As one of the biggest up and coming R’n’B stars in the UK’s urban pop scene, twenty-one year old major label signee Mabel has a wealth of music industry experience to reflect on. Which is why BIMM were incredibly pleased to host a masterclass with the young artist at our London campus during the first term of 2018.
In the live performance space of local music venue Under The Bridge, Mabel was interviewed by Kelly Lethbridge – Course Leader for Diploma in Popular Music Performance. She spoke confidently to a sold-out audience of students from all disciplines about her experiences in the music industry so far.
As the daughter of international pop singer/songwriter Neneh Cherry and producer Cameron McVey, there’s no question that Mabel comes from an incredibly strong musical heritage. She kicked off proceedings with some background on her early experiences in music.
“I’ve grown up around creatives, and have always understood music as a sick way to express yourself. So, when I was five, I started playing piano. I learned how to read and write when I was super young, so I was always journalling, and soon after I figured out that the combination of chords and words is basically how you write songs. And my creative process today is still pretty much the same. I just look at my lyric notes and play piano.”
Being surround by people from different walks of the music and wider creative industries, Mabel’s artistic influences are as diverse as they come. She spoke about the themes and styles prevalent within her lyric-writing.
“My lyrical content is basically just whatever I’m going through. Writing from the perspective of other people’s experiences is always really interesting as well. I just like classic storytelling and being very specific about things. A friend of mine who’s more into their indie music taught me that. If you look at a lot of mainstream R’n’B songs, they tend to be a bit more poetic and sort of dance around the topic of the song. Whereas, indie songs tend to be a lot more direct. And I love the idea of combining that with R’n’B music and I always try and paint a lyrical picture when I’m writing.”
As such a young artist, Mabel had plenty to say about the pressures felt by those starting out in a competitive industry. She spoke openly about how she deals with anxiety as a creator and how important it is to have a strong support network around you.
“It is crazy out there. Shouts to my naturally anxious crew because I am most definitely part of that group. I’d just say it’s hard to be anxious when you know you’re really happy with what you’ve done creatively. If you’re truly happy with your work, then there’s nothing anyone else can say that’ll make you feel otherwise.”
She continued. “I still don’t sleep before my releases though, and sometimes I get proper anxious. But, even if you are feeling that way, I think just being vocal about it with your team really helps. Just remember, you don’t have to be strong all the time. I think I always knew what I wanted to do creatively, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it for a very long time. I used to be almost apologetic whenever I was on stage or in sessions. It took maybe three years for me to have the confidence to get up there and say ‘this is me. This is who I am.'”
Mabel is in the same age group as many BIMM students, yet she has already experience in many areas of the music industry. With this in mind, perhaps her most poignant piece of advice was on the subject of creative identity – a theme which many-a-young artist struggles with at some point.
“The most important thing is to just take your time to experiment. Work with as many people as possible. Take your time to figure out why you like something about this song, and what you don’t like about that song. Because, when you’re in a situation with a label, or you’re about to release something independently, it’s so important to figure out what your vision is. Try to think about your long term goals. Ask yourself, what kind of an artist do I wanna be? What am I trying to say? What do I wanna make people feel? And then let people support you in that vision. Don’t let anybody else’s opinion steer the ship.”
Before departing, Mabel took time to answer key questions from her audience which varied from what she likes to get up to in her down time to her own songwriting techniques. She even skilfully side-stepped a comical romantic advance from a male admirer in the audience, proving she’s as savvy handling a boisterous crowd as she is performing on-stage.
Mabel’s debut album release has been slated to drop in the first quarter of 2019, with a UK headline tour throughout November and December – culminating with a headline show at Brixton academy.
Photos by Steve Moulin Photography