Enthralled by the pop icons of her youth, Toronto singer-songwriter Alex Arena parlayed her early love of poetry and singing into an intimate and personal songwriting style that grows more focussed and confessional with each new release.
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Like so many musicians before her, singer-songwriter Alex Arena grew up on a steady diet of MTV. Captivated by the sounds and images of pop idols Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne, she daydreamed of what it might be like to live like the stars she saw on the screen. RAC recently met up with the Toronto native to discuss her musical journey and the moment she decided to stop fantasizing and turn those dreams into reality.
“Music has always been my main passion- more than photography or any other art. It was the only subject in elementary and high school that I ever looked forward to. Even outside of school, I was always singing. I had already been writing poetry, and since I loved singing, I thought it would be cool to transpose that into lyrics.”
It didn’t take much longer for Alex to pick up the guitar and start writing. After summoning the courage to post her first songs on YouTube and the music collaboration website BandHub, she connected with drummer Shannon Kocon. Alex recalls the importance of this fortuitous meeting. “Shannon taught me everything there is about recording myself and introduced me to the more technical side of music. Because of him and my continued push to pursue music, I’ve collaborated with so many more musicians and producers than I would have ever dreamed of doing.”
These experiences led to a critical re-evaluation of the young artist’s ambitions. “I made the decision that I didn’t want to waste another year of my life doing what I didn’t really enjoy doing, nor pursue my studies just for the sake of making money or living up to my family’s expectations. I needed to live my own life.”
With no intention of betting her entire future on a dream of superstardom, Alex went searching for more practical ways of securing a career in music. “I’ve always wondered if I could be something more- maybe a mixing engineer as either a side job or even as my main career. So, I took a leap of faith and ended up applying to RAC because I wanted to learn mixing and mastering to expand my musical skills, but also to become a sound engineer at a local recording studio.
While the practical experience Alex gained at the school would have an immediate impact on her ability to produce her own music, she didn’t anticipate how much her experience at RAC would awaken different creative ideas. The extra time in isolation due to the global pandemic also played an essential role in fueling her new ambitions. “As the school year progressed, and given that we were all in lockdown, I had more time to really think of what I truly wanted to do. I never knew I would come up with so many plans and goals for not only myself but with others too.” The creation of songwriting circles and services that create musical scores for upstart filmmakers and video game creators are just some of the ideas she’s been bouncing around. “All I know right now is that I can use what I’ve learned at RAC for whichever musical profession I choose to pursue.”
Perhaps most flattering is how effusive Alex is in describing her teachers’ influence on her musical development. “The courses are so much more than simply mixing and mastering songs every day- that’s only one of the things that make RAC so valuable. For me, it was how every teacher helped me grow not only as a musician but as a person. They inspired me to push harder and reach beyond where I wanted to be in mixing, mastering, and composing. I never would have thought that I would be able to fully compose music by myself without the help from other musicians, as I had been accustomed to when I started.”
Given her already impressive body of work, one can only guess as to what direction Alex Arena’s new music will take when school lets out, and the dust finally settles. Her catalogue thus far has featured intimate portraits that speak of her personal experiences in abusive relationships. Early works such as “Freedom” and her most recent offering, “Toxic Air,” speak to the restorative power of music and sum up Arena’s powerful musical objective. “Ultimately, as a survivor of toxic and abusive relationships, what I want to share through my music is a voice of empowerment. I want to build awareness of all the ways toxic relationships can be damaging while letting victims know that they can break free from them and get their own self-love, dignity and self-emancipation back.”