Kate Diaz Interview

By: Dennis M. Kelly

DK: Hello Kate, thanks for your time today and answering some questions with us! How’s it going for ya? Did you have a good Thanksgiving?

KD: No problem!  Things are going well.  Yes, I had a great Thanksgiving!  I was busy getting everything ready for my Christmastime fundraiser for children’s cancer, but also ate some great food.  Right now I am fighting off a cold, I can’t get sick because next week I have finals and then I am on KissFM radio and Windy City Live TV so I can’t not be able to sing.

DK: Well, I hope you feel better soon there, you’re doing such great work! So, really, it looks like you’ve had a really great year! Winning 1st place in the 2011 Berklee/Sonicbids Singer/Songwriter contest, winning the 2011/2012 ASCAPlus Songwriting Award, performed at Lollapalooza’s Kidzapalooza and showcased at Milwaukee’s 2011 Yellow Phone Music Conference and you’re only 14 yet, right?

You’ve got a lot to be proud of and this is still not all that you’ve achieved yet either. You’ve also been doing a lot of charity work too and still going to school through all of this.  How do you do it?

KD: I am very, very appreciative of all of the opportunities that I have gotten this year.  I still can’t believe it!  I use two websites, Craigslist and Sonicbids, to apply for gigs and enter contests, and I feel very lucky that they have selected me for various things.

DK: Going into 2011, did you think you would you have been able to foresee that you’d have been able to accomplish this much in such a short amount of time?

KD: Last year I got an email about a holiday song contest and so I entered my song Christmas Smiles.  It didn’t win but to enter you had to use Sonicbids, so that’s how I heard about that.

Then in January, I looked on Craigslist and there were some postings that took me, so now I check there too.  Throughout the year, I started to get picked more and more.  It’s so fun to check my email and see if there are any new ones.

DK: What would you say the secret to your success is so far?

KD: I definitely think the Internet, and I have Craigslist and SonicBids to thank because they are the reason I am able to perform at venues.  Also my parents say that I’m lucky that smoking isn’t allowed everywhere now, because they wouldn’t be letting me if the venues were all smoky like they used to be.

DK: Besides music lessons that you’ve taken, have you had any lessons in music business at all? You seem well versed in getting bookings and managing yourself quite successfully.

KD: I actually stopped taking guitar lessons about a year and a half ago, and I have never taken voice lessons.  At school I am currently doing a jazz independent study at my school with the orchestra teacher, though.

As far as music business lessons, I haven’t taken any, and I honestly don’t really know much about the music business except that it seems really hard.  I have received some advice from people that I respect at different gigs and events, which I really appreciate.

On my websites I copy the types of things I see real bands putting on their web sites, when I think it’s something that doesn’t seem weird for a kid to post.  Other than that, I just apply online.  It’s easy.

My parents got me a bank account with checking and a debit card, that’s were I put all my money from tips and shows.  Sometime on Sonicbids cost like $2-5, or something like Kidzapalooza was I think like $20, but actually most are free to apply.

DK: As mentioned about the music lessons, had you played guitar on your own before lessons and if so, how much have lessons helped you to get what you want out of the guitar?

KD:  I hadn’t played guitar before I started taking lessons.  For some reason, I really wanted a guitar when I was 7, and I still wanted one a year later.  For my 8th birthday, I got a mini Squier Fender Guitar and some lessons.  I immediately loved it!

DK: It sounds like that was definitely the right guitar for you at the right time. Glad you’ve taken to it so well! What are some techniques you’ve learned that have been the most beneficial to your playing?

KD: I really like learning new chords and being able to incorporate them into my songs.  This summer when I got to go to the Berklee 5 Week Program, I had a guitar lesson every week from a great professor, and I learned LOTS of new chords and tunings on the guitar and I used them to write 3 songs and I continue to use them now.

DK: Getting back to Lollapalooza, how was that experience for you and how was the turnout on the Kidzapalooza stage for you and the other performers?

KD: Lollapalooza was AMAZING!  That whole weekend was just so awesome and definitely the coolest thing ever.  Kidzapalooza was really fun because it was in a beautiful setting outdoors, I also really enjoyed watching the other Kidzapalooza performers and meeting them.

And that weekend I also performed at the Chicago Theater for Chicago Live! radio and at the Apple store, and also I saw some of the bands at Lollapalooza with my brother, so the whole time was great.

DK: Have you observed any added perks after having performed there?

KD: I don’t really know, we’ll see I guess.

DK: Were you able to meet anyone at the event and stay around for other acts?

KD: I went backstage at some shows at Lollapalooza. I was interviewed in the press lounge, which was cool.  I saw Christina Perri, Skylar Gray, Ellie Goulding, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Coldplay.

All of the shows were so unique and different, which was really awesome to see.  It was so cool to see artists that I’m a big fan of up close.  When my brother and I were backstage at Coldplay, the band rushed past us onto the stage, which was pretty awesome!  I also saw some celebrities around and sat next to one at a fancy restaurant I had performer vouchers for.

DK: That sounds very exciting, even to me! How did the Kidzapalooza stage compared with other outdoor stages you’ve already performed on?

KD: Before Kidzapalooza I had played on an outdoor festival stage only once, but it more like a gazebo.  So, Kidzapalooza was definitely cool for that reason.  Buffalo Grove Days in September had the same kind of stage but I think a little smaller.

DK: With the amount of performances you’ve already got under your belt, do you still get nervous?

KD: I don’t. The only time I have ever been nervous for a show was when I was 11 and I played my first show.  I had won a contest at my local Sam Ash music store, and they offered me a 30-minute show.  I played Beatles covers and originals and my soccer team and school friends came, and I just remember being extremely nervous!  It kind of broke the ice and I haven’t been nervous since.

DK: How did you get started with Potbelly Sandwich at 6th grade?

KD: My brother got a job being a volunteer at our local nature center, and so I was kind of bored sitting by myself at home during the summer.  I wanted to be like my brother and have a job and I knew that Potbelly’s had a lot of acoustic acts at their stores.

So I asked my mom if I could ask Potbelly’s if I could play there.  So we went out to a bunch of Potbelly’s that are near me and most of them said I was too young, but the one in Wheeling said yes!

DK: How helpful was the experiences you’ve had there to developing your performance confidence?

KD: Potbelly’s definitely helped I think because I have been playing for two hours almost every week there for about 3 years, which is practice and I guess it gets me better at performing and playing.  I experiment and try different things all the time on the cover songs.

I also test out a lot of originals at Potbelly’s.  The people eating their sandwiches don’t notice that I am playing one of my own songs in between covers, and if they clap on an original that’s really cool.  I sit down at Potbelly because it’s 2 hours, but I like stage performances where I stand up better.

DK: From tips alone, you were able to fund your first single “Christmas Smiles” and donate proceeds to CureSearch. What was the catalyst to donate to this charity?

KD: I go to a soccer/leadership camp every summer and over the course of the 5 day camp you design a service project that you commit to do over the school year.  I came up with “Christmas Smiles” and this is my third annual fundraiser this year!

I chose Children’s Cancer as my cause because two of my grandparents and my dog died of cancer, and I just can’t imagine how horrible it would be for that to happen to a kid, so I picked cancer.

DK: It is a very great thing you are doing and I (personally) am so proud of what you’re doing! You’re also playing every Wednesday at Uncommon Ground for their Back Room Sessions. How is that going for you?

KD: I actually don’t play there every Wednesday, but I was the opener there two nights ago and it was really fun!  Someone I met in Boston in the summer, who is from Chicago, asked me to open for them.  The venue is so cool and I loved how the room was covered with wood paneling like a cabin.  Their sound system was awesome, too!

DK: Sorry about the confusion there… Have you found it hard to find places to play? Again, given the amount of shows you’ve played, it doesn’t seem like it at all, in fact.

KD: To me, it’s just a matter of if I get picked or not for what I apply for online.  When I do, I am always really, really excited!  Also, I have a steady gig at Potbelly’s, so I guess if I stop getting shows through those sites, I still have Potbelly’s every week!

DK: Now, you have a couple more charity events coming up, why don’t you tell us about them?

KD: This Sunday, December 4, I have my second and last charity fundraiser of the year at Let Them Eat Chocolate in Chicago.  I will be selling CDs of my song Christmas Smiles for $1 and any tips will be donated as well.

I will also be playing Christmas Smiles on ABC TV’s Windy City Live (December 14 at 9:00am) and at KISSFM’s Stuff A Bus fundraiser event (December 10 at 4:00pm) to try to spread the word and raise even more money for the cause.

DK: All great stuff! Excellent! What else do you have going on this month that you’d like people to know about?

KD: The gigs I listed above are the last gigs of the year because I will be spending the holidays with my family over winter break.

DK: Anything lined up for 2012 yet?

KD: I will continue to play at Potbelly’s as many Saturday’s as I can from 12-2pm.  I have 2 shows in the works for January and February so far, and I won’t hear back until January for some of the things I applied for online.  You can check www.katediazmusic.com for upcoming shows.

DK: I really want to thank you for taking the time out for me today and am so excited to see all the great accomplishments you’ve achieved. We’ll look at scheduling another interview with you in the Spring and check in with you again. We sincerely hope you meet your goals with the Christmas Smiles benefit shows and CD sales and we look forward to more great things from you soon! Thanks again!

KD: Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity!  I really appreciate it.  Happy holidays!

DK: Happy holidays to you too!

Check out more great interviews here!

Kate Diaz Biography: 14 year old Kate Diaz won 1st place in the 2011 Berklee/Sonicbids singer-songwriter contest, received a 2011-2012 ASCAPlus songwriting award, was selected to play at 2011 LOLLAPALOOZA’s Kidzapalooza and also was selected to showcase at Milwaukee’s 2011 Yellow Phone Music Conference.

In September, this Chicagoland teen released her second live acoustic album of original songs, Electrified.

Kate debuted in Chicago twice, at age 12 when Sister Hazel brought her out at their December 2009 House Of Blues concert to perform “All For You” with them, and at age 13 when K’naan brought her out at his April 2010 Metro concert to perform “Be Free” after finding her renditions of their songs on YouTube.

This summer the Chicago Tribune’s music critic Greg Kot did a pre-Lolla interview of Kate on the Chicago Live! radio show, theWindy City Live TV show had Kate on to performed before she headed off to Berklee, and Cathy Richardson & The Macrodots had Kate open for their band at the Metropolis.

Kate has been on YouTube since 5th grade, and has been captivating Potbelly Sandwich Shop customers in Wheeling since 6th grade.  With her tip savings last year she released her first single Christmas Smiles on iTunes and also set up her own web sites.

Since then Kate finds and books her own gigs in and around Chicago using SonicBids and CraigsList, including Kidzapalooza, Yellow Phone, The Abbey, The Elbo Room, The Heartland Cafe, The Apple Store, The Waterfront Cafe, BG Days, Dandelion Wine, Mariposa, and ArtWauk festivals.

She started guitar lessons in 2nd grade, started singing and songwriting after learning a few chords, and continued guitar lessons on and off with a few different teachers through middle school.  In middle school Kate sang with the Voices Rising children’s choir at Midwest Young Artists, including at the Chicago Symphony’s Welcome Yule! shows.

Kate learned a lot this summer in the Guitar Track at the Berklee summer program (a full scholarship was the prize for winning the Berklee/Sonicbids contest) and this year in high school she is excited to be taking the AP music theory class and an independent study class in jazz with the totally awesome orchestra teacher.

In December, Kate will be running her 3rd annual Christmas Smiles cancer charity fundraiser-concerts.


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