Not a member yet? Join APRA AMCOS

Already started a Writer Member application? Continue

Composer Sophie Hutchings on boutique genres, global streaming and local talent

Tip Published Tuesday 3 September 2019
Sophie’s neo-classical music reaches all corners of the world with over 100 million streams under her belt (Source: Scott Hutchings)

Sophie Hutchings is a pianist and neo-classical composer

She says the streaming era has allowed global audiences to discover and engage more with the genre

Events like ZoneOut Festival and venues such as 505 and Melbourne Recital Hall do great work platforming and supporting the genre

The emotive, instrumental music that pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings writes in her Northern Beaches apartment reaches millions around the world, connecting her to fans in Iran, Greece, Russia and beyond.

She describes it as ‘neo-classical,’ a category she says her music falls under and which puts her in company with composer-performers Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and others.

“That’s what’s beautiful about the genre, I don’t mind calling it neo-classical – some people do. It very much pushes and pulls in different directions with a sense of freedom.”

Her composing practice

It wasn’t a path Sophie necessarily set upon, but after studying classical and jazz composition and playing in indie bands, she recorded her 2010 debut album, Becalmed in a small South Coast studio and it went on to garner positive reviews across UK and European press, notably in Mojo Magazine.

How does she go about composing? She explains the stages:

  • “Stage 1 is thinking and coming up with ideas.
  • "Stage 2 is a more disciplinary stage, when you need to make it structurally come together, you’re making the layers come together. And then there’s a point, when I really connect to the pieces. And then the stories start to unfold."

And then it is time to organise to get into studio. She has a new album coming out in 2020, which in part was recorded at Trackdown at Fox Studios in Sydney.

Reaching a boutique audience

Sophie has released and published her music through the reputable Swedish contemporary classical label 1631 Recordings. They have helped her music reach devotees of the genre at a critical point in time: the streaming era.

“The genre was definitely a boutique genre in music, but I think that’s like a lot of genres where you have a very devoted audience and people who are very passionate about the music work very hard at finding it.”

“I had an audience overseas before the whole streaming thing hit. There was a very devoted audience and a very boutique audience, but I think what streaming has done is that it has made it hugely more accessible, plus the genre is growing.” From 2015 to the present, Sophie's music has accumulated over 100 million streams, and 16.5 million listeners.

A white paper report by MIDiA Research confirmed, more broadly, classical music’s growth in the streaming era.

“Classical music is opening up, with ‘mood-based’ playlists on streaming services reaching many millions more, often younger listeners, drawn in by the music’s ability to evoke mood, emotion, or offer something truly different to the more popular genres of the day,” said the lead researcher Keith Jopling.

Sophie says, “I think the thing with streaming is you have to be careful that it’s not something we take for granted. It’s not just about a listening experience, but a discovery experience.”

With the advent of digital and streaming, Australian artists across all genres have been able to bypass the old distribution gatekeepers of yore, as cited in the recent Born Global export report.

“The great thing about streaming is that it connects people on a universal scale. Music has become a universal language more so with streaming,” says Sophie.

Building a musical community

If there was a downside to the reach of streaming for Sophie, it’s that the composer community is rather global too, with only a small local scene.

“It’s only recently that people have been getting really excited about the genre, where in Europe it’s been like that for quite some time now.”

But that seems to be changing as the genre grows in Australia as well, with Sophie on the bill of the upcoming ZoneOut Festival at Sydney's Carriageworks, the first festival of its kind to focus on the neo-classical genre and it’s cohorts of electronica and ambient.

“ZoneOut is raising awareness of this genre and putting it on the Australian musical radar. Big names have been brought to Australia before. But I think what needs to be done now is focus on our own talent.”

Along with Sophie, Australian composer Luke Howard and electronic producers Anatole and Double Touch will perform as part of daylong event with music, film, and yoga. International guests include German artist Lambert, UK cellist Peter Gregson and more.

Is it hard to be a composer in Australia right now?

“I still think it is. I don’t think it is as far as my recording work and obligations, but on an artistic performance level it is difficult in that we have only semi-jazz venues or really, really big venues like the Sydney Opera House.

“Where is the middle range for composers and this type of genre to branch out and perform?”

Sophie cites Sydney venues 505 and the News Agency as well as Melbourne Recital Centre as vital places for composer-performers. “They all work so hard to keep the arts alive.”

Even when it comes to the more subdued nature of neo-classical, producing concerts in Australia has its obstacles.

“Our OH & S and conservative take on how things should be and costs and licenses, it all gets to be too hard. We have great people fighting for people in the artistic world, to be represented and to be put out there…and it becomes unaffordable."

Tips for emerging composers

“For me, what was a great helping hand was people who work on the same levels – small labels, small show promoters. Without those people, there’s no music.

“My advice: Don’t just search for like-minded musicians, search for like-minded people who promote it and support it.”