Do not wait around, hoping big things will happen. Go get it. Make big things happen for yourself. That means practicing your craft without expecting other people to love what you are doing more than your love for it yourself. You need to hustle and work hard if you expect others to do the same for you.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Lee Batten.
Karen Lee Batten’s voice remains as timeless as it is relevant — commanding an adoring spotlight wherever a song might take her. An 8-time BC Country Music Association Female Artist of the Year, Karen Lee is also a regular anthem singer for the Vancouver Canucks, an award-winning business professional through KLB Entertainment, and a dedicated supporter of cancer fundraising events like Gone Country. Her fourth album, “The Trouble with Friends”, arrives in 2024.
Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?
I grew up in a very musical family. My father was in a Christian band called Assurance where he played bass guitar and sang. As a kid growing up, I was always in awe watching the band play on stage. They even recorded a cassette tape!
I went on to learn the alto saxophone and I was in every choir and band that I could possibly get into throughout high school. Whether it was before school or after school, it didn’t matter. I just wanted to play music.
After graduating, I saw an ad on TV for “Canadian idol”. I was definitely Interested in it but also freaked out at the same time. “American Idol” had only been on for one year at this point and it was such a big deal. I was pretty terrified to try out, but so many friends and family members told me that I should.
I landed in the top 10 on that show in its first season. And after that, I knew that music was going to be my career path no matter what it took. 20 years later, I’m more active than I’ve ever been in the music — both as an artist and also as an industry professional.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think it’s safe to say that every singer has sung the wrong lyrics before. I know that I have. The real trick is to not let on that you know you did!
In the beginning, nerves like to take over and you feel embarrassed, so it shows on your face. Once it does, then everyone else knows.
Now if I ever do that, I just keep going like I intended to sing every word.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
I always tell people to be seen and be heard.
Let people know about your talent and that you are eager to learn and perform. Just pick up the phone and call five people or go out and watch somebody else’s show. Besides the artist on stage, there are going to be people in the room that you can learn from.
If you’re sitting at home and you’re frustrated because nothing is happening, it’s probably because you’re not making it happen.
Even the simplest things like going to a show can make a world of difference and create opportunities you’ve never considered.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
There are so many people who I have had the pleasure to learn from who have helped me get to where I am today. I wish I could talk about them all.
If I were to choose one or two, John Ellis would be one. He is one of the most talented producers and musicians that I know. The guy can pick up any instrument and kill it. He produced my sophomore album and also traveled with me when I cut my third album, “Under the Covers in Muscle Shoals”.
This leads me to the next person — Mitch Merrett. He is such a chill, cool dude. Another unbelievably talented producer and guitar player. Watching him produce “Under the Covers” with Michael Pyle in Fame Studios down in Alabama was one of the most epic career highlights to date for me.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?
One of the biggest and most exciting shows that I get to be part of every year is Gone Country, a festival fundraiser put on by Twins Cancer Fundraising. 2024 will be the tenth and final year of this great event — and it’s all to fight against cancer.
Every year, I have had the pleasure of performing at Gone Country and booking acts for this event. Last year, we raised over one million dollars in one day. Besides the acts, there are almost 300 volunteers who help make the show what it is. The opportunity to be part of this special show has brought tears to my eyes every year.
Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
Cancer feels so personal. Everyone knows someone who has either had cancer, has cancer, or lost someone to the battle. It’s such a horrible disease.
The opportunity to make a difference for such a personal cause through my music is what got me involved. Anything that I can put towards it and that we can collectively put towards the cause will help.
Performing at Gone Country and seeing the stories of survival and remission from people in attendance reminds me why this cause is so important to me.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Twins Cancer Fundraising decides where the money goes each year. As part of that, we get to go in to present organizations with supplies.
One year, we went to Canuck Place Children’s Hospice in Abbotsford and outfitted all the rooms with new furniture and equipment for families to stay with their little ones who are fighting the disease.
It was a wonderful moment to see the looks on people’s faces as we brought these items to them. I feel like it was also a way for us to try to make a very, very dark time just a little bit brighter.
Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?
As I said earlier, cancer doesn’t discriminate. We all know someone who has been affected by it.
For people out there who want to get involved in cancer fundraising specifically, there are many ways to help.
On an individual level, look for a cancer-related organization where you can contribute to with your time, energy, and skill. Along with financial support, your time is the most important investment you can make to support this cause. If the most you can do is attending fundraising events and get the word out to others, that’s incredible, too.
On a societal level, I think we need to be proactive with our own health and the lives of our loved ones. We should always be looking for ways to live healthier every day while also recognizing that screening options are there for a reason. We need to take advantage of them to help protect ourselves.
Lastly, governments need to continue to support research for cancer awareness, screenings, and treatments. There has been so much progress made but ongoing funding to match our own community efforts is critical.
Why do you think music in particular has the power to create social change and create a positive impact on humanity?
I believe that music is a hugely powerful and universal language.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Music can make you feel good, make you want to dance, make you tap your feet and connect you with others. I believe it is a very empowering force, and one that can Influence in a positive way and of course at times in a negative way.
I like to believe that the music that I have written, recorded, and released has had a positive impact on others — either because it’s an upbeat, feel-good song or something that’s been relatable and helpful in times when they might not be feeling their best.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?
- You are going to hear “no” 100 times. Learn from every “no” until you find a “yes”. The opportunities and the lessons along the way are what matters.
- You cannot please everybody and that’s okay.
- Be kind. The same people you see on the way up are often the same people you see on the way down, so be nice and respect everyone around you because you never know when those people are in a different position in your life.
- Don’t get into the gossip. Our industry is chock-full of it. If you get into it, you become it. Put your head down and work hard.
- Do not wait around, hoping big things will happen. Go get it. Make big things happen for yourself. That means practicing your craft without expecting other people to love what you are doing more than your love for it yourself. You need to hustle and work hard if you expect others to do the same for you.
You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My mind can’t help but go directly to the music industry and kids.
So often, extracurricular activities are the first to get pulled when funding is low. It would be really cool to have some sort of a buddy system where older, successful musicians can join younger kids as positive influences in the music industry. That could mean showing up at a recital, helping them with a couple of lessons, or just generally supporting them in their journey through coaching calls.
It doesn’t take much to motivate a child who is already inspired by music, but having a positive mentor that’s reachable would help kids feel even closer to something they already love, especially in a time when social media can sometimes make kids feel disconnected from people and more connected to devices.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
“Do things that make you happy and do things that give you joy.”
For me, that equates to making music that makes me happy, not just making music that I think everyone else will love. If I make songs that I love to sing, others will see and hear that love, too.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Without a second of hesitation, it would be Willie Nelson!
His journey through music and life has been such a wild one. He’s had lovers, haters, hits, failures — and yet, he is still the same person that we all have grown to know and love throughout all the ups and downs. He has been through it all with the battle scars and stories to prove it.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!
Music Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Karen Lee Batten Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.