Kylee Saunders, a Japanese-pop sensation and a senior here at Stanford, terminated her contract with Sony Music last month to work in Silicon Valley. After almost ten years in the music industry, she decided to close that chapter and explore technology and entrepreneurship. Kylee enjoyed a lively career full of world travel, crowded performances, and top hits at a very young age. But, once she came to Stanford, she realized she was passionate about the fast-paced culture of innovation here in California.
At age 13, Kylee was thrown into the music and business worlds by signing with her first record label. RX Records discovered Kylee through her national anthem performances at Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks games. She then signed with Sony Music and has released many well-received singles and albums. Her songs have served as television theme songs in popular animes such as Heroman, Xam’d, and Blast of Tempest -- to name a few. About a dozen times a year she would fly to Japan to perform and record. She even went on tour with a backup band the record label set up for her, consisting of men 20 years her senior. “It was literally a pre-teen girl with five men with tattoos who smoked and drank after shows like you see in movies. My dad was constantly so scared,” she said.
Into her years at Stanford, she has lived a double life as both a devoted student in the U.S. and a pop star in Japan. Since she was a teenager, she’s navigated the adult world of expectations while maintaining her public presence, continuing to record songs and perform.
Kylee believes she wouldn’t have been able to balance her two lives without familial support. Whether she was about to break down from stress or she was celebrating a number one on the charts hit, her family was there to lift her up. “I’m thankful I got to develop those human relationships during a time that I was really pushed to achieve greatness,” she says. “Otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to do it.” And after it was all said and done, she ultimately decided she didn’t want to be front and center on stage anymore.
“Even when I was in Japan pursuing the dream, singing everyday and having so much fun, it always felt like there was something missing,”
Kylee says. These past four years at Stanford have shifted the trajectory of Kylee’s career. Students often get hooked on the excitement of the local tech buzz. As a musician and performer, Kylee became interested in how technology can impact the entertainment business. The Bay Area swept her away from the spotlight and into the whirlwind of innovation.
In college, Kylee began thinking about how to develop and enhance entertainment experiences while singing karaoke with her friends on the weekends. Endeavors such as animation and production became more attractive to her than performing. After solidifying a career overseas at such a young age, she had to come to California and start her freshman year without any strings attached. She didn’t see herself as anything but Kylee the singer, but college begged the question:
She valued jam seshes with friends or writing songs as a personal oasis, without the public scrutiny and constant pressure to people-please. But she needed a bit of a music detox. So far, the music scene had been all “how can I make them like me, how can I make them happy, how can I make them buy my CDs?” Now, Kylee wants to improve the entertainment experience without compromising its essence.
Graduating from Stanford this June with a degree in Science, Technology, and Society, Kylee is taking the first stepping stone to gain the work experience she needs. “I want to acclimate to San Francisco, learn how to work on a team, and exercise what I’ve started to learn as a student outside of the university and the Stanford bubble,” she says. She will be working at Goldman Sachs in the wealth management division as a financial analyst, hoping to set herself up in Silicon Valley for many more future endeavors. There is a wealth of opportunity in the Bay Area to explore using tech to improve all industries.
“My dream job would be CEO of the next generation Pixar or Dreamworks, in order to bridge the gap between LA and SF,”
Kylee says. As she embarks on her first job out of college, she has found it increasingly easy to close the door of her past career in Japan. “Japan is such a huge part of my life, but after working your first job for six years, you kind of just need to move on and try something different,” she says.
A lot of people have asked why she doesn’t want to go back to being Kylee the singer, or if it was maybe just a phase. But it wasn’t just carefree experimentation she dabbled in until discovering her adult self -- rather, it was an invaluable experience that she feels lucky to have had. She is terminating her connection with Sony with no regrets, but she isn’t saying goodbye to music. Instead, she’s charting a path toward a better fit, using her skills to work in an industry she is passionate about. She wants to relay the message not to close all the doors on your past lives because there are unexpected ways to keep those passions alive. And since we all change and grow, it’s okay to let some things go if they’re no longer contributing to your overarching happiness, because life happens. “You have to prioritize, adjust, and move on sometimes,” Kylee says.
“But it’s really all about doing what makes you happy, not having regrets, and not comparing yourself to other people. From there, you really can’t go wrong.”
By: Katherine Eisenbrand