She may work behind the scenes, but the list of hit singles that Karen Kosowski has had a hand in is long and impressive, straddling multiple genres, formats, and countries.
The Nashville-based Canadian songwriter, producer, musician, SOCAN No. 1 Song Award winner, and SOCAN Song Camp 2019 alumnus has co-written and produced country and pop tracks for artists like Brett Kissel, The Washboard Union, Emma-Lee, Tryon, Melanie Dyer, and breakout country star Mickey Guyton; she even produced Guyton’s contribution to the Metallica tribute album The Black List. But whether she’s working in country, pop, country-pop, or country-pop-metal, Kosowski clearly has star-making production skills – and a talent for collaboration.
That ability to work well with others is part of the reason why Kosowski decided to settle in Nashville after several years as a singer-songwriter and producer in Toronto. “I’d been drifting into country songwriting for a few years, and I felt drawn to Nashville and its whole musical community,” she says. “The thing that makes Nashville songwriting unique is just that there’s so much of it happening, all the time. And everyone is very open to collaboration. People are writing together every day, sometimes twice a day. It’s unlike any scene I’ve ever been part of, and it’s amazing.”
Kosowski was trained in classical piano as a child in Winnipeg, picking up a guitar in high school and teaching herself to write and produce her own folk-pop songs. “I started producing long before I knew what I was doing,” she says, “and it’s been a multi-decade process of gradually building up to what I’m doing now. I started getting asked to produce for other artists around 2005, based on the stuff I’d been doing for myself. Probably the biggest thing I produced in Toronto was a single for the band Tryon, who, coincidentally, are from Nashville. It made it into the Top 40 on U.S. pop radio, which is pretty great for an independent band.”
In Nashville, Kosowski’s songwriting and producing developed together as she found a niche that sits somewhere between pop and country. “I tend to gravitate toward projects that are a blend of both,” she says. “I like to mix elements from one with elements from the other and just see what happens. I think it’s progressive, and fun.
“My relationships with artists often start with writing sessions, and then producing stuff I’ve written with them,” she adds. “But if they’re loving what I’m doing, then inevitably I also end up producing other songs for them that I haven’t written. That’s all part of it. I approach it as a tailor-made creative process. Everything you do in the process of producing the record, even writing the song, informs the next step. It’s an organic building process. You’re not done until you’re done, and each idea inspires the next one. Every artist is different, and I just want to help them say what they want to say and customize the experience for them.”
Right now, Kosowski is particularly excited about her work on the new album by Mickey Guyton, the first Black woman to be nominated for a Grammy for Country Performance. Kosowski even got to play piano behind Guyton’s performance of “Black Like Me” at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards ceremonies in March of 2021. “That’s a great example of a relationship that started with a writing session,” Kosowski says. “I was in Canada at the time, and I changed my flight to come back and write with Mickey because I’d always been a fan of her music.
“I’m so glad I did, because it started a years-long process of writing together that’s built into me getting to work with her on all the amazing stuff she’s doing now – including playing piano with her on The Tonight Show, which is a bucket list item for me. I feel lucky to be involved in such an inspiring project, working with someone who wants to say something meaningful, and is open to creative exploration with their music. That’s the kind of artist that I’m looking to work with.”