Realising your dream career is one thing, but pursuing it successfully is another. For Music Production student Toyah Hoetzel, her years in frontline crisis work gave her the space to step into music—a career change that was therapeutic in comparison to the intensity she was used to—and states that music saved her life.
Returning back to study, Toyah enrolled at an institution that couldn't fulfill her career goals and decided to switch Collarts. Inspired and energised by the people around her, she soon found herself performing at Gaytimes, both composing and producing music for the artists like Glitterfist, and being scouted by local modern, high-end recording studio, Studio Truth. Now working as a Music Producer and Artist in her own right, we caught up with Toyah to talk about her journey from Collarts to studio.
Hi Toyah, thanks so much for chatting with me. Since studying Music Production at Collarts, it feels like so many doors have opened up for you! What's been the most rewarding thing about choosing to study at Collarts?
Oh, my pleasure entirely! Things sure seem to have skyrocketed—it’s all happening so fast and I’m incredibly grateful. Without a doubt it’s the support I get from staff and instructors. Having so many people on your side is so helpful as an artist. It’s too hard to do on your own but I feel like I’ve always got someone to answer my questions; there’s always someone around to help out. Collarts really backs the industry and believes in their students. The feeling of having so many people behind you cheering you on is immensely warming. Collarts has a real "yes" mentality and if you’re putting in the work, Collarts is there to help you. What’s most rewarding for me is that I get to be a part of this machine and in doing so, I am experiencing rapid growth as a Music Producer and Artist.
"I think in this industry so many of us want success but we are also so scared of it. I was always told to say "yes" because it’s the only way we really break our perceived limits of ourselves: it's in those moments when you’re freaked out and scared is when you learn the most."
Towards the end of your studies, you were scouted after a live performance and now work as a music producer at Studio Truth. What was it like getting a dream job so early in your career, knowing your hard work has allowed you to work in the industry?
Yeah, that was a god damn dream come true. I’ll be honest—I cried my little eyes out and was just so so shocked. I’ve been chipping away at becoming a music producer for about five years and throughout that you hear a lot of "no’s." It’s like being told “you’re not ready” over and over, "you’re not quite cooked yet, still sticky in the middle" and then one day someone tells you you’re ready and it’s your time. I think in this industry so many of us want success but we are also so scared of it. But I was always told to say "yes" because it’s the only way we really break our perceived limits of ourselves: it's in those moments when you’re freaked out and scared is when you learn the most.
I couldn't agree more. What was your experience being approached for that job?
It was at the end of last year when Collarts was putting on an industry showcase. I was booked to perform at it, and my manager Sarah from 1080 Collective was pointing out who was who. I was singing on stage with my own material for the first time that night—which was exciting and scary. Before I performed, I went over to chat to Jason Torrens (JT), the Head of Audio Engineering, who was standing with two well-dressed guys who were full of energy. They were introduced to me by JT as Curtis and Luka who ran the studio just five doors from the Wellington St Campus. They were super interested in what I did and said they looked forward to the show.
After I performed, they invited me out. I almost said no, however my teachers (JT and Lilith Lane) were also going, and I thought: what’s the harm in a beer and a burger at 1am? While we were there, there was a discussion about producers. I very openly shared my view that technically complicated music didn’t make it better and that great music is not about the song itself, it’s about how it makes someone feel. And just by being vocal with an opinion that Curtis agreed with, I landed an interview. I got in contact the next day and by that afternoon I had a job as a producer at Studio Truth specialising in all things electronic and dance. I was gobsmacked.
"It’s really great to see how the producers work with their clients and how they get the best out of their artists—it’s not unlike social work in a way—you treat your client equitably based on their individual needs and change your approach to reach their objective."
That sounds incredible. What does you typical day involve working as a music producer? Has there been anything that has surprised you about your role?
For the past nine years I’ve worked in frontline crisis work, community service roles and as a social worker so I really love being in the studio because it’s so relaxing. There’s time for everything, and my biggest problems I have working there aren’t a life or death decision. I really love who I work with too. The fellas are so amazing at what they do and are so lovely, and working there over the summer I learnt so much from all of them.
So far I’ve mainly been assisting as I’m still the newb, so a typical day might include getting to work “early” at about 10am where we might have a whole day of drum tracking. I’d be handed a list and I’d mic the kit up, then get into the control room and gain stage all the mics on the preamps, and patch some outboard compressors. Then the band would come in and we’d fiddle some more and do some tuning, then record a bunch of takes. It’s really great to see how the producers work with their clients and how they get the best out of their artists—it’s not unlike social work in a way—you treat your client equitably based on their individual needs and change your approach to reach their objective.
I love that comparison. Performing under your own name, you've noted your music to be influenced by The Presets, Aphex Twin, Format:B, Bassment Jaxx, Nina Kraviz and more. When did you fall in love with electronic music and have you always been inspired by the club scene?
I’ve been asked a few times how I came up with my stage name, not knowing it is my real name. It was a hard decision to make to use my own name as it’s so peculiar, but I think it goes well with the electro-dance-producer-thing. I actually was a punk when I was a teenager, blue mohawk and all. My older sister played a big role in my music education though. She was into all kinds of Seattle bands and quirky artists like DefFX and Mr Bungle, and I specifically remember her teaching me how to dance and feel the music. It was after my final year at school at Big Day Out that changed it for me though. I wandered into the Boiler Room tent and saw Aphex Twin, Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. The heaving bass lines and everyone’s moving bodies was amazing—and my life was changed forever.
Having played festivals like Gaytimes and are super proud to be part of Australia's vibrant queer music community. What's your favourite thing about performing in queer spaces and creating music that celebrates the community?
I think it’s really important to note that dance music comes from black gay artists like Frankie Knuckles and if you’re making house music and any electronic music, you should acknowledge that you’re culturally appropriating it. Queer space has its challenges, but it’s amazing because it’s so art and love and acceptance focussed. A queer event is visually and audibly a sensory overload, and I love playing queer events because all the people that I love and came up with are there—it’s like being at home with all your mates having a jam.
I did some composing and production work for a drag deity performance artist for Midsumma called Glitterfist and have performed twice now at Gaytimes, closing the main stage last year to a crowd of about five or six hundred. Having my dancers with me, Rya Park singing live on stage and my manager there by my side too was awesome; we were all nervous and excited. I was also looked after by our very own Claire McKenzie, who was the artist liaison for the festival.
"Firstly: get your bread and butter sorted. I changed uni’s to come to Collarts specifically to get a studio job and work in the industry as more than a solo artist. I wanted to live off my art."
What advice would you give to those who want to work in a studio and play festivals, but are unsure how or where to get started?
Firstly: get your bread and butter sorted. I changed uni’s to come to Collarts specifically to get a studio job and work in the industry as more than a solo artist. I wanted to live off my art. Look at all the things that are in your way and write them down and then start mastering all of those things. They’re just obstacles to be conquered. Secondly, find a mentor, or a few of them that you can bounce things off and send your music to. Your Mum will just say “that’s nice honey,” but a mentor will tear your work to shreds in a supportive way and help you make great music.
Thirdly, show the world what you’re doing: document it, be vocal about your successes, I get booked because people know what I do. If you hide it from the world you won’t be offered opportunities.
Preparedness leads to serendipity. And also don’t listen to the haters. Australia is rife with people who have tall poppy syndrome and every time someone questions you, just think to yourself “you have no idea what I’m capable of” and just know you’ve got it in you.
"Collarts without a doubt have proven they’re rooting for me time and time again and I’m so incredibly grateful... There’s actually so many individuals at Collarts who have helped me in one way or another and I truly appreciate them all. I just hope that I can do something for them all in return or pay it forward."
That's such good advice. But finally, what are your goals for 2019, be it musically or otherwise? Do you feel as if the Collarts community will continue to support you to achieve?
It’s already been a huge year a few months in. I performed at the Collarts O-Week party which was banging! I’m working on a couple of remixes and finishing off some of my own tracks. The EP ‘Together’ is due out in May or June at the latest, followed by a remix EP in November. Hopefully some shows will happen after that, and I'll begin planning a small tour. The plan is to start putting a band together for my shows as well so it all growing and developing and getting bigger and louder—so if you’re reading this and think you want to play with me, hit me up!
Collarts without a doubt have proven they’re rooting for me time and time again and I’m so incredibly grateful to Tommy Rando (Head of Music Production) and JT. David Jacob (Music Production Coordinator) is a standout feature who has always helped me so much. Jade Ogden (Experience & Partnership Manager) though has been an incredible supporter and without her help so far I don’t know where I’d be. There’s actually so many individuals at Collarts who have helped me in one way or another and I truly appreciate them all. I just hope that I can do something for them all in return or pay it forward.