Late last year, Spotify released its annual “Artist Wrapped” stats to show how many streams each musician or band generated on its platform. When we collected the data that was shared publicly by Austin artists, Mr.Kitty appeared atop the list.
The man behind the moniker is Forrest LeMaire, who grew up in Arlington, Texas, before moving to Austin after high school.
Mr.Kitty, who describes his music as self-destructive synthpop, amassed 20 million Spotify streams in 2020, and he has more than 700,000 monthly Spotify listeners.
It’s on YouTube that Mr.Kitty earns the bulk of his streaming revenue.
“That’s one of the big things that’s actually paying my bills right now,” he said.
The Beginning of Mr.Kitty
We spoke to Mr.Kitty shortly after the winter weather caused widespread power and water outages in Austin. Living in Southeast Austin, Mr.Kitty regained water on the same day we spoke.
“I just took the hottest shower known to man and just burned all my flesh off, so I’m pretty good,” he said.
Mr.Kitty’s music career began more than a decade ago. As a teenager, he would stay up until 3 a.m. listening to trance music on a Dallas/Fort Worth radio station, 106.7 FM. He discovered Tiësto, Armin Van Buuren, and Venetian Snares, a Canadian breakcore artist.
“I kind of grew up super sheltered, so I had to find a lot of things myself,” Mr.Kitty said. “And I’m like, this is God’s music. This is crazy.”
In middle school, he visited his friend’s house across the street and saw her father’s home music studio. That’s where he learned about Fruity Loops, a popular music production software. That encounter, he says, changed his life.
His friend’s father gave him a demo disc for the software, and Mr.Kitty spent hours producing music, mostly breakcore. He still has 30 releases from that period that he hasn’t shared yet.
So from 2005 to 2009, I made breakcore and it was all just 200 BPM drum and bass that was just cut up and thrown in a blender with like really pretty melodies over it.
A few years later, he gained experience at a local studio.
“I took up work engineering metal bands and hip-hop acts and stuff like that,” he said. “I just really wanted studio time, so this guy let me apprentice in one of these studios.
“I also got to mix my own stuff, so that was cool. But I just wanted all my worlds of things that I liked to mix together. Now, I guess, they’re finally happening.”
“After Dark” And Mr.Kitty’s Move To Austin
In 2015, Mr.Kitty moved to Austin. He remembers playing a final show in Dallas before hitting the road.
“That was actually the same night that I wrote ‘After Dark,’” he said. “So that’s pretty weird.”
With roughly 40 million video views on YouTube across several uploads – and 24.6 million plays on Spotify – “After Dark” is Mr.Kitty’s most popular single. Consequently, it’s the song that Mr.Kitty earns the most money from, even from videos that fans have published.
Per YouTube’s copyright claim process, when content is uploaded to YouTube and it matches an artist’s music, any advertising revenue earned by that content is credited to the artist through the artist’s music distributor. Typically, YouTube keeps 40% of the advertising revenue.
In Feb. 2015, Mr.Kitty uploaded “After Dark” to his YouTube channel with some cover art. In May 2016, a fan shared the song with footage from the Ryan Gosling film, “Drive.” In Feb. 2017, Mr.Kitty noticed a music video for “After Dark” featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper from the film, “Silver Linings Playbook.” Then in April 2019, a fan named Diana Sandra posted the song to YouTube with footage from “Career Opportunities,” a 1991 film with Jennifer Connelly.
The latter video has 26.5 million views, which far surpasses the others.
“I really appreciate the fan videos and making my music accessible to people that don’t really know what I do or anything like that,” Mr.Kitty said. “And then the ‘Career Opportunities’ one popped up, and I just remember watching it and I was like, this movie was really, really bad. I was like, this movie kind of sucks. But the way that Diana Sandra…edited it, made it good, I guess. And so it really got people interested.
“And then months later, it’s just like the views for that kept climbing. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ But the thing is, yeah, they can’t monetize it. So all the views and all that goes to me.”
In a funny twist, Mr.Kitty loves Jennifer Connelly and has several collectibles, including a photo book from “Labyrinth” – a movie she starred in from 1986 – and a record where Connelly is singing in Japanese.
Mr.Kitty has never communicated with Diana Sandra, but he thinks that she is from Italy.
“It’s just a weird thing that I’m just like, thanks for making me money,” he said.
Seeing videos for “After Dark” pop up so often discouraged Mr.Kitty from releasing his own music video for the song. Now, he’s tossing out those plans and waiting to make a new official music video for the single. He wants to be in the video for a variety of reasons.
“As much as I love the fan videos, they aren’t particularly my vision of what is actually being portrayed in the song,” he said. “It’s cool to see Jennifer Connelly, but it’s like now I possibly have the budget to say, ‘Hey, I could actually get Jennifer Connelly to be in my video.’
“I don’t know any indigenous people that are making the same type of music that I am on the scale that I am. So it’s important for me to put myself out there as a queer indigenous (Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes) artist.”
Growing A Music Business During The Pandemic
In terms of what he’s earned on YouTube from all the various “After Dark” uploads, Mr.Kitty declined to share the exact sum, saying only that “it’s a lot of money.”
He says that he purposely spends little time reviewing the analytics and earnings for his YouTube channel and other streaming revenue sources. Also, because of BMI and ASCAP – the leading performing rights organizations – Mr.Kitty doesn’t need to police his content rights. If a song of his is played in a retail store, for instance, he gets paid for it.
“I sort of just let things come my way and then I’m happily surprised at the end of it,” he said. “That’s just how I’ve always done it. I’ve never had a manager, nobody’s ever touched my social media. I just kind of let it go.
“The more that (my music) is uploaded on like a TikTok video or Instagram or anything like that, (the money) just keeps going up. I’m noticing more and more of it every day.”
To supplement these earnings – particularly during the pandemic when live shows are on pause – Mr.Kitty has streamed two live shows a month on his YouTube channel. One show is for European fans, and the other is for his U.S. fan base. The streams are free to access, and he lists his Paypal, Venmo, and Cash App user names. He earns a few thousand dollars per show.
“You’re not just playing in front of an audience of 150 people, you’re playing in front of the world,” he said. “People can just turn their computer on, and then you have the links at the bottom. It’s like, there you go.”
Merchandise is another growing revenue stream for Mr.Kitty, who bought an embroidery machine to create beanies, masks, hoodies, and more for his e-commerce store. Recently, he announced a partnership with Secret Oktober, a South Austin retail store (5318 Menchaca) that sells Mr.Kitty apparel.
A big ingredient to Mr.Kitty’s success is the community that supports him. Across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, he has more than 161,000 followers. He doesn’t take that for granted.
“Some people have different intentions and only want their personal gain,” he said. “But I don’t just do stuff in the goth community, I also work with the queer community and anybody that asks for help. When I have the time, I’m able to help.”