DeAnna McGrone brings her distinct perspective to the world of stock music and hopes to help other nascent creatives along the way.
DeAnna McGrone always loved music—she began playing the flute in middle school and participating in solo and ensemble competitions—but she never thought of it as a viable career option.
“Growing up, it was just me, my mom, and my sister,” says McGrone, “and when I went to college, my mom really pushed me to study [something practical] that would lead to a more ’professional’ job.”
At the University of Northern Colorado, McGrone majored in psychology and was on the path to a career in criminal justice, but her love of music never went away.
“In college, I hung out with these guys who produced their own tracks on Ableton and FL Studio,” she says. “I’d listen to them play their music and, one day, my friend’s roommate was like, ‘You seem really into this. Wanna give it a try?’ He got me a [pirated] version of FL Studio and I became obsessed. I would go to school during the day and then work on my music at night.”
Although she continued her studies and graduated in 2014, she eventually realized that a career in criminal justice wasn’t for her. She got a job at iHeartMedia working as an assistant videographer and photographer and was soon able to parlay that into a regular DJ gig.
“I would DJ their annual whiskey festival and their LovePup Family Fest—a lot of quirky family events.”
It wasn’t exactly her dream job, but it was a step in the right direction and she continued to create her own music on the side.
Then the pandemic hit.
“They weren’t doing events anymore, so DJs like me got the axe,” she says.
Unemployed and still living in Colorado, McGrone—who produces under the name Low Key D—felt stuck.
“I love music, but I realized that I didn’t really know anything about the business of music,” she says. So, ever the go-getter, she started taking online business courses through the Berklee College of Music, while she figured out her next step.
Then, her husband got a job offer he couldn’t refuse and suddenly the two of them were off to Seattle. “It all happened very fast,” she says.
The change of scenery was just what McGrone needed, though, and Seattle’s music scene turned out to be much more receptive to her sound than Colorado had been.
“I play a lot of house music,” she says, “so I always felt like I was very much in the minority in Colorado, but it was sort of the complete opposite in Seattle.”
She began attending local EDM shows and hooked up with a group of young DJs and electronic music producers called the Codex Collective. She found a home for her musical output and was able to use what she was learning in her online business courses to help the group monetize.
Still, she knew she needed to keep searching for business opportunities for herself. “I saw that Shutterstock was looking for new content for their music library and I applied,” she said.
Recognizing her talent and wanting to encourage it, her contact at Shutterstock suggested she apply to the company’s Create Fund, which awards grants to emerging POC creators and teaches them the ins and outs of the stock content market.
McGrone was awarded $10,000 and contracted to produce five original tracks for Shutterstock’s library. The process was illuminating.
“I learned so much,” she says. “How to keep to a schedule and meet deadlines, how to get my music ‘radio ready,’ and how to take feedback and use it to become better at my craft. They taught me how to make something not sound like it’s a loop and how to hear if something is over compressed, which are two big things I struggled with before. Having someone really listen to my work and then say, ‘This is what’s wrong. This is what could be improved,’ was a game changer for me.”
As a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, McGrone has sometimes felt isolated.
“When I started producing, I knew of maybe three or four [other women] working with FL Studio,” she says, “And, even now, I probably only have three or four female friends who are seriously into production.”
McGrone often finds herself the only woman in the room and has to fight to be taken seriously by her male colleagues.
“Sometimes, I’ll go in for a studio session and have to reiterate over and over again to [the male producer I’m working with] that this is a strictly professional relationship in a professional setting and we need to act like professionals. It’s hard, because I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but I do find that I have to repeat myself over and over [to be heard].”
Still, it’s worth the fight for her, not just because she loves music, but because she knows how unique her perspective is. “You don’t see a lot of black women in EDM,” she says.
And, while she didn’t have anyone like her to mentor her when she was coming up, she’s hoping to be that person for others and finds joy in introducing music lovers she meets at her shows to the twin crafts of DJing and production.
As for her own career, “I really want to get my music into TV, films, and video games, and really just build up a catalog that I can be proud of,” she says.
Her dream job?
“I would love to work on a soundtrack for a popular anime. Something like Demon Slayer that has such a large audience. I want to work on something that speaks to people and really put my stamp on it.”
She’s certainly on the right track and, at this point, even her mother has come around.
“I was fine with her not supporting me when I started out because I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she says, “But now she’s proud of me, and I hear her bragging about me to people. I don’t know what changed, but I’m glad it did.”
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