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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Interview with singer/songwriter Sue Ray

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Starting Ground: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music-making workshop
with Sue Ray, Kaylah Truth and Ziggy Ram

Starting Ground

SAE Byron  |  Thursday & Friday  |  9am–5pm  |  FREE  

For singer/songwriter Sue Ray, one of the things she enjoys most about her journey as a musician is being able to share what she’s learned about crafting a career, especially when it comes to the work she has done mentoring and nurturing emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songwriters and music makers in the Starting Ground program. This free, two-day music workshop, presented by APRA, AMCOS and SAE Byron, in partnership with Create NSW is being delivered for a third time.

Sue will be drilling down on songwriting and basic performance skills.

‘I talk about how to deal with nerves, how to hold the stage, that sort of stuff. Over the course of the workshop the facilitators are looking at: how to book a gig, how to arrange a tour, copy writing etc. It’s for all ages, and last time we had teenagers, people in their 20s and even a grandma who was releasing children’s music. All ages can attend.’

So what is the secret to writing a great song?

‘It’s very subjective,’ says Sue. ‘I go back to the ABCs – the most common formats and explain what a chorus does, what a bridge does, what a verse does, how a song builds. These are the technical basics, but you can throw it all out the window if you want to. This more conventional structure is good to know if you want to write for Nashville. But not necessarily if you’re into writing from the heart. At the workshop I get the participants to play me a song and then I give them feedback.

‘With songwriting, for me it’s not about getting famous, it’s a form of artistic relief and it’s about expressing emotions,’ says Sue.

Sue believes her confidence in her ability to navigate all aspects of the music industry is a real strength in maintaining her livelihood as a singer/songwriter.

‘I can walk on a stage and tell the sound engineer what needs to change in the mix, that’s why I am passionate about telling young women to not be afraid to stand up to a sound engineer or a venue owner. I tell people: don’t drink at a gig. I stuck to that – I am working, so I treat it like a job.’

Being realistic and seeing past the glitz of becoming ‘famous’, to developing a lifelong career is also something Sue promotes in her teaching. ‘When I was younger I wanted to be the next Kasey Chambers… but there had to be a point where you go – I am happy to be a bread and butter performer – you still push yourself. I make a living from my music – I have seen people rise quickly, but they couldn’t sustain their career because they didn’t have the core skills.’

In the two-day workshop Sue works to build people’s confidence in themselves and their work.

‘Songwriting basics are first, then we go over their songs, we sit in a circle and talk about experiences, and what they all would do in certain situations. I want them to know they have an advocate – just having one person believing is enough.’

Even though Sue has a successful career, teaching others is still a thrill. Later her group will be clapping and singing and dancing, and hopefully take that with them – performance skills are about confidence, not just on stage, but in life.

Starting Ground is at SAE Byron, Thursday and Friday 9am–5pm. Free. Register [email protected]


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