Ask A Gay Icon: Chaz Cardigan Gets Career Advice From Imogen Heap

Chaz Cardigan and Imogen Heap
Cardigan: Alexander Kalyk. Heap: Jeremy Cowart.

Chaz Cardigan and Imogen Heap

This Pride Month, Billboard connected queer artists with some of their musical heroes and biggest influences

How can you help LGBTQ people succeed in the music industry? One easy step: Share your networks and make introductions. So for Pride Month, Billboard is connecting queer artists with some of their musical heroes — who also happen to be major allies to the community — to get career advice.

Here, alt-pop singer-songwriter Chaz Cardigan — who this year released the Vulnerabilia EP and is jointly signed to Capitol Records and Loud Robot, the label arm of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company — gets tech tips from electro-pop innovator Imogen Heap, who wrote the music for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and released her most recent studio album, Sparks, in 2014.

When you first began building your studio setup, what gear were you obsessed with collecting? Do you have any tips or must-haves for artists building their home setups now?

I don't tend to get that much gear. I like to get to know something really well and work it to the bone! My first fav keyboard is one I have to say I never plug in anymore but look at it fondly, as it was my touring-round-the-U.K. pub companion, the Ensoniq TS-12. I did have three circuit-bent Speak & Spells and a Game Boy that Pixelh8 gave me years ago. Does that count? I do also have three Array Mbiras, which is pretty greedy. When I look around my studio, I do have absolutely tons of instruments I can't really play very well, but I enjoy the challenge of working them into recordings. Maybe you can come record [at my studio, The Hideaway] one day!

What is your dream scenario for an album promo cycle, if you were allowed to remove all existing conventions?

Generally I hate the build-up of an album and then the rollout with all the marketing and promotion. I'd love to be able to finish a song and get it out there, alive and tagged with all the information it could possibly need to find people and connect. Just upload it and the data and be done with it. Onto the next one. It doesn't always suit to go out and tour straight away. I may want to work on another project or need to be home with my daughter, as she can't come with me because of school. I've always been a bit haphazard with the cycle. I hope I am helping to develop technology to increase flow and creativity by increasing opportunity for new revenue streams.

What is the worst onstage tech disaster you’ve had to bounce back from, and what did you learn from it?

I've had tons of tech disasters. Though it’s a cliché, myself and the team learn quickly and can develop the tech better for next time. Now we have an incredibly robust system that I tour the world with, and I feel no separation between myself and the computers and software.

Perhaps the first really big onstage tech disaster was my first Glove Performance — the premiere of the Mi.Mu glove system we’d been developing for a few years and, with it, a new song. I was so exhausted from all the programming and no sleep from the night before, I forgot my next move. In a panic on a livestream, I felt I’d failed everyone as I couldn’t remember what to do next. It was in that moment, or a few moments after, that I realized it was actually our biggest accomplishment yet — that I was able to improvise my way out of it with the sounds at my fingertips. I realized I wasn’t looking for control as I discovered freedom.

As a songwriter specifically, what’s been your biggest personal challenge and your biggest personal accomplishment?

My biggest challenge right now is simply lack of time to get to a flow. To get lost in writing to get beyond what is just at the surface. I've had the luxury all my life of only having myself to deal with, producing my own work, self-imposed deadlines mainly. With a child and the music performance- and business-related projects I've also been working on over the past decade, I do find it a lot harder to go to that old way of working. I am getting better at it, though! It was working on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that I [learned I] can also do fast and furious!

My biggest personal accomplishment I'd say has to be “Hide and Seek.” Not because it's the song that's made me the most money or brought me the most recognition, but because [it’s] something that I stuck by: Those I sent the song to were trying to convince me to add extra instrumentation, and I just felt so strongly I wanted it to be purely voice and harmonizer — it has had this incredible story. The evidence that this song has resonated with so many at such a core level has given me the license to dare to be myself time and time again and explore new territory. That's the biggest gift of all.

How have you managed to stay sane under the pressures that the entertainment industry, specifically, places on us as humans?

Simply by largely staying away from it and not letting other people's idea of what success is for an artist infiltrate my brain! I've never had ambitions to be famous or sell millions of records, though the latter does bring some degree of freedom financially. I do continue to have ambitions to create music and technology where I feel there are gaps, and it's the development in these that keeps me sane. The good news when you create things is they exist. And bringing things to life feels like really living. I also have a wonderful team who've stuck and grown with me over the years, and it's a joy to work with people you love and respect. 

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