In the age of COVID-19, artists have had to rethink how to connect with fans and reimagine how one typically builds a following. While many upcoming artists are able to garner new fans by, say, performing as an opener for a bigger act, they’ve had to improvise, often relying on social media such as TikTok to get their name out there.
New York-based musician Blu DeTiger has gotten the best of both worlds in just a few short years. She’s gotten to tour with acts like Caroline Polachek and Fletcher, and she’s been hard at work since 2019 establishing herself as a solo artist like no other.
Blu’s success didn’t come in a vacuum. In reality, she’s been preparing for this her whole life. “I started when I was really young, and when I started, I don’t think there was ever a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play music anymore,’” the singer tells Forbes. “I just chose it, and then once I started playing, I was just like, ‘Yeah, this is it. This is my thing, and I’m going to do it.”
Blu credits her family and the creative environment she was raised in for allowing her to freely express herself from an early age. Her parents are artists themselves, though they don’t share the same attraction to music that she and her brother Rex have.
The 21-year-old New York native recently told Dork about her support system growing up. “They were very much adamant about following your passion and living your dream and doing what you want to do,” she said of her parents. “[T]hat was always instilled in my two brothers and me at an early age, which I’m super grateful for.” Her love of bass was born out of what she called the “classic sibling thing”: after her older brother Rex started playing drums when he was 10, she wanted to be unique and take up the bass. She was just 7 years old when she first started playing, and the years that followed were filled with various lessons and music programs.
When reflecting on those years, Blu tells Forbes that she always knew she had to forge her own path. “I did that School of Rock program for a while, and then there was a moment where I was like, ‘Mom, I don’t really want to do the School of Rock program anymore. I still want to play; I just don’t want to do that program,’” she recalled herself saying. “‘I want to write songs for myself.’”
After honing her craft as a bassist in her teen years, Blu learned how to DJ and started getting booked at venues around the city. What helped her stand out from the countless other DJs was the cobalt blue bass guitar she brought to every gig — and which has since become her signature.
The idea of combining DJing with live music was a no-brainer. “I was like, ‘I should just bring my bass with me and play, because why not? I like both of them. Why not just like do it at the same time?” she figured. “It kind of became my thing and helped me stand apart from everyone else.”
“People really dug it because it’s so niche and weird,” she chuckles.
Besides being a fun new way of expressing herself, DJing also taught Blu new skills as a musician, and in may ways prepared her for the life she enjoys now as a solo artist. “It helped me get better as a musician, for sure,” she says. “I was just shredding over these pop songs, and most of the time it was improvised, so I was having to learn songs on the fly and then interact with the audience on the fly and make all these split-second decisions.”
Over the last year, Blu has become a viral musician on TikTok with several videos of her playing bass over a variety of songs — not that much unlike her pre-COVID DJing gigs. “Having that [DJ] skill set really helped when I went into writing my own stuff,” she confesses. “Even all these TikTok videos that I’ve been doing the past year are essentially the same thing that I was doing when I was DJing, just in short video form.” Blu has added her own funky twist to songs like Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Janet Jackson’s “Control,” Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” and many more, and some of her favorite basslines in music come from the likes of Luther Vandross, Patrice Rushen, and Stevie Wonder.
Blu’s debut EP How Did We Get Here? is out today, and throughout its seven tracks, Blu reflects on how she herself got to this point in time — and invites the listener to do the same. The lead-up to the release started with the smash single “Figure It Out” last year, followed by the delicious “Cotton Candy Lemonade” and groovy “Vintage.”
Blu came on to the scene as a solo artist in 2019 with one-off releases “In My Head,” “Mad Love,” and “Tangerine.” But after “Figure It Out” made a splash across the Internet, she knew she had something big on her hands, and had to work that much harder to keep the momentum going.
“Once [‘Figure It Out’] came out, it was a little bit more pressure for me to really get into it and make sure that I was really, really happy with everything and that it all kind of had that same sort of sound,” she says. The rising popularity was a bit overwhelming at first, but she got a confidence boost knowing that what she was doing was resonating with more and more people. “It was really fun for me to just experiment more and really figure out and decide how I want to use my voice to express what I’m saying because I’ve been trying to figure that out for a while, and I think now I have it figured out — no pun intended,” she laughs.
Blu quickly realized that the impact she was having on her fans went beyond just entertaining them: many took up bass or other instruments while in lockdown at home and credited the “Vintage” singer for inspiring them to become musicians themselves.
“When all my songs come out, young kids are doing bass covers and learning the bassline and sending me videos and stuff,” she says. “Even though I can’t go out and play shows and see people in the audience singing along and getting that little reminder that people are listening and inspired by it, getting those messages that are like, ‘I just started to play bass because of you!’ and ‘I just bought my first bass!’ … It warms my heart.”
Seeing her fans motivated to become musicians is “a very nice reminder that it’s working towards something super worthwhile,” Blu adds. “Even though it’s online, I know it’s manifesting into real things because people are literally going and buying physical objects, these instruments, and playing them and learning a new skill, which is really cool.”
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 20: DJ and Bassist Blu DeTiger performs during the Fenders California Series … [+]
When writing songs for How Did We Get Here?, Blu drew inspiration from the world around her — both in bustling New York City before the outbreak of the pandemic, and in lockdown after the end of live music as we know it.“All of them kind of have that perspective of quarantine; it’s impossible not to,” she admits. “How can you not write about those feelings that are stemming from this time?”
Track 4 on the EP, “disco banger but you’re crying in the bathroom,” has drawn the most attention and excitement from fans, despite being an interlude rather than a full song. Yet in light of that, Blu believes it encapsulates everything the project is about. “I think it kind of almost sums up the feeling of the whole EP: it’s kind of dancey, but it also has that underlying emotion of all of quarantine — loneliness and other sorts of sad stuff,” she says. “disco banger,” along with new tracks “Night Shade” and “Toast with the Butter,” were written and produced with her brother Rex in her home studio.
One thing Blu made sure of throughout the entire process was to never stop enjoying what she’s doing and let herself get distracted by outside voices or influences. She used to stress about how people would receive her music, but has since learned to put her love for her artistry first. “It’s important to try to turn that off and just have the music flow through you,” she says. “I’m just enjoying just making music for the fun of it.” Being essentially cut off from the outside world and forced to work at home made it easier for Blu and Rex to focus and create what felt natural to them. “Those are the songs that I like the best.”
Many of the lyrics on How Did We Get Here? are inspired by her experiences growing up in New York, so the end product is a collection of songs that feel totally and uniquely Blu. “It feels like a real debut,” she smiles. “It’s like my entrance into the world.”
The world she’s stepping into, however, looks very different from the one artists imagine when they dream of success. Concerts and live music events are still shut down for the foreseeable future, so for now, Blu is limited to the content she can share online.
When she does get back on stage, however, she knows exactly who she wants by her side: the collaborator who’s been with her since the beginning of her career — and her life. “Rex will play drums obviously, and then we’ll have a third person doing guitar and keyboard,” she says. Involving her brother in the live show experience was an easy decision: they’re already close working partners with a deep understanding of each other’s artistry. “We’re so telepathic; it’s insane.”
For now, Blu is taking the time to enjoy this moment and reflect on how exactly she got here, and look ahead to where she’s going. It took hours of hard work to bring this dream to life, but she knows that the first crucial step before putting any words to paper or laying down any beats in the studio is to find confidence in yourself and your passion and to project that self-assurance outwards.
“You definitely have to believe in yourself first — in a humble way, obviously, but just knowing that you’re capable of doing these things is really important,” she muses. “You have to just believe it into existence, and with time, it’ll come true.”
Among other things, I mainly cover hip-hop, R&B, and pop, and have interviewed artists and producers from all corners of the entertainment industry. I’ve been an avid