The quiet town of Bryan, Ohio, has made its presence felt on Billboard’s dance charts.
Bryan native singer-songwriter Kailey Shaffer, who has also gone by “Kay,” has broken into that rare territory as co-writer on Jasmine Crowe’s hard-pop track “Chess Game.” In December, a remix of the song by DJ C-Rod vaulted to top 50 status.
“It feels crazy honestly,” said Shaffer, who said she found out the song had charted when Crowe made the announcement at a recent Hollywood show. “Oh my gosh, it was surreal.”
For Shaffer, who has been in the Los Angeles area pursuing her music dreams in recent years after earning a degree from Berklee College of Music, the timing was perfect.
“It’s an exciting thing and also the music industry can be tough, especially now, for a lot of people,” she said. “So for me, it was just a really good verification from the universe that ‘You’re on the right track.’”
Shaffer says she first met Crowe while at a Grammy’s party about a year ago and they formed a fast friendship.
“We found out we both play violin and instantly connected,” said Shaffer, explaining that the friendship then evolved over hours and hours of conversation.
“After that, we wanted to write something together,” said Shaffer. “We instantly had a deep connection and felt like we’d been friends for years and had been through a lot of similar things in life.”
Those life experiences were poured into the confident nature of “Chess Game” with its hard-hitting pop elements featuring a trap beat and refreshing guitar riffing to create a sound fairly unique on the charts.
The song, Shaffer said, was nearly completely written and produced in one night as a collaborative effort between the two artists.
“Jasmine and I wanted it to be a really empowering message ... We wanted to take this concept of when you’re groomed and living a luxurious life and how someone could draw you in with that, but they’re not being real and you can get sucked into a situation you don’t want to be in,” Shaffer said. “It’s about flipping that and having a moment of empowerment where you take your power back and let them know this isn’t going to happen anymore.”
The expectations were immediately high for Shaffer upon the track’s completion.
“To be honest, in the least arrogant way I can say this, I did expect something ... I knew “Chess Game” was a concept song that hadn’t been done or done like that,” said Shaffer. “And Jasmine can sing her ass off.
“I expected that eventually I could see it getting a lot of plays, but I didn’t expect for it to be a Billboard Top 40 hit and to do it so fast.
After its release, Crowe’s team released the song to be remixed for club environments by interested DJs. Miami-based DJ C-Rod put his own spin on the track with his “Big Room Edit,” drawing a much different dance-focused style while keeping some of the song’s core elements intact.
“It’s different. There’s a reason why it hit the Billboard charts. When you listen to it, it’s a dance hit. It was intended to be a club remix,” said Shaffer.
“I’m married to the original in my mind, so it was interesting to hear this happy and upbeat vibe for the track and it works and it’s really cool. It contrasted with the original and became a whole new thing.”
And while the music streaming environment is such that writing artists aren’t exactly making a windfall in profits from their hits’ plays (but through touring, merchandise, endorsements and the like), Shaffer is grateful to be in this place in her life.
“It definitely was a moment for me, where I was like, ‘OK, we can keep going,’” she said. “I will never quit what I’m doing, but you have ebbs and flows. You have moments where things feel dry and it was a good moment to be like, ‘Yes, lets keep going!’”
It’s a feeling that she says is now woven into the fabric of her own continuing solo career as a both songwriter and singer.
“I’ve been feeling super inspired in terms of writing new songs and production, so it’s been fun,” said Shaffer.
As such, she says there will be new Kailey Shaffer or “Kay” music available on all streaming platforms in early 2020, ahead of an artist rebrand she and her team are currently working on.
That’s in addition to her continued work co-writing and producing for other artists as well.
But the success has given her a moment to pause and reflect on her journey.
“Four years ago, I kind of just jumped off the boat after spending years and years playing violin for other artists,” said Shaffer, noting she still does that from time to time. “It’s exciting for all of us (family, friends and peers) to have a little piece of something, an accomplishment after having taken that big leap of faith.”
She hopes that notion will reach those growing up in her own stomping grounds back home.
“I just want to inspire people that no matter what you’re doing or where you live you can always pursue what you’re passionate about,” said Shaffer.
“To have gone through everything thinking I was going to be only a performer and deciding, at 27, I’m going to write ... I want to inspire people that it’s never too late.”
Shaffer knows she’s got quite a bit of work to do to get her work out to the ears of an even more expansive audience, but she’s content with the ride wherever it may take her next.
“If you’re doing what you’re passionate about, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” she said. “Even if this song didn’t catch on, I’d still be proud of it whether one person or a million get to hear it.”
Shaffer is the daughter of Bryan Community School of Dance’s former owners, Kevin and Kimberly Shaffer. She is an accomplished pianist, classically trained violinist and lifelong singer and dancer.
Shaffer paid her dues living in bustling metropolises like Cleveland and New York and working multiple jobs before moving to Los Angeles on the advice of some of her music school peers from Berklee College of Music.