Songwriting, in association with musicians’ social network ReverbNation, is delighted to present the first winner of our monthly songwriting contest
adies and gentleman, we have a winner. After ploughing through nearly 800 demos, and after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, we proudly bring you Abi, the first winner of our monthly songwriting competition hosted by ReverbNation.
For anyone not in the know (where, as they say, have you been?), ReverbNation is a social networking platform for musicians, managers, promoters, record labels, venues and fans. It gives bands a place to promote their music, videos and gigs online, and their management access to tools such as Promote It, a means of raising an artist’s profile on Facebook, and Fan Reach, an email management system. The site’s been up and running since 2006, has nearly three million registered users and attracts over 20 million unique visitors a month.
The standard of entries received for this first competition was impressively high overall (with a few exceptions, who shall remain nameless!), and as we’ve said, picking a winner was a tough. But in the end, it was Abi’s entry Such A Fool we kept coming back to. A 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Hertfordshire, her blend of rock and soul, with heartfelt lyrics, grabbed our attention from the very start. Imagine Amy Winehouse with added heavy riffage and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.
If you didn’t win, don’t worry: entries roll-over into the next month. And there’s no rule that says we might not contact you at some point in the future anyway! But in the meantime… here’s Abi.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into making and writing music in the first place…
“I’ve been performing since I was tiny – I started dancing at two years old, and did my first professional show at five. As I was growing up, I wanted to get into musical theatre. I wrote my first song at 12: By My Side, it was called, and it sounds pretty cringeworthy to me now but it did get shortlisted in a Hertfordshire Young Songwriters competition so it can’t have been that bad I guess!
“After that I did music at GCSE and A-Level, and I was in the National Youth Theatre. Then I took a gap year, with the intention of auditioning for musical theatre. But then I heard about the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance from a friend that was there, and decided to apply for a one-year course there. I ended up being there another three years, by which time I’d gone down a somewhat different musical path.”
So for those that haven’t heard you yet, how would you describe your sound now?
“Well, friends have said ‘Joss Stone meets Evanescence’, which would be one way of putting it! I’m influenced by classic rock like Led Zeppelin, but also by more commercial stuff like Kelly Clarkson and Pink. Actually, as time goes on it’s getting rockier and rockier, where before it leant more towards the soulful and funky side of things. That’s partly because lately I’ve been writing more with my guitarist, Alessandro La Barbera.
“I used to write all my own stuff – I wrote Such A Fool, for instance – but I don’t play guitar (though I’ve started learning now) so everything was written on the piano. Writing with Alessandro on the guitar, it’s easier to get that rocky sound. That’s what we’ve been working on since I graduated from the ICMP last year.”
How do you fund yourself to make music?
“That’s what I’m struggling with! But my parents have been great, they said, ‘Okay, you’ve got a year to make this work’. So at the moment, I’ve moved back home, and I pretty much make music full-time, and then at the weekends I sing in a covers band, doing weddings, corporate functions, stuff like that. It means at least I can make money through singing, and it’s the one job that gives me the flexibility I need to do my own stuff, because in this industry a lot of things are so last minute! Last year, I toured with a Michael Jackson tribute show and even that didn’t really give me the flexibility I needed.
“Every hour of the day, you’ve got to be on it”
“So yeah, since January I’ve been really knuckling down and working hard on my own stuff. And you do have to work hard – every hour of the day you’ve got to be on it. If you’re not performing or recording, then you’re writing, and if you’re not writing you’ve got to be online, researching new opportunities, maintaining your profile on social media, networking… it’s a full-time job, for sure.”
Opportunities like the ReverbNation competition, for instance?
“Exactly! I signed up for ReverbNation a couple of years ago, and I must have entered 15 or 20 competitions before this one so when you rang to say I’d won I was blown away! It just goes to show, it’s always worth doing: you might not win, but if you don’t enter then you definitely won’t. Whereas if you keep going at it, maybe one day you will.
“There’s more to it than the competitions though – ReverbNation lets you put your music online, your biog, your photos, your gig diary, so effectively it’s like having another website. I’m also on Soundcloud, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, plus a few other musicians’ networks. You can never have too much of a presence online! Like I said, it can be hard work but if you’re not prepared to put in the hard work then you need to start thinking about another career. Seriously.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting technique?
“I don’t really have a technique, it changes all the time! I used to always write the chords and the melody first, and the lyrics last, but recently the lyrics have tended to come first. And as I said, I used to write on my own at the piano, where lately I’ve been writing with Alessandro on the guitar. One thing that’s pretty constant though is that I usually write late at night… an idea will come to me in the evening and I’ll work on it till four or five AM.”
Where do you find inspiration from?
“It can be anything. Sometimes it’s just listening to music, like I’ll hear two songs and think, what if you had like a blend of those two? Or I’ll go to a a gig and think, ‘I want to be up there doing that!’ and that will inspire me to go home and write.
“Lyrically, it’s generally things that have happened to me, my own life experiences… past relationships and things that have pissed me off! Which means I did get to a stage where a lot of my songs were very angry: I’m actually quite a happy, smiley sort of person so I guess songwriting was my way of venting my anger. But I’d like to move beyond that. My boyfriend’s an amazing songwriter and his songs are more like little stories: he’s got one song about this old couple he saw on a bus. I’d like to write more songs like that, I don’t want be a one-trick pony.”
What other songwriters do you admire?
“Oh, lots. From a purely songwriting point of view I’d say Joni Mitchell most of all – her songs can make me cry, she’s just such an amazing storyteller. Tracy Chapman is brilliant, too. When it comes to the complete package – the songwriting, the image, the peformance, all of it – then Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse have been huge inspirations, but I’d also have to say Pink. She’s amazing! A lot of people write her off because they just hear the singles which are very poppy but if you actually listen to her albums, there are some fantastic songs on there.
“There’s so much great music that’s been forgotten about”
“Musically, I listen to a whole range of stuff but a lot of it’s older music: classic rock, Motown and soul. I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong era! That’s why my own music’s made almost entirely with real, live instruments. There’s so much great music been made that’s been forgotten about because people only want to listen to the very instant, cheesy electropop music of today, and I think that’s a great shame. But people like Amy and Adele have helped bring the old school back and I’d like to do the same.”
Is that your ultimate goal, then… world domination in the Amy/Adele vein?
“Well it’d be nice, ha ha! No, it’d be amazing to have a number one album and stuff, of course it would, but really I’d be happy just to make a living doing what I love doing. There’s no better feeling than being on stage and having people sing along to your songs – it’s like, ‘Wow, I wrote this!’. And of course the more of those people there are, the better – in one way.
“But then in another way, I think fame is over-rated. You lose all your privacy, and you have to put up with rubbish in the tabloids and all that sort of thing. So we’ll see. I’m happy to take it as it comes really, just go on making my music, push it as hard as possible and see where it takes me.”
Interview: Russell Deeks
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, our monthly songwriting competition is still open. To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation, and submit a track for consideration via this link. Each month, we’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one. Good luck!
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about Abi you can find her on ReverbNation (of course), Facebook and Twitter, or at her own website. And below, you can see her performing her winning song Such A Fool.