Dreams coming true for singer/songwriter

HAILEY STEELE has been quarantining in South Dakota since the COVID-19 pandemic ended a tour. While in the state, she has written "All I Wanted," which was released last week and is already garnering national attention.

One by one, Hailey Steele is making her dreams comes true. With the release of her latest single, "All I Wanted," she achieved another when American Songwriter published a story about the song's genesis.

"That's a bucket list item," Steele said in a phone interview.

The 2006 graduate of Chester High School has been chasing dreams since she was in high school. However, she has learned that pursuing a music career is a two-edged sword that offers incredible experiences but also demands incredible sacrifices.

She learned this already in high school, where she participated in chorus, band and volleyball as well as All-State Chorus. There she also experienced bullying until transferring to Chester, where her parents taught.

"That was the only adversity I knew then," she said. "It motivated me."

Steele knew from a young age that she wanted to go to Nashville and pursue a country music career. However, she didn't simply take a leap of faith after graduating from high school, although she had been performing for years by then and had shared the stage with country music legends like Willie Nelson.

Instead, she attended Belmont University, a private Christian university in Nashville, earning a degree in public relations with a minor in music business.

"It was my backup plan," Steele said, noting that what she learned has come in handy while building her career.

She admits to working odd jobs, such as cleaning houses and giving museum tours, to augment her income during her early years in Nashville, but for the past eight years, she has been making a living as a singer/songwriter. In part, this was possible because she has had a couple of publishing deals.

During this time, Steele has collaborated with other female vocalists, including RaeLynn, Kalie Shorr, Ashley Ray and Shelly Fairchild. More recently, she has been touring with singer/songwriter Will Hoge.

When COVID-19 brought a screeching halt to public performances, Steele decided to use the break to do something she has wanted to do for a while -- make new music.

"I decided to come home and quarantine in South Dakota," she said from Sioux Falls.

Steele started writing remotely and learned to record her own vocals. As a result, "All I Wanted" was released to digital platforms on Friday and was picked up for the Spotify playlist.

The song explores an issue with which she wrestles in her own life -- the need to find balance. As a singer/songwriter, her life is about making music, about touring and performing. But, this makes having a family life difficult.

"So far, I don't have any kids or anything, so I've been able to go when the road calls," she said. But her career has taken a toll on relationships she has had.

Currently, Steele is in a three-year relationship with a guy who is not in the music industry, which she believes is helping her to find the kind of balance she is seeking. She laughs when she describes meeting him at a bar where she was performing.

"The first time I met him, the bar owner was trying to set us up," she said. Her boyfriend, who works for a liquor distributorship, didn't know a lot about the music industry, so that wasn't a subject for conversation.

"I got nervous and blabbed about whiskey," Steele said. "I was trying to find some common ground."

In writing about the need for personal balance in "All I Wanted," she is seeking to reflect the authenticity of personal experience.

"The older I get, I think I'm willing to get more real in my songwriting," Steele explained.

With the attention her latest song has garnered, she is hopeful that her career has reached a new level, but only time will tell. She competed in Season 2 of "The Voice" on NBC, performed on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and had her first solo single, "Where I Thought I'd Be," featured on CMT.

None of those experiences has launched her career to sell-out-arena status. Still, with the work ethic and persistence she learned growing up in the Midwest, Steele perseveres.

"You just chip away at a career and then bam! Something happens!" she said, explaining the way stars are made in the music industry.

Steele is aware that Nashville has an unspoken standard for female performers.

"You have to be the youngest and the prettiest," she said.

However, she believes musicians improve with age and refuses to let this standard shape either her dreams or her actions. She loves to make music and that's what she plans to continue doing.

"Maybe I'll be selling out arenas and maybe not," she said. "I'm just trying to create music that is real to me and people want to listen to."