From TikTok Fame to Tiny Desk, Tiny Habits Is a 2022 Breakout Band
Tiny Habits first made a name for itself singing in stairways and dorm rooms. The trio, composed of Judah Mayowa ’21 and current Berklee students Cinya Khan and Maya Rae, gained a massive audience on TikTok and Instagram over the past year by performing bite-sized acoustic covers of nearly forgotten popular songs in their trademark shape-shifting three-part harmony. "Then everybody's like, Oh my God, I forgot about that song!" says Judah, adding with a smile: "And then they like ours better, ’cause we, you know, add a little harmony to it."
It's been a rapid ascent for a band that started as nothing more than a few new friends singing together in Maya's dorm room and sharing their experiments online. ("It'll be cute," Maya remembers them thinking about posting their first cover, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe.") But it didn't take long for them to realize they had something special. "Every single time we would post a video together, it would be like the most viewed video any of us had gotten," says Cinya. So they created official Tiny Habits accounts on Instagram and TikTok and started posting there.
Soon, these throwback covers began to rack up hundreds of thousands of views, sometimes millions. At one point, they even caught the eye of folk luminary David Crosby, who tweeted about them back in March, "I think they are the best new singing group I've heard."
"It was really cool, ’cause he's obviously a part of a trio that's very well-known," says Judah. "So I think it's cool to get recognition from someone who has kind of done the same thing that we've been doing."
Watch: Tiny Habits performs for Berklee's Two Track video series:
A Recipe for Harmony
It's hard to describe exactly what makes Tiny Habits' sound so compelling. While some of it comes down to the good fortune of three voices that sound nice together, mastering that blend and achieving the kinds of creative harmonic twists featured in all of their arrangements is anything but luck.
"It's definitely a lot of trial and error, but I think because we've been doing it for kind of a while now, we know where each of our own voices will sit, and where the other members will kind of take over," says Cinya, describing their arranging process. "We start with a pretty standard three-part harmony, and then one of us will figure out some sauce that makes it Tiny Habits."
And what's the secret to that sauce? "We love dissonance and crunch, like when notes rub together," says Judah. "I think we use that very often."
"On top of that," Maya adds, "we discovered that our unison is something that's pretty cool. I think it's hard for people to achieve a really smooth blend. So the fact that we have that is kind of also part of the Tiny Habits sauce, you could call it."
A smooth three-part unison, balanced with surprising flashes of dissonance and harmonic complexity, all in the space of a verse and a chorus—for these singers, that formula is the result of both instinct and time spent in the classroom.
"Those harmony classes..." Judah muses. Cinya agrees. "A lot of it is just so intuitive that we're not really thinking about it," she says, but "just knowing about tensions is something I utilize most. Because Judah [will be] like, 'Oh, add the nine. 13? Try the 11. And so I feel like, as a communication tool, that's pretty helpful."
The View from the Desk
The recognition and opportunities the band's received haven't been limited to social media, either. Earlier this year they began collaborating with indie-folk artist Lizzie McAlpine ’20 on a few videos, which led to McAlpine asking them to serve as her backing band and create new vocal arrangements for her NPR Tiny Desk concert in November.
It was a surreal experience for the group, playing what was likely their highest-profile gig yet in a Washington, D.C., office building.
"It was crazy, because when we were doing it, we're facing the other way. So we're looking at all these NPR workers and just singing. But then after, there was a picture taken of us behind the desk, and we looked at the picture and that's when it really sank in for us," says Maya. "We're like, 'Oh my God. That's the background. That's Tiny Desk.'"
From the Stairwell to the Studio
Of course, there's more to this band than what new forms it manages to make from other people's songs. All three are songwriters in their own right—Maya and Cinya are both professional music majors with songwriting concentrations (Maya is also concentrating in music business; Cinya in music production). Since the beginning they've also been working on original material, and when they play live, that's the well they're drawing from primarily.
"The original stuff has definitely been well received, which is really validating," says Cinya. "People are just so kind to us."
Now, with the release of its first studio single, "hemenway," Tiny Habits are proving to its online following that the band's collective voice doesn't lose its soul on the walk from the stairwell to the vocal booth, and it endures far beyond a 30-second video.
The song began as a project for one of Cinya's classes. "She sent it, and she was like, 'I wrote this for my songwriting class.' And then I think that day we just arranged harmonies and decided we loved it and added it to our set," Maya recalls, saying that it wound up being the first track they decided to record in the studio. "It's a fully produced track, and we feel really strongly about it. We're really excited for people to hear it."
Listen to Tiny Habits' debut studio single, "hemenway":
A wistful indie-folk breakup song with tasteful studio touches, "hemenway" feels like a natural next step for the group. And as you'd expect, the vocals shine particularly brightly, reminding you in this new setting who it is you're listening to—and why.
As for what's next for this young band, still in the early stages of its career—seemingly everything is still on the horizon. They're excited to get back into the studio and continue gigging—this fall they've embarked on a string of East Coast dates opening for Ingrid Michaelson—and they'll keep posting their cover videos, of course. "We're just recording and writing and singing and content creating—and loving each other," says Cinya. It's a recipe that's worked for them so far.