The pop-soul singer-songwriter, whose real name is Ellen Hinton, describes her artist name as a tongue-in-cheek response to the realization that she is not the only Ellen in the entertainment industry. While deliberating on a moniker, Hinton asked her husband, Andre Hinton, his opinion about simply using her first name.
“It was a joke,” she says. “There’s already an Ellen. There’s Ellen Degeneres, Ellen Page, so many Ellens.”
After bouncing a few ideas back and forth, they landed on something.
“Well, if there are so many Ellens, why don’t we just say ‘Ellen, once again?’” she says. “And it just kind of stuck.”
Hinton has been strategic about her music career from a very early age.
"It was the first bargain that I ever made,” Hinton says of persuading her family to let her take piano lessons. Her mother sang, her father played instruments, and her two older sisters sang and played instruments.
“They were trying to get me to stop sucking my fingers,” she says, “so I said, ‘I’ll stop if you let me take piano lessons,’ and I stuck to that promise.”
Today, she has more than a decade of shows behind her and several song placements in commercials and television programs on networks such as ABC, TLC and Lifetime. While working on her first album, she landed spots on the reality series Toddlers & Tiaras and in a Friskies cat food commercial on YouTube.
Initially, Hinton submitted songs to various music publishing libraries and let music supervisors pitch them. When songs did get placed, she would be pleasantly surprised. As time went on, Hinton started to develop a strategy around the process, meeting people in the industry and networking with fellow songwriters who also pursued licensing opportunities. Eventually, she and Andre would travel to Los Angeles every couple of years to meet supervisors and cultivate relationships within the business.
Hinton says collaborating with friends and colleagues in the music industry was instrumental to her career.
“In music, you can’t be an island,” she says. Notable collaborators include Justin "GuitarSlayer" Lyons (Lil Wayne, BIGBANG) and Madukwu Chinwah (Erykah Badu, Snarky Puppy).
For many years, she has worked with Dallas-Fort Worth producers and engineers Josh Goode and Bradley Prakope, who have become intimately familiar with Hinton’s style and musical preferences.
“I can send a song to Josh, and he automatically knows how to make it ‘Ellen-y,’” she says.
She also trusts their opinions and respects their musicianship and artistry. Hinton usually works with Goode and Prakope in a professional recording studio. While recording her latest single, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an extra challenge.
“On this last project, ‘Be Okay,’ we were in quarantine,” she says. “They helped me do a setup so I can record the song here.”
She and Andre built some makeshift isolation booths and used trial and error to get the best sounds possible from their home. Goode and Prakope guided the Hintons through the recording process remotely, letting them know when there was too much room noise and how to improve upon that. This was the first time Hinton recorded a studio track from home, and she appreciated the help from her expert friends and collaborators.
While Hinton’s catalog largely comprises happy songs, “Be Okay” addresses the anxiety many are feeling and delivers a message of hope.
“Every day it feels like something new is happening — the things that are happening now, like some of the change and the Black Lives Matter movement, I think is necessary, and good. But a lot of the things with COVID-19 that are happening [are] heartbreaking,” she says. “I think that this is a season. I’m thinking that this won’t last forever.”
In addition to her music career, Hinton is also a music teacher, church musician and mother. While those roles have presented challenges while sheltering in place, Hinton is glad for the time she has been able to spend with her two young daughters. She feels uncertainty about what the upcoming school year will look like.
Hinton says she is still fearful, in spite of her song’s hopeful tone.
”I am so guilty of waking up in the morning and picking up my phone and looking at the news,” she says. “I want to know what’s going on, but a lot of times you feel despair. When you hear about so many people out of work right now, or with people having COVID, it’s just easy to start feeling scared or feel down, so a lot of times, [the song] is a pep talk to myself.”
She has resolved to remain optimistic.
“I’m going to live like things are going to get better,” she says.
Writing music is a way Hinton embodies her motto: “Peace, love and purpose.” She always strives to serve others through her songs.
“What can I do to help somebody else? What can I say to encourage somebody else?” she says. “That’s really been on my mind a lot: how to help.”
Watch "Be Okay" below: