The burgeoning Australian popstar guide to moving to LA
Moving to Los Angeles is the quintessential popstar dream. In the eyes of many it’s the land of success – a creative playground that houses your next favourite collaborators. It’s not always entirely the case but LA is still music’s hot spot and it’s catching the eye of many young Australian pop artists.
In recent years, there’s been an avalanche of Australian success stories coming out of LA. Sarah Aarons has become one of pop music’s go-to songwriters, penning the Grammy-nominated cut ‘The Middle’ by Zedd, Gray and Maren Morris while also working with Khalid, Dua Lipa, David Guetta and more.
Alex Hope, who originally found fame writing for Troye Sivan, also lives in LA and has had an incredible year too penning tracks with MARINA, Carly Rae Jepsen and Alec Benjamin. On the artist front, Flume, Sia and Sivan spend a large chunk of time in LA now having well and truly established themselves as huge artists on the international scene.
Chances are we’ll be updating that list with new names very soon. There are currently plenty of fresh Australian faces holed up in the city, taking advantage of the access to producers, collaborators and contacts. Australia has a strong, connected music industry but LA has the sheer size and an unapologetic sense of ambition when it comes to making music.
Three Australian musicians in particular have been cutting their teeth in the city recently, each finding themselves at very different stages in their overseas journey. Independent newcomer CXLOE has been going back and forth from LA for 5 years now, creating most of her discography in the city. Wafia has been spending time there since 2015 but she’s spent the last 2 years setting up proper roots and now does most of her work out of the city. Meanwhile, Mallrat is the new kid on the block, only moving at the beginning of this year.
They each have a different story to tell but they represent a modern Australian pop artist experience, working in America while also representing in Australia.
Making The Jump
Moving to LA may seem like a novel idea but success isn’t guaranteed. The decision to move by each of these artists was one that wasn’t made overnight.
For Wafia, it took time to really find the people that she connected within the city. It’s been an organic process that saw her travelling there “more and more” for the simple reason that all her “favourite collaborators” were there.
CXLOE was offered advice early that if she really wanted to make a big splash LA was the place to be, however, she insists, “no one made me do it.” She’s now been moving back and forth from the city for 5 or 6 years initially making the decision because she wanted her music, “to reach more of a universal level.”
“I wanted to try and cross the waters as much as I could with my music and I knew I needed to be there for it to happen. It wasn’t going to happen if I just stayed at home,” she says.
Each echoes the sentiment that every situation is individual and there’s really no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding.
“No artist has the same path to success,” notes Bella Morris-Clarke who is the LA and New York Member Relations Representative for APRA. She’s seen plenty of success stories and says they’re spurring plenty of artists on to make the move.
Aarons, in particular, has, “inspired a lot of young writers to make the move to LA.”
A Sea Of Opportunity
The internet has drastically changed the collaborative spirit of the music industry. It’s possible to release a song with someone without having met them but it doesn’t mean that it completely undermines the positives of getting in a room face-to-face. The depth of the physical industry in LA has opened up Australian musicians to a vast community of collaborators.
“I don’t necessarily think you have to move to LA to find people to work with,” says Morris-Clarke, however, she has seen first hand how it can elevate both the career and creative output of an artist.
“Some of the best collaborations and partnerships have started from simply being introduced at a gig or and event,” she says.
That has certainly been the case for Wafia who has recently signed a global deal with Atlantic Records. Last year, she nabbed her biggest hit to date as a featured artist on US production duo Louis The Child’s ‘Better Not’. They have now jumped on her latest single ‘Hurts’ which also features stateside producer Whethan. Additionally, her last single
‘I’m Good’ was co-penned by LA songwriter Wrabel and produced by the Grammy nominated John Hill.
“I think it’s allowed me to develop, to try things I wouldn’t usually just because it’s made me really aware of not wanting to sound or do things because other people are,” Wafia says.
She agrees that it’s created new avenues and notes that she’s had “a lot” of her favourite sessions there. In particular, she highlights working with Wrabel and ‘Sicko Mode’ producer Rogét Chahayed as well as a session with Maggie Rogers and Years & Years co-writer Sammy Witte and Nashville singer/songwriter Maggie Chapman.
Meanwhile, CXLOE’s career has essentially developed from the start in LA. From ‘Tough Love’ to recent drop ‘Sick’, she’s developed her sound by finding a tight group of collaborators. It took her time but she’s found her go-tos. Andrew Wells who has produced for 5 Seconds Of Summer and Bebe Rexha and Oscar Sikow, known for his work with Kacy Hill and LANY, have featured on two of her releases now.
“There weren’t enough people in Australia to experiment and explore with,” she says.
“I went to LA and did hundreds of sessions. A lot of them I wouldn’t want the songs to see the light of day but there was one song ‘Tough Love’ that made me find my sound. I kept working with a small group of people who I loved and who understood my sound.”
Recently, she made room for her first-ever feature verse, recruiting LA rapper Gnash for ‘Sick’. She was put in touch with him by someone she works with and he fired back a verse soon after hearing the song.
“He was so genuinely excited coming back and forth with notes,” she recalls.
Mallrat has also been taking advantage of the pool of collaborators in LA but she maintains she hasn’t been there long enough to properly weigh-up the experience.
“There are different people to work with there,” she says.
“I guess I wouldn’t have made a lot of the songs on the EP if I wasn’t there or hadn’t worked with the people that I worked with.”
Half of her most recent EP Driving Music was made in LA with ‘Intro’, ‘Charlie’ and ‘When I Get My Braces Off’ all coming out of sessions over there. She laughs when she says that ‘Charlie’ was actually created with a Kiwi producer – Big Taste. He’s been notching up plenty of successes, landing production credits on songs for Dua Lipa, Broods and Justin Bieber.
Putting In The Work
It may be a wonderland of opportunity but simply being in the city is not enough to guarantee your success. It’s a fast-paced, hungry industry and if you’re not prepared to work hard then the investment may not pay off.
Wafia approached her move with that headspace, aware of the work that it takes to make it in there.
“Just living in LA doesn’t provide opportunities. It comes down to who you are and your work ethic,” she says.
Even though she had a sense of what she was in for she notes that move was “hard at times” while she was finding her feet. It took finding a community there for the experience to be “enjoyable”.
It’s easy to imagine that LA will shape the sort of artist that you should be but increased choice can be both a blessing and a curse. Nathan Mclay, the founder and CEO of Australian label Future Classic, now has an office in LA. He warns that it’s important to have some sense of what you’re looking for before making the move.
“The better you have a sense of your own creative compass the more likely you are to be productive in Los Angeles,” he says.
It’s something that CXLOE learnt while she was living in the city. She spent the first “2-3 years” taking on every session so that she could find herself as an artist.
“I didn’t know my sound, I didn’t know who I was,” she says, adding that she landed in situations that were uncomfortable.
“I had no name for myself so I couldn’t bring any co-writers in with me. I had to do it on my own.”
Adding another layer of complexity, CXLOE is an independent artist. She’s yet to sign a record deal even though she’s been offered by “some really awesome labels” and calls most of the shots by herself.
Mallrat made the move as an artist who had already established herself in Australia, landing in the top 10 of the triple j’s Hottest 100 last year with ‘Groceries’. She says that so far she’s had “nice, straight-forward sessions,” although when she gets the time she wants to write for big pop artists.
“It’s the main reason I moved there,” she says, adding that she’s aware it will take some time to make in-roads.
“I think everyone is a bit wary of the new girl at school.”
Morris-Clarke has seen both established and young artists make the move and while she’s adamant that there’s no right or wrong way to do it, it’s important to consider that it often doesn’t make being an artist any easier.
“Finding work in the music industry is difficult enough, so moving somewhere new and having to make connections and get enough work to sustain yourself adds many layers of difficulty,” she says.
“Moving overseas can be an incredibly isolating experience,” Morris-Clarke notes, something which Wafia and CXLOE are aware of.
Both count being away from family as the hardest part of living over there. Wafia jokes that it’s her parents’ food that she actually misses the most but she concedes that she also misses their presence.
“I call home every day though, usually in the Uber back from sessions. It keeps me sane,” she says.
CXLOE heads home often to visit her family and boyfriend who lives in Sydney. She’s also found a community of Australians over there and located an Aussie coffee shop on Fairfax Avenue – “the only good coffee I can find there,” as she puts it. LA houses some of the most outgoing, eager people on the planet and while she wishes she could be like that more often, she takes solace in a community of Australians with self-deprecating humour.
“We’re all doing the same thing and it’s good to stick together because you really need people who understand you.”
Mallrat also has a homegrown community over there. Her housemates are Australian. musicians making the transition much easier for her. She also still has her room in Melbourne.
For those looking for “an extra layer of support”, as Morris-Clarke says, APRA operates there. She’s able to provide use of their office space or studio as well as assist with setting up songwriting sessions and introducing managers and publishers.
Even with a community surrounding you, Wafia knows that it’s not for everybody. It’s important for an artist to realise that they’ll make the best music in the place that inspires them the most.
“See if you even like LA,” she answers when asked what’s her number one tip for artists deliberating the move.
“A lot of expats say it took them 2-3 years to finally like it and I get that. If LA is inspiring to you, go there. If it’s somewhere else in the world, go there instead.”