Centre Staged: Melanie Baker By Yasmin Norvill

Have you been searching for some calm acoustics to accompany the flurry of warm summer days that have recently graced the UK? Enter, Melanie Baker. Melanie is a captivating indie-folk artist from the Lake District. Her soft yet powerful music captured the hearts of thousands of online listeners when she started her own YouTube channel a few years ago.

If you have found yourself with Taylor Swift’s Folklore on repeat for the past week, (just like the rest of us), then I highly recommend shaking up your playlists and dipping your toe into Melanie’s latest EP release, Broken. Allow the atmospheric tones to trickle through your earbuds and immerse yourself with beautiful harmonies and thoughtful, poignant lyricism.

In 2018, Baker spent some time in Nashville developing her skillful songwriting with artist mentor Judy Stakee. It is no surprise then that Melanie is able to address themes within her music of love and modern day anxieties with ease. My favourite song on the Broken EP, Better Than This, captures the strength of Melanie’s voice while offering a pensive relatability. The hauntingly beautiful music is matched with the lyrics of “I just need a little time, need to feel a little high, need to know does it get better than this.”

After opening for the likes of Dodie, Maisie Peters and Tessa Violet; she has firmly cemented a place amongst a group of women writing touching songs for the next generation.

When speaking to Melanie, I was extremely interested to discuss her thoughts on the reputation of YouTube within the music industry and further, how social media has changed the game for up and coming artists. She gracefully offered reflective advice for women starting out in the industry, and we also spoke about her own art and distinct writing style.

What is your writing process when tackling big topics such as love or self-reflection? Are the themes always autobiographical or do you imagine characters and write about their outlooks?

My songs have mostly always come from first-hand experiences. I write about what I know; things I feel, conversations I've had, relationships I've been in. I think it's because songwriting has always been a cathartic process for me - it's been a way of understanding myself a bit better and releasing emotions that I've bottled up. Almost all of the songs I've released so far have been auto-biographical except for one. There's a song on my last EP called "Honey", which was actually inspired by a story I read about a couple who were separated during WW2. But when I started playing it at gigs, the meaning changed for me and it ended up becoming a very personal song to me that I could relate to even though I initially wrote it about something fictional!

What is your favourite song you've ever written and why?

It's impossible to answer this since it always changes depending on what the most recent song I've written is...But from the songs I've released I'd say my favourite right now is maybe "Modern World" since it's pretty relatable in the current climate. It's all about how social media as well as the expectations we place upon ourselves can have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

What was it like working with Judy Stakee, what did you learn?

Life-changing! Getting to work with Judy and also being surrounded by like-minded songwriters and artists was genuinely one of the best experiences I've ever had. I actually learned how to be vulnerable and open myself up during co-writing sessions. Songwriting had always been a very personal and isolated process for me, but learning how to co-write with other musicians who could help expand my own sound and ideas was amazing. Getting to write outside of my own genre was really fun too! I think it definitely opened me up to a whole new realm of creative possibilities.

You have supported artists such as Dodie, Tessa Violet and Maise Peters - what is it like going on tour, what is the best part?

These were all single shows but they were all so much fun, getting to support an artist you are similar to and that you also look up to is really cool. Also the audiences are always so friendly! I think my favourite part is meeting and chatting with people afterwards.

What advice would you give to young women attempting to make it in music?

Work hard, be resilient and enjoy the process.

Trust your intuition. I look back now and realise how much time I wasted worrying if I was making the right decisions, desperately seeking validation from "industry professionals" and watering down my ideals to fit into a mold that I thought would make me more successful in my music career. And know your worth! I've often felt patronised and belittled because like most other industries, it's a male dominated one and I have a much thicker skin now than when I first started. Work hard, be resilient and enjoy the process.

Nowadays, how crucial do you believe online platforms such as Instagram, YouTube or even Tik Tok are in the music industry?

If you want to stay connected with your current fans, and reach new ones, then being on social media is what allows that connection to happen.

I think social media comes part and parcel with having a music career, especially for independent artists. We live in a digital age! If you want to stay connected with your current fans, and reach new ones, then being on social media is what allows that connection to happen. I'm not actually on Tik Tok but I know it's the "new platform to go viral", but going viral isn't actually at the top of my bucket list believe it or not...

How did you build an online following?

It probably started on YouTube, I loved being a part of that community and posting covers, music and collaborating with other artists and making friends. I think I built a following pretty organically from that and then over the years of gigging and busking I've had a lot of new people join along the way.

Do you believe there is a stigma in the music industry attached to musicians who first found their fame on YouTube?

Yeah I do think there's still a stigma but I think less so now than before considering there's a lot more independent artists making it big. I notice a lot of artists who started by posting music to YouTube still get described as "YouTube Stars" which I think is pretty funny honestly. I actually think major labels and big music execs are probably threatened by it - if an artist can already have millions of fans on YouTube who buy your songs and turn up to your shows...why would you need a label to come along and take a cut of your money? I'm a big believer that being an independent artist is the best option.

What music has been keeping you motivated and calm during lockdown?

I've been listening to so much music during lockdown, I pretty much have headphones on for like 9 hours of the day...If you were to look through my playlists over the last couple months, they are filled with songs from predominantly female artists like Hayley Williams, Margaret Glaspy, Phoebe Bridgers (obviously), Liza Anne, Laura Marling, Big Thief. They all inspire and motivate me SO much.

You can stream Melanie’s latest EP on Spotify and follow her journey by following her on Twitter and Instagram.