Remember how Hannah Montana from the eponymous hit TV show could transform from an ordinary girl into a singing sensation in the blink of an eye? While her day jobs as a music journalist and copywriter at an advertising agency fall under the 9 to 5 category, English singer-songwriter Jules O’Brien can often be spotted at live music venues in Hong Kong, serenading indie music lovers with her folk-infused tunes and penetrating vocals.
Young Post had a chat with O’Brien in her first ever interview to talk about life as an indie singer-songwriter, as well as the advantages of having the best of both worlds.
While most 10-year-olds are known to have a three-minute passion for their birthday or Christmas presents, the 10-year-old O’Brien started jamming her self-penned tunes on the guitar just days after receiving it. In retrospect, despite the fact that she didn’t have a whole lot of life experiences at the time, the songs she wrote then are still very meaningful, as each of them encapsulates a specific moment or event that she was inspired by at the time.
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“When I was 12, I wrote a song about sitting down on the ground in the city with my friends – as simple as that,” says O’Brien. “As long as the song is meaningful to you, it doesn’t matter what other people think.”
While a song can appear to be just a combination of interesting words and a catchy melody, writing one from scratch is a lot more challenging.
Despite having years of practice, O’Brien admits that she still suffers from chronic writer’s block every once in a while. Her secret to overcoming procrastination is purely to buck up and get on with it.
“Try picking up the guitar and not putting it down until you’ve recorded something,” says O’Brien, “and you’ll know immediately if that piece is worth working on when it begins to stick in your head.”
Interestingly enough, O’Brien says that her day job has enabled her to become a better musician in rather unexpected ways.
“As a music journalist, I once did an interview with English singer Joss Stone, who shared with me this vocal warm-up exercise that turned out to be very useful,” she says. “And being a copywriter has also taught me to write in a succinct way when coming up with lyrics.”
Juggling a day job while pursuing her dream job certainly isn’t easy – especially in a city notorious for its lack of live music venues; as well as the financial sacrifice that music lovers –both performing and listening – have to make for live performances.
“For indie artists, it’s very frustrating because you’ve got such a great talent and passion for it, but are not rewarded in the same way [as major label artists are].”
However, being an independent artist means being free from creative limitations as well as media scrutiny.“Major label artists are under intense pressure to look perfect,” says O’Brien. “A lot of the time they have to cater to the label executives and don’t get to write their own music”.
As for aspiring student musicians in Hong Kong, the singer believes that there’s a lot more to just honing your craft at home.
“Get your name out there, go to as many live shows as possible and connect with other musicians,” says O’Brien.
“You’ll be amazed by how friendly everyone is”.
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge