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5 minutes with Ashleigh Watson

We were so happy to catch up with Ash Watson who joined Hollywood Immersive in 2013.  Ash fondly remembers her HI experience and the lessons she took with her.  She released her first single, broke out of her comfort zone to reach out to top music producers and continues to network while nurturing her existing contacts.  She is currently taking the next steps in her journey by writing new songs to complete her EP.  We hope you are as inspired as us by this very driven and talented artist. 

Ashleigh Watson is a Retro/Soul singer from Melbourne, Australia.

Ash, you joined us on HI back in 2013 – what did you expect to find on HI and how did things change for you afterwards?

Before I started the Music Immersive program, I thought it was the be all and end all, that it would hand me the keys to the kingdom so to speak, but after it ended I realized that was an unrealistic expectation. What the program DID give me was guidance on how to shape my own journey. It gave me the fundamentals, so that I could go forward knowing who I am and what I want to achieve, and even opportunities to achieve those things which is more than most people ever get.

It was a bit of a slap in the face to realize I had perhaps been naive in thinking my dream was going to be handed to me, but I am so glad I figured it all out now, rather than 20 years down the line and I am so grateful to have been a part of the program, to learn how to take charge of my own destiny, and to have made life long friends because of it.

 

You worked with some pretty awesome producers when you were last in LA. Tell us about that experience and what is your plan to work with them in the future.

After I finished HI in 2013 I was inspired by the amount of opportunity in LA so I decided to email top producers in the area to see if they’d be willing to work with me. One producer was a connection I made through the program which is great, but the other was someone totally new. The reason I had the gumption to send out these emails was because I had so much confidence in my direction after HI and I knew I had to be bold. The experience was pretty full on. Sometimes they would use terms I hadn’t heard before, but I just stuck to my old mantra… ‘fake it till you make it’ haha. By that I mean, just act confident and you’ll come across confident. You also gain more respect this way.

The producers were both really excited by my voice which felt great. And hearing the finished product for the first time was a once in a lifetime high.

It’s all very fast paced and a little intimidating so you really have to know what you want, and be confident to ask for it.

I would love to work with these producers again but I am also looking into some Aussie guys, to try and cut back on travel costs.

We are still in contact though, and they’re great allies to have.

 

Tell us about what you have been doing since you have been back in Australia.

Since I’ve been back in Australia, I released the single I recorded in LA which is much more work than you might expect. Organizing PR and a launch party, after filming the video clip of course. It’s a very long process but I was lucky enough to have the song, ‘Little Love’, played on mainstream radio, ABC 774, and other community stations several times. During that time I also did live to air interviews which was so nerve-racking but thrilling. It was cool to have my family and friends listening in. It was a real novelty.

Since the release of ‘Little Love’ was completed, I have been working on a new EP and raising funds for it. I hope to release an Indie-Gogo campaign to help pay for the album later this year.

Ashleigh Watson performing at at Sunset Studios in LA.

Tell us about your administration and what you do to regularly keep in front of the right people?

Keeping in contact with friends in the industry is important so you can keep on their radar. I also meet a lot of new people at gigs and always add them to social media right away. You have to put your ego aside here, and not be afraid of looking ‘too keen’ because that’s how you miss opportunities. I make friends, send them my material and figure out how we might be able to help one another. Helping ONE ANOTHER is also very important. Not just ‘how can they help me?’

Trying to keep my socials up to date is important, and trying to build my following too. It can seem overwhelming so I tend to focus on three key social platforms and share the one post to all three.

 

 

I’m currently looking at getting a personal manager to help me get in front of the right people because it’s so hard to know where to start.

I schedule myself a day to read my books on this matter, every week. I’m currently reading a book suggested to me during the HI program which has given me great insight into the management field.

Just making sure I always have a plan is how I like to roll. Otherwise I feel stressed and lost. So at the moment it’s a new EP, and a manager to help me release it, then a film clip and updating my website to keep it fresh, and so on.

 

If there was one producer you’d like to work with who would that be and why?

Mark Ronson! He was responsible for Amy Winehouse’s success and now that of Lady Gaga. Not only does he know how to release HUGELY successful tracks, but seeing as he’s worked with Amy, he understands my sound and would be able to see my vision for myself. It’s so important to work with people who get you, not just because they’re famous.

 

You have such a great retro style look and this very much flows through to your music as well. What artists inspire you and why?

The artists that inspire me are Amy Winehouse, Gin Wigmore, Etta James, Imelda May, Paloma Faith and more.

I’ve always wanted to emulate my voice on Etta James. I love her raspy tone.

These more modern singers inspire me because I can hear how they interpret the retro style, and make it fresh and new, which is so important. It also gives me hope that my style of music has a market, which has always worried me. A lot of people have tried to push me into a more modern style of pop for fear of the retro market not taking off, but I feel like everything is coming together at the most perfect time right now, for my style.

 

What’s coming up for you and when should we expect to see you back in the US?

Next on the agenda is to keep writing my EP tracks, fund the project on Indie-Gogo, which I will put up on my website www.ashleighwatsonmusic.com later this year if anyone is interested in taking a look. Getting myself a manager who can hopefully take me to the next level. I’m ready!

As for the US, I’m not sure where this journey will take me. But I’m open to anything that will help me reach my goal.

HI Stories with Hussain Sadiqi

Lilly recently sat down with our friend, HI acting alum and Wushu World Champion Hussain Sadiqi.  Hussain has been working hard to inspire and educate the young men and women of Afghanistan through his Shaolin School for Kung Fu. Enjoy this inspiring interview from this remarkable man.

Hussain Sadiqi in the Art of Fighting.

Hussain, I have known you now for many years. Whatever you turn your hand to you seem to achieve. You are a world champion in Kung Fu, you have opened a Shaolin School in Afghanistan for young men and women giving them so much joy and hope and you are also doing everything in your power to make sure the people of Afghanistan have a bright future. Where does this drive and determination come from?

My father was a blacksmith, and as a child and teenager I worked in his shop.  Within his tiny small poor shop he taught me to make a sharp, steel knife. You have to put the piece of iron into a very high temperature fire and then hammer it many, many times to turn that iron into steel, and then shave it into a nice sharp knife. My father in his tiny small blacksmith shop, shaped my inner strength and my personality.  In my life I went through many hardships since my childhood and I learned everything the hard way and that’s why I don’t take things for granted.

 

It’s no secret that you love Bruce Lee – how much has he inspired you to live the life you are living now?

Bruce Lee for sure was one of my great heroes and idols. As a child in the remote mountain area of Afghanistan, just by seeing his picture I entered into the world of Martial Arts. Martial Arts formed my goals and achievements in my life. However later on in my life, I learned that I have to be myself rather than somebody else like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. They are my role models and I admire them, but they are not me.

 

You joined us on HI right back when we first started in 2010. Tell us what that experience meant to you and what you gained from it?

As Martial Arts set the goals and dreams in my early life, HI opened a new gate of dreams on a greater stage of my life where I could use everything I learned in the past with all my dreams and turn them to reality. I wish I stayed in LA to pursue my acting dreams but there were bigger plans for me.

 

It’s so inspiring and huge what you are doing for the young men and of course the women of Afghanistan. I can imagine it’s also very risky for you. Can you explain how you feel about this and what it means to you?

This past few years here in Afghanistan were so challenging for me in so many different ways but I stayed and faced all those challenges. It was so hard to deal with many difficulties such as security as the main problem, in which 3 times I was 15 seconds to 1 minute away from the suicide explosion with over 50 people killed in each of them. Here people are very tight with their old culture and in many families girls are not even allowed to study at school. But with hard work and persistence I was successful to make those families send their girls to school to get education, and attend my academy to learn martial arts.

Hussain Sadiqi with the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai talking about plans for the youth of Afghanistan.

What is one piece of advice you would give to young people striving for their dreams today?

Set a goal and a big goal for their future, and work towards it with hard work and persistence and never listen to when people say NO, as NO for me was always Next Opportunity.

 

What has been the highlight of your life so far?

Firstly, when I was 6 years old one morning I saw other kids we used to play amongst each other and they were wearing their nice clothes with their nice bags and they were ready to go somewhere. I went with them too but with my pyjamas and an old shirt I had on. That day we all went to school and they were enrolling at school with their parents amongst them but I was alone – and when the person who enrolled the kids asked me why I was there I replied, “I want to be in school too.”

So he asked me what my family name was and I said, “I don’t know.” Until that time I didn’t know I had a family name. I told that person my name is just Hussain. That night I asked my father what our family name was.  My father asked me why I am asking about my family name? I replied that I enrolled into a school.

My father just looked at me with silence. Many years later I found out what it meant, that look and silence meant I’ve done the first big, good and unexpected work in my life.

My father was very against my martial arts but he was very supportive of my education.  I actually hid my martial arts training for 6 years from him until I got into the National Team and then he found out. That’s why in 2012 when I won the International Gold medal the first thing I did was call my father and told him that I have become the World Champion. To earn my father’s satisfaction was worth more than the gold medal I got.

Going to L.A with Hollywood Immersive was great for me every moment of it. From the time I was selected to the team, traveling, studying, living and learning and meeting the stars all was magnificent memories and experience in my life. HI opened a new gate of my dreams in the highest acting industry anybody could dream of.

Hussain with his young students in Afghanistan.

What is your ultimate dream for the future? 

I have a few dreams to fulfill:

First, I want to build a school – 2700 meters above the sea level village.
As a small boy from that village who recognize an international level I owe them. Especially when I returned to my village there many kids who came to see me with my posters in their hands and they study in ruins under the sun, I was ashamed.

Secondly, I would love to expand Shaolin School to the National institute of Martial Arts (NIMA) and gather sponsorship to help so all the boys and girls who have a dream in martial arts. Then NIMA could produce the top International martial artists from Afghanistan.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a 19 year old Hussain Sadiqi?

In this case I always remember what my father was telling me to do was to continue my studies and get my degree.

The Impact of Dance with Bessie Kay.

It’s always such a pleasure talking to our friend and alum Bessie Kay.  Bessie is currently the host of Open Homes Australia on Channel 9, she’s a dancer and an entrepreneur with her own creative content company called Created Media. Bessie and I dive into all things dance media, creative endeavours, business and what’s coming up for 2019.  Always such a pleasure!

Bessie Kay on Open Homes Australia on Channel 9.

Bessie you are one of the most energetic people I know. Full of constant creative ideas that just seem to fuel you. You have now opened Created Media in Australia. Tell us all about your new company, what you do, who you work with and what you hope the achieve going forward.

We are a creative agency with a special focus on creating opportunity, exposure and information for dancers. Millions of dollars are spent by brands every year on marketing. Our mission is to align those brands with the entertainment industry directly, opening up the doors for exposure to our talent. The reason our dancers have smaller online profiles in Australia is purely because of our population and a more reserved internet culture. If we can securely align dancers with brands that are big with an active online presence and are global, then the that’s a HUGE thing for our community and very exciting!!

 

The human brain processes video content 60,000 times faster than text AND video content that involves music or dance is actually 70% more effective to marketers. Our happy place is being able to merge the two worlds of media + dance to create artistic content that benefits all involved. We see it as a win win situation.

 

We work with exceptional talent within the industry and we have some great plans to be able to more effectively connect that talent to brands who actively invest in marketing.

You joined us on HI way back in 2012 as a host. How did this experience impact you going forward in your career?

It completely impacted my whole world actually. I came to the program unsure of what I wanted. I was working as a fashion designer and dancer and my job in fashion ended abruptly. I went to LA on a whim and did the HI program for some inspiration.

 

That 1 week in LA showed me the potential for more opportunity than any of the work I had previously done in Australia. I had always been interested in working in front of the camera and had a bit of experience, but it was actually the teaching on branding, self-marketing and the exposure to a very strong industry through industry professionals that lead to me instantly perusing a career in TV and media.

 

Mind you, looking back now, I’ve seen how ahead of the game HI was. What I was being taught with regard to branding and marketing, only started to take effect in Australia years later! I had no idea how behind the Australian creative industry was compared to the USA.

 

Hollywood Immersive instantly came across to me as an authentic company, genuinely passionate about helping and connecting creatives. Years later and through having a great relationship with you and the team now, I know more than ever for that to be true.

Thank you for igniting that fire in my belly 😉

Lilly Dawson and Bessie Kay on their first collaboration with Dance Immersive in 2015.

Starting a new business is never a walk in the park. Some people tend to forget that and see someone’s creative baby and try to copy it. We’ve both seem examples of that for both of our respective businesses. What wonderful advice do you have for those people going forward?

These questions really hit home to me Lilly and I’d like to share with you a moment of truth that has shaped me and the decisions that I make in business and life.

 

Going back quite a few years when I worked as a young dancer in the corporate and commercial dance scenes in Melbourne, I had a brief from a client who wanted a specific looking costume. I enquired about hiring a costume that fitted the bill and in a quick and ‘over excited’ moment, I realized I could make that same costume (or a pretty close version to it). Not only would I save money, but I’d also be able to have the costume for many more jobs moving forward. So, I made the costume. I spent $50 all up, but it cost me a much more valuable lesson.

 

The unexpected repercussions of my actions and choices came pouring down on me almost instantly! I had copied someone’s costumes design! I was unaware it was a unique design and that was because of my own ignorance of the network I was entering. I was flying forward in an industry, getting some great momentum and then through no fault but my own, I crossed the wrong costume maker.

 

I saw a creative who was passionate about their product be affected by what I thought was an insignificant action on my behalf. It stopped me in my tracks and that small moment in time has stayed with me through every business decision I’ve made moving forward and has shaped my ‘moral business compass’. I’ve had the experience and I’ve learnt the lesson.

 

So, I wonder if others out there copying ideas or being ‘inspired by’ people in the same industry have a moral business compass??

 

Not everything in business needs to be ruthless and through my journey I’ve realized that keeping great and honest relationships in the industry is a much more powerful tool in the long run…. and when it comes to business, isn’t longevity something we all seek?

 

If I could sum it up I’d say the following:

1. Seek support and connections with businesses run by authentic people.
2. Learn to discern the difference between the real pioneers in the industry and the big businesses who would do anything to make a dollar and stay ahead.
3. For those people out there, who constantly find themselves being shadowed by big players in the industry or if you are subtly but definitely having your ideas copied. Know that you have something special that is standing out enough to have others pay attention to it. If companies, businesses, people or brands are copying you, remember they are only able to achieve a version of what you offer. You hold the REAL DEAL WITHIN YOU and that is your business SUPERPOWER.

 

You love to give back and make sure young dancers are getting incredible ground-breaking opportunities as we recently saw with our collaboration for Dance Immersive Down Under. What is it that fires inside you that enables you to do this and so many other things around giving back?

 

Our industry (the dance industry in particular) in Australia is really small compared to other parts of the world. If we don’t have leaders in the field stepping up to nurture the environment of the industry then where does it end up? Where does the work come from? How is the industry sustained within our country?
Sometimes it becomes our role to enable change and growth for the next generation of dancers and for some reason I do feel a strong responsibility to step up. I am very passionate and excited about the potential growth of dance in Australia.

 

There are actually a few leaders out there who are trying new things and creating new opportunities for dancers and that’s what we need more of. It will lead to more creative productions being made, more world standard dancers being produced, more entertainment within Australia and will spill over into more business and dance schools profiting as well.

 

I’d like to commend other influential people like Todd Patrick, director of PSA. He’s charging forward in the role of equipping young dancers with business skills. The incredible talent being churned out of his school are dancing exceptionally on a very strong foundation of business knowledge. That is so powerful in today’s climate and most definitely wasn’t taught to our generation of dancers.

 

Or, Dance Machine Studios for incorporating live internet powered dance classes for their students. These classes are taught by international teachers via internet straight into their classroom in Melbourne. I haven’t seen the class in action yet, but to even give the idea a shot and invest in new the technology is a really positive step.

 

There are many people doing good out there and it does go back to supporting these ideas instead of people turning their back and eventually copying them anyway. Our industry needs to be cared for and looked after like people would a precious rose garden.

The Dance Immersive Down Under crew featuring our 8 scholarship winners from Australia and some of the biggest names in Dance on the planet!

Tell us all about Dance Immersive Down Under and what should we be looking out for come 2019?

 

I’m really excited about 2019! Through doing Dance Immersive Down Under and also the original program Dance Immersive LA, I realized the formula to be able to platform and connect a number of dancers annually to the source of the industry. Through the relationships and exposure gained in the program, dancers are more likely to succeed with great careers moving forward.

 

2019 brings even more connections for our dancers and more exposure. It’s a program that only exists through the support of the industry and has the potential truly put Australian dance on the map.

Thank you for your support with it!

 

As well as own your own content creative agency you are also the host for Channel 9’s Open Homes Australia. Tell us about what you do on this show and how it inspires you.

I LOVE MY JOB!

I’ve spent the past few years hosting various shows for Channel 9, Channel 9 Life, Channel 7 Two and Foxtel. Most of these shows have been within the home and design sector, which truthfully, I bluffed my way through in the beginning because I had no experience with interior design what so ever! I’m endlessly grateful to my first boss in the industry who took a major chance on me!

 

As it’s turned out, my experience in design and home knowledge (or lack thereof) is not what kept bringing me the roles. In fact, it was the world of experience I had gained through my years leading up to the job and most importantly my understanding that being AUTHENTIC is what makes someone good at their role.

 

My job is much more than a being host on a ‘home show’ to me!
It’s an ability to have a voice, It’s my expression, it’s being able to talk to and learn from interesting people. It’s being able to be ME. Flaws and all.
It makes me really happy.

 

Knowing you as I do… you have BIG plans soooo what’s is your ultimate hosting gig and is it something you are constantly working towards?

Two words….
Dance and Media!
I’d be happy as Larry (which mind you is my father’s name and he’s pretty happy!) if I could share both my passions for TV and the dance industry in one project.

I have constantly created stepping stone after stepping stone to realize that goal and it’s very much a desire of my heart.