By Ann Driscoll
Meagan Hickman ’10 approaches her musical career with the business savvy you’d expect from the president of the music business club. This past summer, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Chicago recorded an EP, designed and launched her website, registered her songs with the U.S. copyright office, signed up with ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and launched her own company: M.A.H. Music Group, LLC. Booking her own shows and handling all of her promotion and marketing, Hickman proves that if you’re smart and hardworking, you don’t need a manager –at least not in the early stages of your career.
Over the summer, the professional music/music business dual major recorded her EP, Blessed, in the Windy City, which is available for free streaming at her website, MeaganHickman.com. Hickman plans on releasing the EP, physically and digitally, by December.
Blessed features five songs, each with an inspirational, positive message. Hickman’s approach to spirituality is secular and definitely not preachy. “I don’t want to be misconstrued as a Christian singer, despite the title of my EP.” The title track came about because she didn’t want to write another silly love song. “Instead,” said Hickman, “I wrote a song about how, no matter how bad you’re feeling, you’re blessed with yourself and everything you’ve been given.”
Hickman composed most of the songs on Blessed by first coming up with a groove on the piano, and then filling in the melody and harmony from there. “Once I get the groove going, I map out the angle I’m going for. It’s a loose enough structure where I can still do it, verse by verse and chorus by chorus.”
However, Hickman composed the dark, yearning jazz-inflected pop song, “Temporary Girl” in a particularly unique way. “’Temporary Girl’ is the song I’m most proud of. I wrote it in a day riding on a Metro train going into the city. I solfeged out the whole damn thing on the back of a newspaper. I’m such a dork. Every block I came up with a new line. Each line I had to write it down, so I was writing on the sides of walls. I came back that night and tracked it.”
Other Berklee-educated Chicagoans played on the record, including Ellen Angelico, ‘10 and Cole DeGenova, ’09. Angelico performed all guitars and bass on the album, and DeGenova, ’09, who fronts his own popular band, The People’s Republic, guested on keys for two tracks.
Jonathan Smith, an engineer who mixes music for the Oprah Show, recorded the album in his basement studio. The two met when Smith helped Hickman, then a high school student, set up a home ProTools studio. He helped the young and eager musician produce her debut album of covers, which she describes as “half-classical, half-contemporary.” Their working relationship has been “peaches and cream ever since,” as Hickman describes it.
Before studying at Berklee, Hickman performed frequently as part of a premier Chicago children’s choir. The group toured internationally with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performing in South Africa and New Zealand and sharing the stage with Garth Brooks and Dennis DeYoung from Styx.
At 16, Hickman sang the Jingles for two nationally broadcast McDonald’s ads. The commercials were part of a Lizzy Maguire tie-in campaign, and the producers hired her because they wanted a vocalist who sounded like Hilary Duff.
Hickman’s performance on the high-profile jingles earned her royalties as well as membership to the Screen Actors Guild. Even though she hasn’t worked professionally as an actor since the jingles, Hickman keeps paying her negligible dues because the exclusive guild could provide opportunities for work down the road.
Despite the time commitment that her leadership of the Music Business Club requires, Hickman has placed a high priority on gigging and promoting Blessed. Her live band consists of Sonya Perricone on guitar, Ellen Angelico on bass, Ruby Biloskirka-Conley on keyboard, and Calvin Hansen on drums. The group played at All Asia in September and brought in 41 fans. Upcoming gigs include an October 20 date at Church and a November 17 date at The Good Life.
After she graduates this May, Hickman is considering moving to Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York City; but wherever her career takes her, her heart will remain in Chicago. “I will eventually settle in Chicago. I am one of the proudest Chicagoans here. The music scene is amazing. The people are friendly. The crowds are real. The support there is incredible.”