Singing is a talent virtually everybody possesses. Of course, some are more naturally skilled than others and require dedication and practice to achieve the desired effect. For Ashlinn Gray it was the latter.
Growing up, the singer didn’t have what many would call: “natural talent”. Instead she learnt to sing, exercising her vocal chords with healthy singing habits and training her ear to keep pitch. These days you couldn’t tell the difference. The singer possesses the vocal prowess of some of the world’s most celebrated divas, exuding confidence and excellence in her performance. Now a professional entertainer, Ashlinn Gray’s reckless courage is a symbol of hope and courage for future generations.
More than her learnt singing ability, Ashlinn Gray is also a songwriter, a talent which came a little more naturally to the artist. Testament to this, the singer songwriter recently ranked fourth in the International Songwriting Competition 2016 for her song Nineteen.
Alluding to her win, Ashlinn said, “It was a surprise actually! I’m honoured to have been one of the writers and I’m really proud of the songwriting team that I was a part of to write this song. It’s always great when a song you wrote is successful.”
The song was written together with Jake Odendaal and Simeon Kriel as a critique on the insignificance placed on the age 19, the singer’s age at the time of writing.
Asked whether the song has helped change people’s perceptions in this regard, Ashlinn ponders, “I hope it did. I think the main reason I wrote the song was to remind myself and others to make the most of the time we’re given each year of our life. We shouldn’t base our future experiences on the image society has created. Age really is just a number.”
We chat to Ashlinn Gray about this amazing achievement and pick her brain for the songwriting tips.
Indie Does It: Upon entering the ISC 2016, did you think Nineteen would be so successful?
Ashlinn Gray: I entered it and thought “here goes nothing”. Although it is such a privilege to have Nineteen recognised, a competition always involves a few opinions and it can go either way. So I didn’t have any expectations. When I was told that I got through to the final, I became more hopeful.
Indie Does It: When writing Nineteen, did you anticipate it being such a huge success?
Ashlinn Gray: I had a feeling it would do well as I really enjoyed writing the song and hearing the final product. After getting feedback from friends and people in the industry, I knew it had a chance of doing well. You can never predict how well a song will do though.
Indie Does It: What was the songwriting process like with this song and how did it differ from your previous songwriting sessions?
Ashlinn Gray: I really loved it. I was feeling uninspired until Jake Odendaal and I got together again. He told me to listen to Halsey’s whole album. I did, and it inspired me to start the idea of Nineteen. I was battling with coming to terms that I would no longer be 18 and as a songwriter, we just write about what we’re going through and feeling. I sat down at the piano and the idea of Nineteen was born. Jake and I then work shopped the idea and Simeon Kriel added some magic to the chorus. I’ve never specifically been inspired by a specific artist before to write a song, but Halsey’s music really got my creative juices running.
Indie Does It: In writing this song, did you learn anything valuable about songwriting and producing hit songs?
Ashlinn Gray: Well it was the first time I added some of my own producing ideas to one of my own songs which was really exciting. I went to Jake and attempted beatboxing the beat I had in mind and we started from there. I gained some confidence in sharing my ideas when it came to producing. I used to be a little shy. Confidence is always valuable. I also got my 3 sisters, who all sing, involved in the kid voices singing in the chorus.
Indie Does It: What is your favourite thing about the song Nineteen?
Ashlinn Gray: My favourite lines are probably “don’t leave this kid behind” and “I’m a blank canvas looking for colour to arrange.” I love the reaction I get from people when I explain what inspired the song. People totally relate to the fact that turning 18, 20 and 21 are big celebrations and turning 19 has little significance.
Indie Does It: What was the most significant thing that happened to you during your 19th year on this earth?
Ashlinn Gray: I decided to really go for my dreams, with 100%. I realised that I wasn’t putting as much effort into my career as I would have liked and decided to remind myself why I make music and how bad I want to be successful from making it.
Indie Does It: What message do you have for youngsters on the verge of turning 19?
Ashlinn Gray: Don’t just chase caffeine thrills. Use every year to find your passion and purpose. If you already know, great! Do everything you can to take a few steps closer to your goals. Never stop believing in yourself.
Indie Does It: Who are other songwriters in the industry that you admire and would most like to work with?
Ashlinn Gray: I’m loving the work Sia, Lorde and Julia Michaels are putting out at the moment. It’s quirky. They tell great stories and they’re not always typical pop tunes. They have a bit of edge.
Indie Does It: What advise do you have for other songwriters who are looking to write more impactful songs?
Ashlinn Gray: Remember you’re telling a story. Really dissect your favourite songs and songs that are doing well at the moment. Understand why they’re great songs; learn from them. But most importantly, don’t just copy what you hear, add something unique to the songs you’re writing. You’ve got your own unique story to tell, stay true and authentic, we want to hear YOUR story.
Indie Does It: What do you think makes a good songwriter?
Ashlinn Gray: I think a great songwriter is someone who is able to tell a compelling story, in just a few words, in a really authentic way, and that evokes emotion in the listener.
Indie Does It: As a performer, is songwriting another avenue you want to explore, as in writing for other successful singers?
Ashlinn Gray: Of course! I love writing, I always have and I’d love to write more. I’m busy writing new songs with a group of songwriters that are not necessarily for me to sing, so I’m getting closer to that goal.