He’s worked with Madonna, Beyonce, Dua Lipa, and TikTok sensations Flo.
How do you get nominated for a Grammy Award before you’re 21? MNEK, the British producer, songwriter, and singer shares his trajectory, from writing songs at eight years old to getting a publishing deal at just 14 on the strength of the songs he was uploading to MySpace. Here he joins us on Songwriter Saturday to talk collaboration, working across multiple genres, and his biggest advice for up-and-comers to the industry. Here are some of his top takeaways.
On how he got started
“I've been writing poems and songs since I was like eight and nine. And then by the age of 10, I was learning how to make beats and program and things like that. So by the time I was 14, I was making demos. And then I started to [put them on] MySpace.
“Then I was getting approached by all these publishers, I didn't know what a publisher was at 14, I didn't know what that meant. And this guy that I was hanging out with at the time, he'd seen me on MySpace and was a fan and offered to help out as far as kind of managing [me]. And he basically said, you should start out as a writer/producer before you start singing.
“And I said, ‘You know what? You're probably right!’ Because at the time, I wasn't ready to come up with any of my own stuff. Even though the demos I'd given were me singing and me being an artist, I wasn't there yet.
So, yeah - I signed my first publishing deal at 14, I was still in school, I didn't know what one was, but I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I'm in the industry now!’”
On working with Flo on viral TikTok smash “Cardboard Box”
“I think the first two songs that we'd ever written were very like, low and sad energy. And I think [that’s] because the girls were just getting into the recording process, like writing and all of that. I remember just coming out and just saying, ‘I just want to write a chorus that everyone just sings along with, and they just know it.’ I think I programmed some guitar chords, and we had some verse melodies and we put those in, and we were just singing. And then I just come out and say, ‘So I'ma put your shit in a cardboard box.’ One of the girls came back and said about changing the locks. It was just us doing this thing together.
“We had this record for a very long time, and we had all loved it, and writing it was such a joy. We had it in the archives for the better part of three years before it actually came out. The girls trusted their intuition, and they wanted us to release it, they fought tooth and nail for it. And it really paid off because it's gotten all these people talking about them. I'm incredibly proud of that and I love working on that music because it's the kind of music that I would listen to anyway, if I wasn't working on it. That's the kind of stuff I want to be doing, stuff that excites me.”
Working across multiple musical genres
“At the root of it all, I'm just a music fan. I love music of all styles and genres and I’m a student of musical styles and genres. So I'm happy to apply it to whatever the cause needs. You know, I love pop. I love R&B. I love dance music. I know what my thing is, you know, and my thing is just good quality pop records and I want loads of people to hear the stuff that I work on. So that applies to many styles of music.
“I advise anyone to open up and come out of their comfort zone because sometimes your wackiest ideas can be the one that gets you through the door. And then you can show what you really do. I would encourage - be true to yourself, know what your thing is, but then don't limit yourself, because you might find out something completely different about yourself.”
His best advice for brand-new writers and producers
“I used to always say patience. You can’t come into this impatient. You really can't. Because it's a game and it's a long game and if it's a long game, then it's good. It means that you know you really want this to work and when it works, it tastes great. I came in when I was 14, but it wasn't this thing of everything started going the second I jumped into the industry. I needed to learn on the job. I needed to get a few things wrong and a few things right in order to know what was going on in between all of that. So give yourself some grace, give yourself some time - you don't have to be the biggest thing since sliced bread by 21.
“And like I was saying before: taking agency. I think because I'm so young in the industry I just didn't know how to own anything and just be like, ‘This is my shit and no one can take that away from me.’ Just have some agency. There's so much people can take away, but they can't take away your love of music, and it's a pure love. It'll be the purest thing amongst all this shit.”