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Meet Trailblazer Karen Isabella Set

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Isabella Set.

Karen Isabella, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I always believed that you discover your passion at a young age, but I have come to realize that your passion can spring up on you unexpectedly and you don’t even know it. Many of my friends see me as an artist and suspected that it would be my career. However, I always felt that my skill in drawing was just a hobby. Like many, pursuing hobbies can be terrifying because we fear criticism and rejection, but once you stumble upon something where fear is no longer a factor, that is when your perspective changes.

For me, that one life-changing event occurred right out of high school, at a concert in San Jose. I wasn’t that much of a concertgoer at the time, nor did I keep up with anything involving music, however, all of that changed after seeing a band called PK, now known as Night Riots.

There was something about Night Riots that was eye-opening for me. Everything about them was captivating, from the band’s unique and intricate sound, combined with their emotional in-depth lyrics, to them simply as a band. The way they interact with fans and their stage presence, always made you feel like you were part of their family. One of my favorite lyrics comes from a hidden track on their Young Lore EP called Renegade: “And even in your darkest hours, I will stay right by your side. –He did leave, but I will not. I will stand by your side.”

Since I became acquainted with Night Riots, my focus on music grew. I conversed regularaly with my best friend about getting into the music industry, uncovering unknown artists and sharing their music with the world. My relationship with music pushed me out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t long before I realized that some things I was once terrified of, I no longer feared. Driving long distances solo through the night became the norm, going to new places on my own no longer caused me anxiety. Striking up random conversations with strangers got a lot easier. I had a breakthrough moment, where I became aware of the fact, that I was capable of living outside of my comfort zone.

I moved from San Francisco to SLO to attend college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. There I focused on theatre, despite having stage fright. Through theatre, I gained insight into stage production, lighting, costume design, set design, and acting; all the aspects that come together to create a performance. After college I relocated to Los Angeles and came to realize that it wasn’t enough to gain access into entertainment just by simply having a degree in the arts, there was still the business aspect of it all.

Instead of fully going back to college, I took a marketing program from the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and earned my certificate in less than a year while working part-time at a concert venue and taking on an internship at Sumerian Records. From there, everything changed and various opportunities came into view. I may have been met with countless closed doors but that didn’t mean I wasn’t destined to be part of the music industry. It was simply a matter of redirecting my focus and creating a new path toward the same destination. Shortly after completing my certification, I became officially situated at an upcoming record label, located in the heart of Los Angeles.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
What I have gathered from my experiences is that the challenges you face in life are guiding markers. If you ever have doubts, always follow your instincts and remember why you started pursuing your passion in the first place. Sometimes the path you are on at the moment isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of achieving where you want to go, or where you want to be. There is no one path to your success, but various directions you can take.

There have been multiple times I questioned my decisions, if the route I was taking, was the right one. ‘Did I make the right decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry? Would I ever get my foot in the door or come across someone willing to take a chance on me?’ Always give your passion one more shot. If you fall short one time, give it ‘one more shot’. The only way you won’t reach your goal is if you stop trying; so keep going.

Trust in yourself and your abilities. Try not to let words from others discourage your efforts. You know what your strengths are, what you can accomplish and even more so, you know yourself better than anyone else.

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
If you were to ask anyone who knows me, without a doubt, the first thing that would come to mind is Night Riots and my love for music. If I am not at a concert, I am either looking over concert footage, editing photos from the performance or scoping out new music and providing others recommendations. I am constantly trading new music with my best friend and he always ends up copying my entire playlist. I literally survive and live for musicians like Night Riots. There is something extremely emotional seeing a band you knew from the very beginning, watching their music evolve and carry their own mood, even more so, watching their audience grow from five people to five thousand people.

Besides my focus on music, I spend time writing advice blogs, poetry, and mirroring what emotions come out from the music I listen to. Over the years, I have retreated into books to escape and now aim to be a written inspiration to someone, as another writer was for me. At the moment, I am working on a poetry manuscript that I hope to put out in the coming year while continuing my work at the record label. One of the things I am most proud of, is being able to create something uplifting and encouraging in the chaos of life and hoping to encourage others in the light of distress. Besides the fact that sometimes many people can’t comprehend my passion for something or rather someone, writing was a way to sculpt a visionary description to be better understood or rather seen.

I know what it’s like to truly be alone and to have no one to lean on, so I try exceptionally hard to be there for others, despite any hardship I may be going through myself. What sets me apart from others is that I care too much, and I have been told this countless times, but that is a trait I would never surrender. Nowadays, showing someone you care and providing kindness to a stranger, goes a long way and can change someone’s life. It doesn’t take much effort to offer a helping hand or to share a gentle word.

It all leads back to music and why I chose to go into the industry. There are countless artists that deserve to be heard, for their art to be seen and shared. I want to be able to lend a helping hand to those voices. Something or someone you find inspiring and extraordinary should be given the opportunity to be known by others. Share what is important to you. That is always what I have done and will continue to do.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
One of the biggest barriers today to female leadership in my industry is having people take you seriously. There have been quite a few times that people saw me at a glance and deemed me too young to know anything. It was only after we spoke, did people see someone sophisticated and knowledgeable.

It is also good to remember that people in this industry are not meant to be pitted against each other. There have been countless times where I have witnessed bands going after other bands, saying their music is better, that their fanbase is better, etc. Why is it, in this industry musicians are constantly pitted against each other? The countless times I see it noted in the media about this female artist having drama with another female artist, and it isn’t just in music, but the entertainment industry overall. Each artist is doing what they love, creating something different, and providing something new. The way the media paints out women is terrifying.

One of the other major barriers I face in the industry is constantly being concerned about my appearance. One photograph of a girl in sweatpants and no makeup and the internet goes wild. One awkward angle of a woman in her bathing suit and body shaming comes up. Being female, simply in general, every little aspect about you is focused, analyzed and dissected under a magnifying glass. Age, dress attire, makeup, and how she reacts to situations become huge media focus points. It can be very damaging to be a leader when the industry paints you a certain way and then you see that image haunting you everywhere.

One of the major obstacles in life is keeping true to who are. Don’t allow any industry you work in, change you into someone you don’t want be. Remember what you are passionate about, what matters to you, and why you started pursuing your passion in the first place.

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Image Credit:
Karen Isabella, Michael Thomas Kane

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