Melanie Doane wears many hats: singer, songwriter, musician, and mother, just to name a few. And with 6 top 40 hits in Canada, song placements on television shows like Brothers and Sisters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a Juno Award for Best New Artist under her belt, it’s pretty clear she’s figured out what works for her. Read on to learn how she balances motherhood with a very successful music career, and why she left her major label for a small independent team.
Without using the words “alternative” “pop” or “rock” or “hip-hop” describe your sound.
My “sound” is lyrically and melodically driven and incorporates a variety of instruments that I play, including violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, piano, and ukulele.
Describe your songwriting process.
I don’t have one specific writing process. Sometimes the lyrics come first; sometimes the music comes first. Sometimes I collaborate with other writers; other times I write alone. I write about my own experiences and sometimes the songs know what they are about more than I do. I love when that happens.
What or whom do you go to for musical inspiration?
I find if I just sit and listen to pretty much any music I get inspired; my right brain takes over and ideas start to flow. I also don’t always wait to feel “inspired”. I will often just work through it, and this at least makes me feel like I have discipline if nothing else (and sometimes I get a song out of it). I also love writing with other people. It’s challenging, and getting someone else’s energy and musical library in the room with you is hugely inspiring.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being signed to a major label?
Well, I haven’t been with a major for over 9 years now, so things have changed a lot. The obvious advantages [depending on your deal] are unlimited resources for radio promotion, publicity, tour support, artwork . . . pretty much everything. The disadvantage is that you have less control over those resources so they don’t always work for you to their full potential. There are sometimes business decisions made for you that you’re not always in favor of, and a lot of money gets spent that you then are expected to pay back. I find I am able to see more money now as an independent compared to when I was on a label, and it’s all based on real sales, real listeners and real connection through live performance.
Why did you decide to work independently?
It was a natural move for me after my album “Adam’s Rib” achieved Gold record status and my label (Sony Canada) became unhappy with how things were going. They figured it should have sold more. The thing is, this was at a time when the industry was changing fast (1999/2000 – aka the “Napster” years). Even though I had 4 top 40 hits from the one album, won a Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) and sold 70,000 copies (in Canada), they were beginning to withdraw their support. I took that as a bad sign for my future work with them and asked to be let off the label.
What’s your team like now? (Manager? Band members? Marketing team?)
My team is extremely small. I have a record producer, a digital/new media manager, and a booking agent. I also have a band that I use in a variety of different configurations (full band, trio or duo), and that’s it.
How do you balance being an artist and being a mom?
I keep things very small and controlled so that it’s manageable. I revolve around my kid’s schedules, so I can’t go on the road for weeks and weeks at a time. And yet, I also have to make enough money to support us, so I work as many avenues as possible. My writing is an area I nurture at all times. Song placements (I’ve had songs on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Being Erica” etc.) are a good source of income for me that allows me to tour on the “mom schedule”. For me that’s weekend shows or a week of shows at a time instead of three months of touring in one jaunt, which works for me and my kids just fine.
How do you use social media to promote your music?
I have a wonderful digital manager – Mitchell Hunter. He and I work together to use social media in ways I am comfortable with. A lot of people use these platforms to try and push for new followers and fans, but I like to focus on maintaining communication with the people who are already interested in my music. To do this frequently, both Mitchell and I post on the platforms we use and we’re always upfront about that. He identifies himself and never poses as me which is extremely important. This allows us to jointly keep things current when I get overloaded with kids and gigs etc. So far people are responding well to our approach.
How do you actively control the rights of your music?
I own my publishing and masters. It’s in your best interest as a songwriter and artist if you can retain ownership of these. I do have some of my back catalog still represented by Sony but for the most part I am the publisher of my songs.
Can you tell us about your recent projects?
I just put out a new album called “The Emerald City” and it’s been released through TuneCore to digital outlets worldwide. My last album (“A Thousand Nights”) was more of a lullaby-themed album I made for parents like myself, so it was fun to return to my “roots” and do a more pop-rock record that highlights my songwriting and playing. I worked with my brother Creighton (he produced it) and it’s an album I’m really proud of.