Makena Tate

By Stella Haffner   |   June 11, 2024

Preparing for her final year at Berklee College of Music, Makena Tate – a Crane Country Day School and San Marcos High School alum – reflects on how her relationship with music has changed over the years. 

Dear Montecito,

Makena Tate is “Hooked 4 Life” on music

Last month I Ubered to a gig and the driver immediately asked: “Why do you like music?” After throwing my guitar, amp, mic stand, and bag with everything needed into his trunk, I was quite winded. I answered jokingly: “It’d be easier if I didn’t!” I hadn’t taken his question with any sincerity as it hadn’t occurred to me that somebody could dislike music. While I was seated in his Prius’ back right corner, he was staring at me through his rearview mirror. In a thick Russian accent he asked me again, “Why do you like music?” I paused thoughtfully, shrinking at the judgment I heard in his tone, rapidly replaying the past 20 years of my life to answer in a way I thought would satisfy him.

Everything I’ve ever known has been music. It was the reason I was able to make sense of my parents’ divorce at age 10; it was the reason I was able to make sense of my body dysmorphia since age 12; it was the reason I was able to make sense of the language barrier in China at age 16; it was the reason I was able to make sense of the heartbreak from my first love at nearly 17; and it was the reason I was able to overcome the suicidal thoughts I had at 18.

Music is and always has been my therapy. It’s bolstered conquering challenges I never thought I’d face. It’s the reason I can’t imagine another career.

Starting young, I’ve had to be independent. I didn’t have siblings to talk to about what was happening with my parents or my body or boys. I liked priding myself on independence. It’s undoubtedly fueled drive, determination, and resilience. I’ve been my own manager my entire music career thus far: booking my own shows, managing social media accounts, collaborating with artists, submitting to music festivals, blogs, radio, etc. Every opportunity I’ve had has been because of myself. In 2023 I won first place in three national songwriting competitions, played 77 shows, and accumulated 300,000 streams on my second-ever release, “Naked.” Four months into 2024 I’ve been accepted to play my first festival, North x Northeast in Canada, and have been a featured artist at the LAUNCH Music Conference and Festival in Pennsylvania.

Considering that my second semester at Berklee College of Music I wanted to drop out, I’m extremely proud of my accomplishments and proud I haven’t given up. I know it would’ve been easier to drop out of Berklee, transfer to some state school, join a sorority, study some silly major I don’t care about, and quit music; but I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. 

My second semester at Berklee, I entered into a deep depression. Dark thoughts were not foreign to me, but being in a new environment with them was new. I was in a cramped room sleeping in a twin bed with depression as my sleeping partner. I was surrounded by a plethora of musicians who I thought I could never be as talented as, and also a decent amount whose musical ability I questioned, which in turn made me question my own. I felt like I was living in an alternate reality surrounded by all of these creatives of varying ability. I couldn’t figure out where I fit in, or if I fit in. That’s when my depression entered the scene, masking herself as envy and self-doubt. I was quickly learning about the east coast winter that had once seemed like a haunting warning until I was in the thick of it and miserable. I was fresh out of a breakup, missing the California sun, and feeling lost, which was not a recipe for success. I was writing music I didn’t like because I was feeling overwhelmed by influences, and I felt like if I didn’t write a certain way that I could never be successful. Every day I was getting new music shoved down my throat that didn’t feel like me. I was seeing new friends who I thought were so talented give in to the pressure of this school and drop out, or convince themselves they would never be successful and therefore change majors or even schools. All I knew at that point was that I had to see the year through. I couldn’t give up without giving it a year. So I stuck it out. My sophomore year, my roommate and I moved out of the dorms and into our own apartment, which completely changed the trajectory of my time in Boston. I was able to have music on my own terms, able to have some more space from Berklee, and to focus on creating music that I really loved. I was less susceptible to the influence of Berklee music. But I would have never known the importance of having that balance had I not gone through that. So even though I wouldn’t wish those stuck-in-bed, unable-to-move-days on anyone, I know it ultimately has made me a stronger person and
better musician.

April 26th, I released my favorite song I’ve ever written, “Hooked 4 Life.” With this release, I’m stepping into the sonic world I’ve wanted to live in for a while, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. Creating “Hooked 4 Life” was an incredibly fun process, and it felt like every new element my producer, Chris Cassriel, and I added was something we were uncovering. The song, and every part of it – from the guitar tones to the drum groove to the harmonies – were waiting patiently, we just had to lift off the cover and find them. And that’s why I love music. Every song is just another chance to uncover something new and learn something about yourself in the process. It’s a way to cope, but it’s also a way to discover. This May 17th, I released another single, “What’s it all for?” These will be the two singles off of my sophomore EP, Freedom, coming June 14th. Releasing these songs feels more empowering than I can put into words. And it feels magical. I can’t wait to keep discovering the music that’s inside of me, and hopefully empowering others to do the same.

Makena Tate

Find Makena Tate on Spotify or on Instagram @makenatate


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