As a 14-year-old kid in South Florida, Brett Koolik wrote and self-produced his first song, an early glimpse into the heartfelt storytelling and sophisticated sense of melody that now define his music. Over the coming years, he continued writing and releasing his own material—a self- motivated routine he’s maintained even while keeping up his studies in biomechanical engineering at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. Despite very little self-promotion on Koolik’s part, songs like his 2017 single “The One I Need” drew attention from such industry heavyweights as Z3N (a producer with Electric Feel Entertainment, whose roster includes Post Malone and Louis Bell). With his debut EP due out this year, the 21-year-old musician is now on a dual track toward breakout success as both an artist and behind-the-scenes hitmaker, infusing all of his output with timeless emotional power and undeniable pop appeal.
Hailing from Boca Raton, Koolik first explored his musical side by studying classical piano beginning in third grade, and soon discovered the artists who would ultimately inform his songwriting. “My dad gave me his old iPod and it still had a lot of his music on it, which is how I ended up learning about people like Carole King and James Taylor and really falling in love with music,” he says. After teaching himself GarageBand, Koolik tried his hand at writing what he describes as “extremely sappy love songs” (“My parents would hear them and ask me, ‘Who hurt you? Where is this coming from?’” he recalls with a laugh). By his senior year of high school, Koolik had sharpened his songcraft and begun mining his real-life experience in love and heartbreak, a creative evolution evident in his 2017 single “Hope You’re Not Hoping.” A bittersweet but bouncy track penned for an ex-girlfriend, “Hope You’re Not Hoping” quickly gained serious traction on SoundCloud while revealing the incredible resonance of Koolik’s songwriting. “I had people DM-ing me and telling me that the song really connected with them, or helped them get through a breakup,” he says. “That’s what made the whole thing really meaningful for me, and made me want to keep putting more songs out.”
Upon heading to college in the music-biz hotbed of Nashville, Koolik balanced his demanding academic schedule with abundant time spent writing and recording with other musically inclined students at an on-campus studio (an opportunity afforded through his acceptance into Vanderbilt’s ultra-competitive Media Immersion program). “Instead of going to parties, we’d go to the studio every weekend—sometimes we’d work all night, and the sun would already be up when we left,” he notes. Not only essential in honing his musicianship—and his rare ability to handle everything from hip-hop to EDM with equal finesse—that atmosphere of spirited collaboration enabled Koolik to organically assemble a collective of likeminded creatives. To that end, he’s now surrounded by a built-in team versed in such skills as merch design and social media marketing, allowing him to realize his artistic vision on an even grander scale. He’s also cultivated his chops as a live performer, primarily by forming a band called Strangz and taking the stage at venues around campus. Featuring several students from Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, Strangz delivers a one-of-a-kind live show thanks to an unconventional lineup that includes a string quartet as well as musicians on bass, drums, and horns.
During his sophomore year, Koolik’s music career took an auspicious turn when “The One I Need” found its way to a TV star seeking a co-writer for her debut as a pop artist. Deeply moved by another of his songs—“Beaches,” a soul-stirring and string-accented number spotlighting his powerful vocal presence—the actress promptly flew Koolik to New York City for an introductory writing session that proved massively successful. Before long, Koolik and his collaborator started working in iconic studios like The Hit Factory in Miami, laying down songs for a duo project set for release in 2021.
In another major breakthrough, the summer following his sophomore year saw Koolik becoming closely involved with the legendary Curb Center, an on-campus facility established by famed music mogul Mike Curb. Along with spending much of the summer recording at the center’s state-of-the-art studio, he soon earned a scholarship through the highly selective Curb Scholars Program in Creative Enterprise and Public Leadership. Through that program, Koolik teamed up with a fellow scholar who specialized in videography and conceptualized an ambitious joint project. “We had an idea to pool our money and drive to L.A. from Miami, play a bunch of shows on the way, and film the whole thing for a documentary,” he explains. Although the plan hit a snag when they crashed their car in Nashville, the duo eventually made it to L.A., then drove the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to Portland. A lifelong nature lover, Koolik based that leg of the journey around a visit to the Redwoods, and next headed East for a trip to Glacier and Yosemite National Parks. Rather than returning straight home, Koolik and his videographer holed up for ten days in a cabin in the mountains of Montana, where he ended up writing a complete body of work channeling the tranquil beauty of the Montana wilderness. With plans of heading back to Montana in 2021, Koolik intends to release an entire project documenting his time in Montana, with proceeds partly benefiting environmental protection efforts.
In one of his latest undertakings, Koolik has joined forces with established producers like Z3N (Lil Wayne, Juice WRLD, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz) and Brett “Beats” Bailey (a co-producer on Nicki Minaj’s gold-certified “Bed” ft. Ariana Grande) and set to work on developing songs to pitch to pop stars. Having identified Koolik as a budding triple-threat artist/co-writer/producer in the vein of Jack Antonoff or Ryan Tedder, his newfound collaborators have fostered his gifts for toplining and production, noticeably accelerating his musical growth. “I feel like I’m getting an amazing crash course on how to make a great song,” says Koolik. “In the past few months alone, I’ve become so much more aware of what makes a strong chorus, and how to create something that grabs your attention right off the bat.” With a batch of potential placements now in the works, Koolik has also refined his entrepreneurial instincts and bolstered his understanding of the business side of music—an irrefutable asset as he takes his career to the next level.
Now gearing up for his senior year at Vanderbilt, Koolik hasn’t let quarantine dampen his creative energy. In his endless dedication to elevating his craft, he’s invested all of his royalties into acquiring new recording and production equipment, and recently converted a room in his parents’ house into a studio where he splits his time between working on his own songs and collaborating remotely with others. But for all the success he’s already achieved, Koolik’s main motivation for making music lies in the indefinable magic of pure expression.
“Usually the best songs come to me when I’m going through something—like with ‘Beaches,’ I was coming back from a girl’s house and felt really upset, and I knew I had to go to the piano and write,” says Koolik. “I had no idea what the song would be; I just needed to get out all the emotion I was feeling in the moment. And when you’re saying exactly what you’re feeling like that, there’s really no way for it to come out wrong.”