How Winning 'Songland' and Working With Meghan Trainor Changed This Artist's Life

Kole on Songland.
Trae Patton/NBC

Kole on Songland.

When singer-songwriter Kole (born Nicole Cohen) was 17 years old, she took a class called Songwriters on Songwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. One week, songwriter-producer Rick Nowels (Sia, Madonna) visited as a guest speaker and Kole, then a second-year ethnomusicology student, volunteered to sing Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” for him. After class, her professor offered to connect her with an industry veteran who later became Kole’s first manager.

In 2014 that manager introduced her to Sue Drew, GM of creative and acquisitions at Kobalt Music Publishing, who immediately offered to mentor her. “It was obvious that she had a natural talent,” recalls Drew. “It was just a matter of encouraging her and offering up select co-writes when I thought they were appropriate for her. We like to pride ourselves on discovering talent early and then helping get it to a point where they’re ready to join the roster.”

With Drew’s guidance, Kole ended up competing on an episode of NBC’s Songland this year -- and won. Although she grew up singing in choirs and playing guitar and piano, she had never played her original music for anyone. Her prize? Meghan Trainor recorded “Hurt Me,” Kole’s original song about moving on after a breakup. Following Songland, Kole attended an SM Entertainment writing camp in Korea where she wrote for K-pop group Red Velvet. Later, Big Hit Entertainment reached out over email requesting she write with BTS.

After that, Drew knew she was ready for a deal, and on Dec. 2, Kole signed an administration agreement with Kobalt. The 22-year-old is now planning to release her debut EP in 2020.

“When I was in [Kobalt’s] office for the first time, I knew that was where I wanted to sign,” says Kole. “I’ve done a ton of work on my own -- and I’m excited to continue growing on my own. This will be a partnership more than anything.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Billboard.