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Spotlight – Aliah Guerra
Spotlight – Aliah Guerra
Aliah, congratulations on being selected for the Women In The Studio National Accelerator! How does it feel to be part of such a prestigious initiative, and what are your expectations for the program?

Thank you so much! It’s truly an honor to have been selected for this incredible program out of hundreds of talented producers across Canada. I have to say, although I was excited from the moment I got the news about being selected for this year’s cohort, the magnitude of this initiative really settled in when we were all flown out to Toronto. Whenever I introduced myself as one of the participants in the “Women in the Studio Program” to industry executives and professionals, I received the most sincere admiration and praise. They commended me for such a prestigious achievement, wished me success, and offered their expertise and services for future projects.

This initiative truly rolled out the red carpet for us, and I certainly felt celebrated as a female producer. Knowing that there are only 3% of female producers in the music industry, I’ve gained a substantial boost of confidence. I feel proud to be a part of a program that aims to increase that percentage and change history. As a result, I no longer hesitate to call myself a music producer in the industry; I absolutely embrace it! I’m expecting to be able to enter a new realm of opportunities in publishing, management, and recording deals, as well as some incredible collaborations with other local artists. I’m thrilled to be expanding my network in the industry especially with more females!

Your music has been described as a unique fusion of genres, blending elements of R&B, pop, and soul. How would you define your sound, and what artists or experiences have influenced your musical style?

I would describe my sound as jazzy fusions, mainly because jazz has no rules. It stems from a place of having a good ear and trusting my ears. If it sounds good, then it’s right! I’ve listened to so many genres of music growing up, all of which have influenced my sound today as a producer. Some of those artists include George Benson, Quincy Jones, Amy Winehouse, Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu, and Sade. When you really dig into it, R&B and soul come from blues and jazz. Once upon a time, jazz was considered pop or the people’s music. I always love keeping a bit of that retro old-school feel in my modern music. So regardless of a lot of my music being categorized as R&B, soul, and pop, it was conceived and produced with a jazzy approach.

Can you share with us a little bit about your journey as a musician and what led you to pursue a career in music production? What inspired you to take this path?

I was born into a musical family, so I’ve always been involved with music. My great-grandparents were musicians, as well as my grandfather – who was a multi-instrumentalist, guitarist, and music teacher. He encouraged my parents to enroll my siblings and I in piano lessons in addition to the music program in primary school. During secondary school, I was part of a 20-piece orchestra concert band, playing the clarinet for TV and film scores in international school competitions. My performances in various talent shows throughout the years aided my experience in performing and sparked my passion for music.

By age 12, I was introduced to Amy Winehouse’s first Jazz album called Frank, and I was inspired to teach myself how to play the electric guitar after watching Amy’s live performances with electric guitarist Femi Temowo. This resulted in me posting covers on YouTube and building an international online fanbase. In turn, I started writing my own music and quickly began to teach myself music production and how to record my own songs.

As of 2016, I worked part-time jobs when I was a Political Science student in college to fund my debut album. It was expensive for studio time, a bit risky buying beats, and tricky to align my schedule with producers to get studio time, all while being a full-time student. It became frustrating at times to try to get someone else to recreate the musical ideas I already had in my mind. Beyond that, it was always a risk to be alone in a studio late at night as a young lady with male producers. So, I was determined to figure out production myself to record my ideas in my home studio and turn them into an album. In 2017, I was invited to Manhattan, New York, for two weeks to perform some of my songs and covers at jazz venues. From there, I was inspired to finally release my own music, independently producing and releasing my first album in 2018. The rest is history.

Being part of the Women In The Studio National Accelerator, how do you envision this experience impacting your growth as an artist and music producer? Are there specific skills or areas of expertise that you hope to develop during the program?

I’ll preface my answer by clearly stating I have great respect for many men who produce in the industry; however, it’s just nice to have the option to work with other women. Developing a network of female producers has always been a goal of mine. It’s inspiring to learn from female professionals in the music industry, considering the challenges we face as a disproportionate minority in a field historically dominated by men. I’ve always wanted to learn to mix my own music to get more music released without huge delays between the last release and the next. One of the most impressive individuals I’ve met through the Accelerator is Dr. Amandine Pras, a world-class PhD female audio engineer. Her explanation of vocal mixing was much more understandable compared to watching YouTube videos. Her eloquence and extensive knowledge in this area were truly remarkable.

There is something about being in a room full of women that feels like a safe space to learn, to ask even the most obvious questions. There is no sense of inferiority for not knowing everything. In a room dominated by 97% of men, women can often feel intimidated to ask questions or admit they don’t know something, which can result in a lack of confidence and imposter syndrome as a producer. The truth is, we are all learners in our own right, and it’s perfectly fine not to have all the answers. We just need a safe space to learn and grow without feeling like lesser producers in the pursuit of knowledge and skill improvement.

Collaboration and networking are vital aspects of the music industry. Have you had any opportunities to connect with other participants or industry professionals through the Women In The Studio National Accelerator? If so, how has it influenced your creative process or opened up new avenues for your music?

Absolutely, one of the most exciting parts of being in the studio was getting to run a recording session as a producer at a Toronto Studio. I had the opportunity to collaborate with JUNO-nominated artist and producer Dayna Manning, as well as another emerging musician from a local artist development program in Toronto. We were also invited to Sony Music Publishing Canada’s studios to mix vocals with the amazing Dr. Pras. Recording in studios like Sony’s has always been a childhood dream of mine, and I’m thrilled that the Women in the Studio initiative opened so many doors for me.

During an event called “Behind the Song”, I connected with Canadian trade commissioners who will be assisting with my future export projects. I also had the chance to meet a music supervisor at the Canadian Sync Awards, who expressed interest in my latest song and requested that I submit my music for consideration in future projects.

Additionally, we had the opportunity to spend time with Drake’s producer, Eli Brown, and observe his recording sessions with Partynxtdoor for his unreleased upcoming song. We also met 1985, the producer of The Weeknd’s “Die for You”. Finally, we had the pleasure of meeting Angie Randisi, an amazing female recording engineer who works full-time in Los Angeles for Interscope Records. She walked us through how she sets up her sessions to be efficient and professional while working under pressure, recording for both emerging and established artists. This experience gave us valuable insights into our own recording process compared to recording for other artists.

Who are some of your favorite artists in rotation on your playlist right now?

I’d definitely have to say that The Internet, Moonchild, and Cleo Sol are my favorite soul bands and artist. They all draw from classic elements of soul music from the past while providing a fresh and modern take, each with its own individual twist.

I had the opportunity to see Moonchild and The Internet perform live in concert. Their production incorporates live instruments, giving their music an authentic feel that I truly enjoy. In an age of digital music and AI, where computers do a lot of the work for artists in production, experiencing live instruments feels more personal and handmade. There’s a greater expression of musicianship, which I appreciate as a musician and producer. It’s always a treat to hear their songs arranged differently for live performances, and they never disappoint. I haven’t had the chance to see Cleo Sol in concert yet, but I’m looking forward to it, especially since she recently opened for Alicia Keys on tour.

Your lyrics often delve into personal experiences and introspection. How does your songwriting process unfold, and what themes or emotions do you strive to convey through your music?

It’s different all the time, but I often draw from personal life experiences in my songwriting. For instance, my first single called “Someday” was about the desire to find the right person to fall in love with, even though I hadn’t met them yet. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were out there, and I would find them someday.

“Moonlight” was a jazz composition that I wrote at night time, capturing the loudest thoughts I would have during the night. Many people can relate to thinking about a relationship that didn’t work out, feeling sad about it, and having those thoughts keep them up at night.

Other songs I’ve written, such as “Trouble” came about as a result of encountering one negative thing after the next. I ultimately realized that just because things weren’t going right didn’t mean I was going nowhere. Each setback actually set me up for something greater.

I’ve also written songs that reflect life circumstances. For example, ‘Cries of the World’ is a song that addresses the state of the world, highlighting issues like pollution, greed, famine, and the pandemic. While it’s not yet released, I believe it will resonate with many people.

Lately, I’ve written dedications in my songs. “One of a Kind” from my first album, is a dedication to my younger self and others who struggle with self-esteem. The song speaks to those insecurities and aims to empower individuals to embrace their uniqueness.

Another dedication song, “Wonder Woman” was dedicated to my mom for her birthday, celebrating how amazing she is. It resonated with people around the world and became an anthem for Women’s Day, being featured on an international women’s playlist every year.

Most recently, my song “Show Me What You Wanna Do” was a nod to the music of the 70s and 80s. During the pandemic, when there were no parties or concerts, I was inspired by the songs I would hear at family gatherings and dinners. I wanted to create a song that would allow people to get in the spirit of being with their loved ones, enjoying time together, and celebrating togetherness and good vibes. The lyrics reflect an upbeat and fun setting as a pick-me-up for us all since the lockdown chapter of our lives.

As an artist, it's important to have a distinctive visual identity. How do you incorporate visual elements, such as music videos or artwork, into your creative expression? What role do visuals play in conveying your message?

As a songwriter, I appreciate the poetic elements of lyric writing. Although they may not always be instantly understood by all listeners, the lyrics hold a significant amount of thought and are just as important as the music in my songs. To bridge the gap between the music and the lyrical context, I find that music videos and visuals can serve as the glue.

In the case of my song “Wonder Woman,” we created a short promo video. I sing about being lost in the woods. The visual representation shows my mom finding me in the woods and guiding me back to the path. This metaphor symbolizes the feeling of being lost in life and not having a clear direction. Whenever I need guidance, I can always turn to my mom for advice, and she helps me get back on track.

The song “Out 2 Cali” is a love song about finding bliss abroad. I’ve always been enchanted by the Hollywood and LA lifestyle. Filming the music video in Los Angeles allowed me to capture my experience from the airport to the beaches, fancy landmarks, and tourist attractions. It conveyed my love for the city and its people.

Lastly, in “Show Me What You Wanna Do” I paid homage to the 70s and 80s Golden Era of music when roller skating was popular. The music video showcases lots of roller skating, partying, and dancing. I wanted to demonstrate that I am the one-woman band behind the production of the song, similar to how Prince produced his own music by playing all the instruments. It was important for people to see that I, as a female producer, am capable of creating a big party track like this. The visuals of me playing all the instruments simultaneously in the music video help create that image.

At the end of the day, visuals and music videos can enhance the understanding and appreciation of songs, allowing the audience to connect with the message on a much deeper level.

The music industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies and platforms shaping the way we consume music. How do you adapt to these changes, and what strategies do you employ to connect with your audience in this digital age?

Technology is constantly changing, and as creatives, it’s important for us to adapt and stay ahead of the curve. We need to take advantage of new technology by embracing it, learning it, and finding effective ways to utilize it for our listeners and fans.

For instance, when the pandemic hit, my plans to go on tour in Europe, including performances in London, Paris, and Zurich, got canceled just two weeks after I had made all the arrangements. Instead of sitting idle, I decided to think creatively. I noticed that everything was moving online, with shows going digital and Instagram becoming the primary means of communication between artists and their fans during this hiatus period.

To think outside the box, I created my own exclusive platform, “The Aliah Guerra App”. My music app was different from Instagram, where I could share exclusive content, provide educational materials, and even sell advertising space. This platform was specifically designed for my musician fans and small business owners in the industry. It was a unique approach that most people don’t associate with artists, as app design and development are not typically part of their skill set.

Through this experience, I realized the potential of merging technology with music. Earlier this year, I met with Ristband Inc., and after expressing my interest in technology, they offered me a spot in their metaverse prototype hybrid demo event; meaning I’ll have the opportunity to perform a live concert that would also be part of the metaverse. As a fan of Web3 and technology, I believe this will disrupt the music industry, and it’s crucial to ride the wave early, learn the technology, and partner with emerging companies. By mastering the capabilities of this technology, we can create something new and exciting for our audience as technology continues to evolve.

Can you tell us about a particularly memorable or challenging moment in your music career so far? How did you overcome it, and what lessons did you learn from that experience?

One of the most memorable and challenging moments in my career so far has been bouncing back from a canceled tour in the middle of the pandemic. I had spent all the money to make it happen. However, having that experience of going on tour was still at the top of my bucket list as a musician. There was so much uncertainty, and I wasn’t sure when things were going to open back up again. Therefore, I was hesitant to book another tour after that loss.

During the pandemic, I noticed the growing popularity of Dubai as a futuristic city with advancements in the Metaverse, blockchain, and NFTs. Being intrigued by the intersection of music and technology, I researched which cities might be more lucrative for my music and the tech project/music app I built. Dubai stood out as a great location, considering its focus on digital transformation in various industries, including music.

Finally, in 2023, I decided to rebook my tour. I performed in London to mark the five-year anniversary of my first album. Additionally, I performed in Dubai at the world-renowned Jazz Express. I also had the opportunity to meet with the V4RTXX band and marketing team at the Quincy Jones Jazz Club in the Palazzo Versace Dubai Hotel, for a potential residency at Q’Bar Lounge. I also made connections with Shanice Events Entertainment, NicheArtists.com artist promotions, and Audio Swim bespoke music technology solutions company. Dubai’s market for soul and jazz artists, along with its integration of music and technology, presented an exciting challenge and opportunity.

This tour was particularly challenging for me because I had never flown to Europe or Asia before, and I had to establish numerous new connections while I was there. I’m most proud of my time in London as the experience was also incredibly rewarding. I had the honor of meeting my longtime guitar hero, Femi Temowo. He used to play the electric guitar for Amy Winehouse. I’ve been watching his videos to teach myself how to play the guitar since I was 12 years old.  It was surreal to have him attend my concert, cheer me on, take pictures with me, and congratulate me. His presence was the stamp of approval that meant so much to me, reaffirming my determination to never give up and find a way to accomplish my goals.

1What do you do to stay grounded outside of music?

I enjoy working out, doing yoga, and meditation to reset my mind. I try to surround myself with like-minded people, especially women in the industry, as it provides a sense of understanding and support. When the industry gets chaotic or our careers become overwhelming, having a community of individuals who can relate to the multiple facets of the industry and understand me as an artist gives me the confidence, pep talk, and motivation I need from time to time. It’s equally important to have some downtime, which I fill with activities like painting, hiking, bike riding, going to the beach, and simply immersing myself in nature. Sometimes, I find solace in the silence of nature. It’s incredible how this deprivation of the senses makes coming back to my job or notebook so much more satisfying because it feels like I have accumulated so much inspiration. It’s important to live and experience things so that I have meaningful stories to write about, which is also a great cure for writer’s block.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself in the next few years, and what impact do you hope to make through your music and production skills?

My long-term goals in the music industry include expanding my international audience through performances, collaborations, and publishing. I am intrigued by the intersection of music and technology, particularly incorporating AI into production. I aim to share my skills globally, fostering collaboration among artists. As technology advances, opportunities like the metaverse, NFTs, and blockchain emerge. By embracing a creative entrepreneurial mindset and collaborating, we can maximize profitability and extend our reach. Ultimately, I seek a sustainable income from my creative work, benefiting both myself and fellow musicians. The Women in the Studio Accelerator has strengthened my belief in achieving these goals and increasing women’s representation in the industry.

Spotlight – Aliah Guerra is a wrap and big thanks to  Aliah for taking the time to chat

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