers by sharing our skills generously in the spirit of community."

Thank you C'mon Team! You're changing the world, one non-profit at a time!




Totem Star returned to The Royal Room in September, programming the Youth Stage once again for Columbia City Beatwalk. This month featured performances by Royalty (Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute), Glasshouse (Hip Hop Artist Residency), and the amazing hip hop dancers from Northwest Tap Connection, led by Shakiah Danielson with special guest Gabriel Teodros.

Totem Star presents the Youth Stage at Columbia City Beatwalk. Every second Sunday from July through October. 5:30-7pm at The Royal Room. Free and all ages.



In August 11 family and friends gathered at the beautiful home of board member Shawna Angelou for our first annual fundraiser house party. Featuring performances by Jawzilla, Ann O, Soulchild Elle, Ezrael Sarmiento, and Noah Woycke, the backyard bash was a blast, with dinner and drinks generously donated by Dahlia Lounge, Uli's Famous Sausage, Pyramid Breweries, and Waters Winery. Thank you to everyone who came out and helped raise over $5,000 to keep the doors to the studio and the stage open for our young recording artists!


For the second year we are curating the youth stage at Beatwalk, the annual neighborhood festival in Columbia City, which goes down every second Sunday from July through October. This month, eleven singer/songwriters took to the stage at The Royal Room and delivered a heartfelt showcase of music. Performers included Soulchild Elle, Yoshio, Ramsey Tall, Torren, Ann O, Eva Walker, Saturn Star, Ezrael, Zoë Roberts, Amy Hall, and Yohanna E. Next month’s theme will be dance and social justice – don’t miss it!

Totem Star presents the Youth Stage at Columbia City Beatwalk. Every second Sunday from July through October. 5:30-7pm at The Royal Room. Free and all ages.