An interview with Geordie Little about composing and playing original music, developing as a musician, the daily creation challenge and his busking experience.
I decided at the very beginning that the reason I play music is because I love sharing the things I create. I have zero interest in covers and I have zero interest in playing the things other people want to hear just to make a living. If I ever need to do that, then I will go get another job. I love to compose music, and I love to share it with the people who enjoy listening to it – I try not to force it on anyone!Geordie Little
Hi Geordie, how are you? You must be busy as this year you have committed to composing, recording and producing 250 pieces of music (one every workday). How is it going so far?
Yes, my goal was to spend an hour every workday creating something. I didn’t place any other restrictions on it. In a way I wanted to approach it like playing scales or practising patterns or something. Each day I create something, and through that I learn about my instrument, about what it is I like, what I don’t, what sounds good, what I don’t know etc. etc. And it really does have that effect. Some days I came up with cool pieces of music, other days not so much, but every day I learn something new. It has definitely slowed down now, unfortunately, and I don’t think I will hit the 250, but at least a few days a week I am sticking to the plan.
In Germany we are on lockdown still and the childcares have closed again, meaning I am home looking after my son every day, making it impossible to work on anything, which makes it very hard! But whenever I get the chance, I am still pushing for it, and I hope I can still get to about 200 new pieces this year.
How did your musical journey start? Have you ever done any other jobs?
I have always played music (I got my first guitar for my 7th birthday), but I never wanted to be a musician. When I finished school though, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so I went on to study Jazz Guitar at University. Very quickly though, it turned me off music altogether and I stopped playing.
I studied other things for 6 years (business management, and pure mathematics) before randomly getting in touch with an old school friend over Facebook. We decided to play some music together and then he told me he was moving to Berlin. So I decided to go on a holiday to visit him with some other friends during my Uni holidays. When I got there I did nothing but play music, write music, and busk on the street. And I loved it. So I rang up my parents, told them I was quitting university, and I became a full-time musician. And I’ve been living and working as a musician in Berlin ever since.
I let the music govern the technique
How has your style developed over the years? Has your challenge of creating music almost every day changed your approach to playing and composing?
I learnt classical guitar growing up. Then I found percussive fingerstyle guitar through YouTube and started learning other people’s music. Then I started busking, but wasn’t making any money, so I started playing the guitar on my lap and playing percussion on it that way, and I could live from it, so I kept doing it.
For a long time, that’s what I did, just this lap style stuff. However, over the past few years, I think I’ve matured a bit and realised I don’t overly like doing that! Now, for me, it’s about the music, rather than a flashy technique, and so now I just purely focus on trying to write music I think sounds good. If to do that I need to lie the guitar flat on my lap and hit it then that’s fine, but now I let the music govern the technique rather than the other way around.Geordie Little
The daily creation challenge has been great too, as it means I have not just been limited to a guitar. I have made tracks from samples, or field recordings, or on piano. The past few lockdowns have allowed me to really get into experimenting, which has been great.
Do you have a daily routine? Does challenging yourself increase your motivation?
I can’t afford to have a daily routine at the moment with the whole parenting/lockdown thing going on, but I do try to pick up my guitar at least once a day and play something. I am currently trying to get more into scales exercises, things I have really neglected having spent so much time touring and playing my own music. But now, with no gigs on the horizon, I’m going back to basics!
A piece of music is only finished when it feels right
What makes music good music? How do you decide which piece you want to include on your albums, which you need to rewrite and which should be forgotten?
Good music is whatever someone thinks it is. You feel good music. I don’t think there is a formula for music really. Obviously there are certain elements that need to be there like a solid time feel etc., but I just play around until things just feel right. A piece of music is only finished when it feels right. But when it will feel right, that I can’t tell you. You just know. Shit answer sorry, but it’s true!
Which of your compositions defines you best as an artist?
That changes with time.
Every so often a new tune comes along where I think, ‘yep, that’s the best piece of music I’ve ever written.’ And then it gets overtaken again. But that’s the way it should be. If I was never writing anything better then it means I’m not improving.Geordie Little
Right now I’d say the thing that reflects my current state of mind, and my abilities as a composer, is probably the soundtrack to “Fruiting Bodies” by my circus company Fauna. It’s an 18-minute long video project for which I composed and recorded all the music.
Have you always performed original music? When you compose do you think of your potential audience and how people may perceive your music?
Yes, to the first question, no to the second! I decided at the very beginning that the reason I play music is because I love sharing the things I create. I have zero interest in covers and I have zero interest in playing the things other people want to hear just to make a living. If I ever need to do that, then I will go get another job. I love to compose music, and I love to share it with the people who enjoy listening to it – I try not to force it on anyone!
You have recently made a come back to social media. Did you miss it, or did you feel that you should be there to promote your work?
No, I did not miss it. To be honest, I hate social media. And I will probably leave it all again in the coming weeks. I am currently working on a project developing opportunities for artists to play live again, and for that we set up social media channels, and it made me think I should give it another go – because that’s what artists do these days! So I did. But over the last few weeks, I’ve realised how much work it is and how little I receive from it, and how little enjoyment I get out of it.
I don’t spend any time engaging with social media, just posting, which means I just don’t get out of it what I could, or what other people do. Also, I have no interest in meaningless online relationships with people I don’t know.Geordie Little
I think I will just happily fade away again and wait until I can play live again and then enjoy the face to face interactions. For that I can’t wait. In the meantime, I’ll spend the time with my son in the real world!
What are the cons and pros of being an independent artist?
It’s a hell of a lot of work, but it doesn’t really feel like work! To be honest, I think the hardest thing for me is making a distinction between work and play.
I find it difficult to stop thinking about my ‘work’ and just be there with my family for example, because I feel like if I stop then I might be missing out on something. When nothing feels like work then it’s hard to end your work day.Geordie Little
You have written Ziggy’s Lullaby for your son before he was born. Do you play for him popular kids songs, or are you trying to convince him that your music is better than Baby Shark? Are you planning on teaching him how to play the guitar?
He loves music. He hates Ziggy’s Lullaby unfortunately, but he loves music. And his favourite album at the moment is actually mine! At the start I tried to get him to skip all the kids music, and he really likes things I like too, like Moderat, Rival Consoles, Nils Frahm, Ben Howard, the Fugees. But since starting childcare he also loves children’s songs. We listen to kids playlists on Spotify every day, but he also puts on the Cat Empire or Zaz while we eat breakfast, so I think he’s pretty well rounded!
And yeh, sure, I’d love to teach him guitar or piano or anything really, as long as he shows an interest in it. I don’t want to push him into anything, but I’m sure that music is going to be a big part of his life.
What are the guilty pleasure songs that no one would expect you to listen to?
Hard question to answer. I don’t have any that I put on myself, but I do find myself singing along to Ed Sheeran etc just like everyone else if it comes on the radio. But generally I only put on the things I like, which doesn’t tend to include top of the pops stuff.
If you could support any artist on the road, who would it be?
Olafur Arnalds or Nils Frahm, but for that I would need to start making very different music!
I pretty much owe everything I do to busking
How did you get started in busking, and how has performing in the street shaped you as a musician?
I just wanted to try it out. I kept seeing the same people every day busking and thought they must earn something or else they wouldn’t be able to keep doing it. I fell in love with it pretty much straight away and it gave me the confidence to play live.
I never ever wanted to play in front of people, but busking gave me that confidence and now it’s my favourite thing to do. I pretty much owe everything I do to busking to be honest.Geordie Little
During your performance in Zielona Góra, I discussed with an organiser from the cultural centre that you played on the street but sounded like at a venue. What batteries and amplifiers would you suggest to street musicians? Can you share some insights on your impressive busking ring that you designed and built yourself?
Sound quality is important I think, especially for instrumental music. That’s all my act is, music. For me a PA speaker is a must as it gives a fuller sound than an amplifier, but I also started out using a Roland Street Cube years ago and they’re great too. I think in general the bigger (without getting silly) and better the speaker, the nicer the sound is and the quieter you can actually play, because you don’t need to blast the thing to cut through.
My current rig is a 15 inch passive speaker with a power amp built into a custom housing that includes my seat and merchandise and everything I need. It’s pretty big though and I already have plans for a more compact version.
What is the busking scene like in Australia and Germany?
It’s hard to say as these days I only ever busk at busking festivals and haven’t done any street for a couple of years. But I know in Berlin it’s getting harder and harder, and Australia was also close to shutting down pitches before I left. But if you can find a spot to play, I would recommend both!
What are your favourite and the most challengings places where you have busked?
My favourite street pitches were always Mauerpark in Berlin, and the Farmers Market in Adelaide in Australia. I’ve played a lot of hard pitches too, but they’re all just learning experiences!
What shows make you stop and stay in the street?
People that are doing something different or are just really, really good! I’ve heard all the usual hat lines and crowd gathering jokes. For me, it’s the people who just do their thing well and through that can win people over, which is the way I have always busked too.
No gimmicks or tricks – just do your thing, as well as possible, and if people like it or connect with it, they’ll stop.Geordie Little
Who are your favourite buskers or the best shows you have ever seen?
Andy Salvanos is a Chapman Stick player in Adelaide. I love his music.
Thamar Hampe’s Rope Theatre is just beautiful.
Also the Flying Buttresses from the Uk are hilarious.
What tips do you have for young performers?
Just do it. Perform everywhere that will have you and keep getting better and better. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it will get you as close as you possibly can.
If you had the chance to have any three wishes granted, what would you wish for?
- For Covid to be gone!
- To book out an entire season of busking festivals for next year
- That I can continue playing music for a living and meeting amazing people along the way.
I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the street! Thank you!
About Geordie Little
Geordie Little is a solo acoustic guitarist, originally from Adelaide, South Australia, based in Berlin since 2012.
He plays a unique mix of percussive lap and fingerstyle guitar, combining melodies, harmonics, chords and percussion simultaneously and seamlessly switching mid-tune between lap and standard positions.
Geordie has recorded a number of solo albums, collaborated with electronic musician Kyson, formed bands Orae and Place & Picture, and released and toured an album as one half of acoustic guitar duo Little Spencer. He is also the Musical Director and founding member of the UK based arts creation house Fauna Circus Ltd.