Local Current Blog

13-year-old Minnesota musician Julie Bella goes from computer screen to recording studio

Smule sensation, singer songwriter Julie Bella (courtesy of Svitlana Malyshenkova)

When we millennials think back to when we were teenagers, we’re not reminiscing about having millions of views racked up on YouTube. Today, younger generations have more access to technology and the internet than ever before. 13-year-old Minnesotan Julie Bella has used this accessibility to her advantage in helping to launch a music career.

If you search Bella’s name online, one of the first results to pop up is a cover of “Treat You Better” by Shawn Mendes. Bella was 11 years old when she recorded it with the help of Smule, a popular karaoke app that makes it appear as if you are duetting with other people when you record yourself singing. In this case, it looks like Bella is trading lines with Mendes himself. In actuality, his part was prerecorded. Regardless, her video has nearly six million views.

“I’ve met a lot of people on Smule from around the world who are very talented,” Bella says of the app. “It’s an amazing experience.” Connecting with people on Smule is similar to other social media websites and apps. Sometimes you know an individually personally and can look them up by username to collaborate with. Other times, you’re meeting online by circumstance. The more duets you post, the more of a following you can gain.

Established artists can release a pre-recorded version of half of their song and post it, allowing fans to sing and record the other half. Once put together, it sounds as though the two people are collaborating at the same time. Fans can post covers of songs too and sing with other fans.

Social media has changed the way people experience and consume music, but for Bella it is simply something that has always been there. “I’m very grateful that, this day and age, I can have access to computers and the internet to be able to post stuff like that,” Bella says. “I don’t even have to leave my bedroom.”

It is easy enough for anyone to post a video online, but Bella has 80,000 YouTube subscribers to her channel. For someone who is 13 years old, it is safe to say that this is quite the accomplishment. Her average video view count is at least in the thousands, but some of them have reached millions, like the Shawn Mendes cover. Bella doesn’t know why that particular video caught on, but her growing fan base demonstrates that it wasn’t a fluke.

When Bella came to The Current to talk with me it was her first official press interview, but if she was nervous, she didn’t show it. She carries herself confidently and speaks in a calm, level-headed tone. When she smiles and laughs, it’s infectious. She’s the kind of girl I would have wanted to be friends with in middle school.

Bella has been singing since she was around four years old, which she credits to the fact that she grew up around someone who has a love for music: her mother, Lana, who is in a synthpop band called Vosho, based out of Minneapolis. “Growing up, I always saw her singing,” Bella explains. “So I guess that kinda got the ball rolling.” Since then, she hasn’t slowed down.

Known on social media for her countless covers (including artists such as Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, and Nick Jonas), the musician branched out in 2017 by releasing her first original single, of which she wrote the music and lyrics completely on her own. It is called “Don’t Worry About Her”; a catchy song with a strong message.

“There’s always someone who’s trying to bring you down. Someone who is going to envy you and is just going to have something out for you,” Bella says of the inspiration behind her lyrics. “The message is, don’t worry about them. Forget about them and do what you’ve got to do. Always stay true to yourself.”

The single was produced by none other than Tommy Barbarella of Prince’s New Power Generation. Barbarella has become a mentor to the young artist. “I met him through my singing coach, Keri Noble,” said Bella. “I met him and showed him my song and he wanted to record it and produce it right away, so we did that. I’m hoping to record more stuff with him. Through Tommy, I’ve discovered many local musicians, very talented people. I’ve done lots of concerts with him and performances. I’m so grateful that I know him.”

Bella recognizes that she’s young in comparison to other artists creating original music. “I don’t really have a lot of experiences that I can write off of,” she says. “So I put myself into other people’s shoes or I pretend like I’m someone else from my school that’s going through some stuff in their life, and I write as if I were that person.”

This perspective shift allowed Bella to write a song about a relatable situation, and she hopes to use it again as she looks at writing more original songs. Her goal is to release an EP and perform as much as she can. “I’m very excited for the future to come,” Bella says. “I’m hoping that everything that I’m doing musically I will be able to pursue when I’m older.”

In addition to singing, Bella also plays the guitar, ukulele, and piano. She is very familiar with performing at open mics around the Twin Cities, and nothing beats the feeling she gets when she takes the stage. “Just looking into the crowd, it gives you that feeling,” Bella says. “That’s what gets me going.”

Bella receives slews of support in the comment sections of her videos on YouTube, and now people have started recording virtual duets with her: she’s put a singalong version of “Don’t Worry About Her” on Smule.

“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Bella says, “but it motivates me a lot to know that people like Tommy Barbarella and Keri Noble are behind me and supporting me.”