With the support of Paco Rabanne and NTS’ A Million Ways To Make It programme, Madi Saskia is stepping into her light more sure of herself than ever before.
When Madi Saskia discusses concepts like healing, authenticity and human connection, these aren’t buzzwords for the artist, rather genuine pillars by which she is living her life and pushing forward a burgeoning career. Still only 23, the West Midlands-based singer-songwriter began making music at just 14, laying the foundation for the self-assured wisdom she carries herself with today.
Citing inspirations from Marsha Ambrosius to Jhené Aiko and Alex Isley, Madi describes her style as “floetry-esque”, heavily indebted to R&B with a socially conscious undertone. Insistent on personal generosity for genuine and open relationships, Madi’s live performances are an extension of this attitude, a healing experience imbued by her charming stage presence and soothing vocals.
Tipped as one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the Birmingham creative scene, this year Madi is one of three recipients of the esteemed A Million Ways To Make It artist development programme. Created by Paco Rabanne and NTS, the initiative offers much-needed support to independent artists, spotlighting their talent and amplifying their music and message to reach a global audience. Investing in their artists both financially and through bespoke mentorship schemes, The Paco Rabanne Fund will see Madi receive a £5000 grant from Paco Rabanne to aid her development as an artist, as well as ongoing guidance from NTS and their industry partners.
Reflecting on her career so far and the importance of brands backing emerging talent, Madi spoke to us about her involvement in the programme, inciting change within the music industry, her willingness to explore human connection and the words of wisdom she wanted to hear at 14.
How are things Madi? What have you been up to recently?
My life is busy because I’m a full-time barista as well. I’m living a Hannah Montana life doing this whole music thing.
How does it feel to be selected for the Paco Rabanne Fund?
I’m so used to not getting chosen for anything. The inner child in me is so happy someone thought I was worthy enough to be awarded something. It means a lot that two big names in their own industries are coming together to support up-and-coming artists, and out of so many applications, I was chosen. I felt special. It’s so nice to hear feedback from people that don’t know who I am or may have just heard of me, but they’re really resonating with what I do.
What are you hoping to get out of the mentorship scheme?
I’m hoping to find a new sense of self and know who I am as an artist, to really hone myself as a music professional. I feel like it’s easy to lose myself as a person through being an artist; sometimes it’s an overwhelming thing to be so vulnerable all the time. Also learning how to market and promote myself, the things that I just don’t have the capabilities to do by myself. I think it’s okay to ask for help. I’m super excited to grow as a person, as an artist, as an entrepreneur and as a business girl. I’m just excited to just meet new people and work – growth in all aspects, basically.
What qualities have helped you get this far in your journey?
My willingness to explore human connection is very important. A lot of the time when I walk into spaces I’m not Madi the artist, I’m just Madison, this girl from Birmingham who wants to know how your spirit’s doing. I think we forget that we’re humans first. I love nurturing. I can’t just take all the time; there has to be a balance. I like to build genuine friendships before business relationships and I think that’s helped me because when I don’t release music, people still holler at me for tunes because they like who I am as a person.
How will the Paco Rabanne Fund and mentorship help further your career?
I think as artists it’s easy to make good music, but that’s 30% of the battle. The other 70% is making sure Instagram is popping, knowing where to plug your music radio-wise, or how to use YouTube and Facebook efficiently. Sometimes you just want to be the artist, which is a task when you’re by yourself. [Their support means] having someone in my corner, from a human perspective, and adapting everything to my personal plan.
Being an artist is hard, and being an up-and-coming artist, I also have a full-time job. Music is expensive! The financial stability of the fund to help me make the music, alongside the thought of someone wanting to invest in something I’ve been working on for so long, is so heart-warming. It makes me feel motivated that they want to see me do better.
What are you most looking forward to about your involvement in the A Million Ways To Make It programme?
It’s the mentorship aspect for me. I’m all about growth and progression, and when two big companies come together to support grassroots artists and want to invest in you, it feels that much more special.
How important is it for brands to support emerging artists?
I think music is a beautiful thing to be celebrated across different mediums. With brands, even if it’s just supporting emerging artists by using their music in their ad campaigns or really shining light on up-and-coming artists, the investment is important. It’s nice to know from an artist’s perspective that no matter where you are in your career, these people that have the capabilities to invest in you, want to. Especially artists coming from small towns people have never heard of that are making amazing music.
What’s the best thing about the music industry right now?
From my experience personally, there’s always room. There’s never a wrong way to make music. You can make the most abstract, left-field music and there’s someone that’s going to find it amazing. I think there’s always people in your corner. Also, change makers are being integrated into power positions in the music industry, so the landscape of the industry feels healthier than before. We have women, Black people and queer people in these spaces that can make decisions for people that look and align with who they are.
And the hardest?
That it is still based on image. You can make an amazing album, like Adele, that you know will sell millions, but there’s only Adele. You have to become a marketable thing, especially as a plus-size woman. For women, image is such a big thing in the industry that it makes it a negative place for somebody who’s been so insecure their whole life. It goes back to me staying true to myself. I’m going to make the music that comes from my heart and whoever hears it, hears it. If I’m that girl in 60 years that just has one record at a vinyl shop that somebody samples, I’ll be happy because my music made it somewhere.
I’ve heard you speak about the idea of ‘making noise’, and ‘not existing quietly’. What does this mean to you?
The best way to describe me as a person is a true Earth sign. I’m a Virgo, so the person I am is always ready to help other people before I help myself. I’ve been doing music since I was like 14, and I’m 23 now so that was almost nine years ago. For a good four or five years I tried to be helpful to everyone, but as I saw people progress, I saw myself staying in the same place. I posted that video of myself saying that last year, to hold myself accountable moving forward. And I think last year was probably one of the best years for me in terms of progression.
And this current opportunity must add to that progression…
It’s crazy to me that people are even thinking about me for these opportunities, so I can tell that there’s been progression. When news like this comes out or when I headlined the Jazz Café, even if I’m not vocal in myself, my name is there while Madison as a person has been working on her soul. I’ve put the salt water to boil, the pasta and the whole meal will be coming soon.
Do you have any advice you’d give people looking to break into the industry?
I think everyone can say that being true to yourself and authentic is important. No one is you but you. You can be inspired by everybody else, but until you make music that is completely your own, you’ll always be in the shadow of someone else and you’ll always be compared. If you’re young and starting out in music, it’s OK to feel different because everybody feels that way. Make music that you like and don’t care about jumping on trends, because your music might be the next trend. Do what aligns with you, because especially when you’re young, you’re still developing your perception of yourself. If you allow other people to influence who you are and change the best parts of you, you lose yourself in this already unstable whirlwind that is the music industry.
Do you feel like your younger self could have used that advice?
If I was 14 again, that’s what I would have wanted someone to say to me. As much as I had people in my corner, there weren’t a lot of people leading me down the right path. A lot of people were saying ‘maybe you should lose weight’, ‘maybe you should try dyeing your hair’, ‘you always have your hair curly, try having it straight’, and ‘maybe you should dress more feminine, you wear tracksuits all the time’. My favourite thing is a baggy t-shirt and some tracksuit bottoms and trainers, there’s nothing wrong with that.
I wear socks and sliders and tracksuits to gigs, but I had someone in my ear telling me to wear dresses because they matched my music. I’m a bisexual woman, honestly leave me alone. Especially for female artists, and people who identify as female, the pressure to be feminine is intense. But block out all the noise because you don’t have to be this sex symbol, everyone will still love you if you’re in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. As you’re saying something that people can heal from, that’s all that matters.
What’s next for Madi Saskia?
After years of claiming that a project is coming out, I think I’m finally ready to put one out next year. So right now I’m deciding to experience life. I’m deciding to heal. I want to be happy and joyful and sprinkle fairy dust wherever I walk. I’ll be writing and producing music that I’m in love with and not because I’m trying to fit a mould. I’m excited for people to get to know me sonically. I’m trying to introduce people to the re-birthed version of me, because Madi at 14 and Madi at 23 are very different people. And I want to help people heal. To put out projects, gig more, collaborate with people, connect with people, and continuously live in the moment on this crazy ride. I’m excited for people to see me grow into my final form, whatever that may be.
Find out more about A Million Ways To Make It here.