Even before she could play an instrument, Madison Shea was writing songs at the age of 11.
It was something her mother, Barbra Hornsby, encouraged her to do as a way to process normal childhood angst.
Her songs caught the attention of her music teacher and landed her on a Nashville label. These days, at 15 years old, Madison is catching the attention of even more people.
She just won the Youth GA Music Award at the GA Music Awards, a new contest where the audience votes for their favorite musical acts. She has a 6-song CD out on the Nashville label Wurld Records and on iTunes. Two of her songs stayed on Atlanta radio station 94.9 The Bull's Backyard Country – another people’s choice contest – for up to eight weeks. Her single, "I've Got a Secret" was Country Atlanta's song of the month for March 2012.
And she has easily played 40 venues, festivals and private events in the past year and a half, including two events for elected officials.
So who is she?
Madison describes herself as a country/pop singer. A Woodstock resident, she is also an upcoming sophomore at Fellowship Christian School in Roswell and an A student. She now plays guitar and piano. And in between school, shopping, reading and other typical teen activities, she is performing on weekends and weeknights.
“I love performing,” Madison said, “and I’ll perform pretty much anywhere from fairs to small coffee shops. I really love looking into people’s eyes and seeing the joy they have when they’re listening to me. I think it’s the reaction that feeds what I do. It makes me feel good seeing that people are happy.”
Even politicians are taking notice. State Rep. Jay Neal asked her to play at his campaign kickoff rally last May.
“She’s an impressive young lady with her songwriting ability, her musical ability and her voice. You put all that together and you’ve got an impressive package for a 16-year-old,” Neal said.
Madison started writing songs after getting a poetry assignment at school. Her mother encouraged her to turn the poems into music as a way to process emotions. Madison then took the songs to her music teacher at the time, Brent Whiten. He thought the music was so promising that he contacted Rich Herring, a long-time friend of his and a producer in Nashville, who signed her. Madison was 12 at the time.
“I thought this was amazing that this kind of songwriting would come out of a 12-year-old already,” Whiten told Patch. “Most songwriters at that age don’t have a complete song. Immediately, I saw there was a gift – not only as a singer but as a songwriter.”
Madison recalls the moment when she connected with the Nashville producer.
“I started crying,” she said. “I was a little 12-year-old girl, thinking her dreams were going to come true. It was probably my first glimpse of hope that I received and to this day, it keeps me going.”
And she is definitely still going.
She was in Nashville last week, recording her new song, “Overboard,” due out on iTunes in the fall. She plans to continue performing locally and has been asked to be a presenter at the Carolina Music Awards, the equivalent of the Georgia contest she just won.
For Madison, songwriting has become a way to let go of those hurts of adolescence.
“My songs are my sense of freedom. I can write about anything and no one can change it. They allow me to let go of things that are really bugging me,” she writes on her website. “Whenever I am frustrated, sad, or excited about school, friends, or boys, I let out my emotions into a song.”
Want to hear Madison Shea? She will be performing from 7 to 9 p.m. on July 21 at Your Pie restaurant, 625 West Crossville Road, Roswell.