NEW YORK (AP) - Writing songs for top U.K. acts such as Susan Boyle, Cheryl Cole and Tinie Tempah helped Emeli Sande's career. It also hurt her.
After penning those tunes through a publishing deal, the singer said getting her own recording contract wasn't easy, mainly because record executives couldn't picture Sande as the artist behind the songs she was writing.
"They could hear that they were good songs, but they wanted to give them to these artists that were already on," she said in a recent interview.
That process made the former medical student feel out-of-place, which drove her to write the slow groove "Clown."
"I was finding it very difficult to find a label that understood what I wanted to do and really believed that people wanted to hear something honest and a little bit different. So, I did feel a bit like a clown," she said. "You're knocking on everyone's door trying to get them to believe what you're doing."
Sande, whose parents are from England and South Africa, was raised in Scotland. She eventually found a home at a label that lets her belt her pipes over R&B beats and pop grooves. "Our Version of Events," her debut, was released this month.
"I want to speak for people that may not feel like they're being spoken for at the moment," she said. "And I want to make a connection between the world around us and the charts."
And she's doing just that: Her album debuted at No. 1 in the United Kingdom when it was released there in February, and it reached No. 28 and No. 4 on Billboard's Top 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop albums charts, respectively. She won critics' choice at this year's Brit Awards and earned a spot on the European and U.S. legs of Coldplay's "Mylo Xyloto" tour. (The U.S. tour kicks off Friday.)
Even Alicia Keys is a fan. After Sande opened for the R&B superstar at a London show, Keys invited the newcomer to New York to write songs.
"It came out really naturally, and as people we really connected and as musicians we connected as well," said Sande, who co-wrote the song "Hope" with Keys for her debut and wrote material for Keys' upcoming album.
"It developed into such a great relationship," she continued. "It feels like I've really made a friend in the industry, which is quite rare."