In Nashville, singers and songwriters may be a dime a dozen, but how many start a bonafide career before age 13?
Marisa McKaye has, and once you see her sing—just listen to one of her YouTube videos—and you can see why. The talented young performer and her family moved to Nashville a few years' ago to pursue McKaye's career, and now this Music City veteran shares a behind-the-scenes look at entering the industry and where she spends time when not on stage.
When did you start singing and writing songs?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My parents told me that when I was 3 years old, I would remember song's lyrics super easily and I was always singing something. My first performance was at a fair when I was 5 years old.
I was 11 years old when I first started writing songs. Our neighbor was a songwriter, and she introduced me to, and taught me, songwriting.
I like writing songs because I like being able to control what I want my songs to sound like and what their messages are, and I like being able to share my own music. I like being able to decide on what I want to say to people in my music. I sing and play because I like making others happy, and music is therapy for so many people and I like playing songs that I love.
At age 13, you’ve already graced some of Nashville’s most loved stages, including the Bluebird Café, the Ford Theater, World Famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and Robert’s Western World—just to name a few—as well as performed a stunning cover of Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing" on “America’s Got Talent” (AGT) in 2017. What are you most proud of?
I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had of being on AGT. Three years ago, I remember watching AGT with my best friend on television and I wouldn’t have thought that I would ever be able to accomplish something like that! So, I’m very proud of making it on "America’s Got Talent," especially because there are so many very talented people who audition for that show. It was also such an exciting experience to be on TV! I met so many amazing new and talented friends as well who I still keep in touch with.
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written or collaborated on?
It’s very hard to pick a favorite song because I’ve written so many and with so many different, talented people, but I’d have to say that my favorite song, right now, that I’ve written is probably “Fighter” because I love the melody and I really love the message that it sends to people who are going through a difficult time. I like how it’s not a super intense song saying to "cheer up and toughen up,” but instead it’s a song that people who are feeling weak can relate to. When I’m feeling sad, I don’t want to listen to a super happy song. I would rather listen to a song that I can relate to and that understands how I’m feeling.
What does Nashville mean to you?
Nashville is a place where people can express themselves through their music. It’s a place where people can say what they want to say to others, and where they can share their music with others. I guess that’s why its also called Music City.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about living in Nashville?
I love how there is always something exciting and fun happening. I never feel bored living here. I also love all the music and how everyone sounds different and unique.
What artists in Nashville do you most admire today?
That’s always a hard question for me to answer because there are so many talented artists here in Nashville, and because my answer is always changing, but I really love Lauren Alaina because she is so cheerful, she is an amazing songwriter, she has an incredible voice and she is a great role model for young girls like me who look up to her.
Other artists in Nashville that I like are Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Carrie Underwood, Brett Eldredge, Keith Urban, RaeLynn, Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Dan + Shay, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Brett Young, Dierks Bentley, Maddie & Tae and many more.
Where would you recommend someone go to get a closer look or new perspective on music that is unique to Nashville?
Some of my favorite places to go and listen to original music in Nashville are the Bluebird Café, the Listening Room, 3rd and Lindsley and the Country Music Hall of Fame. For cover music, any of the honky tonks on Broadway are fun to go to and listen. You can find great music just about anywhere in Nashville.
When not songwriting, playing or listening to music, where do you like to spend time in Nashville?
I love going to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their museum, events and shows are awesome. I also love walking around the shops at the Mall at Green Hills, Opry Mills and The Gulch with my friends.
I also love the food in Nashville. For hot chicken, I really like to go to Party Fowl or Hattie B’s. I like going to Mike’s Ice Cream when I feel like something sweet. For a great burger, I like to go to Tavern, City Tap or the Southern.
What would you say to other young artists who hope to pursue a career in music?
I would tell them to stay true to themselves, and to do what they want to do, not what others tell them to do. I would tell them to be confident and to keep going no matter what.
For more of Marisa McKaye's music and insights to her new hometown, connect with her on social media or check out her gig schedule at www.marisamckaye.com. "If you’re able to, come by and say hi!" she added.