Interview: Orla Gartland

The brilliant YouTube songwriting sensation gives us the skinny on everything from K-pop to the future of social media...
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From posting bedroom performances on YouTube to writing for K-pop sensations BTS, Irish singer songwriter Orla Gartland is going places.

And fast. Her online videos garnered Orla a devoted following in love with her winning way with a hook and dark emotive lyric.

2019 is looking like a big year for her with plenty of new music and lots of touring across Europe and the UK. She visited our students during the final weeks of 2018 and we were lucky enough to catch up with her for an interview on her songwriting and love for social media...

How did your musical career begin?

I began playing violin when I was five or six. My parents were keen on me getting into music from an early age so I started playing Irish trad music, learning the fiddle. When I was 12, I picked up a guitar and started getting into more pop, learning songs I heard on the radio. I taught myself guitar, started writing songs and put YouTube vids out years later.

There was a lot of Fleetwood Mac in my house - I always loved Joni, Stevie, I was a big Kate Bush fan. I used to listen to everything and try and soak it all up like a sponge.

What was the tipping point?

For me, it came after launching myself with my videos online. I was writing songs at about 14 as I had a hideous amount of confidence. I really wanted to start playing gigs but couldn’t as all the open mic nights were in pubs and I was too young. So I started putting videos online to try and fulfil this need to show off.

I was two or three years into putting videos online when I realised that this was what I was doing, I was actually a musician and songwriter. It was less of a deliberate act to start an artist project and more just falling into it via doing."

How do you find an audience?

YouTube when I started was a different kind of site. It was less saturated so easier to stand out. I actually get nostalgic for YouTube back then. There was no pressure on having high production values. You could just put your digi camera up and away you go.  It would all be distorted and horrible but there would be a genuine rawness to the music you’d hear and see on there. It is different now - I probably wouldn’t recommend people start on there these days. I think there’s a real space for our equivalent of MySpace - I think Soundcloud is dead, YouTube is a good place to host videos but it’s a hard one to launch yourself from. It means I think there’s space for something else. 

How do you think social media is changing?

Attention spans are dropping and I’m not really sure what the answer will be.

When people were coming out at the same time as me - we were filming ourselves in our bedrooms - it seemed so new. It seems like a given now and an obvious thing to do but it felt really exciting at the time. Also, weird, my family thought I was so weird being squirreled away in my room filming myself! Spotify is filling that in away. I’m excited by Instagram although you can’t host full songs. Instagram and Twitter excite me the most. I love this stuff: you have to really.

What projects are currently keeping you busy? 

I’m putting together an EP called ‘Why Am I Like This?’ It’s four songs exploring a different side of my character from living in London for the last four years.

I’m going to start releasing in February and I’m also doing a lot of touring - got 30 shows around UK and Europe, then my own tour in April. I’m really excited about going on the road.

What’s your big piece of advice for new artists?

I think one thing to say is that it’s totally fine to stumble, then find your way with an artist project.

There’s a lot of pressure to have immediate success online - you put it on SoundCloud, then magically get a million plays overnight - it does happen but not to everyone. Think of your artist project as constantly moving forward." 

Labels, publishers, managers, fans may come and go but you’re still progressing. I believe if you’re good and you want it enough, then it will happen.

How do you sustain yourself as a musician/songwriter in this day and age?

It’s a few different things. I play guitar for various artists, I’m a published songwriter and do things for other people. I have a profile on Patreon and that works a bit like an online tip jar. I have a secret demo club, where I record demos, then send them to my subscribers and this helps keep me alive! Through their subscription, they get content they can’t get anywhere else. It helps fund my touring and recording.

Ultimately, it’s about having a lot of strings to your bow - you need to keep going and pull from a lot of different places. 

How did you end up writing for other artists?

I look up to someone like Imogen Heap a lot. She is someone who writes for other artists a lot but it’s her own catalogue that attracts them in the first place." 

A good example is Taylor Swift going to Imogen but her solo output works as a portfolio for what she can offer as a writer. It’s quite a new thing but I my publisher put me in touch with some pop acts and I did some toplining. It shows more of what I can offer as a writer.

Have you any advice on how you can build a team?

It’s one of the most important things - your manager, publisher, booking agent, label - they make decisons for you that will shape your whole career. I’ve stumbled and made poor choices but now I have a great team in place - you have to find your feet, take advice from people you trust and don’t sign anything you don’t want to. 

Listen to Orla's latest release 'Why Am I Like This?' 

Visit orlagartland.com to find out more. 

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by Jim Ottewill
February 15, 2019
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