Nadine Shah

10 tips on how to achieve songwriting success

We learn ace artist Nadine Shah’s secrets to songwriting success from the recent UK Music Music Industry Careers Day…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 14 Mar 2017
  • min read
Singer songwriter Nadine Shah fell in love with music in her native north-east before migrating to London in a bid to further her career.

Starting out as a jazz singer, she connected with producer Ben Hillier and won herself a devoted following over the course of her Love Your Dum and Mad and Fast Food albums.

Armed with a striking voice and an off kilter blend of alt rock, pop and dark folk, Nadine’s songs are full of stories exploring lust, loss and social inequality. Now with a third album aimed at tackling the refugee crisis, we were at the recent UK Music Music Industry Careers Day to learn how she’s succeeded and to pick through the best bits of advice she offered new artists hoping to break through…

Remember that your voice is a muscle

Touring is a very physical thing. When I started I’d get really excited after every show and want to have a big party. But as a singer you’ve got to remember that your voice is a muscle. You have to take care of yourself. I know it’s boring but if you have too many late nights and not enough sleep, then it’ll impact your performance ability the next day. You can still have fun but you need to look after yourself.

Make the most of your live opportunities

From the start, I was always supporting other artists which was really great practice for me. It meant I got to play some really big venues when I was starting out - Brixton Academy, Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I played with really inappropriate acts like Shakespeare’s Sister, Joss Stone, Depeche Mode.

Collaborating can push you and your music

I love collaborating - I’m working with some other artists at the moment and it’s really nice to get out of your own comfort zone. I find it lonely writing on my own all the time so it can be nice to get that immediate feedback.

Social media can be a beautiful tool when used correctly

Social media is very important. Unfortunately. I didn’t like it at first as I felt like I was constantly trying to sell myself. But you just have to be careful about how you use it. I was googling myself constantly when I started off and took it really personally when I saw anything negative. So it can be a distraction.

But as a way to advertise your music and promote yourself it’s great. I love this connection between me and the fans.

Know your rights

About a year and a half ago I fell out with my label. I was in a position where I couldn’t make new music and had lost trust in certain people. It’s all fine now with my new label. But because of that experience, I learned all I could about the legal side of the business. If you are going to get involved in music, it’s important to get knowledgeable about that. It will help you avoid problems down the line.

Having a manager can help you be creative

I was in conversation with a friend about having a manager. And they were asking is it worth it if they take 20 percent? But I think it’s really beneficial. It gives me the space to be creative. I am involved in a lot of managerial type stuff but I need time to go off and make music knowing there’s someone else running the show. It’s really good to have someone acting on your behalf.

Moving to London can help

Unfortunately moving to London can be helpful in furthering your musical career. There are so many initiatives, so many gig venues. Get yourself out and watch stuff. I moved down when I was 16. It was virtually impossible when I was younger and living in the north-east. Although now there are schemes being set up all the time. Like North East Generator and new schemes. You just need to look for them.

Do your groundwork to attract industry attention

It can be scary starting out. There’s not as much money in the industry as there used to be so labels want to see that you’ve got something going on. They check your social media stats, how many followers ... that’s difficult to do if you’re working a full time job too. But a lot of the ground work is up to you.

Write songs as often as possible

I write most days. It’s like going to the gym. If you don’t for a few days, it can be really hard the next time you go. If I don’t do it often, I find myself to be out of sync with it and it’s difficult to get back into it. I’ve got a note pad with me so I’m writing in it all the time.

Be bold

Work at your craft, get it solid and don’t rush things. With this new album I took my time with it. With my second I rushed it and it wasn’t what I wanted. I’m really proud of my new one. It’s all about the refugee crisis, being a second generation immigrant, being a woman, racism. I’m not very quiet anymore. Being bold is what works and helps you stand out.