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Songtrust Spotlight: Jen Miller

Jen Miller is a music producer and artist from Columbus, Ohio, who is now sharing her soulful, quirky sound in Nashville. She’s shared the stage from Ohio to Edinburgh with Twenty One Pilots, Ed Sheeran, Passenger, Young the Giant, and Shovels & Rope, and her music has been featured in the Washington Post, NPR, Women’s Health, and Modern Luxury. In 2020, Miller was featured on Universal Music Group’s 100% Her album — the first-ever album created, mixed, and mastered entirely by women. Her 2019 self-produced EP Blue Earth charted on the United States iTunes Pop charts for a full week next to Lizzo and Maggie Rogers. Her latest 2021 project "Waiting" was self-produced, written, mixed, and mastered throughout the pandemic and tackled politics, women in the White House, and the COVID-19 virus topically. A multi-genre creator, Miller’s 2019 feature on Yellopain’s track "Last Time" about substance abuse, has racked up over 16 million views across platforms.


WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO MUSIC?

I always loved listening to music when I was younger, but I didn't get into making music myself until I blew my knee out when I was 17.  I used to play sports (soccer, track, basketball) and had my identity rooted in that before the injury. My surgeon told me I had to quit if I ever wanted to be able to "kneel for my children," which was a strange way to put it. But I got the point. Once my hopes of playing soccer in college went out the window, I had more free time and I also had lost my sense of who I was. So I started learning piano and ukulele...eventually guitar. And I found that I liked writing music as much -- if not more -- than I did listening to it.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC AND PERFORMANCE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND STYLE AS AN ARTIST?

Well, I'm a music producer first and foremost, which means I like to think that I can shapeshift between genres. What really ARE genres anyways?

My own music could be described as soul-pop. I'm a 1992 baby and if you were alive during the 90s, you know that the radio was full of cross-genre anthems. They weren't necessarily the same genre...but they were all HITS! I like songs with very catchy hooks so that is what I like to write.

When I hear my own music, I realize that I cannot shake my musical influences which I was obsessed with even before I started making music. I explore so many borrowed sounds. I was raised on a healthy diet of Motown, folk/70s rock, and classic songwriters like Carole King, Carly Simon, Janis Joplin, Aretha. It was all over the place. As I became a teen, I went hard into indie and rock music...Modest Mouse, Radiohead, The Killers, RCHP, Incubus. I hear all of that in my music in any given song.

I guess my philosophy as an artist is not to be too precious about it. In a year like 2022, there's so much obsession around "brand" and "finding your sound." I think I'll be finding my sound my entire life, and that's what I love about music. It's the journey, not the destination.

WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CREATE, AND HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS FOR YOURSELF IN MUSIC?

At first, I created music as a therapeutic outlet for my own feelings. Nothing was driving me to create other than the sheer urge to do so. Over time, music has become a lens for me to process everything, not just my own experience. That feeling has become addictive. The concept of being able to have nothing, and 30-60 minutes later, have something you just made out of thin air is nothing short of magic.

For me, success in music was always just to be able to do what I love for a living and be able to pay the bills. I'm there now. Success feels like a moving target. You get something you think you wanted more than everything and suddenly you want something else. I try not to think much about the optics of anything I do to others...the more I can be in the present and not be dwelling on anything but where I am right now, that is success.

THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, WHO HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST WITH DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT?

It truly takes a village. There's no one name that comes to mind. I'm just going to say thanks to a few people...

My first band and the flock of folks who rotated throughout my earliest stages of making music and learning the ropes...Dennis Foreman, Marc Secoy, Dirk Moore, Rusty (Spoons) Lewis, Jon & Timmy Hull. Those guys showed me what it looked like to take the talk I was talking and how much work it would be to walk the walk. Dennis showed me how to book shows and be good to people around you in your work. Marc showed me how you have to do 87 jobs to be full-time in the music industry. Dirk taught me how to write a song without watering it down. Rusty showed me how bad I am at the banjo. They all showed me how much making music is about the spirit, not the product, and that's the exact sentiment that has given me the drive to have longevity in this industry.

Rocko Reedy - a legendary stage/tour manager who has worked with the likes of Aerosmith, U2, Madonna, Twenty One Pilots, Ed Sheeran. Rocko was the first dude who showed me that being crazy is an advantage in this industry. His friendship gave me permission to be myself and pursue what I love and his mentorship continues to keep me humble.

Linda Perry - working with Linda reminded me that being authentic and open will always put you in the right rooms. Don't try to control anything. There's goodness in the real s***.

Jake Vicious - he gave me the courage to start learning to produce and taught me with grace over the years when I was in D.C. Thanks, big dawg!

My parents! Thanks for always telling me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

SOMETIMES BEING IN THIS BUSINESS CAN BE OVERWHELMING. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE AND NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF?

Just remember that your health and happiness are a lot more important than any outside affirmation that exists on earth.

Also, think about it. You're actually going to die. Is this thing you're worried about going to matter in a week? A year? 10 years?

Probably not.

HOW DO YOU THINK THE MUSIC INDUSTRY CAN DEVELOP INTO A MORE EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR WOMEN MUSIC CREATORS?

Hire more women. We need big industry employers in the industry to hire women. We need them to create a workplace that is safe for women to thrive in.

There's a lot you can do on your own too, even if you're not a large employer. Be intentional when you set up a creative team for anything...including women. Include gender diverse and LGBTQIA+ folks. Include people of color. Be intentional about it and we can all make a difference.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN MUSICIANS JUST STARTING THEIR CAREERS, BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?

Yes...Trust your gut. If something feels off, believe it.

Trust your own taste. You know what you like. You know what gives you goosebumps.

And don't worry about what you don't know. Don't pretend if you don't know something...be curious! Ask questions. Your imposter syndrome may trick you into wanting to pretend you know it all, but remain open on your journey.

FROM YOUR VIEW, WHAT OTHER KINDS OF MARGINALIZATION AND ERASURE DOES THE MUSIC INDUSTRY NEED TO ENSURE WE DON’T ENACT IN THE NAME OF GENDER EQUALITY?

Right now, a lot of corporations and large entities' attempts at "gender equality" are vanity efforts rooted in PR. That means they're often taking a week, day, month and tokenizing someone who falls into whatever category of people they are working to "increase the representation of." That's something of an effort, and we need to start somewhere, but what is truly impactful is not the tokenization of any marginalized group, but intentional efforts to raise up, hire (and pay), and include these folx at the table 12 months out of the year.

We need programs that fund STEM programs for young women, trans and non-binary musicians, so they can build communities to move forward in the industry without requiring the conventional music industry to let them in.

We need safe spaces for women and gender diverse folks to make music without feeling predator to any power that is...whether that be a manager, music executive, or label. My dream is to open the first female/LGBTQIA+-owned & operated community music studio in Nashville. I'm a firm believer that it's time to simply build my own -- literal -- table for others' to eat from.

Lastly, songwriters need to get paid. Songwriters of all makes, models, colors, and genders. I say that because I believe the music industry will soon wake up and realize we have a union/work issue...we are underpaid and undervalued by the major players in the market. It's lovely to see female artists cleaning up in the charts -- hat tip to Taylor Swift, Adele, Cardi B, HER, etc... but the songwriters and producers behind these hits need to be paid too.

WOMEN ARE BECOMING MORE EMPOWERED, NOT ONLY IN KNOWING THEIR VALUE BUT ALSO IN SETTING BOUNDARIES, GOING AFTER WHAT THEY WANT AND DESERVE, AND LIFTING UP OTHER WOMEN IN THE PROCESS. WHAT MOTTO, AFFIRMATION, OR QUOTE EMPOWERS YOU?

"Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie." - Gloria Steinem

WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING UP IN 2022?

I'll be releasing singles every month, all year, starting in April. Seeking investors to open the first female/LGBTQIA+ commercially owned & operated music studio in Nashville. ;) I'm also executive producing 2 albums and 1 EP for indie artists this spring, due out fall/winter 2022.

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