Alto Key, an independent London-based artist who makes indie/alt-pop music, is a musician whose work has the power to uplift your spirits, punch you in the gut, and squeeze a tear from your heart. He is also delightfully and hilariously funny on his various social media channels, and boasts over 6.7 million likes and 375,000 followers on his TikTok channel.
“It’s all about the story you’re trying to tell and are you connecting with your audience,” he says of his approach to his music and entertainment.
His video for his single “Burning Up” is the People’s Choice winner for Making Music’s spring 2021 Community Video contest, and we were able to sit and chat with Alto (aka Keian Barton) about his music, his songwriting, how he created “Burning Up” as well as his single “Colourless,” what his advice is to up-and-coming artists looking to make their mark on the world, and what are his future career plans.
From Keian to Alto
Alto Key started playing keyboard and piano, and songwriting, at age 16. Music was his passion, but he decided to take the “sensible” path and go to college for a non-music degree (mathematics). He currently works full-time as a software engineer and, like so many artists, pursues his music career after work hours. His work with math and computing actually has a lot of links to his music, he says: they’re both pattern-based and created with technology. “It all just kind of works together,” he says.
His stage name Alto Key was created for multiple reasons, he says — first of all because his name “Keian” is hard to spell and has three vowels in it. He started with the word “Alto” because it started with “A” and would put his name at the top of anyone’s playlist, and because the name was available for him to use on social media accounts. “It’s really hard to find an original name,” he says with a laugh.”I literally thought for three or four months, what am I going to call this musical project that I’m doing?”
He says “Alto Key” is somewhat of a play on the phrase “Alternative Keian,” it’s easier to spell and say, and it’s a nice musical pun. He says people who know him by his music often call him “Alto,” believing it to be his first name. “People just think I’m called ‘Alto’ and I just roll with it; I kind of love it because it separates my music life from my non-music life.”
Since starting in 2018, Alto Key has released a number of EPs and singles, been played on various radio stations and podcasts in the UK, and won multiple awards. His song “Burning Up” — the video for which is an animated set of incidents showing personified animals breaking free of the oppressing aspects of their lives — is about following your dreams.
“We get caught up in this rat race, and we get caught up in maybe doing stuff we don’t always want to do, especially from a job point of view but life decisions as well,” Alto says of how and why he wrote the song. “You should just follow what you really want to do and don’t let other people or other circumstances take that away from you because you’ve only got one life to live, so let’s make it count, and let’s not burn up doing the things that we don’t want to do.”
For Alto Key, his songwriting process comes from personal experiences and personal ideas that he seeks to mold into music that people will not only like and enjoy, but also will relate to. It’s a line all artists must walk between overt commercialism and esoteric artistry, he says, and for 2021, he plans to focus his music-making on “more low-fi, bedroom pop” style music, making tunes more “intimate and personal” that tell his stories while also connecting with his audience.
“At the end of the day, the main thing I’m trying to make, when I’m making a good song, is something that people want to listen to again and again,” he says.
The other side of Alto Key’s creative outreach is through his social media accounts. He is an avid TikToker, where he has amassed over 375K fans and 6.6 million likes making musical comedy and quirky videos, which he also posts on his other accounts. The short videos are fun, but also a way to spread his brand and reach new audiences.
“It’s very hard on TikTok … it can sometimes be very hit-and-miss. It’s always kind of an improvisation and constant improvement,” he says. “I guess it’s true for any social media, but you have to keep trying to get better and trying to do different things.”
Alto posts everything from three-second songs, to parodies, to jingles, skits, and sometimes little memes with a certain message behind them. “I always try to put out positivity and an uplifting message,” he says. “But sometimes I do like poking fun at myself.”
He also uses his channels to promote his latest singles, albums, and videos, and says it can be difficult to bridge his two sides — the serious musician making serious music, and the goofy TikToker sharing funny videos — and find more of the music fans he wants to reach. “Some of my social media following enjoys my silly content, but they don’t necessarily know that I make proper music, so it’s about getting a bit more of that balance,” he says.
In the end, Alto Key is constantly trying to grow and improve his work, spread his music, and give his audience the entertainment value they deserve. Find yourself, do your thing, and keep improving, he summarizes, and, one day, hopefully, he’ll be able to make music full-time.
Learn more about Alto Key and his music by watching the video interview above and visiting his online channels.
Check out Alto Key’s website and social media channels:
Alto Key Music on YouTube
Alto Key Music on Instagram
Alto Key Music on Twitter
Alto Key Music on TikTok
Alto Key Music on Facebook