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JUNO's Kahlia Ferguson: 'I Was Shelved For 3 Years'

30 August 2023 | 4:23 pm | Kahlia Ferguson

"I knew in my heart that a flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And most importantly, I definitively knew it wasn’t a path I wanted to take as an artist."


JUNO (Instagram)


"You’re going to be a star..."

I was 18 years old with wide, hopeful eyes, sitting nervously in the guest chair of a major management company in Sydney.

The CEO had flown my brother and me down from Brisbane to be wined and dined. My skirt was short, my blonde hair was long, and my dreams were big. My younger brother sat next to me with his Fender guitar, equally excited and eager to hear more.

Darrell Carice (not his real name, obviously) leaned forward hungrily. His beady eyes danced back and forth between the two of us before saying, "..and we’re going to make it happen through X Factor."

My smile dropped. Oh god. I had no interest in participating in a televised talent show. I had seen countless artists churned through the reality TV machine.

Contestants were the talk of the town during their season, and then conveniently tossed aside to make way for the next golden cast the following year. Fan bases flipped and flopped with each passing season. Producers twisted words and manufactured sob stories.

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I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry, that’s just not a path we’re interested in taking.”

My brother nodded without pause.

Judging by his face, this was not the answer Darrell was hoping for. He wanted to do it the ‘cheat way’ - pull some strings, manage us through a highly rated TV show, gain a fan base within weeks, release songs, go on tour... and it wouldn’t cost him a cent.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that that strategy doesn’t sound too bad, but I knew in my heart that a flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And most importantly, I definitively knew it wasn’t a path I wanted to take as an artist.

Darrell composed himself and cunningly countered with, “That’s okay. We still want to offer you a $10k development deal. We’ll link you up with our best songwriters. We’ll record an EP with you. We’ll advise and guide you. We believe in this project. We want to invest.”

Not long after this conversation, my band signed a contract with this high-level management group. We fell for his lie hook-line-and-sinker. We were convinced they’d pull through. We were young and naive and very obviously didn’t know better. Like so many young artists, we were desperate for success and fame and financial assistance to achieve dreams we simply could not achieve on our own.

Within a week of signing, Darrell and his management company called us up to tell us that it was either X Factor or nothing. Worse than nothing. 3 years shelved, nothing offered, 20% of everything earned taken from us. I think they imagined they could bully us into doing it over time.

I was devastated.

Desperate energy causes you to do wild things. I’ve spent over a decade performing and releasing in this industry, and I’ve seen desperation cause stumbling blocks in my career, as well as the careers of many artist friends. Every musician I talk to feels the same flavour of pressure...

“Our hourglass is running out, and we need to act NOW.”

It causes us to release songs that aren’t ready too soon. We scroll online and our mental health rises and falls with the successes and achievements of our fellow artists. We commit to support slots and festivals that don’t add value to our journey because we’re worried people will notice we haven’t played in a while (p.s - no one notices/minds). We obsess over our social media numbers and toy with the thought of just quitting music altogether because we’re not a viral sensation yet.

Then we sign shady contracts with The Devil because he makes us feel like we need him when he really needs us.

Even though it seems contrary, I resent but don’t regret signing with that major management group, because I learned a very valuable lesson about the permanency of a signed contract. It also led my band and me to change tactics and start street performing on the city streets of Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall.

Randomly, it was the only thing in our contract this management group couldn’t take a cent from - ha! Through those 3 years of street performing, our music/voices/songwriting evolved so much and our fan base grew 100 times larger.

What I do regret throughout my journey as an artist is my desperation. My journey was always going to be what it was going to be, and it continues to be full of twists and turns. I can either experience it through the lens of depression and anxiety, worry and fear of failure, or I can work hard, create honestly, and accept what will be will be.

I ran into a songwriter friend of mine recently, and we caught up over a beer. I casually brought Darrell’s name up, and my friend's eyes widened as he said, “Did you hear the news? Darrell is being sued.”

I looked down at my drink and smiled, breathing a long sigh of relief. If Karma is real, she was on my side that day. I returned to my studio to keep writing.

In moments like this, I’m almost glad it happened because I was given the knowledge and perspective I needed to stay away from desperation as an artist and to accept that my journey is my own. The endless comparison to artists blowing up on TikTok overnight can be devastating to you and your self-worth as a person.

If there’s one thing I hope people can take away from this, it’s that your journey is just as valid no matter how long it takes to reach your goals, no matter how many setbacks you may have, no matter how many followers you’ve gained, no matter how different your path is from the people you may be comparing yourself to.

Trust your own process, don’t fall victim to desperate energy, and keep doing your thing.

You’ll be much happier for it.