Olivia Reid: Mixing Genres
How did you first get into music?
OR: I first got into music when I was really tiny. I was singing all the time- I wasn’t very good at all- but I sang all the time. I wrote my first song when I was six to give to my dad for Father’s Day, I’ve just been writing songs ever since. I started playing guitar when I was 8 but once I got into High School, I was playing mostly sports and into science. When I was applying to colleges, I really thought I was going into film or science but I applied to NYU: The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. I ended up getting full tuition to go there, so I dropped everything and dove into music. I was overwhelmed by everything I could do in music and by how much I wanted to learn. So since then I’ve just been writing, producing, and working with a lot of other artists who have given me feature opportunities to get my name out there.
Were you self taught or did you have a teacher?
OR: I had a really awesome local guitar teacher, Cameron Carbery. I did a half hour lesson every week for like 8 years. He was really cool, because I was primarily playing classical guitar, but he was a rockstar multi-instrumentalist. So I got to learn a ton of styles, which comes through in how I write now. He taught me a ton of stuff in blues, jazz and classical, and I really appreciated that.
Do you think that since you mainly practiced music on your own, it helped you put all the different styles together and explore that?
OR: Hm, probably... I hadn't really thought about that before. I knew a couple of people that I would drive 40 minutes to at an open mic, but other than that music was a very solitary experience for me. I had never written with other people or had a bias of what I should or shouldn’t be making. So I really listened to everything and tried to play everything, which probably comes out now as a mix of genres and styles.
Was it a big adjustment going from music being a solitary activity to it being something that you do everyday with other people?
OR: Yeah. I think going to school, and also living and existing as a professional in music in New York, was a big adjustment. Music used to be what I did after volleyball practice at midnight, but it turned into music is school, work, social life, how I make money. It was a hard transition, especially since I wanted to do a bit of everything. I got a business minor and I started my own business, and minored in Psychology as well, to think about something besides music. I’m definitely a chronic student, so I’m sure I’ll always be trying to absorb new things and that probably feeds my music.
I think having a business minor helps your mindset because you really have to be self promoting in this industry and try to get as many opportunities as you can?
OR: Yeah, there were certain opportunities that happened quickly and forced me to organize everything. I was happy to have those little pushes, but not be overwhelmed by anything. I know that a lot of artists can get taken advantage of or don’t know how to protect themselves, so I’m very grateful to have had that incremental education in that way. For someone that went from full amateur to a professional in too quick of a time for a teenager, it was hugely beneficial to learn from other people in the industry.
Did you meet these people through school or just playing in NYC?
OR: I think it's a combination. I played a lot of shows at the end of my college years and also definitely through the Clive Davis Institute. A lot of it was through songwriting sessions, I was writing with a lot of other indie, up and coming pop, or electronic artists in the city. There’s a bunch of jazz friends that I would play in bands with, friends that were rappers I loved, and punk rock pals I admired. There were so many different genres of music and kinds of musicians, that it allowed me to be open minded what being a musician can look like as a profession.
What is the difference writing a song for yourself or an indie band?
OR: I get this question a lot... especially from my parents. They’re like “what's the difference?” I think it comes down to writing alone versus writing with other people. When I write alone it comes out with a certain tone that I know collaboration might make me change a lot of my approach. When I collaborate I tend to absorb, I love to go back and forth with people, but I also detach from a song emotionally when I do that. It is almost like a different part of my brain.
Did growing up and being exposed to a lot of different genres allow you to fit yourself in all of them and adapt?
OR: I would hope so. I think that is really cool and something that I would want to do. I definitely sit back in a more reserved way, when writing for something that I don’t write all the time. I usually just notice patterns in what makes a genre and the groove of a song. I love writing in different genres, like writing a hook for a hip hop song or topline on an electronic song. It is hard for people to see my name on something outside my usual sound, so in that sense I’ve tried somewhat to define my artist project. But when I am on the writer's side, I have more freedom to go between genres.
Do you think the music industry is too rigid with genres and labels?
OR: Yes, definitely. I think it is hard because as a consumer of music I do the same thing. I see an artist and I know what they are about and there is a “thing” they do. I understand it as a a consumer. But sometimes I’ve gotten feedback about not knowing whether a song should go into folk or R&B... so it goes into neither and is ignored. I think that there should be more wriggle room around the edges, with more openness about what people do. I mean people aren’t single as single layered as branding makes it seem.
How did you get into producing?
OR: I started producing mainly because I couldn’t play a lot of instruments, so I would sing a lot of the parts into the mic and play the guitar. That’s how I realized production starts, taking the ideas in your head and putting them into a form other people can hear. Going to school and having these tools I couldn’t afford otherwise at my fingertips, made me excited about having another level to communicate.
Yeah it’s cool because a lot more women are getting into the producing side of music.
OR: I think it’s not a lack of women that are interested, there are a lot of barriers. It’s not for a lack of us being here..we here! I’m excited for the future, it’s gonna be baller with more women in production. Honestly could change the sound of music in a big way.
Your single, Take in the View has some of those mixed elements you were talking about before, with the produced electronic beats combined with an acoustic guitar. I think it sounded super cool and unique.
OR: Thanks so much. That was one of the only ones on the EP I co-produced, with my friend Jack Laboz. We started writing an instrumental that was totally different and electronic based. I asked him if I could take it and completely changed the sonics of it, then put the guitar and wrote the top line on it. It became a cool fusion, with a mesh of our two production styles.
Do you go through a lot of iterations for a song or is it more of a first initial reaction?
OR: On the writing songs I’ll go through one or two, I’ll make little changes. On the production side it is somewhere between 27-30. I can hear the production going a million different ways and just turning the voice of in my head off, to decide to go with one direction.
How do you find the balance in your head between finding different versions and then sticking with one?
OR: I usually have solitary dance parties and ask myself if I feel something to it. Is this the one I want to perform and communicate what I want to say? I feel like I exhaust it to a point technically. The last thing I think about it is what does it make you feel.. what does it make me feel like.
Is it hard for you to turn off analyzing your songs even when it is done and you are just listening to it?
OR: Yeah, sometimes I do it just with songs I have written on and wish I wrote on. There will never be a time where my brain will turn off when I listen to it. I write the music for me, but once I put it out it isn’t just for me anymore. Hopefully this means something to someone else who doesn’t wonder if the snare is too loud.
Do you have a favorite kind of setting you like to perform in?
OR: I only recently started playing with a band, it used to just be with me and a guitar. I found a great band and friends that were super talented and great people, and I lose myself a little bit more when I play with a band. I love the combo of electronic instruments and very organic elements. I really miss shows in New York, I had a show at the Bowery Electric and I’ve thought about that one a lot since quarantine. Everyone was vibin and it was full, and I had my friends on stage... just a good night.
So you graduated college, what are your next steps?
OR: I had a bunch of shows be cancelled, and it’s hard not to think about how fun those shows would have been. I do plan on starting shows back up when it is safe and I’ve been testing out live streams. For next steps, I have an EP ready to go, but was learning to acknowledge that my voice isn’t the most important to hear right now. It’s an overwhelming time, and I wanted to give everyone space including myself space-- to learn about how to fight racism, survive a pandemic, and grow as a person. I am also working as an A&R for a non-profit foundation that uplifts women and non-binary artists in different countries that are facing social, political and other challenges to make music. We’re starting a label and another non-profit for free music education… so I am putting a lot of energy into that.
That’s super important, can you explain more?
OR: It is called the Nvak, both Nvak Foundation and Nvak Collective - the label. It was founded by Tamar Kaprelian who is really awesome. She’s an artist and entrepreneur who wanted to uplift the women that were trying to enter into the music space in Armenia, without any opportunities for success there. That program expanded into Malawi, Africa, and Israel, and we’re working on Lebanon and Tanzania for future programming. She had this idea to start a B corporation label that is female and non-binary focused and offers health benefits and creative control. She needed someone to come in and do A&R and creative operations, and grow it to launch. Almost everybody on the team makes art themselves, trying to fill this gap in the industry for womxn and womxn in tough international markets to get their music heard. This really resonated with me as an artist and as a woman.
That’s amazing, good to have something to work towards especially at a time like this. Do you enjoy the business side of music as well?
OR: I like the way business can be creative. Sometimes the music business has a connotation of: “artists that are business owners that are trying to just make money”. But I look up to people like Beyonce and Lady Gaga who are so organized and creative as business owners that they can make real change, and the business can facilitate more art to be made.
Definitely. Being more business oriented allows you to get out your message in a more effective way.
OR: Yeah they feed each other! They are still different parts of my brain though, so when I am working on a song I can turn that part of my brain off. It is a balance of not having one influence the other.
It’s good to try to use both sides of your brain. Does going back and forth help you not get bored and refresh?
OR: I would say so. It is a nice way of not slowing yourself down if one thing feels unproductive emotionally or professional. I can put my energy towards making sure that everything is everything in order and that my rights are being collected, contracts are in place and stuff like that... makes me feel like I am still taking steps forward.
It is important especially now to make sure that you have the space to have a creative outlet.
OR: Right, and that comes in so many different ways. Finding the balance for you as an artist is so important because it is different for everyone. It is a really cool thing, and affects how the art comes out different every time, for every person.
Check out Olivia's music!
Pre-save "In Control" now, out 9.18.20!