You might not have heard of Bonnie McKee, but you’ve definitely heard her music. A 31-year-old, American singer-songwriter, she’s best known for collaborating with Katy Perry and co-writing such smash hits as "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream", "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F"), "Part of Me", "American Girl" and "Roar".
Born in Vacaville, Calif. and raised in Seattle, Wash., Bonnie began singing and studying classical piano around age five or six. At 8, she joined the world-class Seattle Girls’Choir, then competed, toured Europe, and sang at the Vatican. At 11, she was writing her own songs. And, at 12, she made a demo of covers of Bette Midler and Fiona Apple songs, and played it for her mother’s friend, Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop Records, who was intrigued by her singing talent, but issued a challenge.
"That’s really great you can sing," she recalls him saying to her, "'but can you write?’ She shared, "I just went home, really threw myself into it, and accepted the challenge." And her efforts paid off, big time. At 16, she was signed by Warner Music Group Reprise Records in one of the most lucrative deals ever for a new artist.
Then, she moved to Los Angeles and hit some roadblocks. Her 2004 debut album, Trouble, cut by renowned producer Tommy Cavallo, got positive reviews, but was commercially unsuccessful, and she was dropped from the label. "It was devastating when the album didn’t happen," she’s told me. "I realized there are so many steps from getting a deal to having a hit…and I didn’t get there. It was a huge letdown.”
After her release, she was broke and didn’t have hot water, a cell phone or a car. "I just needed to feed myself," she says, "and kind of started songwriting out of necessity." Fortunately, another break came after "a few rough years" when she was introduced to Max Martin (who’s described by Rolling Stone as the producer "who wrote what seemed like every teen-pop hit in the late ’90s and early 2000s”) and Dr. Luke, a songwriter and producer who had collaborated with Katy Perry on her second album, One of the Boys—and things took off from there.
Together, the "dream team" began writing songs and went on to produce the hits on Perry’s third album, Teenage Dream. McKee co-wrote three singles from the album, "California Gurls," "Teenage Dream" and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)", each of which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned McKee several BMI Pop Awards in 2011 and 2012 as a songwriter.
Other hit co-songwriting credits include Britney Spears’ "Hold It Against Me," Taio Cruz’s "Dynamite," Rita Ora’s "How We Do (Party), All the time, and, in 2012, she co-wrote two songs that appeared on Adam Lambert’s album Trespassing, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart.
McKee’s first love, though, is performing, so she gave her singing career another shot. This time, after signing with Epic Records, she released her 2013 album, American Girl, that was introduced with a lip-sync video featuring appearances by such talent as Perry, Ke$ha, Macklemore, who sings in a bathtub, Adam Lambert, Jewel, and a glammed up Tommy Lee.
The day we sat down in Los Angeles for the radio interview, June 30, 2015, McKee independently released her Bombastic extended play recording (EP) as a digital download, and the video for the single has more than a million views on YouTube to date. The killer new "BOMBASTIC" single, which reached number 23 on Itunes the day of its release, was also synced on TV during the 2105 FIFI Women’s World Cup (as kind of an anthem for the US team). "We just got this huge sync with Women’s World Cup on Fox Sports, so that’s incredible,"she said of the promotion. "That made me cry actually," she added. "They put together a montage of all these really powerful, incredible, inspiring women playing together."Of course, those who know this talented, hard-working, and bombastic singer-songwriter might use those words to describe her, as well.
After getting the opportunity to speak with McKee in Los Angeles, Calif., I couldn’t help but think that her career provides some good financial lessons for other millennials, a group generally defined as persons born in the 1980s or 1990s. And while her experiences as a successful singer-songwriter are unique, she shares similar financial concerns as other members of her generation. A few financial takeaways include:
Start young — McKee is a millennial who set out on her career path young, and she remembers meeting Katy Perry while standing in line trying to sell old clothes to Wasteland, a vintage, consignment clothing store in Los Angeles. When she finally had some money, she paid her debts first. "I just felt relief," she shares with me, "and I wanted to be out of the red." She also moved out her tiny apartment and bought a home with a view in the Hollywood Hills, which was conducive to business, saving on rent, and giving her a sanctuary to call her own. Bonnie’s also excited about possibly renovating and expanding her home, which could potentially add value for the day she decides to sell.
Hard work always pays off —McKee wasn’t the best student or most focused person when she was younger, but now she’s completely changed. She’s in the recording studio, writing songs, in rehearsals, or focused on other aspects of her career so much that she says even her closest friends "ask if we’re still friends because they never see me anymore." The takeaway: for a dream to become reality, it’s important to work hard, stay focused and put in the hours to invest in yourself and your craft, as well as reinvesting in your business and preparing for future projects.
Starting young has a lot of perks —With youth and money on your side, there’s no better time to consult with a financial advisor on your own path to millions. Regardless of whether you’re a singer-songwriter, stockbroker, CEO or surgeon, it’s never too early to find an advisor who can help determine what level of understanding you have about complex financial issues and make sure that you have a clear strategy for your finances. McKee and I spoke about her financial aspirations.
Asset Protection —While many pop-stars have high earning power, their window of opportunity is often small. For every singer or songwriter who enjoys a long, lucrative career, there are thousands who are done after a few years. Complicating matters is that many highly-paid stars have enormous tax obligations, paying at top income rates, unlike ultra-high-net-worth clients, who typically pay capital gains rates, which are much lower.
Stay involved — Many millennials who come into money run into trouble because they don’t stay involved in financial planning strategies and place trust in the wrong people. This makes such newly wealthy individuals vulnerable to scams, bad investments, and other forms of financial mistakes and abuse. Bottom line: it’s always wise to consult with an experienced financial advisor and to stay actively involved in planning strategies.