musician sophia somajo’s tips for doing it yourself

Swedish pop experimentalist Sophia Somajo writes, records, produces and art directs her own music, funded by a side job of writing for some of pop’s biggest names. Here she gives The Fifth Sense her tips for making the most of what you’ve got.

Stockholm's headstrong, 100% DIY pop experimentalist Sophia Somajo has always done things her own way and on her own terms. Even The Laptop Diaries, her 2008 major label debut, was, as the title suggests, all written, recorded and produced by Somajo on her laptop in her bedroom. Three years later, crippled by social anxiety, she walked away from a different major label deal and, funded by her songwriting for some of pop's biggest names (we're sworn to secrecy), put out the brilliantly odd TTIDSDIEUIC (aka That Time I Dug So Deep I Ended Up in China) for free via an imprint of controversial file sharing website Pirate Bay. Keen to oversee every aspect of her art, she not only takes care of the music, she also art directs her photoshoots (she's created her own portraits for this piece), directs, edits and grades her music videos and deals with all the social media stuff major label artists don't have to worry about. With a new EP of percolating electropop  – the excellent Freudian Slip Vol 1 – on the horizon, we asked Somajo if we could a) premiere her new single Mouth To Mouth and b) for her seven tips on being a boss ass bitch in 2016.

Trust your senses

Intuition is so important to me, especially when I write and make music for myself. I literally just start singing totally improvised and then I elaborate or refine it. It's all instinct. But it's interesting, because, for better or worse, I have very heightened senses. I'm very sensitive to light, smells and sounds. In music, it's obviously a super power to be very sensitive to sounds and visually to be very sensitive to colours. I use it all the time in my work but in real life it’s easy to get overwhelmed... Also, smells are everything. I've written so many songs about how people smell. One of my songs is about meeting a stranger and they “smell like home”. A strong sense of familiarity. You’ve never met them before but it's like a memory you haven't experienced. A memory from the future.

Budget limitations can be a revelation

I always work from the perspective of an underdog. With videos I'm stubborn enough to want to do it myself so there are always limitations. It's more important for me to bring things together that I find beautiful and just shoot. I've realised that through limitations comes creativity. All the great artists, all the great singers, poets, painters are the ones who had no tools, so they just used whatever they had in front or inside of them to express themselves. There are a lot of expensive music videos out there that are terrible. I like simple, clever ideas where you don't need budget. I can't afford artificial lighting so we'll stay up until the sun comes up and then we have thirty seconds to shoot. When I edit videos, if there's a scene that looks too planned out then I'll remove it.

It pays to take risks sometimes

I made TTIDSDIEUIC in my bedroom during the most anti social period of my life. With the money from the first record I'd managed to buy a microphone but that was about it, so I made it with the means I had. I had a label for it but I felt like it would be better to release the record on my own terms. The Pirate Bay had just launched something called The Promo Bay and the artists on their were getting loads of exposure. So when asked, I just used the platform. All the anti-social kids were hanging out there and I wanted to give the album to them. I didn't want to make money, I just wanted them to hear it and tell me what they thought of it. It was a risk because I had people on my team who didn't know I was going to do it, but I had produced 100% of that record. I'd written and recorded it in my room. I didn't use any advance to create it, so I did what I wanted with it. I'd written some songs for some pop artists and that had given me the opportunity to make the album and not have to worry about making money from it. So I gave it away.

Don't rely on plan B

I think it's quite dangerous to have something to fall back on in the beginning because it needs to be life or death. For ten years I didn't have any other income than music so I was dirt poor. After getting into music on my own, I got to know people and I realised that the songs that didn't work for me could be given to someone else and that that was actually a job. In the beginning I would only work with friends. I was a little precious about myself; nothing was cool enough and I would never have called myself a pop artist. I wouldn't involve myself in projects because I didn't think they were credible. But I've changed and the industry has changed. I've grown up and take myself less seriously.

Trust your audience

When I made my first record I wasn't signed during the creative process. The album was already done. What would have been my second record was on its way to becoming a major label project, but I felt like I'd been forced to simplify the concept to the point where I had killed it. It was still me producing and writing everything 100%, but I felt affected by radio-friendly formats and my original idea had almost become a novelty thing. I feel like major labels underestimate both their artists and the audiences. Times have changed though. It's not the 90s anymore where music is so hard to access. Nowadays the audience chooses what is pop music and it changes all the time. I have the opportunity to reach my audience directly now and I respect them. I know they can handle it.

Be prepared to hustle, but keep your identity

I am a hustler but at the same time I struggle with pride. My way of hustling, and what I would recommend a young woman do, is just be your most epic self and make a lot of stuff. Just get that shit out. To get it out you have to hustle – you have to be prepared to get some doors slammed in your face but you have to keep on knocking. If you want to be the new Rihanna then you'll have to show up and be charming, or you can do something that will take longer and let the music speak for itself. It's a balance. I don't want to say that I take myself seriously, but I'm not someone that will call you twice. Be consistent in representing yourself with some integrity and never be the girl in the room that's just happy to be there. I don't want to go on your boat or private plane. I don't want to have the meeting in a bar. We can meet in the daytime on my terms.

It's easier to get music out there now, so make sure it's good

When I was starting there wasn't a platform to just make a song and upload it right away. Then Myspace happened, and I'm happy that what I once put on Myspace cannot be found now, because wow...It's important to get material out there but make sure it's material you're happy to live with forever. Don't make things just for immediate gratification or an immediate response. People will make music just to be able to upload it the same day on Soundcloud. Just like with Instagram, people will have moments just so they can post about it.

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