You can accomplish a lot on your own.
Just ask Olivia Reid. From songwriting, to production, to visuals, management and so on, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter is not only involved, but a driving force behind all avenues of her artistic pursuit. Fresh off the release of her longly-awaited debut EP Earth Water, Reid shows her ability to connect with the world around her through sound and nature, but also community. In tandem with Spotify, she’s launched a new podcast called Song Start that aims to give aspiring songwriters, artist, and producers the basic tools they need to start creating. So while there is no cheat sheet for finding your artistic voice and navigating this tumultuous industry, let Olivia’s pursuits remind you, you are not alone, but if you feel you are, you already have all you need.
Words and photos by Andy Gorel
Andy: So last time we chatted you had just released “Take in the View” as a single. Now it’s a part of a bigger body of work, an EP called “Earth Water”. What made you pick these specific six songs for an EP?
Olivia: I had been creating in quantity, from the ground up. I think I had like 20 songs I was choosing from that were acoustic guitar demos. The ones I ended up exploring the most in a production space ended up being the ones that were built out the most with a similar sonic palette. Earth and water were the two natural elements that came to mind. The drums are really grounded and organic in all of the songs, and then the synths and way I was processing vocals floated to me. The lyrical metaphors were based in nature, and the sounds were me trying to create the feeling of flooding, or climbing a mountain, or walking through a city. They felt really connected. I don’t even remember how I picked them, they just kind of existed as a package, I think because of the time I spent building out productions for them. There is one live version on the EP that I recorded in the studio, with full intentions of producing it out, but every time I tried it didn’t have that same energy. So there’s a live version of “Seraphine / Serafin” that’s on there.
Andy: I feel with an era, sometimes it exists before you know it. Is that how you felt with these? That in hindsight it was obvious.
Olivia: Yeah, I think so, because I also have a ton of songs sitting on my hard drive that I’m excited to continue producing and finish as maybe the next package. But it does happen naturally, just the way that life moves. Sometimes things come in waves, or eras, and then I feel like what I’m interested in, or what I’m listening to comes in waves as well. Suddenly it just makes songs feel really connected. A lot of these songs I made as I was learning to produce too. If I showed you the original demos you would be like “Oh my goodness.”
Andy: Oh I totally understand where you’re coming from.
Olivia: Yeah, and I don’t know if you feel this way as well, but since I was learning to produce, everything took so much longer. So every single sound is wildly intentional. I think that made it feel more together. Now I can produce a little quicker, so I don’t overthink details as much. I wanna be sharing my music as I make it more. Whereas this was me being super particular – “That snare needs to be different” – on like a 27th mix version.
Andy: Nature seems to be a huge part of your life. Where you grew up outside Sacramento, was that a town or suburb, or were you in the mountains or forest?
Olivia: It’s definitely a small town suburban area. The only things to really do are outdoors. I was always hiking, paddle boarding, playing sports, sand volleyball, or going to Tahoe, San Francisco or Santa Cruz to surf. I think once you get your license you’re just exploring. At least my friends in high school and I were. There’s nowhere to like “go out”. That wasn’t my thing either, I was kind of a goody-two-shoes in high school, so I think I just spent a lot of time outside. Also, my grandparents live in Montana so I grew up spending a month out of the year in Montana which is really grounding for me. My other grandparents live on a lake in Virginia. The only things I feel actually interested in doing are outside.
Have you ever done one of those personality tests?
“Any place I’m at I feel so clouded by overstimulation, and too much thinking time. Then when I’m outside everything feels less important. It makes me feel small in a good way.”
Andy: I haven’t.
Olivia: Well I did one of those tests that suggested which way I should decorate my room, and it told me basically “you need a room that is very light, and hopefully has a view to gain perspective.” Any place I’m at I feel so clouded by overstimulation, and too much thinking time. Then when I’m outside everything feels less important. It makes me feel small in a good way.
Andy: I understand what you mean. I’m from a small town, and during the pandemic I was living home, spending so much time outside with my friends. Driving through the woods, swimming in lakes, drinking outside together. It’s humbling, especially when you compare it to being somewhere like where we are right now – Hollywood, or even New York.
Olivia: Yeah, and I think once I moved New York, I was fully out of nature. So I think all the ways I would try to write songs to understand something I was feeling, or to tell a story I wanted to tell – I think I was going back even more towards these natural metaphors because I wasn’t around them as much.
Andy: Do you ever get hit with the Maggie Rogers comparison?
Olivia: Sometimes yeah (laughs). That was cool for me too because I was headed to NYU when she blew up with the Pharrell video. I think that was really interesting for me because I immediately got those comparisons, since she was growing at that time. But I think it was cool to have immediately have someone who was doing their own thing. She had been making music for a long time, making demos and writing folk songs, finding her space. I don’t mind hearing that comparison. I need to listen to more of her music honestly.
Andy: You just had a new single with Kidswaste actually, it’s called “Time Is Mine”. How did that come together?
Olivia: So I wrote that song before I met Quentin and sent it to him. I did a writing session on Zoom while I was home in California. It was one of the only Zoom sessions I did. My girlfriend and I have been together for almost two years now, but at the time we just started going long distance, and so I was talking to Jamison Fox, who was the co-writer of it, and we were just exploring losing track of time with somebody, even when you’re far away. It was just a guitar-vocal, and then Quentin really brought it to life. It’s very much a Kidswaste production, but I was excited to keep the voice and guitar from the original demo.
Andy: So you were the writer, host, and producer of a new podcast with Spotify and Spotify for Artists that launched recently called Song Start. In your own words, what is the mission statement of the podcast?
Olivia: So the topics are music production, business, songwriting, and mental health, like the mindset to have when approaching music. The goal is to have very real, open, and educational conversations with people who are already doing it. People who have actually navigated a lot of the challenges. Whether it’s an up-and-coming artist, we have a music theorist, Asaf Peres – who’s known as Top40 Theory, we have Hayley Williams, Sam Smith, some bigger artists too.
It’s been really cool to explore as an artist who has had to do a little bit of everything, and is interested in doing a little bit of everything, being independent and self-managed. It’s a way to even the playing field for people who maybe want to get started but don’t necessarily have the resources. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to go to NYU, so it’s an aim to provide an educational resource in a way that is also entertaining to listen to. It’s a nice mix of organic conversation and educational content where you can learn about things in a very conversational way. It’s also paired with a ten episode video series which is kind of the anchor point of it. They’re short episodes with talent across the industry, to get you what you need to get a very simple start, be it making the first demo, or writing your first song.
Andy: How did you connect with Spotify on this idea? How did it come together?
Olivia: So Ali Tamposi, who’s an amazing songwriter, and Tamar Kaprelian, who’s done some nonprofit work and was an artist herself a while ago, they had an idea for an e-curriculum – I met them last year during the pandemic and started working on an outline, building out the series. We cycled through a few different names and landed on Song Start.
As a company, obviously Spotify has things they want to grow in with their relationship with songwriters, but the Noteable team – Noteable is like Spotify for Artists, but for songwriters and publishers – they’re amazing and are just trying to provide this as a free resource to songwriters and producers of tomorrow. Ali was connected with them as a Grammy-nominated songwriter, and we connected with them in December. All their efforts with Noteable and Spotify for Artists really lined up with what Song Start was doing, so I came in on the creative side as the Song Start team.
“I think for me it’s been really important to recognize at the end of the day it’s for the DIY creatives. I’m thinking about myself as a fifteen year-old. What if I got started when I was like twelve rather than in college? There’s so much information out there, but it’s difficult to digest it all, so packaging it in an easy to understand way is really cool.”
Andy: So you guys had the idea for it and then Spotify picked it up?
Olivia: Yeah, but it has grown a lot. Once you have a budget and a team who knows what they’re doing… I had never been a podcast host before. Kim Taylor Bennett who’s in-house talent and senior producer at Spotify, she does the Best Advice podcast for Spotify for Artists. It was a cool opportunity for me to learn from someone like that. It was great to have a really huge company and cool creative team mixed with the Song Start side of things working together. Eric Leva is another person who has worked a lot on the Song Start project and he’s a great songwriter as well. It’s been a cool experience, and was sort of a pandemic project that I hope continues for some period of time.
Andy: That’s ideal, having both sides of it.
Olivia: Yeah, and I think for me it’s been really important to recognize at the end of the day it’s for the DIY creatives. I’m thinking about myself as a fifteen year-old. What if I got started when I was like twelve rather than in college? There’s so much information out there, but it’s difficult to digest it all, so packaging it in an easy to understand way is really cool.