Call it the Lady Gaga effect: a promising young artist is “discovered,” signed to a label, and goes on to achieve viral success, leaving audiences and artists alike set on the Cinderella story of being picked up and swept away by music industry magic. This romanticized version of making it big is, unfortunately, a statistically unlikely outcome for the thousands of artists that sign to major labels or get “discovered” by industry giants. For every superstar in the making, there are plenty of artists that have been there, seen the shiny silver spoon, and then given it up for more artistic freedom. Detroit-bred songwriter Mayaeni has seen both worlds and spent the last year discovering the pros and cons of both.
After being signed to Jay-Z helmed major label Roc Nation in 2012, Mayaeni found herself newly independent over the past year. Without the constraints and hoop-jumping that comes with being signed to a label, she began the ambitious project of releasing one song a month. Starting with the soulful, optimistic “Better Than Yesterday,” a song that she says she started while she was still signed, Mayaeni traded state-of-the-art studios for her home studio. She wrote and produced eight songs, only missing a few months. Her most recent release, “Quicksand,” shows her evolution as a songwriter and producer, without the weight of others’ decisions on her shoulders.
“It’s been nice to have that freedom,” says Mayaeni. “There are pros and cons to each side, but I love having all the creative freedom, being able to put stuff out and not have it go through twenty different opinions first.”
The gorgeous, undulating single highlights Mayaeni’s ethereal vocals, melodic sensibility and poetic lyricism. She says that, with these releases, she’s more concerned about the songwriting rather than production. “It’s interesting, because I play electric guitar… I do like to ‘rock out.’ But I became so much about ‘I am this female rocker’ and trying to translate that into my music,” says Mayaeni. “When I realized that, I started pushing myself more to write basic, naked songs.”
While “Quicksand” doesn’t feel empty, the purity of the song leaves space to hear Mayaeni and her message loud and clear. She’s singing about the weight a lot of us feel in life, and wading through the sludge to get to the other side. “I always try to wake up with the sun / but on some days I’m still drowning in the mud,” she sings early in the song. But she doesn’t leave listeners without a shred of hope, instead deciding to end on a positive note. “It’s a blessing if I can learn to stop the stressing / no use in drowning.”
Ironically, a few days after the release, Mayaeni’s basement home studio flooded. She says although it throws a wrench in her plans, it’s not going to stop her from recording and releasing new songs. “Life happens, you just gotta keep trying,” she muses.
Listen to “Quicksand” below.