“I’ve been playing music since I was 5,” GIA replies as I turn on my voice recorder. It’s mid-afternoon when I meet the 20-year old producer at FREE Space – Toronto’s local Creator Studio which helps facilitate the careers of developing artists in the city. We settle into a couch at the back of the studio before beginning our interview. She’s wearing a neutral coloured M+RC Noir jacket with matching velvet sweats, and reclines in her seat as I set up my equipment.
I ask how she was first introduced to music. She answers, “I was doing RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) until I was 16. Then Uni’ happened, and you don’t really know if you’re gonna’ do music. I dropped out of Uni’ first year and then started producing.
She pauses before continuing, “It’s actually a weird story. I was sending piano samples out to around ten producers. And only a few replied to me. I got FL (Studios) literally a year ago.”
At the age of 20, the young producer understands that she still has time to grow into the full potential of her career and explains, “There’s a lot of stuff coming. I’ve gotta’ be patient for myself. I’ve gotta’ remind myself because I’ve only been in this for like 9 months,” she confirms.
Her voice is calm and confident, and she leaves enough space in the conversation for her words to register. By definition, The Royal Conservatory of Music is one of the largest and most respected music education institutions in the world. An education at the conservatory signals a highly musical background with years of technical training. And her initial connections are equally impressive – such as Bizness Boi and Neenyo, industry-leading producers who have created hits for artists like PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Drake.
It was with Neenyo that she co-produced “hell is where I dreamt of u and woke up alone” for Blackbear on his 2017 album, Digital Druglord. The project charted #2 on Billboard for Top R&B Albums, and the track ultimately went RIAA Certified Gold. It subsequently became GIA’s first charting placement.
On the process of teaching herself to produce, she explains, “I think that piano definitely helped me, theory and playing by ear. I play everything by ear. I just stayed home and taught myself some stuff on Youtube. I just watched how other people produce. The first time we were in the studio was when I was like 17. This was before I even started producing. It was at one of 40’s studios downtown. Two weeks into school I dropped out and said, fuck it. Imma’ go to LA. Imma’ bring a couple beats. That’s how it all started.”
She continues, “On my very first trip to LA, I ran into Chris Graham, an artist from Memphis, who later introduced himself as Drake’s cousin. I played a few of my beats for him at Drake’s crib and he immediately called his engineer to come work on two songs with me. We chopped up a beat for his first single ‘Dilemmas,’ which dropped a few months later to debut his project.”
While some producers enjoy the social aspect of making music, GIA prefers the opposite. “I like cooking up in solitude,” she says, “I like being alone. If you put time into something you can do it. They say it takes 10 years to master something. But I’ve been playing keys for awhile, so I was like, ‘Imma’ just master this technical shit on FL.’”
She concludes that the music industry can be a challenging place to navigate for an emerging producer, “You’ve gotta’ be smart with who you’re sending your music to, cause’ it can just sit on the shelf with people. You’ve gotta’ really network. You’ve gotta’ work with who you want to work with.”
Her advice for aspiring young creatives is equally realistic, “You’ve gotta have a solid team. If you don’t have a solid team, or believe in yourself, nobody else is going to fuck with you. If you’re publishing music, that shit’s going to be global. If you and your six other friends don’t believe in your music, how is anybody else going to believe in you?”
While she continues to learn the ropes of the industry, GIA maintains that she’s currently focused on re-inventing and trying new things:
“My sound’s always evolving but I always try to keep my keys. I like trying new chord progressions. I’ll search for classics on Youtube for inspiration and modernize the sound – do it my own style. I want to include more live instruments. I love to use the Grand Piano because not a lot of producers get the opportunity to record live instruments.”
Originally from Scarborough, Ontario – her hometown has remained a huge motivator behind her deeply engrained hustle. “A lot of people from Scarborough have made it successfully in the industry. I met Preme who is from G-way while I was working in LA which was dope. We’re not just doing this for show or for image, like we’re living off this shit when we first in the game. We don’t want to live in Scarborough anymore. We’re tryna’ push the sound,” she says.
She’s adamant that pursuing your goals should always happen on your own terms, describing how she’s directed her own career, “I think at the end of the day it’s like, what kind of sound do you want to put out? What kind of sound do you want to be remembered for? I have a lot of music coming out.”
Photos: Jordon Bailey