Interview | Austel

Our alumna lets us in on her time studying the MA Creative Music Production and the making of her debut album, 'Dead Sea'. 


Austel is Annie Rew Shaw, a Devon-born London-based artist, songwriter and producer and alumna of our MA Creative Music Production

Inspired by the likes of the Cocteau Twins and Jon Hopkins, Annie initially started her musical adventures as a session musician before meeting producer and music tech expert Adam Stark. As Austel, she blends a love for contemporary electronic music with classical sounds, best heard on her new debut album, 'Dead Sea'

In this interview, our alumna lets us in on her time studying the MA Creative Music Production and the making of her debut album ahead of a live tour. 

Who were the first artists to inspire you? 

I grew up listening to a lot of different music - from punk to classical - but the first artist I remember really connecting to was Eva Cassidy. She has the most incredible voice with so much emotion, and it really influenced the way I deliver storytelling through songs. 

I started writing songs as an early teen, always drawn to darker, moodier writers like Thom Yorke, Daughter, The National, Bon Iver and Bat For Lashes. 

How did you start making your own music?

I'd always written songs under my own name, but wanted to create a pseudonym to mark a shift in my musical output, so released my first single under the name Austel in 2018. 

I'm really proud of the first two Austel EPs, which explored more electronic influences. They paved the way for me to start self-producing my debut album, 'Dead Sea', which I released in February this year.

The 'Dead Sea' album feels like a huge milestone both as an artist but also a producer, it feels like the most authentic release I've had so far."

What led you to study at ICMP? And how did you find your time on the course? What were the most important things you learned? 

In 2020, I joined an online community set up by two brilliant friends of mine (Jenny Bulcraig and Katie Tavini) called 2% Rising - a space for female and gender expansive people who work in audio to connect. I've found being part of that community really empowering.

In 2021, I was offered a place on Omnii Collective's Engineering Equality course, where I was mentored in engineering and mixing. I realised how much I'd been missing that kind of support and guidance, so decided to bite the bullet and apply for the MA in Creative Music Production at ICMP, which I studied part-time so I could still work my other jobs.

I was initially anxious about the Masters, as I hadn't done an undergrad and had a lot of imposter syndrome from years of working in less-than-ideal environments in the music industry.

After the first term though, I really got stuck in, and found that the entire course really built up my confidence in both my production work and academic research into gender inequality in music. I met some amazing people and tutors, and am really thankful for the new path forged out ahead of me now. 

One of the most important things I learned on the course was that a lot of people have a lot of talk - they can go on about their fancy gear, all the plugins they have - but when it comes down to it, music is still all about the meaning. The best music-makers there were the ones that used their ears and their emotions… that's something I think is very hard to teach. You can learn the technical elements, but an understanding and empathy of people, of the world, of musical and historical context, is what really sets amazing producers apart from the rest. 


How did you meet Adam Stark? And how was this collaboration? 

Adam was one of the first people I met when I moved to London, which was lucky for me as he is an absolute gem of a human being and remains one of my closest friends.

We met at rehearsals for a performance at Glastonbury festival, and I then toured with his band Rumour Cubes. We started working on my music together and he's been instrumental in shaping the sound of Austel. He also taught me a huge amount about production, and encouraged me to do more of it myself, which I'm forever grateful for. 

I'm interested to know more about the Austel project - what is the aim behind the project? 

I don't really have a goal for the project per se… I think music is fundamentally about connection, whether that's to a listener, fellow artists or collaborators, or helping connect the dots in your own life.

Creating something that's deeply personal and then sharing it with the world is a very vulnerable and beautiful act - terrifying but liberating in many ways. I just want to keep making music and finding that connection."

How did the 'Dead Sea' record come together? Are there themes unifying the songs on there? 

I knew a long time ago I wanted to create an album, and that it would be called 'Dead Sea' - named after the title track, which I wrote in 2017. There was something very special about that song, which articulates a lot of what I was going through at the time. While it isn't exactly a concept album, I guess it documents the turbulence of my twenties, and processes a lot of grief, trauma and mental health recovery. 

I became pretty obsessed with the metaphor of salt, and its dual nature of pain and healing. The Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world - a barren, lifeless environment - and yet it is also a historical site of healing and recovery. I found something very moving and discernable in that. 

In terms of how you put it together, where did you make it? Was it all done in a specific studio? 

It's a bit of a patchwork album, with a lot of songs being produced and mixed at different times, with different people, but I feel that in itself is what it's about - bringing the fragments together. It's the first record I've self-produced too, which I guess has really been the glue. That and Katie Tavini's excellent mastering skills!

A lot of the songs were produced at home, but then I also worked with Guy Massey at his lovely studio in North London on the songs 'Beds Of Stone' and 'Company'. The live drums were all recorded at Small Pond Studios in Brighton during 2021, as part of the Engineering Equality course, and then some of the pianos were recorded at ICMP. 

What is next for the Austel project? 

I'm looking forward to playing some live shows again in March - we've got an album launch show at The Finsbury on Saturday 9th March (free tickets available on Dice!) and then playing shows in Bristol, Cardiff and Brighton. Hopefully some more across the UK later in the year. 

I actually started recording my second album as part of my MA, so I'm looking forward to digging back into that later this year and starting the whole cycle again!

I'm also producing a number of amazing independent artists, so am really excited for those releases to start coming out, too. 

Who are your current favourite artists? 

I’m currently obsessed with ML Buch. I can't wait to see her at End Of The Road this year. Also eagerly awaiting Nadine Shah and Julia Holter's new albums, as the singles from those have been lush. Always have Cocteau Twins on repeat, they never get old. 

In terms of production advice, do you have any essential tips or words of wisdom? 

Aside from what I've previously said about using ears and emotions, I think it's worth remembering that you don't need to spend all of your money on fancy gear and plugins straight away. Learn the stock ones first - they're actually really good, and once you understand the inner workings you can tailor your taste when buying new ones. 

A lot of my dissertation research examined how patriarchal/hierarchical structures in the music studio can have a negative impact on both artists and producers, so I explored some alternative practices which foster a more inclusive and positive environment.

These included decentering technology and focusing on interpersonal relationships - taking the time to talk about the song, it's emotional intent, the story. Inviting your collaborators to contribute creatively is so valuable, and will inspire them to feel more invested in the music. Creating a safe environment where everyone feels valued and respected will always result in better performances and experiences.

'Dead Sea' is out now - catch Austel on tour in March 2024. 

Connect with Austel on social media: 

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter/X | Spotify | TikTok

Photo credit | John Williams

Develop your unique sonic signature with our MA in Creative Music Production

Our highly practical MA Creative Music Production lets you identify, examine and refine your creative music production process. You’ll gain proficiency in professional mixing and mastering within the context of sound and creativity, and will examine current trends and practices in digital audio recording and studio production.

To completely immerse yourself in your music career, email our friendly Admissions Team at or call them on 020 7328 0222.

MA Creative Music Production
by Jim Ottewill
February 23, 2024
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