Interview: Kate McGill
In many respects, young singer-songwriter Kate McGill represents a new kind of emerging music star.
She’s a product of the internet generation; an independent, YouTube phenomenon who made her name uploading self-made music videos from her bedroom. For McGill – whose acoustic covers and compositions have been viewed by millions on the web – acquiring an audience through the internet allows a level of creative freedom and independence that just can’t be attained in the conventional music industry.
“The big plus point is that there’s no middle man, and you can literally write whatever you want and just put it out there,” says the 21-year-old. “It gives you complete creative freedom.
“I think the internet helps people build an even stronger connection with musicians too. I have such a personal connection with the supporters I have. For some artists, the web is just a way of selling more records. For me, it’s about talking to people.”
McGill’s desire to plough her own furrow also extends to the unconventional way in which she is releasing her debut album, Replaced. The limited edition CD will be available exclusively through coffee chain Caffe Nero – with those buying it getting a free drink into the bargain. The Plymouth performer is embarking on a whirlwind tour of the chain’s coffee shops, calling at Wakefield, York, Harrogate and Leeds as part of a grueling schedule that takes in 34 shows in 24 days – daunting considering she has only ever played 40 gigs in her entire life to date.
“I don’t know how the hell I’m going to manage it,” she laughs. “I’ve never done this much singing in the space of a few weeks. I’ll just have to eat loads of throat sweets.”
For an artist who has built her reputation on independent, DIY promotion through the internet, a deal with a corporate entity like Caffe Nero is likely to lead to accusations that she has ‘sold out’. But McGill has little time for such claims.
“I’m not worried about people accusing me of that. People can think what they want. I know I’ve done everything my way. Every decision has gone through me. My whole career hasn’t been normal by any means, so it just seems to fit.”
McGill’s story so far seems to embody the changes that modern music has undergone in the wake of the internet revolution – with individuals able to acquire a worldwide fanbase without leaving their own home. Raised on the rollicking folk-punk music of The Pogues, McGill was taught the basics of the piano by her father as a child, before picking up a cheap guitar at the age of thirteen and teaching herself how to play.
It was as a 17-year-old that she first decided to film herself performing a song – a cover of Bright Eyes’ Landlocked Blues – and upload it to video-sharing website YouTube.
Thousands viewed it; she was getting comments from around the world and she was being approached by her current manager.
A hundred videos later and with more than 120,000 subscribers to her regular channel, McGill is big online news.
“A lot of it is down to luck,” she says. “There are so many talented people on YouTube who don’t get any recognition. But some people do stand out for various reasons.
“From day one if I made a mistake while playing I’d leave it in, and I’d talk to people at the end of videos. It showed people my personality, and I think that helped me get noticed.
“People can see all your flaws, but that just makes it a lot more real. I keep people updated on what I’m up to as well as playing music, so I feel as though people actually know me now.”
That said, there are drawbacks to being an internet star.
“People don’t think of you as a ‘proper artist’,” explains McGill. “You just get seen as ‘that YouTube girl’. Hopefully, as it becomes more typical for people like me to break out, I think that will start to change.”
Replaced is out now and available as a limited edition CD from Caffe Nero and as a digital download from iTunes.
Kate McGill plays Caffe Nero branches at Oct 13: Wakefield, 2.30pm, York, Coppergate, 6pm. Oct 14: Harrogate, 2.30pm, Leeds Park Row, 6pm.
Kate McGill’s internet stardom and rise to fame
In 2007 the 17-year-old Kate McGill uploaded a video. Within hours she had attracted international attention, and was approached by her current manager.
The following year she began writing material and posted more videos. Today she has more than 136,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and her videos have amassed nearly 24 million total views. McGill’s debut album Replaced was written and recorded in Los Angeles.
Her rise mirrors that of household names Little Boots and Justin Bieber.