Women in Spotlight: Melissa McMillan

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When I think of the heart points of a good life, I often think of music. Music has been ubiquitous in my life, played as the soundtrack to a lot of major life events. So it's no surprise that because of my love for music and the way it transcends mundane moments that I feel drawn to and connected with people who do it for a living. Melissa is the kind of person whose voice rings through the noise of modern day music and takes on its own form within the genre. When Melissa sings, her voice fills the air around you in a sinuous manner, making you feel what she feels, as good musicians should. Melissa is a musician getting her proper recognition; she recently sang onstage at the Grammys with Kesha, which was an unbelievable performance. It seemed fitting to feature her as the next artist in my series featuring sharp, talented women. After walking around in Soho in the early morning light Melissa took some time to talk about her music, her inspiration and singing in New York City.

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When did you first realize that you loved to sing, and that you could also do it as a career?

I always knew I loved to sing, even as a small child. My mom claims that I was singing before I was speaking. I'd like to think that although I wasn't in lessons or learning how to play any instruments as a kid, that I was still honing my skills, mainly through what I heard on that radio. I grew up emulating that greats Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, etc. They taught me how to sing. I always knew I wanted to do it professionally - It wasn't until I got to high school and joined choir that I thought I realized I had a unique talent though. Never looked back since then!

New York city is such a great place for diversity and artists; what has been the experience for you as you navigate this city as a creative woman? 

New York City has really helped me find my voice as an artist, not just a singer. In college I studied jazz at the University of North Texas, and since I hadn't listened to jazz much before I spent so much time listening to and mimicking other jazz singers - which is crucial to understanding the language, don't get me wrong - but I wasn't really searching for my own voice or sound; I wasn't writing my own songs. It wasn't until my very last semester of college that my voice teacher really pushed me to start creating my own arrangements of jazz standards, which segued into me writing my own songs. Once I loved to NYC, I immediately began forming my own band and writing music and everything really clicked. I know so many people here from college, so it was fairly easy to find a community. Since then, I have bonded with so many other great singer/songwriters, particularly women, who come from many different worlds outside of my little jazz bubble and that has been so rewarding. 

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New York City has really helped me find my voice as an artist, not just a singer.
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What has been the highest point of your career thus far? 

There are a couple moments that stick out. First of all, releasing my EP. That was a couple years ago now, but I'm still so proud. It's mainly original music, with one cover, that pays homage to my early music education through listening to the radio (One in a Million by Aaliyah). It's jazz influenced, but it's my own sound, influenced by many different genres. The other thing was probably performing at the Grammys this year with Kesha. I grew up idolizing the Grammys and it was such a crazy experiencing to be performing there, and especially to be the only moment of the night that highlighted the #metoo and #timesup movements was major. I really feel that the music industry has a lot catching up to do as far as sexual harassment/assault and Kesha was so brave for taking her story to such a large platform. 

Who has been a positive female influence in your life that contributes to your own personal evolution?

There are so many examples of this in my life. My voice teacher in college, Rosana Eckert is a great example. Music in general but especially coming from a background in jazz, is such a boys club - it can be difficult to navigate as a woman and as a vocalist; there are so many negative stereotypes. Rosana was such a badass, and made sure that all her students had all the tools/skills we needed to avoid fitting into that stereotypical female vocalist archetype. She made sure we could hold our own on the bandstand, lead the band, bring in clear sheet music for the band, have great arrangements of tunes, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. She basically taught me that at the end of the day, if you know your shit, these boys can't say NOTHING, haha. 

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Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years and do you think you'll still be in New York City?

In 3-5 years I hope to have released some new music and be touring more. To be able to sustain on my own projects alone would be nice. I do see myself in New York City, I'm not quite done with the city yet. I'm not sure that I could live here forever, but it feels like home for now. 

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You can find Melissa's work on her website and her Instagram.