Babyllon AKA Polina Kanin is a fierce singer, producer, and label head of PowerBush Records, in New York. Originally from Russia, her family moved to the Washington D.C area when she was only 10 years old, her premature stubbornness made her learn guitar by the age of 13. “In middle school, I was playing trumpet, but my heart stopped when I walked by this guitar class, the music was so, so beautiful.”
“In middle school, I was playing trumpet, but my heart stopped when I walked by this guitar class, the music was so so beautiful.”
“I knocked at the door; they told me that I had too many credits” speaks Kanin when she was a student. She was told if she wanted to learn, to “start your own class next year with 14 classmates and the signature of their parents”. Kanin responded by figuring out the signatures. “I found 14 friends, managed the guitar, talked to the council and that’s how I started to learn guitar. After that, I just kept playing. I moved to California and played in open mics all across the country. I played everywhere, in every random place, until I fell in love with New York City. Who doesn’t love it?”
Kanin tells us at Plugger Mag that she went through law school briefly, but she hated it. Looking across the screen, she smokes an electronic cigarette and we are sure that we are talking to a Rockstar. “I used to be a smoker, but now I am a fake smoker. I gave up alcohol and that was very, very difficult for me”. To call Kanin nice – is an understatement. “Why do I need to be softer?” The name Polina is of Russian origins; It means Little Rock. We can see Kanin is more than her name and is destined for incredible things. Kanin is a woman with a passionate side, who follows her heart. This passion translates into her communication and her music.
“I PUSH REALLY HARD. SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT OKAY WITH THAT!”
Did you get mentoring in your career?
Babyllon: I worked with a producer, Carlos Savetman. He was very good to me when I was in Texas. Carlos helped me to understand that I was also a producer, not just a player who does not hear everything. I hear the whole song already when I am making it. Here in New York City, I met Jeff Jones (The Jedi Master). He is a partner and producer on my record label now because I am still always learning from him. Jeff is very patient and lets me do what I need to do, he is always teaching me while helping me. Telling me “Keep doing it Polina but also learn this and that”. I have a lot of business in me and I like to talk to Jeff about it. He teaches me things that he knows like using the right microphone, sound, and recording. Taking the waves, and molding them. I like the way that music was being recorded with tape in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, so I study that. I love the real, tangible things, you know?
Top accomplishments of your career to date?
Babyllon: Starting a record label and producing an artist on my own was great. Playing with Beyoncé’s bassist (Divinity Roxx), was also great. Getting on the radio, was great. Business partnering with a producer who has worked with Eric Clapton was great. Being on the Top 10 Women guitarists at Guitar World Magazine was great. Waking up this morning and having a cup of tea, was great. I haven’t accomplished my biggest dream yet but so far I am very happy with what I have achieved as an artist.
May I ask what it is?
Babyllon: What do I want to do? I want to play at Madison Square Garden. It is happening, I am going to do it!
How does playing open mics help you as a musician?
Babyllon: It gets your nerves out of the way, you get used to being on stage, or better yet, you get used to being back with yourself, getting into a zone, vulnerable and naked in front of a lot of people, not literally naked, but mentally naked. It also helps people with royalties when you sign up with BMI or ASCAP, which are royalty databases. A lot of musicians don’t log onto this royalty collection service, because they are afraid or they do not know how it works, or they are not sure what it means. Musicians don’t know that if you are a songwriter they always look for where and when you played, they collect all of the time your song has been played. It’s painless, it’s just getting yourself into a list of people, and every time you play in an open mic you are the owner of the song. Your right as a musician is to have 5 different royalties, one of them is a public performance royalty which automatically gets you paid for just playing your song, anyone that’s public performing a song. Open mics help you get money. I hope and I believe, that after covid is done terrorizing we will have so many people lining up to go see live shows. One thing I have learned is as a society we just should just love people. We need people, people are beautiful. I cannot hang out with a cup of freaking tea for six months.
Now let’s talk PowerBush. What is your independent record label looking for?
Babyllon: So far I produce one artist, his name is Max Feinstein. Right now financially it is not a regular contract, as a record label they usually give you a loan, a record deal is a loan, a lot of people dream that it is not, but they are. They give you the money, resources and then you have to pay back. The way we work is, I have a big network of people, I have Jeff Jones in the studio, I have my studio, I know a lot of people in the country, people in media, producers, videographers, designers, photographers, all of this. I look for someone who wants some help but will not be waiting for me to do all the work, just as driven as someone who owns a business. Someone who loves life and appreciates the music for what it is. The kind of roster I would like to have is someone authentic and grounded as a musician, I wanna see that you want it, this is the reason why you were put on this planet, so I can help you.
The most difficult time of your career up to now?
Babyllon: Being a woman that’s a big one. Fighting to stay in my authenticity when other people don’t know how to appreciate that. Being a powerful woman is the biggest challenge because they are not looked at the same, they are not. I’m not putting on a skirt, not that I think certain women shouldn’t be wearing dresses, if they want to wear a dress, it’s great, but I don’t want to sound a certain way, I don’t want to do that. I think that’s the biggest challenge, fighting to keep your authenticity and convincing people that your music is great. If you don’t have a million views, that’s okay.
Biggest mistakes musicians make on the road?
Babyllon: Not making the right budget. The biggest mistake touring artists make is not looking at a tour as a business and looking at a tour as a vacation. Touring is not a vacation as you are working all the time with naps in between. If you are an independent artist, you have to go and be your own executive. If you want to play for 10 days in 10 places you have to think – what company can I buy something discounted from? What musicians do I have? What can I sell at the house that I don’t need to buy? Can I sell T-shirts or buy my own printer? What is the budget? How much do you want? Can you think like a businessman?
I can tell you on our last national tour, we drove for 14 hours, we slept in the car, we crashed on someone’s couch. Oh yeah, that was great.
The biggest mistake touring artists make is not looking at a tour as a business and looking at a tour as a vacation. Touring is not a vacation as you are working all the time with naps in between. If you are an independent artist, you have to go and be your own executive. – BabyllonTweet
How can you do the best EPK ever?
Babyllon: EPK consists of 3 things. Your brand (image), your biography, and press (resume).
When you are creating the press kit, there are a few websites that are free or at a very minimal cost. The first thing I suggest for an artist to do, is to make research and find out what is ‘you’, and only you. You can do this by looking at other artist examples for inspiration. I used to think so many people believe that I should look nice and clean. But I was tired. I asked myself – why do I love Led Zeppelin so much?… I like the way they use their jeans. I like the messy hair. That’s how I like to look, I love that.
I could do this night and day. Your image – you have to think about this. Take a few pictures of yourself, with contrasting colors. You need a bio that’s 250 words and also a pitch bio that is 75 words or less, from a third-person perspective. Your big bio is a little bit of history, places you played (does not matter where, as long as you got out of the couch), write down why you love it. Every sentence needs to be juicy. The pitch bio is very concise and you can treat it like an email booking pitching. In the end, you can put interesting people you’ve worked with or where you studied. Include what you’re currently streaming, who you’re sponsored by, this information is so important. Bigger companies prefer three pages, your website at the bottom, contact information at the top. If you are not Taylor Swift, they don’t care about you. So before sending an EPK, search about that person. Tell someone you are pitching to “Hey, I l saw your dog on Instagram, I love it.” Just do it, one day you will have people doing that for you. It’s not gonna hurt you if you give them everything, because if you are confident in yourself, you will not be threatened by another person to know all the information. When you are threatened you don’t share all the information and that’s the issue with the music business today. They don’t want you to get the money too.
What advice would you give to the new generation of independent artists?
Babyllon: I wish that I knew about BMI earlier, get your paperwork done, you have to think about being a business, you have to make your spreadsheets, your pics, you have to be nice when someone wants to take your picture, plan ahead, and do something. Learn how to make contracts, read them, and stay calm during meetings, don’t rush into anything, you don’t have to make a decision right away. Do one thing for your career every day and by the end of the month, you have 30 things. Never be fully committed, but be committed. If your band partners leave one day, don’t get jealous or angry, they don’t owe you their life. Practice every day, just 15 minutes minimum, touch your instrument. Nobody is going to hand you anything, remember, nothing is ever fast, cheap and good at the same time. Do it for the love of music, it is not about the money.
How do you manage to be unmotivated?
Babyllon: I have made a routine where I have to work out in the morning, I write daily about my feelings. Some days I write a little, sometimes I write a lot. I recorded three demos yesterday, they were crap but I did it. Just remember the things you did yesterday and be proud. If you feel too overwhelmed one day it is okay, read a good book, watch a funny movie, take a bath, whatever, it’s okay to feel emotions.
Learn more about BMI here.
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