Studying music production at university was never the plan for Hannah Roberts, but after realising just how important it was to her, she made the leap and it's really paid off.
Now in her second year on our FdA Music & Audio Technology course, Hannah is already making her mark on the scene with a string of self-released work, collaborations with Prrrrrr Records, and most exciting of all, has just been signed to Saffron Records' development program.
Could you tell us a little about your journey into music production?
In school, I made my first singer-songwriter song for my GCSE music exam, and from then I started songwriting with guitar and piano. I would spend all my spare time in the music rooms if I wasn’t in the drama or art studio.
I started producing with GarageBand around the age of 12 or 13 years old, but had been exposed to the DAW from younger age as me and my dad used to make little silly tunes from the Apple loops.
I’ve always sung, but I started recording on my dad's laptop with Apple headphones and taught myself the software by trial and error. I didn’t know what any of the parameters meant, but would use them to what I thought sounded good. I think this is what shaped the sounds I make today.
I used GarageBand up until I came to dBs, I only got Logic last year. I was given my mic as a present from a friend. My Scarlett usb is my brother's. All of the guitars I’ve ever owned have been given to me. I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by people who support what I do!
Soundcloud has also been a huge part of my music life. I started posting there to keep recordings I made in one place, as I was using my dad's laptop, not to release them. I didn’t realise it would be the platform for nearly all of the musical links I have now.
The community that has reached out to me is tremendous. I’ve made connections with producers, rappers, singers; all from different backgrounds, who I have been in contact with for over 5 years now. It even led me to doing performances, music videos and sessions with them.
Now I use Logic and have been learning Ableton through the Saffron Records scheme and at university.
At what point did you realise that the next step for you was music education and why did you choose dBs Music?
I always managed to do both music and theatre during school, but was given a scholarship for acting and was more heavily involved in drama. Originally, I moved to Bristol because I was on a theatre course at University of Bristol, which I studied for the first year, and then moved to dBs after that.
Whilst studying at UoB, a few things made me realise I should pursue music in education to help me in my career.
I used to feel that making music was procrastination and that I was wasting time, yet it’s clear now that I had a passion for all aspects of music. I would spend my time listening to new artists, making playlists, networking online - without realising I was networking - and producing, even though I didn’t know what the term ‘producing’ meant until last year.
I used to tell people I was doing the degree just in case music fell through, which was untrue to my love for making, performing and producing music.
As soon as I changed course, I had a shift in my productivity, my energy, my commitment to my time spent on my artistry. I really started taking myself more seriously.
I chose dBs because after looking online, I felt the production course was right up my street, and I didn’t know anywhere else in Bristol that offered something like that.
Studying here has turned out to be such a joy! The course has encouraged me to experiment with my techniques and pushed my creative capacity. I don’t think I would have come so far in my skills today If it weren’t for the course.
Congratulations on being signed to Saffron Records’ development program? How did it feel when you got the good news?
I was so, so happy! I shouted to my flatmates and we all hugged and jumped. I felt really elated and proud of myself, especially because I had been looking at the scheme for a year beforehand, it was something that had stood out to me, particularly their ethics and how it supports women in the music industry.
How did it all come about?
It all came together in a few ways. A while ago, I supported Mercy’s Cartel, who had been on the development scheme the year before me. I asked her band what it was all about, and then researched Saffron and also looked at other schemes to be a part of. Saffron’s really stood out to me.
A few months later I bumped into Ellie Stokes, a DJ who had helped me and a mate out by doing a set at our closing event of our ‘Female Condition’ exhibition in February 2019. We had a coffee and she sent Lizzy an email to get a dialogue started between us, where I was encouraged to send over my demos and apply to the scheme.
I applied in May 2019, and was shortlisted. I had a meeting with Lizzy (the co-founder) in the Summer and then got the news I was chosen in August!
As part of the scheme, you will be mentored by the amazing Kayla Painter! What excites you most about having her guiding you through the next year?
A lot! To start, it’s Kayla Painter! She has such a unique style of making music. It's so mega. She is a real cool woman.
She really taps into my experimental side of creating, which I feel is what excites me the most. We’ve only had one meeting, but she has given me spot-on advice on how I can further my sound. I’m looking forward to learning more of about how she makes her soundscapes and found sound drum racks.
Over the years, your sound has progressed from tracks built around guitar and vocals to much more production heavy stuff, utilising loops and samples to build a bigger and more varied soundscape. What prompted that shift in your style?
Learning how to use Logic, I think, but I'm not sure if there was a particular moment. I’ve always loved experimental music and experimenting with my own music. It could have been the music I was drawing influence from at the time, or just the fact that I had learnt how to make drums racks in the EXS24 sampler. I definitely started picking up on more electronic music around that time.
I am actually trying to recapture the experimental approach I would take when I was blindly using the DAW. It is the sound I feel most drawn to at the moment.
It can be an intimidating leap. What’s your top tip for someone transitioning from a more traditional singer-songwriter setup into the world of production?
I think my innocence and ignorance allowed me to fall into my style and hone my creative working techniques my way. So, although it’s a cliché, I think a good tip is to keep experimenting with making your own sound and using software as much as you can.
Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, build from the sounds you like. Play around with the imperfections in your music, like clipping or scuffing the mic, they can be the foundations of your beat.
Music is very personal, and it can be intimidating to put stuff out there. Put it out. See what people think. I am actually bored of hoarding beats. By the time they’re released, they’re not fresh, or you’ve got sick of debating about if your snare sounds PERFECT. Once you know more about production, it can become heavy and you get sucked into making a mix sound clean. Keep it light! And keep looking for new artists to inspire your sound.
Also, go to dBs.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
Currently, I am featuring on a some musician's EPs coming out in the next few months. I am also working with record label Prrrrrrr on some releases and potentially a remix EP of my last release with them.
I have the Saffron scheme, of course, so a fully-formed single release, and my debut EP will be due sometime this year. This will be released with a few visuals too, which I am working on in quarantine with my creative partner.
I’m also going to be supporting Kedr Livanskiy, a producer and DJ from Russia. She is really awesome. The gig has been pushed into November, but I’m still really looking forward to it.
Finally, what one piece of advice has proved invaluable in your development as an artist?
Do it! Just take every opportunity given to you. Go and take the train to London for a 4-hour studio session. Meet people off of Soundcloud and collaborate! Email people, ask for beats, send stems out, just say yes, yes, yes!