Alumni returns to teach next generation of Indigenous musicians


1 Jun 2017

sue ray HERO



Alumni returns to teach next generation of Indigenous musicians

1 Jun 2017

Sue Ray is a multi award winning Country-Folk-Americana singer/songwriter who captivates an audience with her smoky, molasses-rich voice. Having now released three critically acclaimed albums, her songs have aired regularly Australia wide on many Indigenous and community radio stations.

Having performed around Australia with the likes of Matt Corby, Megan Washington, Dan Sultan and Busby Marou, Sue Ray is now back in the country following a stint in Nashville where she worked alongside industry greats to release her latest album, Live at the Junk Bar, in January.

Having grown up in a musical family in Toowoomba, Sue Ray made the decision to leave her country town after high school and headed for the big smoke to pursue a Bachelor of Audio at SAE Brisbane. Swapping the role of studio engineer to become a performer, her songs have made it onto the ABC TV drama series The Time Of Our Lives staring Claudia Karvan, while SBS’s NITV (National Indigenous Television) premiered a one-hour special feature on Sue Ray in their On The Road series.

Earlier this month Sue Ray visited SAE Byron Bay as a guest facilitator at APRA AMCOS's Starting Ground workshop for Indigenous musicians and songwriters, sharing her songwriting skills to a group of budding musicians. You can read more about the workshop in a wrap story of the event here.

As an SAE graduate we seized the opportunity to catch up with Sue while she was on campus to find out more about her time as a student at SAE, and her evolving career in the music industry.

What inspired you to enter into the music industry?

I was extremely lucky to grow up in a musical family. My dad was in a popular cabaret band, owned a musical instrument store in Toowoomba, and was Chairman of the Toowoomba Country Music club when I was a kid.  Going to gigs and having old guitars and instruments laying around the house was normal to me. Even when I was really little he was always showing me how to roll leads, set up mic stands, use a PA system and how to hold a mic, so I really acquired an interest in music from a young age. As a kid I learned the ukulele, piano and organ, and by the time I was in high school I’d picked up the guitar too.  That’s when I first started learning cover songs and soon started writing my own. After I graduated high school, it was only natural that I continue my studies. For me that involved moving to Brisbane to study sound engineering at SAE Institute and video production at Channel 9 Studios.

sue ray sae graduate

What are your fondest memories of your time at SAE?

I was only 17 when I started my studies and I can remember how excited I was to be able to use the professional recording equipment. I loved the whole studio experience, from setting up the mics for the instruments, right through to cleaning the heads of the tape decks. It was all so much fun!

What did you love most about studying at SAE?

Probably the technical side of things.  Learning about sound waves and how messing with that can create really cool sound effects. I really loved the experience of starting with a song idea, setting up the band, pressing record and just sitting back and watching the whole song come to life.

Can you shed some light on how studying at SAE has lead you to where you are now?

I think it was a wonderful foundation. It helped me have confidence in my ability to deal with sound engineers in the studio when I had to record my own music, and also with live performances. It can be really intimidating when you start playing live shows and you’re trying to explain what you need in regards to sound requirements etc. Knowing how the equipment works and being able to use technical terms with the sound engineers really makes things easier. Especially when I recorded my own albums, I was able to confidently set up my own instruments - I knew how I wanted my guitar mic’d and which vocal mics I preferred. 

While I’d originally thought I wanted to be a sound engineer, ironically enough, I found it more fun to be on the other side of the mixing desk.  I wanted to experiment recording my own music, so that led me down the path of being a performing artist rather than an engineer. I still believe studying at SAE was the best thing I could have done at the start of my career.  It helped me understand how the recording process worked, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

What have been your career highlights?

There’s been a few… winning best indigenous track at the 2012 QMusic awards, being nominated for Best New Talent at the Deadly Awards in 2013, performing alongside my idol Carol Lloyd in our variety show “It Takes Two” in 2015, and performing live on NITV’s League Nation Live in 2016.

What do you enjoy most about working in your industry?

Every performance is different and exciting in it’s own way. Being self managed I get to run my business in a way that suits me. I love dealing with other artistic people and being surrounded by music and art every day of my life. I love the travel and the amazing people I get to meet and perform with on the road. It’s always new and exciting and you learn so much about life and yourself on the road. I wouldn’t change a thing!

What projects/upcoming gigs are you working on at the moment?

I recently released my latest full length live album “Live At The Junk Bar”, so I’ve been promoting that and performing a lot around South East QLD. I really love this album as I got to work with Jamie Trevaskis again (he recorded my first album “Best Beware”) he has such an amazing ear and does things in an old school manner. Using old reed mics and valve amps and reel to reel. He gets such a wonderful warm vintage sound. I’m also about to release a live EP that I recorded a few months ago in Nashville, so later this year to promote that I’ll be hitting the road. I also just started working with a new manager, so we’re aiming to get on some festival line-ups later in the year.

Can you share an artist that inspires you? 

I love Gillian Welch, I think the organic and stripped back approach she has to her music, both live and in the studio, is really lovely. I also respect the fact that her and her musical partner Dave Rawlings have worked together for over twenty years to develop their sound and have stuck to their own method of doing things.  They’ve created a very unique sound that many up and coming artists are inspired by in the Alternative Country music scene. They also own a recording studio in Nashville and live a very simple life there making and writing music. That inspires me.

What advice would you give to students aspiring to become successful their field?

Trust your instincts and try to stick to your guns.  It’s easy to not feel very confident at the start and follow other people’s ideas and suggestions. Which is great at times, but if you always do what others say you’ll find it hard to break free and find your own path. No matter how busy you get while building your career, always take time out to enjoy music. Whether it means going to gigs, kicking back when you can and listening to music that inspires you, or going to industry workshops to help build your network of contacts. Keep your motivation and inspiration high. It can get very tiring and even stressful trying to build and finance your own career, so giving yourself permission to go listen to other people making music can re-inspire you to keep going.

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Facebook: @sueraymusic
Instagram: @sueraymusic
YouTube: @sueraymusic