Madison McFerrin: Storyteller A Cappella

Chris Mohney

The daughter of legendary jazz vocalist Bobby, Madison McFerrin was raised in the musical life.

Her heritage notwithstanding, Maidson McFerrin has staked out her own territory as an accomplished solo soul singer–songwriter. Her second EP, Finding Foundations: Vol. II, was released this year.

What kinds of storytelling do you find most inspiring?

Storytelling that conveys truth is most inspiring to me. I love the storytelling of Stevie Wonder and the Beatles in particular for this very reason. A song like Stevie’s “Living for the City,” for example, tells the full story of a black man struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Being able to tap into the struggles and possibilities life presents—and bring humanity to them through music—is something that I strive to do with my own songwriting. 

How would you characterize your creative relationship with technology?

Technology is a tool to help me convey my musical imagination. It’s both limiting and intimidatingly infinite. I’m still learning how to use it to the best of my ability. 

What would you change about the current state of music?

To refer back to storytelling, I think that that is an element seriously lacking in today’s popular music. Kendrick Lamar is probably on the forefront of bringing it back into the mainstream. And when I say storytelling, I’m talking about a full story with a message that makes you stop and really listen. People seem to not have enough stamina to really listen to music anymore, which I think has a lot to do with the current state of the world. Music today is lyrically very statement-heavy, which may be more helpful for those that are looking for mantras or affirmations to deal with the current climate. But stories have always been integral to how we move forward as a society, and I think it’s important that music continue to carry that torch. There are obviously many who still do this today, like Frank Ocean and Erykah Badu, but they are not given mainstream radio play in the same way. 

How has technology allowed you to be more connected to your audience?

I think the fact that it takes the audience a second to really understand what I’m doing, how I’m layering my vocals specifically, has added a level of intrigue that allows a deeper connection during my live performance. Not having an immediate “I’ve got it” makes it so that I can bring them into my world at my own pace and connect with them more intimately. 

Beyond my live performance, technology allows me to remain connected with and grow my audience. Streaming services such as Spotify have helped revitalize sales in the music industry after years of downward trends. This shift has empowered independent artists like me. That said, it’s easier than ever before to create and release music, which presents challenges for being discovered by would-be fans. 

These days, I’m trying to strike the balance between utilizing audience engagement tools such as social media with maintaining the authenticity I strive to convey in every song I write. I desire deep, long-lasting relationships with my audience and am careful to not perpetuate the FOMO we all feel these days.