Meet the Artist – Imogen Heap, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

The piano was the biggest and loudest thing in the house so I turned to playing the piano and never looked back. Both my mum and dad worked on their own projects in life and so the concept of working for another was alien to me. A life in music was always on the cards and I just kept doing what I loved and after a few twists and turns, here I am.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I know it sounds cheesy but it’s just all and everything that’s going on in my life at the time. Who I meet. I don’t listen to music anywhere near as much as people may think but fill my days going down various rabbit holes usually around technology or some collaboration. Recently working on the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,  I learned a LOT from Gareth Fry, the sound FX designer, that I found as a constant source of inspiration for the music. Growing up I loved going to raves and have always loved the energy but equally would the next evening go to hear a performance of some Arvo Paert. I’ve not really been someone so into lyrics. Perhaps the biggest influence on my lyrics was working with Guy Sigsworth when I was in the duo Frou Frou. Here I learned not just what it’s like to sing my lyrics, but actually more importantly what it’s like to listen to them. I’ve never just let anything go as as result since!

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The music industry, the slowness of payments (if at all), not knowing what’s going to come in or how when I was signed to various labels over my first 10 years of my career. Later in life, with the development of the Mi.Mu gloves, it was funding and lack of resource to good advice in growing small businesses. All my creative endeavours I would never change but the business side is 90% tiresome when it comes to recorded music and flow of rights. I am actively hoping to help this shift toward a music industry that makes sense for music makers in the emergence of a music maker database via a decentralised Identity tool we call The Creative Passport.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

The new set of limitations in each collaboration I find is actually that which drives my creativity the most, or learning a new subject matter. Time is also one of those limitations when you’re working with others but this is equally welcome. It’s the art of letting go and just sometimes being happy with being good enough rather than always going that extra last mile at 5 in the morning for a month. The diversity is what keeps me feeling alive and if there’s one constancy in my creative life, it’s that I’m always take on projects I literally know nothing about at first because I want to be taken to new places in my mind.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

In my career I’ve always been able to choose the people I work with so I can honestly say I have had no real challenges, the pleasures are endless and if I find someone I really love to work with, I try my best to have an excuse to work with them again as the best combo is when you get to work with people you love to be with, not just find the collaborations challenging or interesting.

Of which works are you most proud?

It’s not just coz it’s my latest but I am very happy with the album of music from the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play. It’s given me a real chance to share so much of my musicality in one body of work. It tested my theory skills in the many transitions between so many different tempos, key and time signatures as a result of weaving together 100 cues into a hopefully enjoyable album. I’ll probably never have another excuse quite like it to share so much past work in a new context. Also for many people they consider me a song writer yet here there is only a minute’s worth of lyrics amongst 78 minutes of music, so I get to shine a light on all the other parts of music making I so enjoy.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m finding answering this question quite hard! I’ve never had to try and describe it before. A sound for me often has precedence in the studio above a chord structure and I tend to write and produce at the same time. I do seem to have lot of arpeggios in my work and for pop music, or whatever it is I write, it’s pretty dynamic. I do play with patterns and layers as I like to get a lot out of a motif. I get a bit tired of my old tricks and so actively seek out projects to help me move on, this could be working in a different country or taking on writing music for a different format or media.

How do you work?

I generally work alone on the music in my studio though enjoy collaboration with others greatly.  I work long hours at a stretch If I’m lucky and get into a flow. I’ve always done this in the small hours though with a child and so many projects outside of making music, I’ve had to get better and finding that flow on tap whenever I have half a moment spare! To be honest though, how I work or approach a song is often wildly different each time I start as usually the distance between pieces is months these days, I feel I almost have to learn how to do it all over again! The Harry Potter & The Cursed Child play is the first time in my life I’ve ever reused old work. I’ve always started from scratch, as I’ve never really got around to having a particular way of writing as even when something really works I am so forgetful I’d not remember to try it again.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I find it quite exhausting and upsetting to know there’s so much music out there that I’d love but may never get to know. My friend told me the other day that it’d take 170 years of constant listening to everything on Spotify once and that’s nowhere even near all the music in the world to be discovered. To add to this I don’t make time to listen to music amongst everything else. I am lucky to know many incredible musicians and composers and just their creations alone sustains and enable me to enjoy the time I get to listen to music. Jon Hopkins always has me revelling in awe of his sound works and attention to detail, Improvisationally with live electronic music has to be the genius that is Tim Exile. Mica Levi I love as she’s written both film and pop music I’ve loved and I’m just discovering the tech prowess of Emilie Simon, so after I’ve listened to her music, I may add her to the list too!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be sustained by your creative output but to never have to repeat yourself musically to generate more income.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Find things that interest you and see where it takes you. Say yes to things you feel are slightly out of your comfort zone often. Always complete a project if others are depending on you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I would like to be in a place where there is little to no admin in my life around getting work discovered and paid for. The inefficiency of the music industry and how little it really supports music makers irritates me so much. I hope in 10 years time The Creative Passport or something else will be helping to solve these issues. If there’s any musicians reading this and curious to know more, please go to And so with that, I long and live for flow in my creative, family, social and business lives, so they seamlessly coexist as often and effortlessly as possible.

Imogen Heap is a self-produced British recording artist. She has written and produced four solo albums, one as one half of Frou Frou, and has collaborated with countless and varied artists including Jeff Beck, Taylor Swift, Mika and Josh Groban. She has two Grammys, one for engineering and another for her contribution to Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’, and is also the recipient of the Ivor Novello Award, The Artist and Manager Pioneer award, the MPG Inspiration Award and an honorary Doctorate of Technology for her MI.MU Gloves work. Earlier this year she won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, out now on Sony Classical.  In 2014 she envisioned a music industry ecosystem through Mycelia and released ‘Tiny Human’, the first song to use smart contracts on a blockchain. This month, Heap embarks on a year-long music and technology world tour.

(Photo: Emilio Madrid-Kruser)