Imogen Heap On Her New App, Making Music With Gloves & Ariana Grande

I don't think I'm alone in saying that 2005's "Hide and Seek" was the soundtrack of my adolescence. Like many of my peers who came of age in the aughts, I was first exposed to Imogen Heap's music when I watched (and cried to) that infamous Marisa and Trey scene from The O.C., and since then, I have probably rewatched it, I don't know, 50 times? Also, who could forget the subsequent SNL spoof? Today, Imogen Heap's music remains hugely influential — with artists like Ariana Grande (whose favorite song is "Hide and Seek"), Taylor Swift, Lil B, and Wiz Khalifa recycling it in their own work. And now, she's back on tour for the first time in almost a decade, and with a new global database for music makers, The Creative Passport. Ahead, we chatted with her about her tour, her latest music-tech venture, and what it was like to hear Ariana Grande's cover of "Goodnight and Go" for the first time.
On The Creative Passport and how it works:
"If you take any music maker's life, the portion of income that comes from streaming or selling records is significantly much smaller than you might imagine. You have to make up for it in other areas. That could be giving a workshop, a private teaching lesson, arranging, live touring, selling merchandise, appearing on a TV show, a brand collaboration. If you're established like me and people know what you do, then you get offered those jobs. But if you're not established and you're just starting out, you're never gonna have a chance in hell of being discovered. So how can we help individual music makers be discovered when they're not already known? How do we enable and empower with developments in AI and curation and help bring in the income that these people are missing? Because you can't sustain yourself off streaming.
"It's going to be a web app and a phone app — a whole new data economy. You can put in your name, your location, a small biography about yourself, and your email. And then you have the power to verify your peers and create links between one another — because we need to start to peer-to-peer verify each other on our own merits to be a trusted community. So that the strength and the core of the industry lies within the music and the people who make it in a healthy music ecosystem."
On the wearable instruments she helped create, gloves, and introducing them to Ariana Grande:
"About eight years ago, I reached a point with my live shows where I was having to take so much equipment onstage with me in order to have a kind of fluid performance, that it was literally weighing me down. It cost me a lot of money to take samplers and computers and extra boxes in order for me to not have to use a keyboard and mouse to record my voice or bring in synth sounds. And then I realized that technology had reached a point where you could use an actual physical glove to be able to catch your voice by closing your fist and relate gesture to action, which got me very excited.
"They capture posture changes, so you can have one sound with one finger point and a different sound when it's overhand. You can make something go into record when your fist is closed and make it come out of record with an open hand. You've got pitch, and you've got up, down left, right, backward and forward ... The possibilities are literally infinite.
"Ariana Grande first tried on the gloves when she came over to my house. I think it was her 21st birthday and her mom just asked if for her birthday she could come and have dinner with me. I was like, 'Okay yes, that would be great!' So I cooked her a meal at the house, and I set up the gloves for her. I remember seeing her when she was in her teens doing early versions of 'Just For Now' and 'Hide and Seek' with a harmonizer and a looper. She hadn't yet released an album, but I remember just thinking she's really talented. So I followed her on YouTube and then lo and behold, her mom calls me up and I realize the huge artist that'd she'd become. So we had a nice dinner! She's really lovely."
On Ariana Grande's cover of "Goodnight and Go":
"The first I heard of it was when I heard her do a little bit of the end of the song, and I was like Wow, that sounds amazing. And I kind of wondered and was secretly hoping she was working on something for her album — because people don't have to ask to cover a song. I mean, having someone as famous as Ariana do a cover of a song really makes a huge difference to an artist like me. It really does change the income for that year. And I think she's done a brilliant version. I don't really know what she's saying in it, but apparently it's explicit, and I have yet to ask her to write down the words for me. We're doing a kind of mashup of her version and our version on the tour where they both collide."
On the tech she uses in the studio and onstage:
"In terms of the sound in the room, we're using the D&B Audiotechnik 360 Soundscape, which means I can move sound 360 degrees all around the audience. For my software side of things, I use Ableton, a spec'd out MacBook Pro, and my favorite plug-ins. I use a lot of instruments that Soniccouture makes, including one that I made with them called 'The Box of Tricks,' which takes full body percussion, my cocktail kits, cello samples, and my whirlies, and so I can play those whenever I want. So I can play my full spectrum of whirlies with my gloves or I can play a choir of me by just moving my arm around while singing over myself."
On how she listens to music:
"I'm really bad, because we're constantly moving and we don't really have a permanent home base, so most of the time I'm just listening off some headphones. I don't even know the make of them! But I was given these really amazing gold plated headphones at this award ceremony. Hard-wired, not Bluetooth. I think it's hard to get good sound from Bluetooth.
"Also, a lot of people are like, 'You use an Amazon Echo?' But I really love the convenience of just being able to shout out a piece of music and then the Echo plays it. So I've started to get into the Amazon home system, but I'm also aware of the fact that it listens to you, and there are some creepy coincidences that happen when I go online. But at the same time, I want to be able to have that wireless experience, so I'm kind of willing to give up whatever data they want. I'm looking forward to a period where your digital identity and your personal preferences and how you want your data to be shared comes together in a fluid way, so that you can equally learn from your shopping habits and your fitness habits — I love my Fitbit — and carve out a better way of life for yourself."
On her social media philosophy:
"When I'm creating and in the studio, I've got more time on my hands to express what I want when I want. But right now on tour, I don't ever have time to Tweet or Instagram, so I just brought on someone to help with that. But I don't want somebody to post words and say they're from me, so it's more she prompts me, or sometimes she'll post as the team.
"But it seems like a largely unnecessary part of our lives that we have to broadcast. I think it's down to fear of missing out, and I look forward to a time where we become more comfortable in our own skin. But I also think it's an incredible thing in life to be able to have that reach, and to have discussions across millions of people. I think that we're still learning how to deal with it in our human life so that it doesn't consume us. It's a relatively new technology and a new way to be human, and we need to learn how to deal with it."

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