Shola Ama is billed as one of Britain’s most successful RnB artists.The London based singers debut album ‘Much Love’ sold over one million copies and she enjoyed massive chart success with the top five singles ‘You Might Need Somebody’ and ‘You’re The One I Love’. And achieving four MOBO nominations and winning a Brit award cemented her position on the UK music scene.
As well as preparing for her latest single release, Shola is also getting ready to judge the Live and Unsigned Festival at the 02 in London. We caught up with her to find out what she’ll be looking for as a judge and what she thinks it takes to break the industry today
L&U: How did you get into the industry?
Shola: It was quite strange actually. I was 15 and was walking through a train station singing along to a song when a man approached me and said I had a good voice. He was in a band called the Influence and I met them a few weeks later. They had some great contacts in the industry. They made some backing tracks for me and we started gigging together and my first demos were ready to go when I was 16. The management team came on board and it all just went from there. I was 17 when I had my first big hit with You Might Need Somebody.
L&U: What was it like winning a Brit Award?
Shola: It was amazing!! But at the time it was difficult to appreciate everything. You Might Need Somebody stayed in the top 20 for 12 weeks and I was fresh out of school so I was so busy at the time. Looking back I think ‘wow’, it really was amazing.
L&U: Did you always want to get into the music industry?
Shola: Yes. I was constantly telling my teachers I was going to make it as a singer and was very driven.
L&U: When was it that you realise you had made it in the industry?
Shola: Hearing my song on the radio was huge, but so was performing on the Richard and Judy show. But I think it really hit me when I performed on Top Of The Pops, because I grew up watching that programme.
L&U: Any tips for aspiring singers on how to crack the industry?
Shola: I think it’s a lot easier now to get your music heard and artists are more self sufficient because of the internet. I think writing is really important. If you concentrate on writing and getting your material to the best it can be, then you can always write for other people if you don’t become a singer. I also think having a good team of people around you is important and making friends with radio DJ’s and people who can get your music out there. But live gigging is essential, I don’t think you can ever have enough live gigging experience.
L&U: Do you think artists need a record label to make it in the industry?
Shola: I don’t think it’s as important as it was. I think what’s more important is having a street team, a good plugger and marketing team to get your material out there. You either need the budget to make something happen, or if you don’t have that, you should work with people who can help make it happen for you. I also think networking is crucial for any acts trying to make it in the industry.
L&U: How has the music industry changed?
Shola: When I was first getting into the industry, the budget was huge compared to today. Labels would spend a lot of money in perfecting a video shoot and today that just doesn’t happen. I think technology has shrunk everything. Live gigs and merchandise are really important for artists today.
L&U: What do you think of the charts today?
Shola: I think they have been dominated by bands so it’s really refreshing to see young MC’s topping the charts. I know that people like Tinie Tempah have worked really hard to get where they are and it’s great to see the UK grime scene getting some recognition. I was a mentor at Stratford Circus in Urban Development about three years ago, and Labyrinth was in my class. He’s now gone on to produce Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out and made a massive number one, so it’s great to see these artists achieving.
L&U: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Shola: Probably when I sang at the Vatican. I was invited to sing in front of the Pope, and my Granny was so proud.
L&U: What’s next for you?
Shola: I do a lot of international gigs in Europe and am due to release my next single ‘Blow’. I’ll be shooting the video soon!
L&U: Have you judged any music competitions?
Shola: I helped judge at Pineapple Dance studios, but I haven’t judged anything like Live and Unsigned before. I’m looking forward to seeing what the acts have to offer and will take judging very seriously!
L&U: What will you be looking for?
Shola: Natural ability, good songs, stage presence and chemistry. I think there has to be a great vibe from the performance and it can’t be forced.
L&U: What do you love about music?
Shola: Everything. It’s part of me.
L&U: And finally, describe yourself in two words…
Shola: Never satisfied!