The Daily Gamecock

Aubrey Key's first show in Columbia expands modern fanbase amid pandemic

<p>Aubrey Key and his partner, Candice Turner, hang out at the New Brookland Tavern before a performance.</p>
Aubrey Key and his partner, Candice Turner, hang out at the New Brookland Tavern before a performance.

Aubrey Key starting going viral last October for a video about working at a Circle K while he waited for his music to gain attention. This October, he played his first show in Columbia at The New Brookland Tavern.

Aubrey Key, an indie musician from Jonesville, South Carolina, posted a video on TikTok last October captioned “day 3 waiting on my songs to blow up so I don’t have to work at circle K anymore." It got hundreds of thousands of views and garnered attention to his music. Since then, he no longer works at Circle K and has built upon this initial success.

Aubrey Key and the Aubrey Keys, the name of Key’s band, performed last month at the New Brookland Tavern for their first-ever show in Columbia and one of their initial performances since the pandemic started. Key has begun performing often, a rare option for a pandemic-born artist.

Since his promotional TikTok was posted, he reached his mission of being able to live financially off his music and audience, now performing full-time, and was able to quit his job at Circle K. He said he feels very lucky to have reached this initial virality.

Today, his TikTok is still around, but now just for its original purpose of entertainment and to connect with fans.  

Aubrey Key on stage at the New Brookland Tavern getting ready for a soundcheck before a performance.
Aubrey Key on stage at the New Brookland Tavern getting ready for a soundcheck before a performance.

His popularity has only increased since this video, as his audience grows in the digital space. The Radio Room in Greenville is now a regular spot for his performances, whereas a year ago he had never performed seriously.

He also reached a milestone of a million listens to his song, "Flies," on Spotify in the past year, and he recently partnered with a company that puts his music in movies and TV shows.

He was also discussed during a live stream of Anthony Fantano, a popular online music reviewer with millions of followers. Key was reviewed with relative criticism to Fantano’s typically harsh reviews.

Key branches onto YouTube with music videos, Bandcamp and other social media platforms where he has a following. He has even experimented with using his fanbase to stream on Twitch with games such as "Stardew Valley" and "Call of Duty."

It hasn’t been easy building a career in the middle of a pandemic, Key said. He typically plays for venues that have vaccine or negative COVID-19 test requirements, but this can be trying and nerve-racking, he said.

“I always keep an eye on (South Carolina's COVID-19 numbers). I have really bad anxiety when it comes to that, like on my recommended websites on my homepage, the S.C. COVID cases is on there,”  Key said.

Right now, Key is trying to grow his established fanbase and find new followers through touring. He recently put out an album entitled “Good Morning!” which has similar influences to his past albums infused with aspects of his recent life, such as family and managing a developing career.

“I'm kind of this mentality where, I'm actually getting shows and my monthly listeners are always going up. I mean, it's slow. But it's always going up,” Key said. “I’m just really trying to do this.”

At his performance at New Brookland Tavern in October, he performed the songs off his new album in a hot dog costume, to celebrate Halloween, as he smiled through his classic frames and purple lighting of the stage.

His music isn't experimenting with recording music in his bedroom for TikTok anymore. It is now live, in-person and with bandmates. Performing in a Willie Nelson costume, Jonah Terry, a friend from his childhood, does back-up vocals and bass, and the lead guitarist is Taylor Bucich. Bucich has known Key since they met in Clemson at their collective and house band, named Pablo Generation.

Many of the songs on this album are influenced by the small town of 800 people that Jonesville has been to Key, in addition to his career and his family. They all have the self-awareness and comedic indie emo of songs such as “Lemon” and “Hotdogs,” according to Key.

Key's personal life is the inspiration for some of his new songs, he said.

“My dad makes music, and I'm closer to making a living off of it than he was. I felt like I should try my best right now, doing that instead of getting a nine-to-five,” Key said.

Key has a distinct style to his music and album cover art, often decorated with photos he has taken himself or artwork from his partner. He, as a fan of the holiday and Harley Poe Halloween music, has made it a tradition to make a Halloween song every year because he said he feels that there aren’t a lot of good Halloween songs out there. 

Key released the newest Halloween EP, "Werewolf," this Halloween season.

Key said he plans to play more shows, and possibly tour, in the near future. He is also looking for more ways to connect the audience he has on TikTok and Bandcamp to his Instagram