Being Indie: Dublin’s Orla Gartland on Cutting Through the Noise

The label ‘indie’ is a misnomer — while it implies freedom, the modern indie artist must constantly adapt and deliver in an era of unprecedented change in the music industry. However, these constraints are not always harmful; in fact, flexibility and the ability to meet new challenges are hallmarks of great artists.

In this landscape, 21-year-old Orla Gartland is an exemplar. Gartland, who currently lives in London, is a self-made musician — she began her career busking on Dublin’s Grafton Street with friends Gavin James and the Hudson Taylor brothers, as well as recording videos of covers and originals on her YouTube channel, which has amassed more than 12 million views and 100,000 subscribers. As a result, Gartland has extensive experience in both the live and digital worlds, which is central to her ability to adapt while remaining a top-flight songwriter and performer. With digital success, two critically acclaimed EPs to her name and extensive tour experience — she is currently on tour with fellow Irish pop-rock band Picture This and will support Scottish songstress Nina Nesbitt next month — Orla Gartland exemplifies the modern
indie musician.

Gartland knows that live and digital performance cannot exist without one another in today’s industry. She believes that her live experience has been invaluable, as “there are so many mini skill sets to master under the whole umbrella of performing.” Despite her love of life performance, she acknowledges the necessity of being digitally present, although laments how it can sometimes cheapen the artistic value of the work being produced.

“Uploading full songs to Facebook and sponsoring the posts may give great exposure but inevitably you may cheapen the product, although for certain kinds of music that approach can often be the only way to cut through the noise,” Gartland said.

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The digital landscape, while loaded with potential for indie artists, can be a cause for concern with regard to the inevitable categorization that guides popular genre-based playlists on streaming services like Spotify. “It’s easy to forget, but as an artist you have to stay within your logistical means,” Gartland said. “Just because you play solo shows with just an acoustic guitar doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a folk artist or a singer/songwriter, but in a saturated market it can sometimes just be an unfortunate necessity to reduce artists to cheap descriptions!”

The changing means of consuming music leave Gartland somewhat conflicted. Gartland said she, “loves streaming as a consumer, I’d be devastated if the album format disappeared completely because the idea of entire bodies of work woven together with the artist curating every aspect is something magical.” Maintaining the connection between fan and artist is crucially important to Gartland, who believes that buying an album is more personal than just streaming, although she feels that crowd-funding platforms such as Patreon, on which she uploads new, exclusive content such as demos and vlogs, have the potential to rekindle this connection.

Gartland is currently an independent artist, although she doesn’t rule out signing to a major label at some point, believing it can be a practical move.

“Pushing yourself to the masses is expensive, so I understand from an artist’s perspective why you’d want someone else to foot the bill.”

Likewise, she is open to the idea of syncing her songs for TV or advertisements, which jumpstarted the careers of Northern Irish rockers Snow Patrol and fellow Dubliners Kodaline with features for “Chasing Cars” and “All I Want,” respectively.

Gartland says she’d want the “final say in signing it off though, because I wouldn’t be too keen on my songs backing a ‘Trump for President’ campaign.”

When asked about her definition of success and goals for the future, Gartland demonstrated once again how grounded and focused she is.

“Success for me looks like longevity,” Gartland said. “I’d love to play big venues and sell out tours across the world but really, if I could still be at this in 20 or 30 years with a few albums in and a lovely, loyal following, I’d be chuffed.”

Email Kevin Hannon at [email protected]

Check out the rest of the Arts Issue here.

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