Students Who Break the Mould: Succeeding as a Singer Without Playing Guitar

Natalie Ambrose always thought that being a singer who 'can't play guitar' would be her downfall in the industry...

But after a lecture at JMC, she realised that playing an instrument was nowhere near as important and one other main factor: preparation!
Since then, Natalie has gone on to achieve a heap of cool things in her music career so far, including recording a song with one of her favourite artists!
We caught up with Natalie leading up to her recent showcase at the Butterfly Club to see how she's going and to grab some advice for any young musicians looking to follow her footsteps!

Tell us about your music career since leaving JMC?

Everything slowed down for a while – then in typical creative fashion I found myself walking through a break up and writing my way through it. It turns out, the more you write, the better you get at it! I was sitting with some of my best work and suddenly feeling anxious to record it.
One day, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from a band that I used to love, ‘New Empire’, who had since split up, posting about their recent success in South Korea with placement on a TV Show – and then it all came flooding back to me. During their split, one of the band members started producing music for other artists and a few google searches later, I was emailing him and getting prices for recording, production etc.
Before I knew it, I had locked in a date to head to Sydney and record with former ‘New Empire’ member Jeremy Fowler. I wanted to make sure that the release was worth it, and luckily Jeremy’s manager consults with artists as a job – so I managed to get some really beneficial advice on releasing, advertising, and pushing singles to radio.  Fast forward to now, I have two singles produced by Jeremy (I’m still fangirling over this) and both have received some airplay on Christian Community radio stations across the country.

What have been some of the highlights in your career so far?

The obvious highlight was recording with Jeremy – he helped shape the song, he played all of the instruments, mixed the track, gave personal advice and tips…it was the ultimate fangirl experience.
Another moment was seeing my song in the rotation for the radio station Light Digital (Melbourne’s Light FM). Seeing the notification on my lock screen that I’d just received funds from APRA to gain royalties for my music’s radio play was aslo a really big highlight for me as well

Tell us about ‘Dear True Heart’ and the event at the Butterfly Club.

Dear True Heart is a show centred around one story, and one person – “True Heart”. These are songs I have written over the last two years that really showcase my growth and experimentation in song writing (Major 3 chords anyone?).
Presented like a letter, I’ll take you through the friends-to-lovers saga, and then finish it off with a sneak peek of the next track I’ll be releasing.
The venue is quite quirky and cosy, so it’s filled with a nice vibe – the red velvet curtain is my favourite feature!

What is it like being a “singer-that-can’t-play-guitar” in the music industry and how have you overcome that potential barrier for your career?

Sometimes, you just have to get over yourself!

I remember attending a lecture that JMC put on which Justin Timberlake’s vocal coach presented and one thing he said really stood out to me. “Preparation plus opportunity equals success”. You can’t control the opportunities you get, but you CAN control how much you prepare. So I can’t play guitar? Find someone that does!

I decided I’d spend the extra money and have a producer for my recordings, so that someone who had vision and experience could build the song and make it worth releasing. I got myself the funds to get an accompanist every time I had a gig, whether it be a friend playing piano or guitar or outsourcing players. I made sure to get industry advice (even at a cost) each time I had a project and got myself started with socials by getting some professional shots done.
As a singer, you dream of a Record Label swooping in to save the day but this expereince has taught me that you don't have to wait around for it. 

How did your time at JMC prepare you for a career in the industry?

There’s so much to say. JMC prepares you by giving you little snippets of what you can do, to support and manage yourself as an artist – supported by lecturers with real life experience.
Something that surprised me was I found myself purposefully studying and taking notes on some songs last year because I was so eager to expand on my writing. I remember complaining about assignments back in the day (don’t we all), but those skills stick with you and if you pair it with self-discipline, you’re all good to go!
I grew up with very little understanding of the industry and it’s so easy to put the ‘music dream’ in the ‘too hard’ box – but JMC is empowering and reminds you that it’s very reasonable and possible to get yourself going, as long as you have some clear direction. Treat your dream like a small business - put in the hours, consider it like a second job, get some organisation going...you'll be prepared for true success.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about studying music?

Be open – this is your opportunity to step out and take risks with real support to fall back on. If a lecturer suggests something that’s outside of your comfort zone – give it a crack. You’re not going to be studying forever, so now is the time to fully utilise the advice and support that you have. You’ll most likely realise they were right all along.

Keep your notes – maybe even journal your way through, because there’s nothing more exciting than looking back and seeing your growth. Even if you’re stuck for ideas or advice, old notes are always going to be super helpful.

Learn to be okay with scrapping songs (even if they're your baby) – You’ll find you write a few dodgy songs before you get to the gold, but you’re not going to get there if you keep holding onto old stuff. Challenge yourself. Experiment. Rewrite an old song or scrap it and start again.

One last tip – use voice memos! Teachers can tell you what you need to improve on, but you grasp it better when you can see (or hear) it for yourself and it is a great opportunity to have a physical copy without relying on your memory. You’ve been gifted with music – it’s your responsibility to guard this gift and if a song idea comes to you…grab it!