Eleanor Hickey is an Edinburgh based musician that will be running our free songwriting workshop on November 6th at AMS Edinburgh. She was kind enough to sit down with us before the event and share a little more about herself, what to expect from the workshop and her favourite songwriters. Check out what Eleanor had to say and secure your space at the free songwriting workshop below!
Hey Eleanor! You’re going to be running a songwriting workshop with us in November, which is really exciting. First, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Well, I’m 23 and have been writing music and songs for over 10 years. I have released four songs, three over the pandemic. It was a good time to get my head into gear and just think about music and what I wanted to do with it. I’ve kind of just been pursuing that side of things and trying to do some writing when I can from there.
Did songwriting just feel like a natural talent for you?
Yeah! I grew up in quite a musical household. My dad wrote songs and stuff like that. So, I just kind of thought of music as a way of expressing my emotions, it was always just this other outlet that I could use. I would just do it naturally. I began when I was younger, I would write songs that were already songs and just write my own words to them. Since then, I’ve actually written my own stuff and found comfort in it. And I enjoy other people relating to it or saying, “Oh, that’s my favorite one of yours”. So yeah, absolutely it felt natural.
Did you ever dabble in rewriting popular songs? I know it’s a method lots of songwriters try.
Yeah, I suppose so! I would rewrite the Beatle song with my own words and my dad didn’t have the heart to tell me it wasn’t my song! But that was probably just from wanting to sing. I’ve always sang as well but back then we didn’t really have the outlets to just find any song you wanted to sing. I would just be writing in my own head. I remember getting my dad to write down lyrics for me when I couldn’t so it probably just all came from needing to express myself through my own voice.
Coming from a musical family, have you always worked quite closely with your dad on musical stuff?
Yeah, I suppose. We’ve written songs together as well. I’ve laterally recorded his songs on Logic and stuff and tried to make it more modern! Yeah, we’ve kind of always had that. We’ve always been very supportive of each other.
Do you have a favourite song you’ve written?
Um, it’s funny because I’ve recently I’ve gone back to really liking the very first one, which was “I’m Tired“. It must just be because I’ve not played in so long.
Eleanor Hickey, “I’m Tired"
I’ve seen that you have a popular music degree, and you’re now finishing up your studies at AMS. Did you always plan on studying music?
All through high school I kind of knew that music was what I wanted to do. It was always something to me, it was a hobby, but I also wanted it to be more than that. I wasn’t hugely interested in the other subjects. And I remember there was a parent’s open day at the high school. And my mum bumped into people from Perth college, and they said, “If your daughter is interested in doing music, she just needs a Higher-Level C to actually just leave now and do that”. So yeah, it was cool. I just said to myself “I’m going to do that”. So, then I left in fifth year. I got my higher and just left because I wasn’t fussed about the other stuff. I just wanted to go and do what I wanted to do. I feel like that was such a good decision.
After studying your Popular Music degree at Perth, what happened next for you?
I studied for my HNC and most of my degree in Perth but when I got to the end of third year, I just wanted to get going and start doing stuff in the music industry. Obviously, you can study and work in the industry but in my head I just felt ready.
I think what’s quite nice coming back to do my Honors Year at AMS, is I’ve already done quite a lot of what is being asked of us in the classes. I feel I’ve gained an understanding for how to release music and handle the press side of it, stuff like that. So, I feel more equipped to deal with both my degree and releasing music.
Taking your personal experience and being able to combine it with your education is so important.
Yeah, definitely. It gives you a vision of why you’re doing the work and what your real goals and benefits are. It makes it easier to see what action creates what reward.
Having studied at different educational facilities, do you think the place you study really affects the outcome?
Yeah, I think the places I’ve studied were quite different actually. But I suppose that could just be going back to Uni after a break. I’m probably just thinking differently than I was when I left. I suppose I’m thinking about it more in terms of “this is real life and how will I implement that in real life?” So, I suppose it’s more my perspective has changed on it than anything, I think. But both places I’ve studied are really cool.
Do you think taking the time off between finishing up your studies was important?
Yeah absolutely! I graduated in October 2019 and then started at AMS in September 2021. I just worked various waitressing jobs and saved but that kind of took over and became more of a priority than music. So, the balance was off. And I was like, “Hang on a minute, like, I left because I wanted to do music, but I’m not really doing that”. I was writing songs. But I felt like I wasn’t pursuing that. I was just doing it on the side. So, the time at home during lockdown was a sort of blessing in disguise for me, because I was writing songs. And then I could get some recorded. I actually had all that time. It’s very time consuming to release a song, especially when doing it on your own.
You just feel like you’re running on a treadmill. Because you are making progress. But you also have no idea if it’s even the right way of doing it. You just have to keep trying! But the lockdown kind of gave me time to just put my all into that sort of stuff. And I do think the time I put in helped a lot with recognition in various departments. So that was cool.
Would you say you have a specific songwriting process?
I don’t really plan it, I don’t have set days where I sit down to write. I more use it to express any sort of feelings that are arising. But there are times when I’m like, “God, I haven’t written in a while”, and I feel the need to get stuff out.
So, I suppose it’s more that it comes over me and I feel I need to obviously release some sort of feeling. Then I’ll write a song, or even just get an idea for a chord progression or a melody that I feel I can add lyrics to or make sense of at a later date kind of thing. And I always feel so much better. After writing something I’m like, “Yes, I have done that. I can go and make my dinner now”. [laughs]
It’s like word vomit, it often doesn’t even make sense. But I then make sense of it later so it’s fine!
“Be authentic to yourself…if you’re resonating with it, it’s always so much easier”
Do you ever experience a specific lightbulb moment when you’re writing?
Yeah, I love it when that happens! It doesn’t always happen, not every time. So, when it does, you’re like, “Yes! I don’t need to try too hard”. Because sometimes you’re writing, and you just feel like it’s awful. There’s nothing coming out. But then other times you don’t even really need to think too much. Sometimes the words come out, because you’re obviously subconsciously thinking about that topic. Sometimes I would write a song without really paying too much attention to what I’ve said, and then I go back, and I think about when I wrote it and think “that’s so scary that’s what I was feeling, but I didn’t know that at the time” kind of thing. It’s very therapeutic in a way when there’s a light bulb moment.
Are you a chords and melody first kind of writer? Or lyrics first?
Definitely melody and chord. Absolutely. I just need to have the structure and then think about the lyrics. I’ll just ramble over it! [laughs]. I’ve got recordings of absolute nonsense over me playing piano, but then I’ll pick out bits until it makes sense. So, when it actually comes together, I just think “let’s pretend she intentionally did that!”.
Tell me a little bit about your releases so far. What can you share with us about them?
I had a song that was released back in 2018, or 2019, which was actually very kindly done for free by a friend who heard my song on Facebook, thought it was cool and wanted to record it. But I didn’t want that song to be my first one to be released. So, then I wrote another one. And he recorded that too. So that was way back in the day. But it wasn’t until I got my degree and I’d been working in hospitality for a bit and felt like “Oh, my God, it’s killing me”. So, I recorded some of my songs, and I got the first one released in November 2020. So that’s cool! I got on BBC Scotland Introducing and BBC Rapal. I feel like that one got some lovely traction. That was really cool.
And then I planned to release the second one in February 21. And that was during lockdown. That was different because I couldn’t do a gig or anything. So, it was all very much me on the laptop for like, MONTHS just doing lives [laughs] So I did that on Instagram. But it was terrifying. Because it was obviously like real life and you’re online but that was cool, because I feel like it kind of gave people a way of interacting with me that they didn’t have before.
Everyone had to be inventive with the way they were promoting things. It must have been tough.
It seems weird to think you’re literally shouting into the dark, because you don’t know what’s out there. Or who’s actually hearing it? Or who’s registering what you’re doing? So, you do have to work hard to keep motivating yourself and remember it is working. Then I released my last my latest single in July. But for some reason I chose a really busy date for the release! I was moving and everything, so I was like, “…why did I do that?” I was literally moving! I would not recommend that [laughs]. So yeah, I guess that’s the story so far.
If someone was about to start writing songs for the first time, and they weren’t too sure where to start, what would you say is the most vital part? Do you have any advice?
Be authentic to yourself. That is a huge thing. Obviously, you can write from other people’s perspective, because I’ve done that. Sometimes it’s not even about me, but it’s about someone else. Someone else’s life. But I do feel like if you’re resonating with it, it’s always so much easier.
Recently I’ve been thinking instead of just recording an idea and just forgetting about it for ages. I try and think about what I was trying to express in that time when I got the idea. If I can even just get a frame of a song written down so that I actually HAVE a song. It’s easy to start one and get carried away with a different idea, I’m trying to get into the habit of actually writing the whole thing, so I don’t end up with lots of ideas and no finished songs.
In terms of the songwriting workshop, can you outline a little bit of what people can expect who would be interested in attending, can you give us a hint at what you have lined up?
Yes, I can share a little! Expect to chat through various techniques to writing a song and we’ll be discussing how everyone has a different process. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, so we’ll be chatting through that. We can have a bit of time trying to come up with something together in little groups. I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with! I’m also interested in hearing their background in songwriting and what they want to do with it. I’m looking forward to it!
Exciting stuff! Can you share your top three songwriters with us? If you have some favourites.
Oh, I do I do. I need to think now!
I really like Joan Armatrading. I think she’s really cool. I just resonate a lot with the way she writes.
Do you have a favorite song of hers?
Probably “The Weakness in Me“. I just find it so nice. Oh, God, it’s so hard to choose. There’s so many! I was just thinking about this the other day.
Dermot Kennedy! He is really talented. These are kind of logical ones, but I do think it’s their songwriting I love. I feel like this is where I’ll panic and just say anyone! [laughs]
Oh actually, Frightened Rabbit. Of course. Yeah, those are the right three for me.
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Join Eleanor and our AMS Edinburgh team on Saturday November 6th for our free songwriting workshop.
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