ITHACA, N.Y. – At this year’s Ithaca DJ Festival, Kii Kinsella stood behind a keyboard and laptop while a couple dozen people crowded around to learn about music production. Kinsella, who has two singles out and an album on the way, stood out from the other DJs – both for his sophisticated, mellow beats, and for his youth.
A 15-year-old freshman at Ithaca High School, Kinsella, who performs under the name SAINT KID, is making an early name for himself in the local music scene.
“I remember the actual moment that I was listening to his beats and I remember thinking this is really sophisticated, nuanced stuff. He’s clearly got a handle on not only the production software he’s got, but he’s also got a real ear for some infectious sounds,” said Ben Ortiz, a local DJ and the founder of the Ithaca DJ Festival, who invited Kinsella to lead a workshop.
Growing up with parents Kevin Kinsella, a local reggae musician, and Uniit Carruyo, a local singer/songwriter, Kii has been surrounded by music for as long as he can remember.
“I would just mess around on my dad’s Pro Tools, or I’d be in the recording studio with my parents and I’d just have an interest and be like, ‘Let’s add piano,’ and they went with it. That’s kind of how I developed an ear for music,” Kinsella said.
After his piano instructor grew frustrated with his habit of playing by ear rather than reading sheet music, he switched to tinkering with Ableton Live music sequencing software and started picking up production techniques from the YouTube channel Genius Deconstructed.
New, accessible technology has made it easier to break into the music industry, according to Ortiz. Computer programs and even smartphone apps offer an affordable way to record beats, and social media can be an effective platform for rising artists to maintain an online presence and promote their work.
Still, Ortiz said new recording equipment doesn’t compensate for the talent and hard work necessary to be successful in the industry. “It doesn’t matter if there are 100 million people producing music, you’re still going to see the best stuff rise to the top, provided of course that you’re in an environment where people are interested in quality,” he said.
For Kinsella, coming up with creative lyrics and beats often happens spontaneously. “I try to be in the studio as often as possible because all my songs are going to be a different emotion I’ll never feel again. For ‘Hell,’ my friends and I were in my room and some of them had just gone through a break-up and we were just talking about moving forward. Then I made a beat and they started grooving to it and we made the track,” he said.
He gets help along the way from his parents – and acknowledges that not having to worry about paying rent or buying groceries lets him focus on his creativity – but at 15, he’s already trying to forge his own path.
“The money for studio time is out of my pocket. My dad doesn’t make hip hop and my mom doesn’t produce beats, so I’m on a totally different path than they are. That’s not my sound. It’s a totally different world. It’s a totally different community, so they can only offer so much,” he said.
Kinsella is taking in new influences and feedback all the time as he works to craft his music. He released two singles, “Hell” in October and “SaintWorld” in March, which have low-key, ethereal vibes. Kinsella said the singles were inspired by rappers and hip hop artists including Drake and Trippie Redd. The album he’s currently working on will be in the alternative hip hop genre, he said, with beats and sound effects produced using Ableton Live, but he also plays the drums, guitar, bass and piano.
“When I’m making music… I am pulling from like every musician I’ve ever heard. Even if I hate a song I can still find one thing I like about it and try to reference it in my music,” Kinsella said.
Ortiz said it’s key for Kinsella to stay curious while he works to build his network and improve his skills. “He should have a ravenous hunger for learning all he can, as much as possible from other people in a diverse swath of positions in the music industry. He should sit down and learn from other performers, mangers, promoters, station owners, and of course, fans.”
Ortiz said he’s confident Kinsella will make a name for himself over time. “I have high hopes and a solid, firm prediction that he’s going to be a seriously accomplished and celebrated musician, at minimum a decade from now,” he said.
While Kinsella wraps up his freshman year, he said he has big plans for his future in the music industry.
“I have a lot of stuff coming out in 2019. A lot of people come up to me and they’re like, ‘Aren’t you so young? It’s cool that you know what you want to do when you grow up.’ I’ve just been around music my whole life and it’s really just drawn me in, especially as a producer. It connects me with local artists I admire so that I can make music with them and that’s just so cool.”
Kinsella will be performing at Rootstock, a one-day community celebration of local youth musicians, May 18 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Ithaca Commons.
Featured image: Kii Kinsella giving a workshop March 16 at this year’s Ithaca DJ Festival. (Photo by Ryah Giles)