Alex Banin breaks into the Chicago music industry
May 13, 2020
In the middle of Alex Banin’s first year at Northwestern, she became extremely sick and could not sing for an entire year. After getting her tonsils removed, she was able to sing again and realized how much she missed it. From that moment on, Banin dove into her music career, and she hasn’t looked back.
Over the course of two years, she has released music on Spotify, opened for Chicago native Mick Jenkins at this winter’s A&O Benefit concert and featured on rapper KOTA The Friend’s latest album. Now a senior in SESP, Banin is dedicated to her music in a way she didn’t think was previously possible.
Growing up, Banin enjoyed singing and songwriting, but never thought she was good at it. As a Northwestern fencer who has trained for years, she didn’t have much time to spend practicing music. Yet she always found ways to write, even if it sometimes meant taking breaks during practice to do so.
“Sometimes I have to go in the corner and type up a note on my phone or write something really quickly or just remember it until the end of practice, which would drive me nuts,” Banin said.
With the exception of a few piano lessons as a child, Banin is a self-taught artist. She describes her music as pop melodies paired with R&B vocals, and she draws inspiration from her three favorite musicians: Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill and Frank Ocean. While Banin said those artists have greatly influenced her sound, the types of music she listened to in certain phases of her life has helped to influence and evolve her writing style.
Banin said she has many firsts in terms of the songs she’s created. There’s the first song she wrote when she was 12 years old, and the first one she released on SoundCloud. But she considers her first song to be “House Alone,” which she wrote in December 2017.
“I played it live before, and it was kind of the first song that I (performed),” Banin said. “I was like ‘this is a real song, like this feels real. I showed it to people and they were like ‘this is a real song.’”
“House Alone” was never recorded or produced, but Banin cites it as the song that really started her career. From there, she started working with Northwestern friends on music and found her way into the Chicago music scene.
Banin began her music career as someone with very little performance experience, until last summer when she went to every open mic event she could to get over her performance anxiety. At those events, she met producers who helped her get into the studio, giving her the chance to fully produce her songs.
“I had a lot of sessions with a lot of different people, to figure out what works and what doesn’t work and that whole time, I was still discovering my own sounds, still developing as an artist and I still am,” Banin said.
She met a producer from Loop Theory, a music management and artist development agency. In fall 2019, Banin signed with Loop Theory and worked with them to produce her songs, as well as to shoot cover art and a music video.
Ben Michael is a manager with Loop Theory and first met Alex when he shot the cover art for her single “Hollywood (No This Isn’t),” which she wrote in their studio alongside producers in an hour.
Michael said the photoshoot went well in part because the two were able to feed off of each other’s energy and ideas. They went to an abandoned art building where they found a plastic bag on the ground. Banin insisted that they use it as a prop, winning over Michael, who thought it would be weird. He said the incident showed that Banin has a strong sense of what she wants, and is able to run with any idea.
“She works incredibly hard all the time and is always trying to learn new stuff, and I don’t think she’ll ever stop progressing,” Michael said. “She is so unique and I think it’s going to be very easy for her, and already has been for her to create that niche fan base and that is easily going to lead to her being very successful.”
In addition to making music, Banin also loves collaborating on the visual aspects of her work. For her single “Nightmare,” she shot and designed the cover art by collaging photos of herself and putting them onto mannequin heads. She then arranged them in an art building on campus and took the photos with her sister’s camera. According to her, the cover art is a visual representation of the song’s personal meaning to her.
“‘Nightmare’ for me is a collage of my past manifesting in my dreams,” Banin said. “It’s all the parts of me in different times in my life.”
Often, Banin collaborates with others on videos or photo shoots. Communication sophomore Lauren Washington worked with Banin on an impromptu shoot at the Loop Theory studio. There were several balloons around the studio, and Banin posed with them while Washington took photos. The shoot only lasted about 10 minutes, but Washington said it was a great experience.
Washington and Banin have discussed collaborating on a video and developing the concept together, and Washington said she is looking forward to working on it once stay-at-home orders are lifted. According to Washington, Banin is a very easy person to work with.
“She has a really clear creative direction for herself and what she wants, so it’s really nice working with her,” Washington said. “She also has that kind of visual mind, so it’s not just me thinking of ideas. It’s a really easy collaboration.”
Since the pandemic hit, Banin has changed her writing process, since her songs are based on her daily experiences and environment, which have changed drastically in the past few months. But even though she’s missed bouncing ideas off of producers while writing, the time alone has reminded her of how she wrote when she was younger. Banin said she’s been able to use this time to reflect on her goals and hopes to release music soon.
Banin plans to stay in Chicago after graduation to continue her career, with hopes of reaching a point where she can fully support herself with her music. Whether she performs her own songs or writes for other artists, Banin said she hopes to stick with the music industry in some way.
“I just love it,” Banin said. “I feel really driven and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”