Imogen Heap: tweeting to the top

British electro musician Imogen Heap explains how social media shaped her most recent album, Ellipse

Interview, Music feature

From asking her fans to vote on the songs for the set lists on her current world tour, to receiving tweets on her collar while walking down the red carpet at the Grammys, electro musician Imogen Heap’s original style, passion for engineering sound and unusual approach to social media sets her apart from artists who prefer to remain in their ivory towers. Posting tweets, blog entries (www.imogenheap.com/iblog) and video blogs on Youtube.com while she recorded her latest album, Ellipse, Heap encouraged feedback, opening up a conversation with her fans and ultimately shaping the project, which went on to win this year’s Grammy for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album. The 32-year-old has come a long way since she released tracks such as ‘Hide and Seek’ in 2004, which featured in popular teen series The O.C. and brought her into the mainstream conscious, with much radio play in both the US and UK.

You won a Grammy for your last album Ellipse. What was that like?

It came as a surprise when they told me on stage, and I was beside myself with excitement. The audience’s first question was ‘what are you going to wear?’ That’s what a girl thinks about when she’s told she is going to a special night. I wanted to include the social media side as well as the fans that helped me through the process. This award really meant something to me.

I had funded my last record by re-mortgaging my flat and now I had the money to buy my old family house. It was quite a transformation. Winning for engineering made it all really worthwhile since it was done in the basement of that house where I built my studio. I had worked amongst professionals in the studios for years, and I had learnt how to do it on my own. They listened to my record and thought it sounded great. I almost felt embarrassed for winning it because I’m not a 60-year-old engineer, I’m still in the early stages.

You are an avid blogger and you have written about the recording process for Ellipse. What do you think about the relationship between social media, blogging and music?
My love affair with blogging and being connected to people who make my career possible – the fans – started seven years ago. I was talking to my webmaster, James, and he said ‘you should start blogging and talking online to fans, they’d love to hear about your process and stuff’. So I set up a blog and after writing a post, within minutes I had a response back, and suddenly everything changed. It seemed like there was a physical wall, a barrier between the fans and me, and I didn’t know who they were. I felt misrepresented in the press; I didn’t enjoy that side of it. I enjoyed being online and experiencing the recording side of things with people online, that struck a cord with me. People buying records should hear about the process of making them. Some people didn’t want to spoil the surprise, others relished in the fact that they could go through the ups and downs and struggles with the artist.

What are your plans for the summer? Any plans to record a new album?
I’m writing music for an orchestra to be performed at Abbot Hall. It’s a film score for a project I’m putting together. When I finish the tour, I’ll announce it. Its aim is to get anyone who fancies it to get involved by taking a photo of why they love earth and send it to the website. Then over 3-4 months, we will collect the footage and edit it together to make a 30-minute piece about the earth. I want people at our shows to see this and be so in love with the planet that they will want to treat it like a family member, not just a stranger. The plan is to release it just like the French film, Home, where it’ll be shown to a packed theatre every night for free. It’ll be my first time conducting an orchestra.

You’ve taken part in a lot of charity work. What kind of projects have you been involved with?
I was doing this conference called PopTech in London in May. I had just rehearsed three songs and hadn’t had the time to do any more. At the end of it, they asked if I could play anything else. I said ‘No, but I can improvise something’. I asked people for a key and a melody. I made this piece of music that was like five or six minutes long and everyone absolutely loved it. They loved seeing the process of how a melody came about. Someone came to me after the show and asked if they could use the song for their charity. I said yes. I could make something easily, inspired by the audience, and create a piece of music that could be downloaded for charity. Audiences can help their own town by inspiring a piece of music. I love this locally-based charity idea. We need to help each other and our families, and treat the earth the way we want to be treated.
Ellipse is in stores now.

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