RIGHT now, there are few musicians as hopeful and upbeat as…
Emma McGann. She has every right to be in all honesty. Not only will this year see new music arrive from her: the Midlands-born artist is nominated in the Social Star Award Category at this year’s iHeartRadio Music Awards and is busy (as recently as an hour ago) with question-and-answer sessions on Facebook. She is a songwriter in-demand and has already won praise from Nancy Sinatra and Kylie Minogue. McGann was kind enough to find some time to talk about her upbringing and how music came to her ears; when we can expect new material and how her YouNow channel, set up after eschewing the allure of record labels and that lifestyle, has seen her connect with a huge audience and brought her music to fans across the world.
Hi Emma. How are you? How has your week been?
I’ve been great thank you! I’ve been working on new music for the past two months. My sleeping schedule is upside-down and there are instruments and lyrics all over my house… so I’m very, very happy right now!
For those new to your music can, you introduce yourself, please?
I’m an independent singer-songwriter based in the West Midlands, U.K. My genre is Electro-Pop, although there are some interesting infusions coming into play on the new album. I write in the hopes that my lyrics and music will make a difference to someone: whether it makes you dance, smile, cry – I wanna give you allllllllll the feels.
Your first album was 2010’s Start the Show. Almost seven years down the line; how does it feel looking back at that record and how have you progressed as a songwriter?
I’ve developed so much as a songwriter in the past seven years… so hearing that album sometimes feels like it could belong to someone else.
I’ve always been proud of Start the Show. It went down so well with my audience back then.
It’s been a healthy progression since as I’ve developed my style into something I can call my own.
Cherry on Top was released in 2014 and gained coverage on BBC Radio 1. What was that like and do you think that was a pivotal moment?
I ploughed my heart and soul into Cherry on Top – the track itself, the lyric video; the promotional campaign – all of it. Before it’s pre-order, I sifted through hundreds of contacts who I felt could lend a hand in getting the track to new audiences. There were many late nights spent on that campaign (as there always is for many independent artists) and all that hard work has paid off since. People still request it at shows which is nice. When it received airplay on BBC Radio 1, I was obviously over the moon. I have the team at BBC Coventry & Warwickshire to thank for all of their support.
Take me back to your childhood. How did you first get interested in music and which kind of artists were early influences?
At first, I think (maybe) my mum regretted asking me to start violin. I kinda flipped it and made her a deal that I’d take up music if I could bring home an electric guitar and a drum kit. To my surprise, she agreed and it developed from there. The weekends were all about scouring the album aisle at HMV for something new each week. CDs I’d bring home stretched from Wheatus, JoJo; Nirvana, Shania Twain… it was a real mish-mash. But what really inspired me were strong female-led bands – the Donnas, Garbage; No Doubt, Heart and Paramore…
You started singing in talent shows and open mic. nights as a teenager after failing to catch the attention of record labels. Was it quite disheartening ‘flying under the radar’ as it was? Was it a tough decision stepping away from live performances?
Open mics at eighteen was where I started out. I did have two small labels approach me some time before we released Start the Show but I gracefully had to say no. I wanted the experience of releasing my album independently. I’m glad I did as I learnt so much. From that came more opportunities at bigger shows. I’ve never given up on live performances and still perform with my music today, usually over the festival season. I’d never step away from performing live – it’s way too much fun.
Following that, you set a YouTube channel up and performed/perform live gigs to your subscribers. What is it like interacting with the fans and having so many supporters?
I am on YouTube, yes. I have a series of originals, covers and songwriting videos. The site I think you’re referring to is YouNow – a live-streaming platform that I use daily. YouNow is an incredible platform that has allowed me to directly engage with supporters in a way that they were never able to in the past. I host Q&As, perform acoustically and sometimes even stream my live gigs. The platform has propelled me towards a new worldwide audience. They’re so dedicated and really support what I do. I’m really grateful to them.
Would you encourage more songwriters, perhaps disheartened by the lack of record label recognition, to follow the same path as you?
I think more and more artists are becoming savvier with the idea of the independent route – for many, it’s more appealing. If you have the budget, the following and the balls to D.I.Y. – do it.
I feel that’s what a lot of labels are looking for initially anyway. It’s easier to push an artist with an established following than to build someone from the ground up. But even if you do go D.I.Y.; always be open for new opportunities with potential labels.
You Mess Me Up was released in 2015 and charted above George Ezra. That must have been an amazing moment? Are you a fan of Ezra and his music?
I love George’s music so was blown away to hear where You Mess Me Up landed in the iTunes singer-songwriter charts. We hardly expected it to chart in the top-one-hundred, let alone the top-fifteen. Ed Sheeran was just in front but I’m sure we can knock him down a peg next time… well, I’m gonna try. Bring it Ed! Ed’s another one of my faves. Not many people can captivate audiences like him; he’s really something else.
The likes of Nancy Sinatra and Kylie Minogue have recognised your music and said some very nice things. Is it quite daunting hearing such things from musical legends?
It’s dream-like. Completely unreal. Their words have really pushed me forward and have motivated me to keep going to this day.
You are nominated in the Social Star Award Category at this year’s iHeartRadio Music Awards. Can you tell us more about it and how people can vote for you?
The iHeartRadio Music Awards take place each year in L.A. to recognise artists and their achievements. I’ve been nominated in the Social Star Category for sharing my music with fans on YouNow.
Fans in U.S. and Canada can vote daily via the iHeartRadio app or via www.iHeartradio.com/awards
Fans outside of the U.S. can vote daily by retweeting and liking my pinned tweet on Twitter or by posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – using the following hashtags: #iHeartAwards #SocialStarAward #EmmaMcGann
You can vote until March 5th (which is the night of the awards; taking place in Los Angeles).
Thank you for voting!
Can we expect a new album/E.P. from you this year? What can you tell us about 2017?
2017 already feels like a whirlwind.
My new album is due for release in July 2017 and will be available worldwide.
I’ll be meeting fans in Amsterdam for VidCon’s first convention in Europe on April 7th and performing a few shows around Europe. I’ll be writing the second volume of my new book series – for beginner songwriters – later in the year and have some trips to the U.S. planned too.
The last year was successful and busy one for you. In 2017, will you be continuing with YouTube or performing more live gigs? Maybe a mixture of the two?
I’ve always performed live and plan to continue. I will, of course, continue to broadcast on YouNow and will have some new content throughout the year (coming to YouTube also).
If you had to choose only three albums, those that mean most to you, which would they be and why?
The Donnas – Gold Medal
This album will always be special to me as it inspired me to get together my first band.
Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory
I think this album would find its way into a lot of people’s top-three list. If you weren’t listening to this album way back then… then what were you doing?!
Katy Perry – One of the Boys
You know how most couples have a ‘song’? Well, me and my partner have a whole album… and it’s this one. Our first dance is gonna be looooooooonnnnng.
What advice would you give to any young songwriter coming through?
Keep an open mind and listen to music that is outside your comfort zone.
There’s so many ways to inspire your songwriting muse that you don’t already know about; so experiment a little.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song you like (not one of yours as I’ll include that) and I’ll play it here.
Jon Bellion – Guillotine
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