Credit: Jessica Grillis
Melbourne singer-songwriter Ali Barter is, at least in my eyes, a modern feminist icon. After bursting on to the music scene as the crowned Triple J Unearthed 2013 winner, her success as a musician has been free from self-compromise. Frustrated with the content in her uni degree and observations from within the industry, Ali penned an op-ed piece for Junkee in 2016 about the importance of not only recognising, but celebrating female contributions to music history. Many of her lyrics reflect this frustration and expose the intensity of her feelings.
She has previously toured in support of Savvy-alumi The Rubens and The Jezabels. More recently during COVID restrictions, Ali has been popping up across regional Victoria and performing intimate solo gigs. Her latest quarantine-produced singles Twisted Up and You Get in My Way are available now wherever you get your music.
Ali previously contributed to our Savvy Seven series back in 2017, but since then we’ve changed up our questions a little bit. I recently caught up with the delightful Ali to chat more about her career developments.
What inspired you to pursue music as a career?
If I’m completely honest, I didn’t know what else to do and music was really the only thing that I liked and could stick at. I dropped out of multiple uni degrees and at about the age of 22, I decided I should probably do something instead of just working in a café. And I liked music, so I thought that if I went to music school, I’d be able to play a piano every day and be able to hang out with and meet some musicians. That’s how I sort of fell into it, and its just continued from there. It honestly wasn’t really a conscious decision. It was just something that I liked and I could stick at, and then things started to happen, so I kept doing it. And I’ve just been showing up ever since.
Besides making music, what have you done to get to where you are?
I’ve done a lot of song writing, especially for other artists. I learned early on that writing songs was a way to not only be unique and tell your own story, but make money. To have longevity and income that continues passively was to write lots of songs. I have a publisher and they’re really proactive at getting co-writes with other people. I’ve also written a bunch of jingles. And I think that’s been good because through writing with other people, I’ve learned a lot about the process of writing songs. I don’t get stuck in my own systems, and I’ve been able to network and make contacts and make some money through that.
How do you approach developing timelines for your career?
I look at the next release, whatever that is, and it just spurs on from that. I write a bunch of songs and they start to take shape. Around playing shows, I put together time to demo and send songs out to labels or whoever is interested and get some feedback. And then finally I plan everything around releases, which seems to be every 2 years. Put out a record, do 2 or so national tours, and when they are done, dive into writing again. That’s the way it all flows.
Understanding album cycles will ensure that your releases have enough momentum to keep you, your fans and you team happy and fulfilled. Check out our related course today!
What’s your advice on staying professionally active during COVID times?
If you’re an artist, that’s where I can probably give the most advice. Just write, create and work towards something for when things do open up. I’m lucky as a solo artist that I can play solo shows, and from very early on I said to my manager that I wanted to do that, which has meant that I’ve been able to regularly play shows. Just look at what you can do, instead of what you can’t. So, I knew that I could do things within my State without fear of it being cancelled. I have just been jumping in my car since December 2020 and driving around regional Victoria and playing solo shows. Its just me, my guitar and my amp, so that’s kept me active. Again, look at what you can do rather than what you can’t. Because there is heaps you can do, you just have to adapt. Writing, maybe stripping back performances, and going where you can go.
Also, make things and be active on social media. Find your voice and the way you like to be on social media. During the Melbourne lockdown last year, I did a tour of my house and ran an online open mic night for 14 weeks. They were things I could do while I was not allowed to go 5 kilometres from my house. And it kept me sane.
Ready yourself for your post-COVID tour with our touring course
What is the most significant challenge you have conquered in your career?
I think finances can be really tough, finance and funding to get things done. But there are ways to do that, and if you have a really good team you can find revenue streams. Also, probably overcoming my own head. My head is a real naysayer, so I push against that a lot. In the real world the challenge is money, and in general its my own sense of self-doubt or defeat that I have to push through constantly. I think a lot of creative people feel that way. It’s a hard job to stand up on a stage and perform if you don’t think you deserve to be there and think everything you’ve done is shit. And you know, those moments come, so its just managing that and having strategies and trying not to listen to it. I definitely just treat this as a job. I have to take all of the magic out of it sometimes and be like ‘I’m just showing up for work’. Mental health is really important and that has really helped, instead of being like ‘this is the best gig and I have to impress everyone, and I’ve got to sing it perfectly, and if its not sold out then blah blah blah’. I’m just going to do my job, like working in a bank. Its just a job.
How should people educate themselves on current industry issues?
If you’re on social media and you’re in a community, you’re keeping up with it already. In the music industry, we’re a vocal bunch. So, I’m never in the dark about what’s happening. I would just say connect with the community and be a part of it and it won’t be difficult to keep up with what’s happening.
How have you integrated modern technology into your content process?
I guess I have found ways of social media more and more that have become part of my brand or voice, and how I communicate. That’s been helpful. I resisted it for a long time, but I think if you can find a good way to be in social media and do fun things. Be creative and, you know, putting things up if they’re not perfect. That’s not the question you’re asking I’m going off on a tangent! But yeah, I guess it would be social media. It’s a blessing and a curse and you have to have boundaries with that sort of stuff. But I think there are ways to make it really fun and engaging for your audience.
Enjoy this? There’s plenty more great reads over at our Savvy Seven archive collection