If there’s anyone who knows more about what it takes to climb the ladder of success in the Australian music industry, it’s Tash Sultana.
Ever since Tash Sultana went viral with a home recording of “Jungle”, they’ve managed to win fans the world over thanks to their inimitable mix of songwriting genius, technical proficiency, and onstage charisma.
An eager musician from a young age, Tash rose to prominence in the middle of the last decade thanks to viral YouTube videos and frequent appearances as a busker in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall; before triple j radio helped bring their music to the global masses.
With success across the board thanks to a powerful debut album, monumental singles, outstanding live performances, and now a new album on the way, Tash is continuing to prove that it’s possible for a humble, down-to-earth artist to succeed within the industry by doing things their own way.
While their story is undoubtedly one that any aspiring musician would seek to emulate, Tash spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the sort of things young artists need to be aware of as they start their own journey to the top, whether it’s setting your goals, making a live debut, or making the choice about whether management is right for you.
Know Who You Are
“In this day and age with social media, people just expect to become famous. I just don’t know why people would aimlessly strive to be known for nothing, because people will literally try to rip your life apart.
“In a performance aspect it’s different, because you’re following your passions, and that leads you to the masses. If you have a big song, or you get on a good tour, you get a good festival slot, or something goes viral, then that’s different. [Your] success is wholehearted because you put yourself into it.”
Set Your Goals
“I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve had what you could call déjà vu. When I was younger, about 16 — I was playing gigs then too — I had a vision of myself on stage wearing all black, I had tattoos, all this stuff. And then when I was about 19 I did actually get up on stage in the exact outfit that I had seen myself wearing, with tattoos on my arm.
“When I was in high school, in music class, I had a pretty shit music teacher. But he made us write down goals that we wanted to achieve.
“In that goal list I had written that I wanted to have an album out, I wanted to be touring the world, and signed to a label. And all of that happened by the time I was 21.”
“It’s kind of funny that these achievements happened because I wanted them to. If you just sit on the couch then these things don’t just automatically happen. You need to actually get [to that point].”
Make Your Live Debut
“Start by going to open mics, and play everywhere you possibly can. You have to start somewhere.
“I always played gigs so I never had a problem getting up on stage. I’ve played shit gigs though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone on stage and played shit songs, sung shit, played shit, fucked up loops, all of it; it’s all part of it.”
“You have to realise that there’s a period of time where you’re not very good, even though you might think you are.”
Be an All-Rounder
“There’s the reverse [situation] where people are bedroom musicians and they don’t even know how to play with other musicians.
“They know how to put stuff out on Ableton, Logic, or Pro Tools, but then they get to go out on stage and they don’t know how to play their songs because they downloaded a keyboard patch on an Ableton plugin, and that’s their song.
“I didn’t really know music theory; I just played by ear when I was younger. I came up with my own little busking rig and just took that to the street and played gigs. Literally anything that came my way, I took it.
“Some I probably shouldn’t have, but if I didn’t take that opportunity, I wouldn’t have got the right one within the wrong ones.”
Find a Platform
“[My success] didn’t happen with triple j Unearthed, it happened with YouTube first. And then with YouTube videos and Facebook videos, it led people to triple j Unearthed, which led triple j to me.
“I think that visual stimulation is a real big one now, because people are just always on their phones. You need to have something that will grab people’s attention within 30 seconds if you’re putting stuff online, otherwise they’ll just go right past it.
“An online platform is where you need things to be happening, with engaging content across every channel that you’ve got, and you need to be constantly churning out things that are different.”
“You can only get so far with the resources that you have, or that you know. But you might have everything that you need, so you might be able to continue doing that. Or there are people that have had managers and […] they don’t want their manager any more because they reckon they can do it themselves. It’s a personal preference.
“I tried to stay without anyone or anything for as long as possible because I was really ‘anti-help’ at one stage, and I just really wanted to do what I could on my own for as long as I possibly could.
“But also, if you want to take those big steps you kind of need the team to help put you where you need to be.”
Follow the Breadcrumb Trail
“There’s also the breadcrumb trail. Seeing an artist or a couple of artists that you really admire where they’re at with their career and working out how they got there.
“I used to do busking on Bourke Street and I used to think, ‘How do I get there?’ So I would follow the breadcrumb trail, and I would work out where to get my license, go and do an audition, and then I’d end up on the street. From the street I’d see somebody else who had released a single; ‘Where do I go to get myself in that position?’
“Everyone’s got a muse or an idol that they look up to, or a life situation that they want to be at, so it’s just the stuff in the middle that you have to enquire about.”
“I don’t like the word ‘famous’, when people say, ‘Oh, you’re famous now’. I think it’s just a really shallow word because I don’t recognise that. I don’t ever really say that I’ve made it, because if you’ve made it, what’s the point of the whole journey if you’ve just been making it all the time?”
Tash Sultana’s 2018 debut album, Flow State, won an ARIA Award for Best Blues and Roots Album. Their follow-up, Terra Firma, is set to arrive in the near future.