A captivating performer, Milan Ring draws on human energy to create her signature neo earthy tunes. Her sound is one that challenges the concepts of gender, power and emotion. She has captured the attention of Australian audiences with her distinctively modern interpretation of traditional neo-soul and R&B rhythms. Her seemingly effortless presence comes from years of hard work gaining the skills in not just vocals and guitar, but also production and sound engineering, giving her full creative reign over her art.
As though being the instrument and producer weren’t enough for her own act, Milan has also formed her own label, MXMAY. Through this she further enhances her musical independence whilst creating a platform for other artists to do so as well.
We had a chat with Milan about the work she’s been doing and how she’s managing life during Covid-19.
Tell us why you love music?
Good question, why I love music… oh wow, well what a sad world it would be without it! I’ve grown up listening to so much music, it’s been such a huge part of my history and my evolution. It’s a source of comfort, joy, tears if you need, and release. Listening to music makes you feel so connected to the human experience, and one another. I think that’s one of my favourite parts of music; it’s a chance to express yourself through someone else’s expression.
Who was your biggest musical inspiration as a kid?
So hard to pinpoint that! I mean, someone coming to mind straight away would be Stevie Wonder. I grew up listening to a lot of different music because of my mum; a lot of neo soul, people like Quincy Jones. Beyond that I fell in love with R&B and Hip Hop, artists like Aaliyah I was very drawn to. I decided to play electric guitar because of Jimi Hendrix, I was just obsessed with Jimi! I still am, both of them I still am, ALL of them I still am!
Talk us through your creative process?
First of all, it’s a mindset/mentality thing, just getting in the right headspace. Sometimes I go in to make noise without any kind of plan, other times I go in really wanting to make a song. Or, if I’m producing for another artist I’ll listen to their influences and then I’ll go from there. Every case is quite different, it’s either wiping the slate clean, going into the studio, doing some research into what I want to create that day, or literally just creating. A lot of my own music comes from the latter, that organic space.
How do you feel our concept of the musical genre has changed over the years?
I feel that there are so many more genres, more sub genres and then, within those, there’s so many people mixing with them all. In a sense genre kind of takes away the individualism of the artist. I feel like what a lot of artists do, and what a lot of the most unique artists do, is they make something that’s their own based on the inspiration of a variety of different artists that span all kinds of genres. So, sometimes that can be hard to place, in terms of the traditional genres because of the many influences. That’s why I like the conversation about genre, especially in this world of playlists. It poses the question of where do you fit on a playlist? I definitely don’t make music to fit on a playlist, I just make music and then expect everyone else to try and figure it out haha.
Who is your go to artist when dealing with heartbreak?
Hmmm well sometimes you want to just wallow in the heartbreak, and then other times you want to kind of break free from it. So I guess in terms of wallowing, James Blake hits that spot for sure, being in the sadness haha. Then I feel like you need something with a vibe, like Cardi B or someone, something that’s super ‘who gives a fuck!’ But I feel like I would actually put on a Burna Boy album and just dance around
What has been the biggest struggle in pursuing your dreams in the music industry?
I would say my self belief and insecurities, having faith in myself and trusting my gut and my own abilities. Feeling like I don’t belong within the scene, even though I’m much more confident now, I can still get into a space of thinking that I’m not good enough. As a female producer I’ve had to work twenty times as hard in some ways to feel believed, there’s that imposter syndrome kind of element to it. Another aspect would be how in this country the popularity of R&B, Soul and Hip Hop is still quite a new phenomenon I think. I’ve been dropping R&B leaning music for quite some time, which hasn’t always been an easy route. But yeah, I’d say it’d mainly be my own head and that critical voice; knowing when it can push me forward in a positive way and knowing when it’s holding me back from receiving my blessings.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing during Covid-19?
Ah so many challenges! Not to wallow in what could have been, because I got over it pretty quickly, as I was more concerned about the world rather than my little ol’ career. But I had my Australian tour, then my first UK/EU tour and then I had a bunch of writing sessions lined up in America, which were all canned, and you know, it is what it is. So I guess trying to keep some momentum and motivation to continue releasing music in spite of these setbacks, has been quite difficult. Especially because such a big part of my career is performing, I get so much energy from it! I love performing and interacting with the crowd, having convos after; it’s such a big social experience for me. There’s also that grieving aspect to it, like is this going to be around for the next year or so? This has been the longest time without doing a gig! I’ve done some live (streaming) performances now, which has been a nice outlet, very different. There is no crowd or anything, so that’s been an interesting one to navigate. Obviously this has just been a huge time all around the world, with discussions on the BLM movement and the environment taking place also. There’s a lot of information right now, so I’ve had to create boundaries as to when I want/can consume that, and further educate myself about current affairs and all these different topics. But also knowing when to switch off, because it can be very overwhelming and I’m sure a lot of people feel that. Which is a huge part of creativity, knowing when to be a sponge and knowing when to squeeze it out!
How do you personally navigate the creative industries as a POC?
I navigate these industries by trying to raise the voices of up and coming artists. I mean, I am where I am! I definitely acknowledge how being a POC is a bit rarer within the industry, but I’ve tried not to fixate on it. I’m mixed race, so I’m kind of in-between, being able to go over there and then over here, in a sense. I definitely haven’t had the experience of a black or first nations person in this country, which is a whole other world. For me, I don’t particularly feel hard done by or when I have experienced some sort of prejudice I try not to focus on that aspect. I’m more focused on the concept of ‘why.’ Why are there not more people of colour being represented? Why are there not more women producers? I’ve always been interested in developing this community, where we can all chat and work with one another. Being a bit older, I’ve done a lot of workshops and mentorships with the next generation of artists, prioritising people of colour, women of colour and non-binary people. Within the last few years, I’ve been working with groups like Multicultural Arts Victoria, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office of APRA, & a few different women/non-binary production workshops run by Music NSW, and now I’m doing a few mentorships, one with an artist from Melbourne another from Tamworth! It’s good that these programs exist but there definitely needs to be more!
Who do you think is currently changing the music industry?
I love what Alicia Keys is doing with the She Is The Music initiative, because I’m always barking about how there need to be more female producers and engineers! So I guess she is the face of that, in terms of spearheading that movement. She’s asking ‘why the fuck is there only 2% female and 98% male in this industry’? She’s really focusing on how we can switch that up. I think that it is such an awesome initiative and can see how it’ll spread, which it already has! Plus her music is dope. And in Aus seeing how many more people are reaching out to me to be involved in workshops and the like, and how many more women and non-binary people producers and sound engineers there is becoming is exciting!
SAULT – Hold Me