Sarah Close has built up a name for herself as a talented and versatile singer-songwriter. Having started her career by uploading covers to YouTube, the Isle of Wight native has also studied songwriting, signed to a label and become independent again, learning a lot about the music industry along the way. We sat down with her to talk about her career thus far, being able to make decisions for herself and the murky area between music and YouTube.
Recently, Close released 'London' a song that tells the tales of her love-hate relationship with the city, a feeling that has resonated with a lot of her fans, "'London' was a song that I wrote back in 2015. And it's always just been a song that I love. I was talking to some friends who have just moved to London we were saying about how tough it is to acclimatise, and to get used to people being like, "hey, let’s meet up" and never hearing from them again and just how lonely it is."
However, a lot has changed in four years, "Now in London, I love my flat - I have wonderful neighbours, and I’ve made so many friends here and I feel really settled. I don’t want to leave. Then I listened to the song and I thought, "this song tells some of my story and it’s such a beautiful song and I love it so much, I’m independent so I can put it out, so why don’t I?""
Close studied songwriting for two years before dropping out, a move which she sticks by as she thinks it was the right decision at the time. "I came to London knowing I wanted to do music but I didn’t know anyone in the city. My parents really encouraged me to enrol in some kind of course so I could have a student loan and have a bit of the student lifestyle and go out and meet friends. So I went on a songwriting course."
Close had it in mind that she wouldn't make it the whole way through the course from the outset, "I kind of made it my goal that I wouldn’t have to make it the whole way through. That I would work hard enough that halfway through my career outside of uni would be so busy that I could have the opportunity to drop out. So I worked really hard, saved money so I could quit uni and be okay.
"by the end of second year it wasn’t really giving me anything any more. I don’t think you can teach music, I think you have to have passion and drive - you can be taught to write a song but unless you’re going to go out and practice, what’s the point? So I was just like, this course isn’t doing anything for me and left."
That being said, she is still very glad she did the course as it pushed her creatively in directions she might not have gone before, "“Caught Up” for example, I wrote that on the course as a rap song. We were given the brief to write a rap song and I was like… I’m never going to write a rap song, I can’t rap, but then I wrote that song and thought it was so much fun. I think the course made me expand my creative boundaries and find out more about what I like and what I don’t like. But I think you get what you can and when something stops giving you love or teaching you anything you say “okay, you’re not for me any more, goodbye!”"
By this point her online presence had grown dramatically, and the music industry started taking notice, "I started getting interest from labels. So I decided I wanted to make an EP and get that out then I signed my record deal with Parlophone in 2017."
Adjusting to a label life was another learning curve for Close who was unsure of others taking over her previous responsibilities, "I had never had a team before - I had made everything myself. All of sudden there’s a group of people that are like “hey, you need tour posters? We’ll make them!” And it was amazing… but it was also hard for me to not have to do everything because I was so used to it."
She also notes how she found it to be another part of the industry that she could now understand a little bit more, "I feel like labels are still like a locked door that everyone kind of knows what’s going on but you don’t really know until you’re in it."
Close uploaded a video called "I SIGNED A RECORD DEAL" on July 9th 2017 which documented her experience of signing with Parlophone. However a year later, in July 2018, she uploaded a video called 'i was dropped by my record deal' where she discusses the process in which she was let go from Parlophone. She discusses the interior politics and how a new team came on board which meant she was no longer working with the people who signed her, and the new team were trying to get her to release music she wasn't 100% happy with.
However, Close holds no bitterness when talking about the affair and looks back at the time fondly, "I didn’t find it demotivating. I knew it was the right thing at the time. We were leading up to put out a single that I knew wasn’t really me and I was a bit frustrated with the process of people having to do things for you. When I left the label it was like, great, all these ideas I can now go and make them happen."
That being said, she doesn't belittle the gravity of the situation, "leaving a record deal is no small thing. No one walks away and is like “oh, I’m completely fine!” Like no… I did have to sit there and think what it meant for me, and what I could learn from it, but the label were kind to me, they were like, "Carry on, it’s just not right here.""
Having started out by using YouTube as a way to get her music out there, Close talks about the complicated implications that has on an artists. How there are different kinds of musicians on YouTube, some of them are musicians who use YouTube as a platform for their music, others are YouTubers who just decide to get into music, and the latter can sully the reputation of the former and as such, the music industry has a way to go to understand the platform more.
"I haven’t posted a cover on YouTube for two years and I don’t really feel like I tether to the YouTube community anymore - I still have friends there of course who make YouTube videos, but I feel like I’m floating in this space between the music industry, YouTube career and social media industry.
I think there’s so much that the music industry could get involved with more. I still feel like I have to break through that ceiling of like "No, I can write my own songs, I can sing and I can perform live to a crowd, and I’m someone to be taken seriously." But it’s so much better than I used to be, I think labels and other people in the music industry understand that there’s a huge market for it ."
There is a side of her that is annoyed by those who jump on the music bandwagon simply because they have a big audience on social media, "100% yes. Because I sat there as a 5 year-old like "I want to be a singer, I want to write songs" and I’ve spent hours and hours working and trying to make it happen. But also, everyone is entitled to do whatever the hell they want so who am I to talk shit on them, like, you do your thing."
Part of what made her departure from the label easier to take was that she was now in control of what she could release, so what exactly does that entail? "What you see is what you get with me - I’m an idiot on Instagram stories and I post videos with no makeup on and in my pyjamas and I always want to keep things very intimate and not too polished, but I definitely want my music to go in a slightly more intimate manner. I think that my covers online were just my voice and my piano and I really enjoy the songs in my set where it’s just me and the piano, so I would love to strip things down a bit more. But then I really love the big pop songs so it’s kind of finding the space between."
As for now, she is excited to release new music although she does not have anything set in stone yet. What is clear is that she is an artist with a genuine and honest approach to her music and her love and passion for her trade is obvious. With an impressive career already under her belt, there is no doubt the future is bright for Sarah Close.