The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Singer and Songwriter, Kate Mills
By Lina Bhambhani
No stranger to the stage, singer-songwriter Kate Mills has been performing in front of audiences since she was nine. As a pre-teen, her voice carried her to multiple musical theatre opportunities, including performances with Debbie Gibson at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, leading up to the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade. Throughout her adolescence, Kate developed her piano and vocal skills while writing original music and performing in local showcases.
In college, Mills was a founding member of the band Drive Thru Parking, where she fell in love with the recording process. The group toured the Northeast U.S. for several years, including a performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. After five years with the band, Mills felt it was time to pursue her solo career in New York City, and the group parted ways.
While Mills was transporting her large keyboard to and from rehearsals and performances, she was also juggling a rigorous course load at the University of Pennsylvania to earn a Master’s in Social Work, working towards the goal of raising awareness for emotional and mental health issues. .
Kate has made her presence known in the NYC music scene with the release of her debut EP, Little Bird. The record showcases the versatility of her smooth, buttery vocals and well-crafted songs ranging from the soulful and sultry “Little Bird,” to the fun, romantic single, “Cherry Tree.”
Kate Mills will share her talent at the upcoming ASCAP Expo She Rocks Showcase in Hollywood, CA on April 14, 2017. Find out more about the showcase at thewimn.com/ascapshowcase, and visit Kate Mills online at katemillsmusic.com.
The WiMN: What inspired you to choose a path in music?
KM: The more I do music, the less if feels like a path that I “chose.” It’s more like a mosaic of lots of little decisions coming together to form a bigger picture of my career. As I look back, I can see that I was continuously drawn to singing, performing and writing. And I can see the moments where I chose to be in a band in college, or chose to go play a festival instead of taking a trip with my friends, or chose to spend my money on recording instead of buying a car or house.
There have definitely been some decisions that were bigger than others (like leaving my social work job in favor of waitressing because it offered more flexibility for touring). But there was never one big lightning bolt moment of inspiration that happened. My relationship with music continues to grow with each small investment I make, each intentional step in the direction I want to go.
The WiMN: Tell us about the writing and recording process of your debut EP, Little Bird.
KM: The songs on the EP were a small collection of tunes I had written while I was in a band, but they were never right for the type of music we played. I was happy for the chance to share them with my audience. Recording Little Bird was a very exciting and nerve-wracking process! I was doing social work in NYC at the time, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in disposable income. So each decision about how to spend money, as far as studios and things like that was stressful. I think, like most artists doing their first solo record, I also put a lot of pressure on the EP to be this big launching pad into the inner circles of the music industry. In reality, it was a large, personal, stepping stone.
I learned so much about the recording process and how I personally respond to being in the studio. I became a bit more acquainted with some of my personal demons, which was frustrating but good. I can be better prepared to manage them for this next record.
The WiMN: Tell us about your decision to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. How are you working to bridge your passions of music and emotional/mental health issues?
KM: Part of that decision was that I felt the need to get a “real” degree, so I figured I should choose something I felt was meaningful and that could enjoy doing. I had always been involved in mentorship programs (mostly through my church) and had really grown to love the process of walking with my students as they dealt with some of the shadows in their own life. I really loved the idea of being a counselor, and in some ways I still do. But, after doing the work for several years I began to feel a little burnt out.
The weight of the work we were doing was starting to affect me – it’s a lot of responsibility when you are helping a person manage their mental and emotional health! I needed some time away, which was the perfect open door for me to re-find my music and invest more deeply into that part of myself.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to merge music and social good. I’ve gotten to partner with the Happiness Project in DE for a few events that raise money and awareness for mental health issues, and those have been great experiences. I have a few other entrepreneurial ideas on how to merge these two worlds buzzing around in my brain, but I have to keep them on the back burner at the moment. Part of mental health is knowing my own limitations and respecting them!
The WiMN: Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? How did you overcome them?
KM: I have. Though I am EXTREMELY fortunate that my experiences have been subtle, thought strong – more like a cultural undercurrent that I need to manage. I have not really had to deal directly with the harassment or violence some of my peers have, and for that, I am very grateful. From a touring perspective, I know I have to be careful. I have to be that much more cautious when deciding where to stay on the road, when it seems ok to travel alone, things like that. From a business perspective, it’s disheartening to see so few women in executive positions. I definitely feel like an outsider sometimes when so many of the decision makers are men – It’s like I’m not a member of a certain club.
The WiMN: Who are some of your musical heroes?
KM: I feel like my list changes depending on what I’m listening to! But Sara Bareilles has remained at the top of my list for quite a few years now. Her voice and writing is a standard against which I try to hold my own performances and songs. I’ve recently fallen in love with the work of Dan Fogelberg. His writing and arrangements are nothing short of magical. He, as well as some of the classic artists of the ’70s like Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, and the Eagles are a huge influence on hits next record.
The WiMN: Any words of advice for young women looking to pursue a career in music?
KM: It’s super hard not to give vague, ambiguous, “don’t be afraid to be yourself” kind of advice. I think some important words of wisdom I could offer would be to always keep moving forward – even if there are periods of time where the movement is slow, or even when it feels like you may not be moving forward at all. Overnight success is never overnight. Success is a bit of a game of “last band standing.” Also, never stop growing and learning. Don’t become complacent with your art. Look for ways to improve and work towards being the best.
The WiMN: What are you looking forward to most at the upcoming She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase?
KM: I am really looking forward to seeing all the other artists and getting to meet them! It’s always super inspiring (though sometimes intimidating) to see other female artist really excelling at what they do. And hopefully some of their fans will like my music and vise verse and we can really help each other out on a career level.
The WiMN: What’s next for you?
KM: My record! We’ve got the first single in the mixing process. I’ll be releasing that exclusively to people on my mailing list as a free download first before I make it available on other platforms. People can join the mailing list at katemillsmusic.com.
While I’m in California for the She Rocks ASCAP Expo Showcase, I’ll be doing some recording with my friend Matt Appleton (saxophone player for Reel Big Fish). I’m really excited about the vision and direction of this record and I’m aiming to have it released by the end of 2017. Me and a few other female artists (Kasey Williams and Carrie Welling) are planning a big West Coast Tour for August/September so I’m also really looking forward to getting back on the road and coming back to California to perform.