There are many manifestations to Gordi.
There’s ‘Gordi’ the musician. She’s on a flight from Chicago to Toronto and working her way through a pile of interview questions. Her entourage sit nearby, relaxing after a sold-out show the night before and success in Dublin, London, Manchester, San Fran, Chicago, New York and LA. Her record label saw her latest EP played on The Vampire Diaries.
Then there’s Sophie Payten the a 24-year-old Australian and blood-and-flesh, IRL version of Gordi. She was born in the country, lives (usually) in Sydney and is enrolled at the most competitive medical school in Australia.
The music industry can be privy to some serious smoke and mirror work but not for Gordi/Sophie Payten. She’s as real it gets. Which is super irritating ’cause it means she’s just that cool.
While Sophie is clearly attuned to the realities of hard work (you can’t sign a record deal at 24 without some blood, sweat and tears) what stands out the most is Sophie’s easy-going demeanour despite the pressures of being the girl that ‘does it all’.
I first met Sophie when we were 13, singing a Missy Higgins song on her bed in our boarding school dorm room. It’s been more than a decade since then and yet the phrase, “She’ll be famous one day” has followed her the entire time.
If she wasn’t being acclaimed for her music, she was topping her class or leading school sports teams. She was one of those kids who just ‘did it all’.
Though, when we talk to her about her almost fiction like fairytale life, she tells us that if she could do it all over again:
“I wish I’d known how important it was to experience those shocking gigs – the ones that make you question whether it’s all worth it. When you actually go through one of those shows, it makes your efforts feel pretty worthless. But when I look back on them I realise that the resilience I developed from experiences like that is what carries me through the rest”.
This makes me smile, because after attending a few of these ‘shocking’ gigs myself, I am reminded that Sophie Payten, albeit on the road to fame as Gordi, is still one of the most modest people I’ve met.
Sophie Payten has seven years of piano lessons and six years of classical singing training, but that does not make a musician; and while on her swanky international tour flight, she took the time to tell us what does make a musician.
How to ‘musician’:
“I write 100 per cent of the music and lyrics but the process is never exactly the same. I might get a lyric stuck in my head or a chord progression and work from there. It’s funny, I’ve started to recognise that I get this feeling when I get inspired to write something, sort of like a tightness in my chest and I suddenly feel really overwhelmed so I have to write something down. That sounds quite bizarre but it’s true, like a weird physical reaction to inspiration.
In terms of the production phase the role of the producer is really important in my songs because it’s the next stage of the track’s progression. I go in with clear references by other artists so we have something to work off and then it’s just a lot of back and forth. When it comes to working on my sound I trust my band, they know my songs just about as well as I do and they really understand what I’m trying to do”.
How to get exposure and land gigs:
“Social media is a pretty amazing tool and for an unsigned artist. It’s kind of like currency. Labels want to know how many followers you have on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and they look at how many streams you have on Soundcloud.
I think in the early stages it’s important to play live as much as you can before you get to a point where you’re more selective about the shows you play. Things like Sofar Sounds are a great way to get in front of a ready made audience keen to hear new music. These days the fastest way for an unsigned artist to build a profile is through the blog world. Australian blogs like Sound Doctrine or Who The Hell, and worldwide blogs like Line of Best Fit and Pigeons and Planes and amazing platforms that a lot of industry people pay attention to.
For me Triple J Unearthed were incredibly important in launching my career so I’d encourage any Australian artist starting out to upload their tracks to the website”.
Tonight at the Corner in Melbourne! Last show with legends @littlemaymusic and @jim_lawrie before heading o/s! Deets on that soon! Doors 730, on at 9! 📷 @phamoustk A photo posted by Gordi (@gordimusic) on
How to get the attention of labels:
“Obviously there is so much luck and timing involved but I actually think there’s a few steps that can really speed up the process. I would recommend you get yourself a good PR person/radio plugger and just focus on one song, don’t put a whole EP out straight away. Get a good reputable blog to premiere your song and that will up your chances of radio play. Send your track to FBi/RRR and JJJ unearthed, your PR person should be doing that anyway.[When it does happen] It feels like a bit of a dream still to be honest. But you always imagine it’s this catalytic moment where you play this one amazing show and you sign the contract there on the spot when really it’s a longer process. Being unsigned is kind of like being single, you’re meeting all these different labels and you’re trying to work out which one is right for you. Are they in it for the long haul? Do they only like you because other labels are interested etc.?
My US/Europe label Jagjaguwar heard one of my tracks midway through 2015 and so we started chatting (aka dating), then they came out to Australia to see me play at Bigsound and I flew to NYC to play a showcase and after that we shook hands and I signed on the dotted line in January (aka official couple). I signed with my Australian label Liberation a couple of months ago which was a special occasion with champagne and a big night out and all the things you imagine”.
While it can all seem a whirlwind, Gordi impresses the need to stay level-headed and belives getting signed by the wrong label could be more detrimental to your career than not being signed at all.
“Look at their roster and see if what you want in your career looks anything like the careers their artists have. Talk to the team – the publicity people, the A&R people – figure out if they understand your creative vision.
The financial side of things is obviously a massive help. But it’s also great to feel like you’ve got a real team behind you. People at your label will have great contacts around the world and make you feel much more supported. It’s good to have their input on the recording side of things as well as music videos and publicity”.
How to work out your market and fan base:
“I think it’s so important to establish a local fan base before moving overseas. In terms of building a fan base in the states the easiest way to start is by hitting up US online blogs as well as radio. Then it’s just a matter of getting some good publicity and beginning the pretty organic process of gathering fans by word-of-mouth, which is easier to do when you’ve got a run of shows coming up.[The US market] is quite different. It feels like one main avenue for alternative artists in Australia : community radio and Triple J. It means there’s a real bottleneck because there’s so many artists trying to get Triple J play but once you get on their radar they’re very supportive and you get an incredible amount of exposure straight away. Overseas there are so many different avenues in terms of radio play and in the US alone every state has its own sort of system. Again I think the best way to approach it is firstly through online media and blogs followed by plugging at radio, but to be honest I’m still working it all out!
I have a publishing contract with Mushroom Group who are always pushing for my songs to get ‘sync’ (which is what you call getting your song on a TV show, ad or movie). I also have an agent in the US who pushes for my songs to get on some of those big shows in the US. Sync opportunities definitely boost your numbers on social media and listens on Soundcloud and in the modern day industry where record sales are low, sync is the biggest source of revenue”.
How to manage two areas of interest.
I think it’s the story aspect that draws me to both music and medicine. In music you’re taking a story and communicating it in a series of lines that hopefully rhyme, in medicine you’re taking the story of the person sitting in front of you and synthesising it into a diagnosis. In a weird way it’s kind of the same thing.
I’ve felt the pressure to make the call to choose one but I feel like it’s still possible at this stage to do both. There may come a time to choose but I don’t think that time is now. To manage it I’ve just had to learn how to be efficient and as my music has progressed I’ve had more people come on board to help with the admin side of things, which makes it a bit easier.
Her missing footnotes:
The biggest misconceptions of the music industry are that it’s cut throat and competitive, and that industry people are slime balls – all my experiences with artists and labels have been pretty delightful.
To find your niche in the industry:
- Treat your career like a small business – for at least the first two years you will operate at a loss so you should be prepared for that.
- Don’t focus on trying to get noticed by a label, focus on your craft and work out what you’re doing – your sound, your image, your story – if you get those things right you won’t have to chase labels because they’ll be chasing you.
- Learn how to enjoy it. It can be such a stressful industry for an artist, you’re pouring everything into it and sometimes not getting a lot back. So amongst that you need to find the parts that you enjoy because you’ll need to hold onto them when it all feels too hard.