Better From Here Music aims to help local musicians find their voices—and their audiences


Selfie photo by Kristen Mercado

A selfie by Better From Here Music's Kristen Mercado.

Kristen Mercado has a vision for local music. 

Mercado strongly believes that musicians need more opportunities for their work to be created and heard. So the singer-songwriter-producer who works under the name Larkn is doing something to make that happen with Better From Here Music, her Ann Arbor-based record label, production studio, and publishing company. The ultimate goal is to help artists create sustainable careers in music.

“I believe really strongly in development and songwriting and an individual person’s voice and not just in music talent alone,” Mercado said. “As a producer, I hope to be able to help bands and artists record their music and be happy with their music. I know that the challenges of having a budget for that are great, so I would like to help by encouraging music artists via the services, opportunities, and advice I can provide.”

Mercado explained more about Better From Here Music in an email interview.

Ian Tha Chosen performs on stage at Briarwood.

Singer-songwriter Ian Tha Chosen performs at Better From Here Music and Music Go Round Ann Arbor's "All Day, Let's Play!" concert at Briarwood Mall on April 13, 2024. Photo courtesy of Better From Here Music.

Q: What’s your personal background in music?  
A: I began taking piano lessons at 8 years old and was always drawn to theater and writing. In middle school, I composed some of my first songs, and when high school rolled around, I auditioned for the annual musical and was awarded leading roles. Rather than pursue opera or musical theater, I chose to attend Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts because I thought that the training would better support a career as a professional songwriter or composer, which I was always more passionate about than singing on its own. I worried that if I did have a career in Broadway or opera that I would have felt constrained creatively. After four years at Berklee and a summer internship at Chime Entertainment, a record label created by singer and music producer Marc Tanner—who produced The Calling, a band in the ’90s—I  relocated to Burbank, California, and spent about six years in Los Angeles as an independent music artist. My main goal at that time was to learn what I could about the business and gain feedback on my music, which I did from a few music producers.

Q: What led you to launch Better From Here Music?
A: Probably number one, a passion for music. I love music. Learning more information about the music industry in L.A. made me feel equipped and confident about it. Living in L.A. also helped me to appreciate how expensive California is and the hardships of starting a business there. It seemed like a lot of other music producers were realizing and doing the same thing—and leaving—as the industry was changing a lot. I’m from Clarkston, Michigan, originally and nearly all of my family lived in Michigan, and so when the idea of leaving L.A. came up, for all of these reasons I saw Michigan as a better location to start a business. At the time, I didn’t know which I wanted to do, but I knew I had a lot of music to share, that I wanted to be working with music and to be doing something creative.

Q: What’s the basic philosophy behind the venture?
A: The basic philosophy is to help nurture artists and bands, especially songwriters, and to help the music industry. I believe in empowering autonomous music creators and creating more overall opportunities for music to be made and consumed. There aren’t enough. There just aren’t. There used to be a lot of record labels and even the ones that exist aren’t a fraction of the size or operation that they used to be. I believe that music plays a vital role in healing and community. I firmly, strongly, and passionately believe that the individual talent of music artists and musicians, be it studio musicians or songwriters, is a really precious element of our society that needs support to come to fruition, as I saw in my industry experiences. [The] whole industry operates better when talent can be supported the way that it needs to be as almost no successful record wasn’t full of the successful collaboration of a bunch of people, be it an engineer, producer, songwriter, musician, etc. So that’s another reason to have record labels. It’s a lot of work to make a record or to launch a music artist.

Q: What’s the meaning behind the name Better From Here?
A: The phrase Better From Here was taken from one of my songs and has potentially a lot of meanings and applications. I went through a really difficult patch in my life with an acute form of chronic acid reflux called Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease—known by its abbreviation LPR—and so through some research and dietary changes, I was able to put it completely into remission. The process lasted over two years and in that time I struggled to use my speaking voice. So I think it came out of that experience; however, the inspiration behind the song was the scenario of a person who has been on a long hike through mountains or some other very difficult journey and has just come upon the moment where they see the end in sight. And for me the lyric, idea, concept or even relief, I think mostly relief, of “Better From Here” was what accompanied that experience. As I said, the concept can have so many applications—i.e., hope, better music, better music industry. That said, I chose to name the company that because I thought it was an engaging and positive concept.

Do You Write Music? with Open Mic at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, the first Thursday of every month, Featured group: Petalwave IG @Petalwaveband

Petalwave performs at Better From Here Music's "Do You Write Music?" event at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea on Washington Street in Ann Arbor. The open-mic event happens on the first Thursday of every month. Photo courtesy of Better From Here Music.

Q: You’re going for a full-service operation covering all aspects of the music business. Why is that approach important?
A: I think it’s important and smart for artists to think long term and not short term in their careers and for a business to responsibly cover multiple territories to be successful and the most helpful. I think that’s important because everyone knows the music business is crazy. For songwriters, your work and music should be thought of as high-value real estate, like 200 square feet in New York City. And the power of songs tends to be underestimated a lot, but in my opinion, really shouldn’t be. Both in the industry and to the artist themselves, being happy with what you do and what you’re saying is so important, so take the time to like what you do. I think you’ll encounter a lot of people who feel differently and they’re not necessarily wrong—there are people who have risen to fame and success off of almost no talent or little talent—but you can’t go wrong with creating a good product. I am a fan of live shows. They are fun and music is supposed to be fun.

And so a strategy that encompasses connecting with fans at a live performance and personal level in venues, fine-tuning the nuances of one’s brand—ideas, colors, personality and tone, things that work, things that don’t, etc.—are great ways to get the ball rolling in those areas. I wouldn’t advise an artist to not walk through these steps. It is a process slightly over product approach. Standard record labels take a whopping portion of artists’ earnings to do many of these things for them but that’s not very empowering to the individual, and my goal is to promote autonomous, community-minded creators who can independently make well-informed choices about their career in a nebulous industry—while positively adding to it—and hopefully be a part of making the industry easier for songwriters and entrepreneurs. I believe that if you make good music it will succeed—and you are willing to work hard—but by and large, good music will resonate with people. 

Q: Could you explain how your process works? Let’s say an artist wants help specifically with songwriting, or with producing an album. How do you work with them?
A: At the moment, I feel that the best way I can help with my available time and resources is to check out the newsletters that provide clear advice on some of these topics and strategies where there seem to be misconceptions or to reach out. It is a completely free service that I offer and all that is needed to sign up is to use the link on the Instagram bio and enter an email. In reaching out I can provide updates on local Better From Here Events for bands or artists or provide additional information or contacts. Or also, sometimes I post QR codes and the sign-up link can be found that way. I also try to make frequent posts to the @bfhmusic and @JustLarkn accounts that I think can be helpful to music artists. 

I might make suggestions to producers or individuals who I thought could be helpful or simply just give some advice, free of charge based upon my experience, for whatever it is worth to someone. I’m also happy to consider acts for events that I throw or to plug them in with some people who might help them at their stage/goals and in the area they are looking for help. I know great engineers, some of who are just starting out and would probably take on projects for portfolios. 

Otherwise, I charge $75-$100 an hour  (in most cases but would be willing to work with most budgets) for consultations/sessions. Collaborations or co-writes are also possible and I can be reached by email for questions (that I usually try to answer in the most helpful way that I can). Sessions can be about the business or music, including songwriting or music production. There are no submission fees to be able to play at events and the sound is completely provided. There are however some restrictions depending on the venue and event. For something like an album, that would be case by case. 

LiVING Ai at All Day, Let's Play! Local showcase @Briarwood Mall February 13th, 2024  IG Sponsored by Music Go Round Ann Arbor

LiVING Ai performed at Better From Here Music and Music Go Round Ann Arbor's "All Day, Let's Play!" local showcase at Briarwood Mall on February 13, 2024. Photo courtesy of Better From Here Music.

Q: What are some of your current projects?
A: I work with and have had the opportunity to feature a number of artists and bands at events and hope to help more. I have helped in areas like booking shows, recording, and providing music business advice. For example, at the last mall showcase we had this year, six artists were featured. I have also collaborated in the past with producers and songwriters and hope to continue that.

I am the president of WAVES (Washtenaw Audio and Video Engineer Society) at Washtenaw Community College, where I have relationships with a number of student producers, engineers, musicians, and other creative professionals. The idea of the club is to create a space for people to come together who have a passion for audio and video. We just created a relationship with the Esports Arena at WCC, which will feature the music of original music artists and producers. 

I organize a monthly event at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea in Downtown Ann Arbor called "Do You Write Music?" that is now going into its second year. My goal with that is to record live with audio and video. Some of that will be featured on Better From Here social media channels. That is great for singer-songwriters or really anyone as I’ve had hip-hop acts and slam poetry, but that event has to be family-friendly.

This and next year, Better From Here plans on presenting more free original music showcases at Briarwood Mall in front of JCPenney. I am also hoping for some more Better From Here Nights, like our ticketed show the other night at Ziggys in downtown Ypsilanti, where tickets to hear local bands and singers are an affordable $10 and potentially some other showcase-related events downtown. 

And Larkn will be releasing at least two music videos this summer.

Q: How can the general interested public keep up with what you’re doing?  
For curious folks, visit and Subscribing to the newsletter and following @bfhmusic on Instagram is the easiest way to be updated at the moment.

Q: What should artists do if they’d like to explore working with you? 
A: My email is or Artists, songwriters, producers, engineers, bands, anyone can send their music, links, press kits, and bios to me. Local businesses looking to team up or be involved in local events can also email me.

Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and

The next coffee-and-songwriter events at Sweetwaters, 123 W. Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor, are scheduled for 7 pm on August 1 and September 5. Dates and information for the Briarwood Mall showcase events and other upcoming events can be found on Instagram @bfhmusic.