If you look at the comments on Leanna Firestone’s TikToks you’ll find dozens of commenters asking for the full versions of her, under one minute, song snippets. Originally joining the app as an anime account, Leanna successfully used her growing TikTok platform to kick start her singing/songwriting career, allowing her to hit several milestones in just the past year. Creating interactive series on her platform such as, “songs my playlists have been added too” and “help me choose my album art photo” Leanna has gained an eager and supportive audience consistently excited to hear her next release.
Most recently, Leanna released her debut EP, Y/N featuring her debut single, “Strawberry Mentos.” Y/N is an incredible display of vulnerability with hard hitting, “these songs are about me” lyrics in tracks like, “Least Favorite Only Child” and “Burnt Out.”
In anticipation of the upcoming release of her next single, “Hide”, which will release on June 25th, we talked to Leanna about the inspiration behind her debut EP, reaching number 10 on the iTunes singer songwriter chart, TikTok and her next album.
Your bio on some of your platforms is “unreliable narrator and self proclaimed singer songwriter” tell us more about that title.
Well they’re kind of interconnected if I’m being honest with you like I said I’m self proclaimed. I was saying that long before other people recognized me as such and the stories that I tell in my songs may or may not always be true so take them as you will.
How did your career in singing and songwriting start? What did that journey or process look like?
Well it’s actually kind of funny. The beginning, the beginning was like in eighth grade. I started writing my own songs but I’ve been singing for like, as long as I could talk. That was always the plan, to be a singer then I started songwriting as I got older. I had stories I wanted to tell. I started in the worst year of everybody’s lives, 2020. I started to post on TikTok a little bit more frequently than normal and I was talking about anime, specifically like the genre of anime. I ended up posting this little snippet. I was gaining a following for anime and I was like well I’m in school for songwriting I want to be a singer songwriter so how am I going to interconnect this? I ended up posting this song I had written for a character, like a character from an anime, and that did I think it got 50,000 likes and I was like this is the height of fame this is now as good as it’s ever going to get. I remember seeing a thousand people in my comments being like, “you should release this”, “you should put this out” and I was like “okay, yeah this will be the first song I ever put out” and whenever I did it ended up doing well and better than any of myself or my roommates or friends or family, anybody that knew me at the time could have ever anticipated or imagined. From there I ended up gaining more and more following for music and then put out my eventual EP but it started from a song about Yamaguchi from Haikyuu!!
May was a busy month, you released your debut EP, Y/N, your single Two Week Notice and most recently a cover of Ben Platt’s Grow As We Go all while actively posting on TikTok. Where does the inspiration come from?
Like I said, in the worst year of everyone’s life was my best, which kind of was very hard to navigate having success while also everything is falling apart all of the time and everyone is angry and upset everywhere. In that, in quarantine it lended me a lot of time to write and to think, and to sit in whatever emotion I was feeling at the time so it lent me a lot of material to be able to post all the time and to write and to say “this is what I’m working on”, “this is what I’m doing.” On top of that I also know TikTok works very fast. People get tired of you very fast, you have to be constantly in this content machine, if you will, to be capitalizing on these moments of virality. When things go viral or they go viral and then stop being viral and they go viral again as these waves come in you kind of have to capitalize off of whatever’s working at the time and so for me the May 14th EP plan was always happening. That was planned for a number of months ahead of time through my label.
They [frtyfve records] were working on this project called Turn Her Up which is a campaign they were doing for women in the industry because as I’m sure you’re aware of there’s a lot less of us than there are men and so they were like let’s do something talking about women. They were like we’re gonna do this campaign where you cover a song that has a woman writer on it and immediately I was like yeah I want to do, Grow As We Go so that was planned back in February.
Two Week Notice had it’s little moment of virality at the end of April I think and it quickly became my most liked TikTok that I had ever put out. It got like 800,000 likes and I was like “woah that’s a lot.” A lot of people seem to really like this beginning of the song I started writing and I had originally planned to keep it in the wheelhouse and maybe release it on an album or something later. Then it went viral again, had this new upsurge of likes and comments a week after it had originally been posted. I went to my label and was like “hey is there any way we can put this out sooner and then on like a long form project and they were like “yeah get us something tonight we can put it out before your EP comes out” and that was like at 11 am. I literally called my producer Caleb and I was like “hey can I use your studio all day today and can you have me a mix by tonight” and he was like, “um sure yes I guess” and so thank god literally thank god for Caleb. I ended up getting that recorded and given to my label and they were like “cool we can have this come out the day before your EP” but that was the only one that wasn’t planned months in advance.
Let’s get into your EP, this is your debut EP, how did you decide on the title, Y/N?
As I was writing these songs, thinking about what am I going to call it, like the first long form work that I put out I wanted it to be some sort of homage into being a part of a fandom or to anime or to that side of things. Somebody, somewhere commented on one of my videos, I have no idea where it is and they were like you should call your first album, y/n – your name. Which is normally what is written in whenever you’re self inserting into a fan fiction if you’re familiar with fan fiction lore y/n, l/n is your name, last name the self insert character of whatever fan fiction. I was sitting with my roommate Rosie, we were watching the Taylor Swift Long Pond sessions on Disney+ and I looked at her and was like should I can my EP, Y/N? We both just had this recognition of yes that is what it has to be but it was from a comment. I have no idea where that comment is now, obviously I’ve gotten a few of them since, but somebody commented it and I was like yeah, it should be that.
Tell us more about “Y/N” what was the process of creating your first EP like?
It did not look the same at the end as it did in the beginning. When I was starting to plan it I knew it was always going to be six songs and I knew that Strawberry Mentos, which was my debut single, was going to be on it. Then we decided on five, like me and my label mutually, because they were funding it so they had to have some sort of say so I sent them demos. Then I normally, when I’m posting on TikTok it is number one, not done and not released. It’s trial and error for me to see what people like which is good in a way but also in a way there’s not a lot of surprise when the full thing comes out. I’m testing to see what you guys like, my audience on TikTok, what they like in order to decide what was going to be on it so if there was something that did really really well which, Least Favorite Only Child did really well when I posted the snippet of it that I had.
Burnt Out had a moment where it got 90,000 likes but that was one that I got asked about a lot after to where I was like, yeah I kind of feel like this one should be on it too. So there were moments here and there of, okay this had its little viral moment and this had a little viral moment. I want obviously to give people what they want and so if they’re asking me months later about this one specific one like “is this out?”, “Is this going to be out?” That was one that ended up being put up for consideration. I wanted all of them to feel as though you personally whether that be me or whoever’s listening to feel like you are the the character, the main character singing and/or being sung about in all of the songs. All of them are supposed to have this theatric sort of feeling as you listen to them as you can imagine a scene like a movie, kind of, the way I would read fan fiction.
Most of your songs in the EP, like “Least Favorite Only Child” and “(Redacted)” are incredibly vulnerable. Is there a fear that comes with releasing songs like that and how do you overcome that?
Oh yes! Yes absolutely! Yes very much, I am scared all of the time. When I posted the snippet for Least Favorite Only Child specifically, I remember I was in a fight with my mom so that was why I posted it as well because we were in a fight about TikTok and how I’m too open on TikTok. I went back to my room and I was angry and I had that song for a while and I just posted it expecting absolutely nothing to come out of it because it was not a song about a character. It did so well, so fast. It was the first two verses so I was talking about wanting to crash my car into a light pole just so people would pay attention to me a little bit more. I remember having that blow up like “holy shit everyone knows, everyone knows now” like the way that I think and feel. At first that was very scary but as more and more comments started coming in, especially on that one, people were like “oh my god I didn’t know anyone else felt like this”, “I thought I was just selfish my whole life” and so in the way that it was so scary to have everyone know it also was validating for me that people understood what I was going through. It was also very very artistically satisfying to have people come back to me. That for me, Least favorite only child, will always be special for me in that way because that was something I could lend other people relief on.
I still have not posted about [Redacted] to TikTok because of how vulnerable it is, which was very very different for me. I had liked this person and immediately we met and I liked them and I found out they liked me immediately as well and it was very strange for me because I was like, “you are not a cis man and I’ve never ever in my whole life liked someone that was not a cis man.” I was sitting there realizing that I was not straight while also having to like – while confirming that for myself I was also having to confirm it for someone else. Redacted was before I had confirmed it to that person, you know like “I like you and this means I’m changing my identity and my sexuality.”
I was like you know what would seem easier, if I just ghosted and I never spoke to that person ever again because I don’t want to, for a lack of better words, pull the straight people bullshit you see in movies where they’ll like experiment and then be like “wait though I’m actually straight I just remembered.”I didn’t want to do that and I didn’t want to hurt that person so I was like “maybe I should just leave before this starts” which is not what I ended up doing. We ended up talking for a many number of months, me and said person, and they know that song is about them and they did not like it. I still because of that – because of how scary that was and how personal and vulnerable that one is for me specifically I have not talked about it on TikTok at all.
You’ve made the iTunes singer songwriter charts a couple of times now, most recently for the EP, how does that feel?
“Oh my god, it’s ridiculous! I freaked out! I’ve had songs go up in the charts and the highest that any of my things ever did was I got number 6 with Least Favorite Only Child. That was a very big deal for me, a really big freak out you know even being on it at all but to have my debut EP. I think the highest it got was number 8 but when I posted about it, it was number 10. Just to have it even be in the top 10 to where you didn’t have to open the long list like you could just scroll, was a feeling I cannot describe and will never forget. It’s so warm and validating and if you think of, you’re waiting your whole life to put out something to put out a long form work and then you do it and it’s well received. It just makes you want to scream and cry all of the time, which is exactly what I was doing the entire day it was out. The day it came out I was screaming and crying the whole day.
You’ve mentioned before on TikTok how you used to be an anime account, did you expect to gain such a large following on TikTok once you started posting your music?
As I started to transition more into musical stuff it was always a concern that people were going to view it as a cash grab, which they didn’t which I was very thankful for or that they were going to – it was not going to be well received, you know like people didn’t like it, I wasn’t as good as I thought it was, people wouldn’t receive the messages of the song or wouldn’t understand it. As I started to dip my toes in the more people were like when is this going to be released? When is this out? Is this out already? So to have that instant validation of TikTok where you can immediately receive feedback upon posting something which is not similar to when you’re just releasing music I felt a lot more comfortable being like okay I really love anime and I still love anime I would still talk about anime if I thought more people wanted to hear that from me than music but I didn’t make a full transition into just doing musical based content until February, March, April area. I was still talking about anime up until then but it was more sporadic. I was trying to time it out of it being- it was all anime and now it’s a little music, then it was half and half and then it was all music.
Watch our official interview with Leanna on our YouTube channel here:
Most of your videos on TikTok are snippets of songs, how do you decide what songs are going to be completed and which stay as snippets?
Normally what happens though is I’ll sit down at my little piano or with my little guitar and I’ll write a verse and a chorus or two verses or whatever. From that I’ll be like damn! This is really good, let me post this to TikTok and if it does well then that’s more of an incentive for me to finish it. Not all the songs get finished but some of them definitely do and from the full songs it’s like, ‘okay let me post a little bit more’ or maybe it’s an immediate I know this is good or I know this is garbage and the only thing that’s good about this is the part I posted. In terms of making it into full songs, getting asked about it a lot is -getting asked about it quite a bit is an incentive for sure because I’ll have people months later be like about this post in particular when is this going to be released this is why I followed you.
In regards to time management, how do you handle being a musician, student, active on TikTok and still stay so motivated?
Poorly, very poorly. I have moments of girlbossing and being really motivated to do a lot of things at one time. I’m just like you, I’m very normal. I have those moments of being burnt out on school, on TikTok, on writing and where I have to put it down. I always get nervous in those moments of burn out that I’ve run out completely. Which is obviously a very scary thing to deal with but it’s been ingrained by TikTok that nothing that you have that’s doing well right now is going to continue doing well forever. That definitely lights a fire in it’s own way to feel like if I don’t keep putting things out people are going to forget about me. In a way that traditional artists do not have to worry about because that’s the whole traditional thing, it is people wait for you to put out new things. As TikTok artists don’t really get that luxury of waiting because if you don’t capitalize on the virality of whatever song at the time is doing well you lose your moment and people forget.
It’s still very new, the management part of that is very new. A lot of it comes from validation though of like I said my schedule is usually based off when the validation from the previous post runs out so whenever I feel as though people are forgetting about me I’m immediate to ‘ okay, I need to write and make a TikTok today’ and maybe then people will continue to care about me which is a very surface level feeling but I’m aware the beginning moments of your career are usually what make the rest of it so that’s it’s own motivator to write and to perform and to be doing TikTok and music all the time. Everytime that I’m doing anything as much as it has afforded me greatness in the things and success in the things I’m currently doing, music I’m currently writing and putting out it is also taking a lot away from the traditional college experience and going out with friends or trying to date new people, or seeing and starting new activities or hobbies. It becomes all consuming at certain points because that feeling of people seeing, understanding and recognizing that you’re good at what you want to do runs out and you want to hold onto it for as long as you can.
It takes so much to maintain and to run a successful TikTok account. I think normal people who aren’t thrust into “you are normal now and now you are TikTok famous”’ will never be able to understand that sort of internal pressure of maintaining relevancy.
What advice do you have to any artists who might just be starting out or are interested in using TikTok as a platform to promote their music?
Number 1, do it. People have this scared notion, I think, when they start promoting their music on TikTok that they’re going to be annoying or it’s not going to be well received and to be honest with you it probably won’t be when you first start doing it. I mean yeah, you’re going to be bad at it, that’s how it works you’re bad and then you’re better.
Start trying to talk about something niche and particular that’s not as broad as you’re trying to be a musician you’re posting your music. I found personally that if you talk about a subject or make you make videos on one particular thing, for me that was anime, that people will care about you as a person and so they will intern care about whatever you decide to throw yourself into. So if they like your personality, they see that you’re honest, you’re funny, you’re exciting or whatever if music isn’t the only thing that you do I think people tend to care about you as a person more then they intern support your music which is not always true in the reverse if they care about your music they might now always care about you as an individual. I think, you know I can attest to, it’s very much helped me in my success to have people care about not only as an artist but also just as their friend or as being a fan of an internet personality.
What’s next for Leanna Firestone? I hear there’s a possible album coming out, anything you can tell us about it?
I would absolutely love to tell you about that! Yes, I’m so excited that you asked! My official debut album will be coming out on October 29th, which is the day before I put out Strawberry Mentos last year, it’s very intentional. It will be my full year of music. I’m very excited! It will have 10 tracks on it. I will not reveal to you what those tracks are right now but I can tell you that the first single comes out on June 21st. It’s called Hide.
It is very different from – every artist says that every time they put out a single like this is different from anything you heard from me, when I say this is different I mean it’s different, very different. I’m very very really excited about it so I hope everyone likes it as well.