Gone are the days of a 10-year-old picking up a guitar, forming a band with their pals, and rocking out in the garage. Instead, kids are mastering production software. In an era when computers are ubiquitous, young children can put out buzzworthy SoundCloud edits before even graduating high school, and sell out stadiums before they’ve received college acceptance letters—all off the back of Internet stardom. It’s a whole new world.
Jeffrey Melvin is a case in point. Now only 19, the young producer—who performs under the name Melvv—started making music eight years ago, after he was inspired by a Daft Punk DVD. Requesting Logic 9 for Christmas, the 11-year-old locked himself away to develop the skills that, for the old guard of electronic producers, who were hampered by less accessible software, took decades to perfect. Combining his burgeoning knowledge of jazz piano and aptitude for drums, the artist created everything from flips to remixes and originals, sharing them online with friends in his Wisconsin hometown.
“The Milwaukee scene isn’t crazy for electronic stuff,” he tells the Straight with a laugh, on the line from New York. “There are some rappers and a few electronic people that I linked up with, but it wasn’t possible to grow that much locally. I mean, I played the clubs and theatres, but I had to expand at some point. I still love my hometown and it’s great to go back, and there are so many underground people who are amazing—it’s just so hard to break out.
“I had a second home in Chicago because there were people there I knew who were also making the same kind of music,” he continues, “so I’d occasionally drop in to their studio and work with them. I toured this year with Whethan—he’s one of those guys from Chicago, so I knew him well before that tour. He’s 18 now, but he was in high school back when we first started writing together. I’m always hearing about prodigies, and getting great music from people and realizing that they’re like 15.”
The impact that Melvin and his cohort are making in the industry is like a dog whistle to major labels. Big imprints are starting to take note of the swath of young, talented, and very marketable electronic producers, not least because most have several years of online support already under their belts. It’s little surprise, then, that execs are starting to wave around contracts—and that Melvin is one of the first to ink a deal.
“I’ve just signed to Atlantic,” he says. “It’s amazing, actually. One of my goals was always to make my own type of pop music, and now I can finally do that. My beats are definitely more abstract than what’s usually on the radio, so I like fusing that with pop vocals—I’m enjoying experimenting. Right now, there aren’t too many producer-artists on major labels. It’s fun being part of that new crop of producers that release music. We have features, but we’re still credited as the artist. It’s a really interesting time in music because that’s never happened before.”
Writing summery, upbeat jams led by strong female vocal lines, Melvin creates music that lies somewhere between mainstream R&B and tropical house. Often inspired by nonelectronic music rather than the tunes of his cohort, his song structures follow traditional verse-chorus arrangements rather than peaks and drops.
“I’m super into lots of different genres,” he says. “I took jazz piano lessons for several years, and I’ve always been into indie rock. My dad raised me on classic rock and bands like the Beatles. I draw from a wide range of things, and following the conventions of electronic music is not important to me. It’s fun working in the electronic genre, though. I can access so many different sounds, and just do whatever feels right.”
Melvv plays Contact Winter Music Festival at B.C. Place on December 27.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays