When Jenn McMillan gets on stage to sing, she sees herself as a storyteller for the audience. She and her band perform songs she has composed.
"People want to hear what you have to say," said McMillan who studied music performance at UM-Flint, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor's degree.
"If you sell it and give your all to the audience it is a really good feeling. It is refreshing. I am relaxed. It feels right."
That mindset and approach has evolved for McMillan, who also plays the piano and guitar. She and her band perform throughout Michigan. She used to find it frightening to perform her music live, but credits her UM-Flint experiences for helping her embrace the stage.
"It seems silly because I picked vocal performance as a major but I was terrified before each performance," McMillan said.
As part of her classes, she was required to perform several times a year in front of her peers and music faculty. Her teachers consistently told her she needed to embrace this to be a true musician.
"That forced it out of me, because you had to do it for your grade," she said.
After each performance, it became a little less frightening, and McMillan found her identity on stage.
It was at UM-Flint that her songwriting also became more complex. Music theory helped her add more layers to her compositions. Faculty lent their support, and her peers voices inspired her to improve.
"Each class I was taking I felt I was really building on this and starting to find out who I was as a composer, an artist, and a singer. By the time I graduated, my voice changed so much," she said.
McMillan, an indie alternative artist, released her first two singles in 2015 and last March released her debut EP, which she wrote and produced. She also teaches voice and piano to young people.
Even though it has been nearly four years since graduation, McMillan said the imprint left on her by UM-Flint continues. She thinks about the small classes and how that helped her bond with her classmates. She thinks about how the faculty challenged and encouraged her. She thinks about how she met several of her bandmates through the university. And she thinks about how fear of performing started to dissolve at UM-Flint, and set her up to succeed in her career.
"I think about that all the time. Everything kind of fit into place," she said.