Madeleine VandenHeuvel

Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music (BMus) '21

What would you say was the most surprising thing you learned at Columbia?

I learned the importance of owning my artistry, my musicianship, and my voice as a woman working in the music industry. Being placed in spaces where I’m one of few women (if not the only one), I figured out how to hold my own and ensured that my opinions, ideas, and thoughts were valued and respected. I wasn’t going to allow people to view me as “just a singer” when I have so much more to offer. 

 What experiences or courses at Columbia do you feel have been most beneficial?

Being accepted into the BMus CUP program at Columbia is an opportunity that I’m truly grateful for. As a BMus CUP student, one of the benefits you receive is automatic acceptance into the study abroad programs at Popakademie in Germany. I was fortunate enough to go to the International Songwriting Camp hosted there in July of 2019. It was only a week, but I met so many incredible people from all over the world and learned a tremendous amount! I think about that trip all of the time and will remember it forever. 

RPE (Recording and Performance Ensemble) is a course where I’ve gained a lot of valuable knowledge. Instead of a typical ensemble experience where you cover songs in a particular genre or style of music, you write and record original music with the people you are grouped with. In general, ensembles teach you how to navigate collaborative settings, but when you add in the element of creating original material it invites a whole slew of new challenges, problems, and rewards. I’ve not only grown in my songwriting and musicianship throughout the two years I’ve been in RPE, but I’ve learned so many things about myself and others. 

What are your plans for after graduation?

My first goal post-graduation is to start recording music. I’ve written a lot of material this past year that finally feels like me, so I’m excited to put together an EP this summer! Hopefully live music will be back up and running by then as well – I can’t wait to get back on the stage. 

Aside from my own music, I’ll be doing as much writing as I can. I plan to do a bunch of co-writing and would like to explore the world of sync licensing. An ultimate goal of mine is to get a publishing deal as a songwriter, so the more writing and collaboration I can do, the better! 

Lastly, I absolutely love teaching and working with kids, so I’ll be offering voice and songwriting lessons.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Always try to deliver your best in class. One thing that I’ve learned time and time again is that your teachers and peers pay attention. Showing up on time, being reliable, following assignments and doing your best work will be noticed by your professors and they keep track of that stuff! Many of my friends, including myself, have been given incredible opportunities because of faculty at Columbia. You never know who is watching!

Stop comparing yourself to others. This is so cliché, but it’s so easy to sit and compare yourself to your peers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like giving up because I looked at everyone around me and thought they were doing so much better than I was. I learned to use that frustration as motivation to improve my musicianship while also acknowledging what my own strengths were. Once I shifted that mindset, my creative process completely opened up.

Take breaks and take care of yourself!!! This point also functions as advice for my current/future self to come back to as a reminder. If you ask anyone in my close circle, I don’t necessarily know when to stop. I work and work and work until the job is done which isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t always a good thing either. For any of my fellow workaholics out there, I am telling you that it is okay for you to rest. Your value as a creative is not based on your productivity level. Get your sleep, drink enough water, and give your body the love and care that it deserves! 

If you were going to sum up your experience at Columbia in one sentence, what would you say?

Thank God for Becky Sass – an academic advising hero.