Mae Muller: How do you become a breakout music star in lockdown? | Ents & Arts News
Just a few months ago, singer-songwriter Mae Muller was on tour supporting Little Mix, stepping out on to arena stages in front of thousands of people.
Performing with one of the UK’s finest pop acts saw crowds at her own headline shows swell from a few hundred to more than 1,000, and, touted as a “one to watch”, big things were planned for the north London musician for 2020.
But then the coronavirus lockdown struck and, like the rest of the world, all those plans ground to a halt.
Musicians everywhere had to cancel tours as venues closed to halt the spread of the virus. While big stars can perhaps afford to lose the income, it’s more difficult for those who are less established.
So how do you break through when the world is in lockdown, and gigging is no longer an option?
Muller, 22, says it’s about staying positive and getting creative.
“There’s definitely been some ups and downs,” she tells Sky News. “Being in music, for me, that was all about collaborating and working with other people. And then suddenly it’s like you’re on your own, pretty much.
“But now we’re two months in I’ve kind of gotten used to it and… I’ve learned new skills I wouldn’t have before. I’m taking the positives away from it.”
Muller is on a Zoom call from Cornwall, where she is currently in lockdown at her dad’s house near to the beach, and released her latest single, I Don’t Want Your Money, from those four walls earlier this month.
It’s a track about wanting love not money – because “why would I want your money, when/ I’ve been making/ so much more than you” – with a slick video made entirely at home, shot on her iPhone.
Muller admits her dad’s house handily has one very unintentionally useful feature.
“I’m really lucky because the room I’m staying in has a green wall, so it’s the perfect colour for a green screen,” she says, panning her camera round to show a glimpse. “So, yeah, I literally shot in front of that wall, I did some in my bathroom. It was very DIY.
“I would never, ever have done that in any other situation so it was interesting to be thrown into it. It took about two weeks to put together and at the beginning, I was so overwhelmed and so freaked out. I didn’t think I was capable.
“But now I think it’s actually one of the best videos I’ve ever had, to be honest. I feel quite proud and like I’ve really achieved something. It’s a physical thing that I can take from this whole experience, which is nice.”
Muller decided to take songwriting seriously just a few years ago, at the age of 19, putting a song out on SoundCloud “with no expectations” and “snowballing” from there.
She went on to sign with Capitol Records, and soon found herself in songwriting sessions, even jetting off to LA to write.
Supporting Little Mix last year was “surreal but so amazing”, she says.
“It was such a confidence boost for me… I was actually quite surprised at how quickly I got into it. The first show I was like, I can’t do this, I’m so scared, but by the third show I was just walking out there” – she snaps her fingers – “like, bring it on”.
Muller adds: “It kind of made me believe even more that this is what I’m supposed to do. And it was so amazing to be on a tour of that scale and the girls were so welcoming and nice. I think it made me more eager to achieve that on my own… [it was] an irreplaceable experience.”
Little Mix – Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jesy Nelson, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards – gave Muller some good advice.
“Just enjoy it! They were like, we tell ourselves that, just enjoy this time because it doesn’t last forever and this tour will end at some point and we’ll go and do other things.
“We were halfway through the tour… and I was like, oh my god, I’m so upset we’re halfway through. And they’re like, you still have three more weeks touring. You know, live in the moment a bit more. Good advice. I’m definitely trying to bring that to other aspects of life as well.”
But lockdown has made the sentiment even more poignant.
While you can’t plan for suddenly becoming a household name, Muller says she was hoping to build on her success achieved in 2019.
“We were kind of expecting this year to be slightly different,” she says. “It’s still exciting and I’m still trying to look forward to things. I was meant to be going on another tour which was going to be slightly longer and bigger, and obviously [coronavirus] affects that.
“But I have to recognise my privilege, and going” – she holds her hand up in a mock ‘woe is me’ gesture – “‘oh coronavirus really messed up my tour’. You know what I mean? It’s upsetting, but I’m trying to see the bigger picture here.
“It was a bit of a shame, but we’re still gonna reorganise it and it’s gonna be great. It’s all still coming, it’s just gonna be a little bit later, and everybody’s in the same boat…
“I’m trying to count my blessings. But, you know, who knows where I would have been? I’m just trying to focus on where I will be. You know, maybe hopefully next year.”
With the digital era making live shows the most lucrative medium for musicians, it is “frustrating”, Muller concedes, because [touring] is “such a huge part of this industry, and that’s how you kind of break as an artist”.
And even as lockdown restrictions slowly start to ease, it’s hard to imagine mass gatherings happening again for a while.
But again, Muller is upbeat.
“We’re just gonna have to get more creative and think outside the box a little bit,” she says. “Which is slightly daunting, but… you figure it out.
“I’m so lucky, I’ve got an amazing team of people around me, I’ve got support, and my fans are amazing. I’m so excited for the time when we can all come back together again and can all enjoy that experience [of a live gig]. It’s going to be even better than it would have been because everyone’s gonna be so ready for it.
“The energy in that room is going to be amazing.”
As well as releasing new music, Muller has taken part in Google’s Nest Sessions over the bank holiday weekend, alongside other artists including Jessie Ware, Olly Alexander (Years & Years) and Brits Rising Star for 2020, Celeste.
With many people relying on music to help them through lockdown, the idea was to get conversations going with an uplifting soundtrack.
“I feel like I’m quite a chill person so the mood of my session was chill,” says Muller. “I had my massive teddy bear in the back and just doing [the session] was quite nice and therapeutic. It was fun.
“I always enjoy speaking about my music and the meaning behind it, and to be amongst all these other great artists… it was very flattering.”
Music has taken on a new meaning during lockdown, she says.
“Listening to music has always been such an important part of my day, but usually when I’m listening on my headphones it’s when I’m on the bus or on the train, you know, I’m travelling somewhere. Now when you’re kind of stuck at home… it’s a real way to make a sort of spike in your day.
“When I do feel a little bit down in the dumps sometimes you’ve just got to put that playlist on which makes you feel a little bit happier, I guess, because that’s the power music has on people.”
Muller admits lockdown has been “claustrophobic” at times.
“But for me, keeping busy has been a real help, helping me cope as well,” she says.
“Things have to be moved round and changed. But there’s definitely still a lot more music coming. That’s not changed at all. I’m lucky, I had a lot of unreleased music kind of in the safe, ready to go.
“We’ll see what happens.”
Mae Muller is among the musicians taking part in Google Nest’s Nest Sessions, running over the bank holiday weekend.