Makena Tate | Credit: Sam de la Vega

Let’s get something straight: Singer-songwriter Makena Tate does not want to make TikTok music. Forget short-lived, catchy jingles — the songs overlaid on just about every TikTok video you scroll past but will inevitably die out after a few months. Some musicians might enjoy the thrill of it, and that’s okay. But it’s not for Tate. “I want to make music that is going to last my entire life and is going to outlive me and leave a legacy that I’m proud of,” she said. 

Tate and I chat over Zoom on a Wednesday afternoon. She’s wearing a white off-the-shoulder shirt and sporting wired headphones. When I ask how old she is, she tells me, with a smile that reveals her dimples, that her 21st birthday is tomorrow. 

With a steadily growing fanbase (around 9,000 monthly Spotify listeners) and a hit single (“Naked” from her 2023 EP Better boasts more than 170,000 streams and climbing), Tate is certainly making a name for herself. 

Makena Tate | Credit: Sam de la Vega

Just a few days before our conversation, she released her sophomore EP, Freedom, a collection of six songs poignantly written about the same guy. The title track of the EP, “Hooked 4 Life,” is a groovy, heartfelt song about finding it hard to let go of someone. “You’ve got a grip on me and baby, you’re holding on tight,” she sings. “You sunk your claws into me / You got me hooked for life.” Combining pop, indie, folk, and rock, Tate created a sound that feels familiar but somehow novel at the same time. 

The track “What’s It All For?” showcases her adept songwriting ability. Tate claims it only took 15 minutes to write, saying, “The second I sat down to write it, it was like the song was already written,” she said. Tate’s crisp vocals are especially notable. Her voice flows effortlessly like the wind playing over your hand, outstretched from a car window.

Like many artists, Tate’s songs draw inspiration from her life — her experiences and feelings that she might otherwise conceal. I asked if writing about such personal topics as relationships and mental health made her feel, for lack of a better word, exposed. But she informed me that she’s an “open person” and is aware that she chose a profession where many people will know a lot about her life. Even so, it can be unnerving at times. “And I just kind of have to be okay with that,” she said. 

Her musical beginnings have a familiar ring. It all started when she was young. Really young. “I started singing really when I could start speaking,” she said.

Her parents told her that she used to walk around the house singing through every action she took, like cleaning the dishes. “And I think my parents were like, ‘Okay, we need to get her out of the house and into music. So she can stop bugging us here,’” she laughed. 

Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Tate attended Crane School for elementary, where she performed in several theater productions. Witnessing a 5th-grade talent show performance — a girl with a guitar who utterly captivated Tate with her coolness — ignited a spark within her. Inspired, she soon picked up the instrument herself. Shortly after, she began lessons with Kate Wallace, a teacher she’s stuck with ever since.

She wrote her first song in 8th grade and sang it at her graduation. This was her first time performing an original song live, and it felt “right” to her. When she started high school at San Marcos, she quit musical theater and focused solely on music. Singing and songwriting quickly became an outlet for her to process the low points in her life. She likened it to therapy: “Music became a really big outlet for me to just pour all my emotions into.” 

Music had always been a special part of her life, and who she was, but when it came time to pick a college, she felt conflicted. “It felt like I was kind of deciding between these two different lives.” Should she go for a more lucrative career path and attend UCLA? Or should she chase her dreams and attend Berklee College of Music? 

She chose the latter. And she’s very happy she did.

“It’s like Hollywood Arts,” she joked about Berklee. (For those who didn’t obsessively binge Victorious, Hollywood Arts is a fictional art school from the show.) “Yes,” she said, people really do sing in the hallways like the show. 

At Berklee, Tate was surrounded by exceptionally talented people, which intimidated her at first. In the second semester of her freshman year, she battled with her mental health. She started to question her talents and compare herself to other people. She was also far away from home, and the seasons were changing in Boston, the days got colder and the sky darker — a stark difference from sunny California. “I actually feel very happy to have gone through that,” she said. “Because I think I’m able to look back on it and see how much I learned from that.” Going into her senior year as a songwriting major with a minor in the business of live music, she’s come into her own.

Makena Tate | Credit: Sam de la Vega

 To say that Tate works hard is an understatement. Last summer, she played about 50 shows in Santa Barbara — plus one in Ventura — in a span of nearly three months. She did this while holding another job at Honor Bar in Montecito and recording an EP. “I learned a lot about time management,” she joked. While tiring, taking the stage night after night helped her practice her stage presence and crowd interactions. This is why she doesn’t get stage fright anymore, she said. Similarly, she doesn’t really rehearse with her band beforehand because she loves “when something goes wrong.” 

Tate has no plans of slowing down. This fall, she and Santa Barbara musician Neil Erickson are releasing a song titled “Before It Happens.” This song explores the all-too-familiar struggle of “being scared about feelings,” Tate said. Throughout her career, she’s gone through phases of falling in and out of love with music. This song is a reflection of those confusing thoughts. “This past year has been about me finding the joy in music again.” 

Her grandparents often tell her that she “can still go to law school,” but that’s not going to happen. She chose music, and sure, it’s intimidating at times, daunting even, but she knows what she signed up for. And she’s more than capable of taking on the challenges thrown her way. 

“I have this mindset that I’ve put so much time and money and love, sweat, and tears into this profession already … there’s no way it can’t work if I just keep doing it,” she said. “That’s kind of my mindset … just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. And eventually, something will hit.”

To listen to Tate’s new EP, visit

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