The musician tells PEOPLE about bending over backwards for industry gatekeepers and how the experience inspired her new song "Tolerance"
Success appeared to be on the horizon for Eloise Alterman until music industry gatekeepers ripped the rug out from under her.
Last year, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter was gearing up to release an album crafted with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, willing to do whatever it took for the project to see the light of day. But after getting unexpectedly dropped by her record label and management company, Alterman wrote a new single about what she learned from the experience: "Tolerance," which dropped Friday.
The ballad finds the musician reflecting on how it feels to move forward as a free agent after years of industry big-shots surrounding her with support at every turn. "The memories turn to nightmares / You can't help it when it hits / But it builds your tolerance," sings Alterman on the song's chorus.
What exactly is she building tolerance against? "People's bulls---," the performer, who's sick of looking to others for validation, tells PEOPLE. After all, she's believed in herself since childhood.
Growing up in Detroit, Alterman was the only member of her family interested in pursuing music and turned to songwriting as an outlet to express her feelings as a sensitive, shy child. "I was taught very early on to hold a lot of my feelings in and just do what you're told," she recalls.
After keeping musicianship to herself throughout her adolescence, she was accepted to both Berklee School of Music and the University of Southern California's music business program. But she felt college could take valuable time away from launching a career as an artist and asked her parents to defer school for one year.
Alterman moved to Nashville at age 17 and hit the grind for months, scoring a publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog in late 2019 — a few short months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She persevered, released her first single "What I Thought It Was," earned airplay on SiriusXM's The Pulse radio and signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records in December.
With major companies behind her, things were finally lining up for Alterman, who'd also begun dating filmmaker Casey Fuller in Nashville. She made a complete album with Cobb and hoped pandemic restrictions would loosen up and pave the way for its release. Around the same time they did, she signed with a large management company — and was told she needed to dye her hair from blonde to red and move to Los Angeles in order to find success.
"I've been so low so many times that when I'm at the high, I'm like, 'Whatever I have to do, I will do it,'" says Alterman. "All of a sudden, I remember looking in the mirror and being like, 'I don't recognize myself at all.'"
Holding onto hopes that her album would come out, she dyed her hair and moved to L.A. with Fuller. In May 2022, she released an EP called Sad Bird as a teaser to the full-length project and began promoting its songs with expensive, glossy music videos and live performances — each one often costing at least $3,000 for hair and makeup alone.
Alterman even tried to create buzz on TikTok, at the label's direction. "They told me to act like I wasn't signed — 'Don't tell people that, because on TikTok they want to feel like they're discovering you," explains Alterman.
Unfortunately, her record label and management companies didn't see the quick return they'd hoped for. "Everyone's just looking at me, like, 'How come you didn't become famous?' And I'm like, 'I'm trying,'" says Alterman, who was dropped by both companies and her publisher by mid-2023.
She spent a few days sulking, but giving up wasn't in the cards. On a rainy spring day in L.A. last year, which mirrored Alterman's own teary eyes at the time, she went to co-writer Anna Schulze's house and wrote "Tolerance." "I sang the vocal that day, which was a week after being dropped," says Alterman of the emotional track, which she listened to on the way home from Schulze's house.
"It was an hour drive, and the sun was slowly starting to come through the very dark gray clouds," adds the musician, who took it as a sign. "It was the prettiest sunset I'd ever seen. I was like, 'There's a little bit of sun right there. We're building our tolerance.'"
Shortly after writing the song, Alterman posted snippets on TikTok — and earned her best-performing videos on the platform with hundreds of thousands of views. Excited by her music finally getting attention, she contacted her ex-label. "I was like, 'I'm going viral now. Do you want me again?'" she says. "They're like, 'Good. Go do your thing!'"
So, Alterman is doing just that. Leading up to the release of "Tolerance" last week, she dyed her hair back to blonde. "All of a sudden I was like, 'Let's go natural. Let's go back to me,'" she says, looking to strip anyone else's influence from her life.
However, she won't be moving back to Nashville or Detroit anytime soon. "I have this annoying thing about me where I'm like, 'I moved here. I'm not letting [music companies] be the reason I leave,'" she adds. "We can figure this out on our own. Mama still wants it, and she's going to make it happen."
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Looking forward, Alterman plans to steadily release songs, perform shows and connect with fans. "I have so much music that never got to see the light of day," she says.
She's also going to continue making her own decisions — and trusting them, since she knows herself better than anyone else. "I never felt truly understood by any sort of audience, because I wasn't being myself in a way," explains Alterman. "Now that I have so much control, I'm going to take advantage of that and hope that I can connect with people."
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