“Breaking into the industry” is an interesting phrase, I think my personal journey has been more like climbing a steep creative mountain which has many peaks and troughs along the way to reaching the summit. I’m definitely still very far off that summit... But I’m on my journey which I’d love to share with you. Here’s also some advice on how you might like to start your creative adventure.
You might regularly read artists saying that they have been singing since the age of three and, admittedly, I am one of those people, but I’ve always loved performing and storytelling rather than just singing. In all honesty, I wanted to be the best in the game from a very young age and I think that’s what drove me. I trained and trained to reach my Grade 8 classical singing as young as possible. It was my “thing” in school and I revelled in that. I never got picked for netball, or was popular by any means but I always had respect from my peers for being able to sing in different languages.
I’m from a very small village in the West of Wales and went to an all Welsh-speaking school. We sang every day. If you didn’t already know, the Welsh are renowned for their singing so it’s a bit of a given… Luckily, my Dad used to be an opera singer and taught me a lot of what I know today. Sure, I had hours of singing lessons to achieve the grades, but he was the one who taught me how to tell a story, to engage the listener and take them on a journey. The ‘goosebumps’ kind of singing, you know?
In hindsight, I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself to be the best at such a young age. So as A-Levels approached, I focused on them and put music to one side. It wasn’t until after a few years of university and London life that I truly found myself as an artist, which is very different from being a singer or performer. You have to have a story to tell and essentially sell a ‘why’ to your songs and have a solid back bone. We’ll come back to that later.
Around three years ago, I was asked to be the vocalist for the BBC One hit drama series, Keeping Faith – for any fans, Season 3 is on the way! The incredible Amy Wadge wrote and sang the songs in English, whilst I performed them in Welsh. This was a huge opportunity and probably the first small peak on my mountain. Singing in a studio for the first time is scary. But I did it, and now it’s natural to me. I remember singing full voice and thinking “What the hell was that?” You get used to it.
After doing two years of this and lots of thinking “How do I break into the industry?” I just kept chipping away and trying out different techniques to get 'noticed'. I took a few different routes to climb the next peak. I set myself mini challenges of uploading covers to the ‘gram which eventually paid off. Granted, I know every hashtag in the books. I also made sure I was the best singer in my field and practiced and practiced the control in my voice so that my producer could ask anything of me when I walked into the studio.
But then there are the troughs: I didn’t know how to write… I’m dyslexic so thought I could never be a ‘singer-songwriter’. I used to be so jealous when I saw people popping out their own songs left right and centre. Turns out, you can – if you really want to.
I went travelling, scary considering I used think a night out in Cardiff was a big deal, but I did it. New York, LA and Australia – mind blown. It was always something I really wanted to do but was admittedly a bit scared. I’m a home girl you see. However, that trip made me who I am today. It gave me the missing piece to the chaotic puzzle: growing a back bone, exploring a new and creative side and being able to start on the next peak. Whilst I was out there, in the middle of the East coast of Australia, Ian Barter popped up in my Gmail asking if I wanted to write an EP with him. I thought it was a scam at first because it turned out the guy had worked with Amy Winehouse! But no, he wanted to work with me. Turns out all those hours of singing practice paid off.
Meeting Ian for the first time was everything I’d hoped for and before I knew it I was in his studio at the bottom of his garden writing my single Our Summer. I’d told him about the amazing travels I’d had and he said “well, let’s write about that”, and that’s when I discovered I can write lyrics. Dyslexia, do one.
Sure, I was super lucky that he found me through social media and that I was given the opportunity to be the vocalist for a TV show, but I trained and trained to make sure I was up there with the big dogs. Be the expert and the rest will follow.
Here’s a few things I’ve learnt along the way and what I recommend you should pack in your bag if you’re going to start climbing. I hope these tools will help you if you’re ready to put on that hiking gear and start climbing the mountain….
Firstly, this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re never going to climb it overnight, so set yourself goals and manifest your aspirations. Choose your tools carefully, how are you going to communicate with the outside world if you get stuck? You have to shout and shout to be heard in the music industry. How are you going to stand out? Find your identity and build on your USP. Stay motivated, you’re never going to reach the top unless you have the right people around you and push yourself to keep going. Ask yourself these questions: Why are you writing songs? Why are you a musician? Why now?
Creativity is a huge process of unfurling as a person, hence why I’ve called my EP ‘Unfurl’ and I can’t wait to share the different sides of me, with you. It’s been a huge privilege to share my story with you and if you want to start your journey… go and get it. Start now and not later, create and be you.
You can follow my journey on instagram here: @ela_music
ELA's brilliant single Our Summer is out now.