Students were treated to a masterclass from a special guest at BIMM Birmingham this term, with an appearance from major label vocalist, songwriter and producer, MNEK.
The artist, who has collaborated with, remixed and produced the likes of Madonna, Dua Lipa, Stormzy and Rudimental had just kicked off his UK tour in support of his debut album ‘Language’, and performed an incredible launch show in Manchester’s Gorilla the previous night.
MNEK received questions from BIMM Music Ambassador Dr. Jennifer Otter-Bickerdike and discussed various facets of his professional life, including his formative years, releasing his debut album at the age of twenty-three, and the many obstacles he’s navigated to reach this point.
“I started out writing poems when I was at school. And because I loved music, I started turning them into songs. I didn’t know how or when to get into the industry, I just knew I wanted to do it. When I was 14, I recorded a demo and put it up on Myspace, which is how I got ‘discovered’. Shortly afterwards, I signed my first publishing deal.”
“During those initial years, I was just developing as an artist and working with a songwriting and production team called Xenomania. They handled all the big UK girl groups at the time. So, the first cut I got was with a track called ‘All Fired Up’ by The Saturdays, at age 16. Then, I started blazing my own trail working with other artists like the Rudimental boys, then Duke Dumont, then Gorgon City. It quickly became this organic swirl of collaboration. Meeting those people was essentially the jumpstart to my writing career.”
This natural process of MNEK’s artistic development goes a long way towards explaining why it took the best part of a decade for him to release his debut LP.
“I signed my record deal 5 years ago, and had an album initially that I was ready to mix. But that wasn’t meant to be. So, I did another one, which didn’t happen either.”
It’s worth noting at this point, that throughout this process, MNEK was busy writing and producing for various major industry names like Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue.
“’Essentially, this album is me saying ‘right, this is what really I want to say’. I went to the label and said ‘Look, I need you guys to close the doors and listen to this from start to finish’. Because I really wanted it to be a sonic journey, like ‘The Velvet Rope’ by Janet Jackson, ‘The ArchAndroid’ by Janelle Monae and ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’ by Destiny’s Child – those albums where every song contributes to a bigger story.”
MNEK’s story until now has most certainly been a unique one. Not least because he’s one of the only openly gay black male solo artists in today’s pop industry. He explains how this affected the album’s tone.
“The album’s called ‘Language’ because it’s about being misunderstood and misinterpreted and reclaiming that understanding. Both my parents are Nigerian so I don’t have anything remotely close to an English name, yet I’m a UK artist. I’ve had so many misunderstandings as far as who I am, how my name’s pronounced, etc. Which is why I’m so proud to have made an album as an openly gay black artist in the UK; that’s hard to come by. So, I wanted to at least be able to introduce some familiarity to that concept within the pop world.”
MNEK concluded this generous account of his sexuality and cultural identity with a beautifully succinct anecdote.
“You’re exposing yourself to middle England; to people who aren’t familiar with that. They might frown upon it. They might be unsure about it. But, everyone else gets to live their truth, I gotta live mine, right?”
Before departing to perform a show at the O2 Institute, MNEK gave three key pieces of career advice to the students at BIMM Birmingham.
“I would advise anyone who’s in music to really get familiar with a digital audio workstation (DAW), ‘cause having that control over your records and having an awareness of how to record – even if it’s just for a demo – is really powerful.”
“I’d also advise you to constantly listen to music. The whole reason I’m involved in music is because I’m a fan first. When I started out, it was ‘cause I loved listening to songs. And I wanted to find out how to make someone else feel that way.”
“Lastly, don’t be afraid for collaborate. It’s been one of the main things for me. All my successful songs have come from a meeting of minds and ideas, as well as there being someone to reign it in at the right places. It’s about appreciating what everyone can bring to the table. Someone else could bring something to a song which you probably couldn’t, and that’s important.”
We’re extremely grateful to MNEK for taking the time to talk to our students in the middle of his tour and wish him all the very best with the ‘Language’ tour and his future collaborations.