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Home » International Musician » Melanie Durrant

Melanie Durrant


Back when live music could still be heard nightly at restaurants and clubs, a six-year-old girl tags along to a gig at a supper club with her mother, a singer. The girl’s job is to announce her mom’s band to the audience, which she does by imitating Kermit the Frog’s introduction of The Muppet Show. After all, she’s a little kid.

After wrapping up the set, the singer announces, “I think Melanie would like to sing a song now,” and turns to her daughter. Melanie offers a feeble protest and feigns bashfulness, but really, she’s happy to take her moment in the spotlight. When she performs the song, her voice is young, but her talent is obvious. As she belts out her soulful tune, she discovers that this is her calling.

Free Spirit

Now all grown up, singer and guitarist Melanie Durrant of Local 290 (Sudbury, ON) still asserts that performing live is “the best feeling in the world.” These days, she’s more likely to take the stage first, opening for some of hip-hop’s biggest acts when they tour to Canada. The artists on that long list include Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Sean Paul.

The fearless attitude Durrant displayed as a kid continued to serve her well as she grew into the career she has always dreamed of. For her, taking chances has often led to something bigger and better.

As a teenager and young adult, she continued to work with her mother, Karen Durrant (also a member of Local 290), traveling all over the world as a performer in Karen’s tribute show, Dream Girls, which pays homage to the music of Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Gladys Knight. Melanie is now a co-producer for the show. In addition to working her way up to that title, performing with Dream Girls helped her to win a spot with the Canadian production of the musical Rent, which she toured with during the late ’90s. That, in turn, led to touring as a backup singer for Grammy Award-winner Jill Scott, who was a fellow Rent cast member.

“It’s all about opening up new avenues and meeting new people,” Durrant says, explaining how her career evolved. The AFM has been essential in opening up those avenues, by providing Durrant with certain freedoms as a professional performer. “Through the AFM, I get a work permit for each job and am able to perform in many different places,” she says. “Without membership, you couldn’t do certain things, and you certainly wouldn’t get paid the way you should.”

Durrant also credits the Internet as an instrumental part of her success. The web, she explains, offers musicians new options for distributing music, which she’s looking into as she prepares to release her sophomore album. “There are so many more avenues for an indie artist like myself to take nowadays, with sites like CD Baby that take your music, distribute it, and put it on iTunes for you,” she says.

Durrant released her debut album, Where I’m Goin, independently in 2005, and has put out numerous singles since then. With her new album almost complete, she’s considering shopping around for a record deal, but her mounting eagerness to share her work makes her think that independent may still be the best way to go.  “I’m kind of getting tired of waiting!” she exclaims. “Writing and the process of coming up with new material is fun, but now it’s time to share.”

Right Place at the Right Time

Like many musicians, a little bit of luck was involved in Durrant’s “big break.” In her case, that good fortune came from a car commercial that aired in 2002 during Superbowl XXXVI. A friend of Durrant’s manager happened to be shooting a commercial for the PT Cruiser and the music that was initially going to be used fell through. Enter Durrant, who was ready and willing to have her song, “Where I’m Goin,” featured in the commercial. “I kind of got thrown in there, but I definitely wasn’t mad about it,” she laughs.

Among the millions who heard the song while tuning into the biggest sporting event of the year, was then Motown Records President Kedar Massenberg, who was immediately captured by Durrant’s self-described “eclectic soul” sound. Back at his office the next day, Massenberg realized that he had her demo album sitting on his desk.

Durrant was immediately flown to New York, and despite not being able to bring her guitar along because of tight airport security, she made quite an impression on Massenberg. She was scooped up under Motown’s wing (the first Canadian artist to be signed to the label) and dove headfirst into the world of studio sessions, photo shoots, and media attention.

The relationship with Motown ended after a few years, but Durrant continued down the same busy path. Many of her tracks, like “Pop” and “Lifted,” have had heavy radio airplay in Canada, and she is frequently sought after for live shows, as well.

Durrant often performs at fundraising events for educational and charitable programs for children, such as “What’s the 411,” a Canadian initiative that aims to educate youth about HIV and AIDS. She says that initially, being booked for those sorts of gigs was a matter of “being in the right place at the right time,” but she has become passionate about putting her talent toward good causes. “Children are the future, right?” Durrant says. “I think it’s great to give kids a chance to better themselves, and what better way to do that than through education?”

The Sky’s the Limit

“Music takes me anywhere and everywhere mentally,” says Durrant. “It sounds like I’m nuts!” she laughs, but fellow musicians certainly understand where she’s coming from.

Music constantly brings about new challenges, too-even ones that have nothing to do with writing the perfect hook or laying down a flawless vocal line. For example, although Durrant previously had no behind-the-camera experience, she did some styling and camera work for the music video to “Enjoy Yourself,” a song by her frequent collaborator, Slakah the Beatchild. “I 100% loved it, and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” she says enthusiastically.

Durrant is also getting more hands-on, with the recent purchase of a home studio. “I’m trying to figure out the equipment. I had never run my own equipment before, but I think it’s better to be able to do that,” she says. “You have more time to yourself. I write all of my own melodies, lyrics, and vocal arrangements, so it’s great to have the time to lay it out and not feel rushed to get out of the studio.”

That freedom is important considering Durrant can get lost in a song for hours. “I could listen to a song over and over again until other people are going crazy-there are so many things to listen to!” she explains. “I’m not listening to the same thing every time. I’m listening to the guitar, then the strings, then the vocals, then the backup singers, then the lyrics … ”

She’s not in a rush to get anywhere, either. “At first, I felt like there was somewhere to get to and somewhere to be in my career. But now, I don’t think I can really say at any point that I’ve arrived,” she asserts. “It’s really not about landing somewhere, but it’s about the journey to get there.”

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