Mia Leblon is a singer-songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. We interviewed this highly talented writer, performer, and advocate for others in the music industry about her process and her passion for music. We love the way music flows through her: she contains an “irrepressible enthusiasm, a genuine belief in the healing power the music–not just hers, but all music–can possess.”
Ava: What drives you to make music?
Mia: I started classical piano lessons at around age 4. I ultimately wrote my first song at age 10, down to hand documenting the notes on sheet music paper. I was extremely overwhelmed and sad that day, as I had a very rough relationship with my mom, growing up. What initially drove me to write that first song was to release that pain. My own personal therapy, if you will. The lyrics start with: “Sometimes the world turns against you. That’s just no reason to hide. So if you’re faced with a problem, stand up with joy and your pride.” I continued writing to help me cope with….life. I would turn to the piano and play my heart out.
“All I want to do is to be able to help other people get through trying moments in life through my music.”
A: What has your music journey up to this point looked like? Where do you see yourself going?
M: It wasn’t until a friend asked me to play an open mic did I realize that the music I write and perform, not only could help myself, but it could help others. All I want to do is to be able to help other people get through trying moments in life through my music. After playing open mics, I eventually got calls to open for local artists in Chicago and then calls to open for label artists. I thought, “This is it, a record label is going to discover me. I just need to keep playing.” From local shows came Summerfest and then showcases at SXSW. At one point, I spent my life savings to record an EP. I had met producers from Chicago to LA, who had worked with major label bands. I got involved with a manager that didn’t really help me achieve the goals I wanted and worked with people who just wanted to commercialize my sound. In addition, repeatedly, I’m told that there is no space for me in music, despite my talent (given my Asian American background). I decided to take a break from being an artist and write for others. At one point, I was even invited to join a collective of songwriters mainly focused on pop. I see myself continuing to write for other artists and for myself. I’m part of the global team at Women In Music and Asian American Collective. I want to help current industry vets see the potential in Asian American artists and to give our youth that chance. I don’t want artists/songwriters/producers to go through what I went through. If I can be an advocate for the industry to be more inclusive, then that’s where you’ll find me.
A: On your website, you say your greatest fear is losing the ability to write songs. What do you find helps you fight this fear?
M: What brings you motivation, inspiration in your practice? I definitely have that constant fear. It’s happens almost every time I complete writing a song. The thing is, I’m always able to write again. I always need to write again. The piano is my safety blanket and if I just sit down at the bench and lay my fingers on its keys, music will happen.
A: What’s an accomplishment you’ve made in music that are you’re proud of?
M: I think an accomplishment that I’m proud of and motivates me to continue until this day isn’t anything fancy. One of the very first shows I played, I had someone in the crowd come up to me afterwards. I had written a song in Spanish, ‘Los Errores’, (My father is from Brazil, but wanted his kids to learn Spanish thinking it’d be much more useful in the United States) that I performed that night. This dude comes up to me looking a little emotional and says, ” I know most people couldn’t understand your lyrics, but I did. I just wanted to let you know that it made my night in a way no one would be able to understand. Thank you.” What is better than that?
A: How do you see the internet and technology impacting your experience as a musician? What was the last piece of technology or product that changed your music practice?
M: I’ve always been super organic when writing songs. Piano, check. Notebook, check. Sometimes lyrics come first, sometimes it’s the chords, and sometimes it’s the melody. Writing the composition on sheet music was taking too long. I honestly think voice memos have been a critical part of my writing process. I’m able to quickly record ideas, even if I’m not at the piano. I’m able to listen back and ideate more. I can send memos to friends for feedback. What I need now is an easier way to collaborate with other songwriters and have an organized way of referring back to projects. Google Drive works for that to a certain extent, but would love a music focused product.
A: Who are the musicians whose careers or music inspires you the most?
M: Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey have been major musical influences of mine, from day one. I would always mimic their voices, intonation, and even runs. I was always drawn to their emotion. They didn’t just sing what they were told to sing. They lived it. They sing to tell their story. People don’t give Mariah enough songwriting credit and I definitely think I was influenced by her poetic instrumentation with lyrics. While Mariah was always vocally perfect, Aretha would record her records, live, and only have a certain amount of takes. Whether she had minor flat notes or not, she always sang with everything she had in her. That to me was perfection. They are and will always be legends.
A: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through making music?
M: The most important lesson I’ve learned through making music is that you need to truly believe in yourself and find honest people to work with. It’s so hard to come by in the industry. You think a group of songwriters you write music with every night until dawn, are your family, until they’re not and questioning whether you wrote on a song or not. When it’s clear, it’s clear, and you realize all the red flags of ego you missed. I’ve also learned to stay resilient. I was driving one day and a song came on the radio and the hairs on my arms stood up. The similarities of this song, by a major artist, was just too similar to a song on the EP I had released. I had musician friends help me uncover and list the similarities. They told me that there was definitely something fishy. In addition, I was connected to a songwriter on their album, not the specific song in question, but on the album. However, even with all these pieces I was told that if I were to do anything about it, I would be blacklisted from the industry and it’s best to just stay quiet. I’ll admit, that a lot of these experiences had me take pause with creating music. It wasn’t fun or therapeutic anymore. I didn’t trust anyone. But, it always finds a way back. Somehow.
You can follow Mia and her journey on her
and listen to her newest track here!