This time last year Be Charlotte was a little known indie pop singer, grafting hard to break through in the music industry. Twelve months on she’s been snapped up by a major label and is on the cusp of something big. The Scottish artist spoke to iSing about stepping up and staying true to herself.
Every year in June aspiring singers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Cannes where they hope to catch the attention of record execs at MIDEM, the music industry’s annual back-slapping, networking expo.
Last year Be Charlotte, a plucky Dundee woman with expressive vocals, a quirky look and sharp writing skills, was among the MIDEM throng. And while most of her peers left the French Riviera empty-handed, Be Charlotte struck gold.
At MIDEM she was scouted by Sony and within a few months her career had stepped up a gear. She spoke to iSing about making the leap from being an indie singer to a signed artist.
Tell us about signing your record deal with Sony?
It happened towards the end of last year after I had been at Midem on the Artist Accelerator talent discovery programme. When I was there I met Willy Ehmann [a record executive who was with Sony at the time] and had a chance to explain who I was and what my music was about. It was terrifying but great to be able to do that in person. Willy shared my music with some of his colleagues and the conversation started. I’ve never chased a record deal. It’s always been part of the plan, obviously, but I wanted it to be about the music first, and then to find people who I could work with.
Why was Sony right for you?
I was looking for a label who would support me as a person and an artist. I used to think a major label would want to choose your image and make you go down a certain path. But I’ve realised not everyone is like that. I felt I could trust the label with my music.
How has this deal changed the way you work?
Everything has a bit more purpose and focus. For the first four months of this year I just focused on writing. It was nice to take the time to gather all my thoughts and figure out where I’m at. For quite a few years I was a full-time musician not really earning any money. Now I can pay my bills and have a monthly wage. I have a small team around me and I can pay them too, which is great.
How would you describe your music?
Honest pop music. For me, it’s important that a song has a story and people can relate to it. I write about situations that I’ve been in or that people I know have been in.
There’s been a slight sound change in your production in the past year. How did that come about?
I’ve never stopped developing my sound. I had a clear idea when I launched as Be Charlotte how I wanted to sound, but as I was only self-producing at the time I could only achieve that to a certain extent. Sometimes you need help from other people and it’s good to recognise that. In terms of my songwriting, I’ve focused on writing the lyrics, the melody and the chords. I do that first and then I look at the production side of it rather than getting caught up in the production at the start.
Who are your influences?
I love Milky Chance, I was lucky enough to write with one of their writers last year, which was amazing. I also love Lianne La Havas and Taylor Swift – I admire the way she’s been able to sustain her career and use any negative experiences as material for her music. It’s hard to sustain a career for that length of time. To do four or five albums is mental.
You were nominated for a Scottish Style Award. Talk us through your look and style.
I love colourful, sparkly things and independent brands, but I’ve never followed trends. I find bold clothing gives me more confidence and helps me create a persona on stage. I love planning outfits and all that stuff.
You worked in the industry for several years before breaking through. How did you get through those difficult days?
It’s good to have some sort of routine and to set manageable goals. It’s also important to sometimes focus on something that isn’t your work. The music business can become your whole life without any switch-off point.
How do you prepare for a performance?
It wasn’t until we started gigging quite a few nights in a row that I realised how important it is to look after yourself and build stamina. Going to the gym regularly has helped; it’s made me feel more comfortable and strong in my body. In terms of vocals, I always do a few vocal exercises before a rehearsal or gig, but I’m not very good at warming down afterwards. I find it hard after a gig because no one else is thinking about that side of things. Sometimes I get the band to join in and it feels a little bit more collaborative. I’m now looking ahead to when we start doing bigger gigs and bigger tours. I know I need to prepare more so it will last the distance.
What challenges do you expect to face on the next part of this journey?
I’m about to put new music out there which makes me feel nervous and excited, as it’s been a couple of years since I’ve released new music. That’s why it’s great to have a label who can help me to plan and make sense of things.
What are the most common misconceptions about the music industry and being an artist?
That being famous is the be-all and end-all. There’s pressure to have a perfect life – or a life that looks perfect – with the mansion, the clothes and the Instagram lifestyle. I think your goal should be to sustain your career, write loads of albums, play loads of gigs and be doing something you love.
What advice would you give a singer who is starting out?
Find people who you trust and who you can work with because it’s impossible to do it by yourself. I found becoming a full-time musician made a difference. When you do something day in and day out and don’t get much in return, it helps you figure out if you really want it or not. If you’re serious about a music career, give it a go and see what happens. There’s a difference between people who give something their absolute all and those who just dip in and out.
Also, have a strong idea of who you are and stick to it. People give you conflicting advice – about what to wear, what to say and how to sing – and it’s important to learn to listen to others but make up your own mind. You don’t have to do exactly what everyone else tells you to do all the time.
What’s next for Be Charlotte?
I’m going to release a new single soon, and I can’t wait. It’s going to be great to get something new out there. I want to keep the momentum going so lots of new music and more gigs.
Feature Photo By: Jannica Honey