Clad in a rhinestone-encrusted, white formal dress, it was hard not to take notice of YouTube singer Madilyn Bailey from across the hotel lobby. Seated alongside her parents and boyfriend, Madilyn barely resembles the often serious and professional persona fans see in her music videos. Among the laughter and teasing of her family members, Madilyn gives a rare glimpse into her life as Maddy — the Science Olympiad who loves nothing more than to spend her nights in her Wisconsin apartment playing nerdy boardgames with her boyfriend.
But when the camera starts rolling, Maddy is once again Madilyn Bailey — the all-business YouTube musician only interested in making the best decisions for her music. Since signing with Keep Your Soul Records in 2012, Madilyn has added over 700,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel. She first became popular on YouTube for her unique music videos that remixed hip hop songs into pop covers.
This fall, she will be going on her first tour with the band Boyce Avenue, and by the end of this year, will be releasing her first original album. Even at just 20 years old, Madilyn recognizes the importance of staying grounded, and splits her time between Los Angeles and Wisconsin in order to stay close to her family. Sitting inside the deserted Anaheim Convention Center, Madilyn performs an exclusive cover of Bruno Mar’s “Talking To The Moon” for NMR, and later, talks with us about the importance of staying grounded, the things she gave up for music and her upcoming debut album.
Check out the full interview below or visit the last page for the partial video interview.
Thank you so much for sitting with us, and thank you for dressing up. I know this was just for us.
Madilyn Bailey: Yes, yes, I got people asking why I was wearing nightwear in the afternoon but …
They did. I mean there are people in the lobby with blue hair, but my dress was I guess more obnoxious than that [laughs].
So you’re here for your first VidCon. Are you excited?
I’m super excited for VidCon, super excited.
When did you find out you were going to be performing?
I think it was about three months ago and they told me what song — I have two songs on the main stage, and it’s really cool from thinking about it last year at this time I had like maybe 100,000 subscribers and, you know, just started making a name, and this time next year, I’m almost 800,000 subscribers now and at VidCon. That’s crazy.
When we were coming in, you were recognized in the lobby. When was the first time you were recognized by a fan?
I was recognized in an airport and think it’s because I usually bring my backpack or guitar with me when I come to L.A., and so I always get recognized when I have no makeup on [laughs]. I’m just in my pajamas in the airport.
Still remember that experience well?
I do, I do, because I remember going, “Oh great, the first time I get recognized it’s with like — it’s just me.” [laughs]
When did you first start playing music?
I’ve been playing music, well, I’ve been singing since I can remember, just basically from birth, and I’ve been writing songs since about the age of 7, and then I picked up the piano, followed by the guitar and then drums and playing guitar for seven or eight years now.
What originally made you want to transition from being just a singer to playing all these instruments?
Well for me it was when I started writing songs at 7. It was great and fun, but it was really, really difficult without knowing some sort of instrument, and so that’s why I started with the piano. Well what I really want to do was play the drums, but my drum teacher wouldn’t teach me until I took two years of piano. So I took two years of piano, then I took drums, I got bored with drums and then picked up the guitar and then found the guitar and I had this magical bond that we just can’t separate [laughs].
What was the first song you learned?
I’m sure it was, I think it was maybe a Newsboys — that’s a Christian band — I think Newsboys. I don’t remember what it was, one of their worship songs.
Did you just play it over and over again?
Yes, yes, I did, yes. Well the funny thing is I went away to, there is kind of like Country Jam or Fest, those outdoor camping festivals, there is one in Minnesota called Sonshine, and I went to that music festival with my dad, and I went not knowing guitar at all, and then I came back four days later and I was like, “Hey mom I have this song I can play on the guitar for you.” And she’s like, “But you don’t play guitar.” And I’m like, “But I do now!” [laughs]
Is you family musical as well?
Well my dad plays guitar, my mom sings — she would never sing in front of anybody but she can sing, but I picked up guitar basically from just watching my dad play and then singing probably comes from my mom.
So music has always kind of been a huge part of your life then.
Oh definitely, definitely. I’ve kind of been just a musical sponge, just anybody or anything that I listen to kind of influences me in some way.
What was the moment you thought, I want to do music forever?
I mean I’ve kind of always known I wanted to do it, and then there was that time going through high school where you’re kind of like searching for yourself and trying to figure out who you are, and I’m like, “Oh being a musician isn’t really realistic.” And then I started posting videos on YouTube because I come from like a really, really small town — like 1,000 people, and I have six siblings, well there are six children, I have five siblings — but there wasn’t any option to up and move, and so I decided to start posting YouTube videos and then it kind of just took off, and I started getting calls from people, and I’m like, “Oh I must be doing something right even though it’s just a crappy camera for my bedroom.” [laughs] And so from there I just decided to pour everything into it and try as hard as I can for it, and I’ve been lucky to always have the support of my parents, which I think has made a huge difference.
Were you ever nervous performing in front of people?
I was very nervous at first. I never had stage fright as in when I started singing I didn’t have any problem. It didn’t sound like I was nervous, but at first I was so sick about performing live, just so nervous about it that I couldn’t do it by myself, so I had like a friend do it with me just to become more comfortable with it, and then eventually once I had got confident enough with my voice and what I could do, and I knew I could get up there and make it sound good, it became less nerve-wracking and less nerve-wracking and I kind of turned that nervous feeling into excitement, and so now I don’t get too nervous anymore.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
I don’t really. My only pre-show ritual would just be to not think about it and just talk with friends or whoever is backstage and try to stay calm and not think about it until I have to be up there.
Because you were always so focused on music, were there things you felt like you had to give up to pursue music full time?
Well like in high school I couldn’t be involved in any type of sport just because — I’m a very athletic person — but I just didn’t have time to do the YouTube thing and also do sports. Also, I was a huge part of Science Olympiad, which is a competitive science club type of group, and I ended up medaling at state and it was really, really fun, and if I wasn’t doing music, I would definitely be doing something in the chemistry, forensic field.
What job do you think you would have gone into?
Probably I think a forensic scientist for like maybe in a lab or something like that.
Very different than music. Coming from a town of a thousand people, does everyone pretty much know everything about each other?
Yes, unfortunately. There are a lot of good things about that, just because you know everybody and everybody is for the most part very friendly and very nice because that’s how Wisconsin is, but then everyone knows your secrets, there aren’t any secrets, everybody knows everything, which is … it is what it is [laughs].
How do you feel like that influenced you as an artist coming from this place that was low-key and tucked away?
I mean I feel like it’s definitely something that keeps me very, very grounded. My friends don’t treat me differently; I’m just same old Maddy who is nerdy and Science Olympiad and things like that, so it definitely is my way of just staying really down to earth and just still being myself.
You’ve had a lot going this past year. You’ve signed with Keep Your Soul Records and gained over 700,000 subscribers in just one year. What has been your strategy in promoting your work?
Well the independent label I’m signed to, Keep Your Soul Records, the owner of it, Jake Coco, he’s probably the smartest person I’ve ever met when it comes to YouTube and how it works, and so I feel like that was the main reason I signed with him was when I talked with them, they just knew it, you could tell they were very confident about it, and I knew YouTube was the direction I wanted to go and where I wanted to take it.
Why did you want to go through YouTube?
It started out as just a necessity; that’s all that I had was YouTube, and then it turned into this amazing place where I can interact personally when fans, and then it became this thing where I’m building this from the ground up and it’s my baby and my project and just a sense of ownership, and I created this and started from nothing and I can do it. And with YouTube, that’s the amazing thing about YouTube, is that you can be a little girl in a town of a thousand people and you can still go after your dreams.
Because your channel is your baby, what do you look for in networks that are interested in signing you?
I mean I definitely want to find a way to take the music and make it mainstream, but I also definitely want to keep going with YouTube. I never want to stop posting videos on YouTube, because that’s just where I started, and I feel like it would be an absolute mistake to like think, “Oh now I’m mainstream, you know, YouTube is not mainstream,” wherein it’s like you could be mainstream and YouTube and then have twice the influence.
Do you think mainstream still has the same allure that it used to before YouTube was around?
In my opinion, I think that mainstream is nervous. I think they’re really nervous about the fact that anybody in the world can post a video and with the right video or right reaction from the crowd, they can be on the same relevance level as somebody who’s mainstream.
How would you describe your own personal music style?
It’s a little different. I do this thing on my channel where I take rap songs and then I put melody to them, and so that hip hop, rap has kind of now sewn its way into my music and so I have like a singer, songwriter, hip hop, pop kind of sound.
What was your original motivation to rewrite hip hop songs?
Well okay, so my brother was leaving for Iraq and his favorite artist was Eminem, and so I thought, why not do an Eminem song for him? Like I had no idea what I was doing so I took the song and I just switched up the melody and made the lyrics clean, and then I posted on YouTube and it went pretty viral. At that time for me it went pretty viral, and it was my first like, wow, this is something that people really, really like, and I loved doing it.
And you split your time between Los Angeles and Wisconsin — what type of work do you do in each place?
At home it’s a lot more songwriting and also like life development so that you can then write songs also. L.A. is a lot of music videos and recording and interviews [laughs]; the hard work happens in L.A. I mean, song writing is hard, but for me I love it.
What inspires you at home? What is this life development you speak of?
Well I recently got a boyfriend; he’s awesome, and I very much like him [laughs]. I also have family and I just moved out this summer so like just things like that. It was funny when even just a year ago I was like, “I don’t know why some people don’t maintain their Facebook, like it’s not that hard to do two posts a day or whatever,” and then when I got a boyfriend and moved out and like got a life, I’m like, “Oh when you have a life, it’s like really hard to keep up with some of these things,” [laughs] so it’s helped with the Maddy side of things.
How do you like living on your own?
Oh I love it. I love it. I loved living with my million, one siblings but it’s just really nice to have quiet.
Especially when you’re traveling all around like you do.
Yeah definitely, and that is one thing about traveling so much. Wisconsin is like — I mean, picture it — it’s like green forests, wildlife like deer, so it’s like Snow White, just this magical fairytale place is what I feel like it is, and so when I travel to L.A. and do all this hard work and then I come back, I feel like I’m on vacation every time I come home.
Why don’t you feel the need to move to L.A. to pursue your YouTube career?
I mean I feel like maybe eventually I’ll have to, but at this point I can get what I need to get done and still live in Wisconsin, and I just love it there.
Long term do you think you’ll want to move away from Wisconsin, or would you like to just continue traveling from place to place?
I think that at some point I would like to move to Nashville. I really like it there for the songwriting aspect, and there is obviously tons of producers and lots of music avenues in Nashville, and Nashville still has the country, homey feel that Wisconsin has.
Would you want to get more into country music?
I mean I definitely would like to get into the country music writing scene.
I have no idea how you’d even go about doing that.
[laughs] I think you just know people who know people.
Does it always feel like when you’re out in L.A., you’re always networking?
Yeah, definitely, I think that is simply one of the most important things about YouTube is just maintaining the YouTube relationships, and you know, I help out somebody, somebody helps out me, and it’s just this big community of YouTubers helping each other out. That’s what I love most about YouTube.
What keeps you balanced and able to juggle everything?
[laughs] I mean I’d be lying if I said I don’t have crazy moments where I want to like pull my hair out. I’m like, “Oh my gosh I’m so stressed!” But I mean with my boyfriend and my family, just staying down to earth. I feel like as long as I maintain Maddy at the end of the day and I’m still myself, then all the music things that I do with Madilyn Bailey it will just be fun and amazing, and it’s my dream job so I can’t complain too much.
How is Madilyn Bailey different from Maddy?
Well obviously they are the same person [laughs]. I mean, Maddy, growing up I’m such a tomboy. I like playing videogames, I like nerdy board games, I like chemistry, so I’m just like this total nerdy, geeky tomboy. And then like last year was my first year starting to wear makeup because I started looking at myself in the videos, and I’m like, “Oh, to be what I want to be [laughs] I need to look the part,” so then I started being girlie and I love my dresses now, so I get to be tomboy and princess at the same time so I love it.
What values are most important to you?
To me it’s just important to stay very, very honest with myself, who I am, my music, and just do it for the sake of making awesome music. I never want it to be about anything beside that, and to me, I think that will make the difference in what my music sounds like and turns out like and who I end up working with, because I just want to work with people who want to make awesome music.
When have been those moments you’ve had to step back and ask, “Is this about my music?”
Yeah absolutely. There have definitely been opportunities where you go, “Is it about the money? It is about the influence?” whatever it’s about, and then I have to step back and be like, “Is this the best move for the music in the end?” No matter what is on the table or what is being offered, it has to be best for this project that I’ve been growing.
Being just 20 years old, the lure of having fame and fortune seems like it would be incredibly strong. What keeps you from jumping into something that might have quick rewards but in the long run, wouldn’t be best for your career?
Honestly, it is definitely my family. My family has definitely kept me in a place where — I mean from where I come from, money doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in other places, and for me, fame is not why I’m doing this, money is not why I’m doing this. So none of those things matter to me. Obviously I’m very, very grateful that my YouTube career is now at the point where I can support myself just off the music. I used to work at a nursing home and I got to quit that last year, and I’m so grateful for that and I hope that I will continue to be able to support myself that way, but I just the love the music. I’m in it for the music.
What was your experience like working at a nursing home? That’s a hard job.
It’s a hard job, it’s a gross job. I won’t tell you any stories because nobody will want to hear those [laughs]. It taught me about hard work, and it also makes me appreciate it now that I don’t have to work there about a hundred times more because I had to go through that and it wasn’t fun.
Did you work there full time?
I worked there mostly full time. It was so that I could pay for my tickets to L.A. basically.
That’s a lot of balancing. What was your first big purchase when you went into music full time?
My new apartment, honestly. About a year later, I’ve let myself buy anything for me. A house, a couch, a TV, those types of things that go along with having an apartment. But I bought a ukulele the other day! I’ve been waiting to buy that for a while.
Is it here now?
I didn’t bring it with me but I definitely want to bring it here because the ukulele and the palm trees make sense, right?
Looking forward to VidCon, how is your trip looking like right now?
So for VidCon I play two songs on the main stage, and then I have a Fullscreen — I think they call it a “fan session” where I do two songs and then an interview and then a meet and greet, and then I have some interviews and things like that. And then just for me, it’s going to be a bunch of fun meeting all these people that I just have watched their videos forever.
Who are you really excited to meet?
I’m really excited to meet — I don’t know how many of these people will be here. I know Tyler Oakley is going to be here; that one is going to be really fun. I’ve already met a lot of them, but again seeing Tyler Ward and Alex G and all the Keep Your Soul people I think are going to come, so that will be fun to see them all in one place.
Do you work with all the Keep Your Soul people, or is everyone in a different place?
I think I’ve worked with everybody but Savannah (Outen), and I don’t know why it just hasn’t worked out yet, but I think I’ve worked with every artist that is signed with them.
Do you have anything you’re looking forward to during this trip away from VidCon?
Outside? Nope [laughs].
Well you are approaching your 21st birthday — do you have any plans coming up?
Big plans … none I can talk about yet.
What do you have coming up on your channel?
Right now I’m in the process of writing for and having produced an original album, and we’re in the process of working on the first single right now and hopefully we’ll have that released. I want it released in the next two months, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But yeah, we have my first original single to come out in a while and I’m really excited because the sound of it is way different. I have a five-song EP that I did about a year ago in Minneapolis and it’s just drastically different from that sound, and it’s so much more in the direction I want it to go in, and it’s me, and I’m really, really excited about it.
What will be a major theme in this upcoming album?
So the theme of this album will be the rapid lyrics mixed in with a kind of Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding kind of mixture.
What do you think this album will tell us about you?
I mean I think it’s talking about just the time in your life when you go from being a little kid to being an adult where you start thinking in adult ways like, oh I have to pay bills, I have responsibilities and things like that, so it’s going from being a child to being an adult.
Past this album, what are your long-term plans?
My long-term plan is obviously to continue to post YouTube videos, then release this new upcoming album and single, and then from there hopefully we’ll get some attention of some labels and maybe we’ll get an awesome deal, and if not, I have no problem just going independent. I’m totally cool with that, so is my label, and so it will be either one of those two ways, and then I’m hoping in the next two to three years I’ll have my first headlining tour. I’m super excited about that.
Have you toured yet?
I haven’t. I mean I do shows here and there when I can; I just got back from Singapore a couple weeks ago and that was really, really fun, but I haven’t done an actual, full-length, on-the-road-for-30-days tour yet. That will be coming up.
What opportunities do you feel YouTube has given you that you couldn’t have gotten anywhere else?
Well, I mean first off YouTube has given me the greatest gift of being able to do what I’ve literally dreamed of since I was in diapers, like singing Disney songs, “I want much more than this provincial life.” I had no idea what I was singing at the time, but it just allows me to go after my dreams and still be able to be myself and also to be my own boss. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss? So I love that.
If you could go back and change any of your musical career, would you?
I don’t think I would. Even the mistakes and the stupid things we do in life, they make us who we are and you have to love the flaws along with the wonderful things.
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Photography By Daniel Nguyen