In the Spotlight: Christiane Kinney

Our lives are not meant to be in a box.  The biggest takeaway from my hour-long chat with Christiane Kinney is that when it comes to work and life and passion, our greatest limitations are the ones we put on ourselves. 

Photo by Sean Kinney

Photo by Sean Kinney

Kinney wears many hats: she is a wife and mother of two, a successful entertainment attorney at LeClairRyan, and a reoccurring advice columnist for CD Baby on legal issues for DIY musicians; she writes and performs as an indie artist, and founded a nonprofit to bring music and arts to at-risk youth in Los Angeles.  When asked, Kinney is adamant that although the activities seem divided, they are not three separate boxes: they are intertwined and beautiful expressions of her passions, skills, and spirit.

“Music was always there,” Kinney says, “I started playing [piano] by ear… my parents would take me to [touring] Broadway productions.  I always had this deep connection with music.”  Her early love is rooted in Annie, the pipe organ at her church, and a passion for classical music.  Songwriting began at the age of 8, but was never a career plan: “I knew I didn’t want to do the struggle [of making a career out of performance], I’ve never been one that wanted to be: ‘where’s my next dollar coming from?’”  When she went to college, Kinney double majored in Music (Piano Performance) and Psychology & Social Behavior.  On top of that, she minored in Criminology with the aspiration of becoming a profiler for the FBI.

Music was always there... I always had this deep connection with music.

But film and television make the world out to be very different than reality.  During law school (the route Kinney took towards her goal of working for the FBI), Kinney found that profiling was not as glamorous as it looked.  At the same time, she discovered an interest in criminal prosecution.  Years of law school and several twists and turns later, Kinney found her way to a big law firm.  However, “I was doing a job,” Kinney confessed, “my passion was in other endeavors, but I hadn’t found my niche in the legal world.”

Parallel to her legal career, Kinney continued to write, release, and perform as a musician.  She was an early artist on CD Baby, and shared her music with all her coworkers.  To date, Kinney has released 4 albums, and is working on a new album inspired by family stories her mother wrote and passed along for Christmas one year.  “I’m slowly working on a new album,” explains Kinney as we talk about her inspiration, “I’m doing it a little differently this time.  I’m taking a lot of time because what I’m writing is very personal.”  Kinney performs around the world (and at Disneyland, which makes me love her more), and has over 17,000 followers on twitter.

If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it the absolute best that I can.

Cue the colleagues, who from early on encouraged Kinney to merge her legal skills and her passion for music by pursuing music law.  “My reaction was absolutely not.  I did not want to represent my friends – that’s crazy!”  It took nearly a decade of prodding, plus a merger with another law firm, before Kinney conceded to chair the entertainment division at her firm.  And what a change!  “Once I started, I completely dove in,” Kinney shared, visibly excited, “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it the absolute best that I can.”

Kinney thrived.

As she became more versed and experienced in entertainment law Kinney reached out to CD Baby, proposing a column of legal advice for their blog.  “It was a good opportunity for me to get in a position where I could give back to my community, because that’s really good for the independent community… a community that I actually care about.”

It was a good opportunity for me to get in a position where I could give back to my community, because that’s really good for the independent community… a community that I actually care about.

This is what struck me most during our conversation.  Kinney cares deeply about people and communities.  It’s not lip service, but is reflected in her actions across all of her endeavors.  Even more than being good at what she does (which she is), Kinney is intentional about using what she does for good.

The blog thrived, with thousands of indie artists writing in with questions, and Kinney found herself in the spotlight.  She began speaking at major events such as SxSW, SF MusicTech Summit, and more.

As if her attitude toward her new album and legal column for CD Baby were not enough, Kinney’s heart for community truly shines with the nonprofit she co-founded and runs with her sister Karene Cargill: HeARTS Giving Hope Foundation.   In 2002, the sisters began seeking hands-on ways to give back.  Knowing that the arts make a remarkable difference in a child’s development, they chose to work with high-risk kids (including many in foster care and children’s homes), bringing music and arts activities to children and families for no cost.  The two keep it grassroots to maintain low overhead (which Kinney covers herself); all the money goes directly to programming.   Listening to Kinney’s anecdotes are inspiring in their own right, and even more so when paired with her obvious passion and generosity.

So many activities, but one common thread: a passion for people applied liberally across all Kinney’s interests and skills.

How, in the midst of everything that makes up a person, can an individual make it work?  Know yourself.  Kinney is an expert at leveraging what she excels at to achieve the values she believes in: “I tend to, as a musician, come from a place of love and harmony and peace.  And then in litigation, I often feel like a boxer going to work to fight everyone,” Kinney muses upon reflection, “you look for your strong suit, and you do that.”

And as for words of wisdom for those entering into the industry: “Yes, you can get ahead by stepping on other people.  But it won’t get you as far as just being kind, and being good at what you do, and being respectful of others.”

Yes, you can get ahead by stepping on other people. But it won’t get you as far as just being kind, and being good at what you do, and being respectful of others.

That, my friends, is leading from the heart.


Learn about Kinney’s music here.

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Megan Himel