In a few short years, EDM vocalist Vassy has found unexpected international acclaim in unlikely places. She’s had songs appear on shows like Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy. The song she did with David Guetta and Showtek, “Bad,” reached number one on charts from Finland to South Korea and back home in Australia. “Hustlin’” with Crazibiza and Dave Aude hit number one on the U.S. dance charts. And last year, Vassy won the IDMA Award for Best Featured Vocalist in what she calls an “oh shit moment.”
Her career as a vocalist didn’t always look so promising. At the tender age of 7, she was kicked out of her Catholic-school choir. “When they told me I couldn’t sing, even instinctively back then, I still knew I was an artist,” she says. “You don’t choose music; music chooses you. You can’t repress that.” But Vassy did repress the urge for a few years. Growing up the daughter of Greek immigrants within a sheltered environment in an isolated part of Australia, she didn’t seriously take up music again until her teenaged years, when she dabbled on piano and the saxophone. “I was just trying to find ways to connect with music,” she says.
But that music wasn't EDM — not back then, at least. In fact, she says she didn’t even know what EDM was, though she was open to any opportunity. “But I’ve come to love the whole arrangement — juxtaposing the beats with the vocals and the drops. And I’ve been wonderfully embraced by the community.” It wasn’t until “Bad” broke that Vassy really felt recognized as a member of the EDM scene. She still wasn’t versed in the belligerent art of the drop – her first response was, “What the hell was that?” – but she came to appreciate the balancing act between her vocal delicacy and the aggressive progression of EDM.
Vassy now collaborates with some of the biggest names in EDM, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they rarely share studio time. From her home in Los Angeles, she writes lyrics, records vocals, and sends them to producers like Tiësto, David Guetta, and Avicii online. The tracks bounce back and forth across the globe until the song is complete.
Though she calls her collaborators “awesome to work with," the Aussie admits it’s not always easy to be a vocalist in an industry dominated by DJs. She’s had no issue as a woman in EDM. In fact, she thinks her pitch may give her a competitive edge by balancing the booming bass on most EDM tracks. But, for one, she doesn’t receive the same royalties as producers when one of her featured tracks is played. And she describes how difficult it can be for a vocalist to earn a following among the ocean of producers out there.
“DJs tend to be the brands,” she says. “They can play for hours on end, perform for so many people, and play so many different songs in single set. A vocalist can only sing for so long and can only connect with so many people in one night. But DJs can connect with so many more people.” She’s not saying it’s not tiring to be a DJ. But the online outlets available — the same outlets that enable her to share her vocals without taking a plane to Paris — and the environment of their craft allow DJs to produce their products en masse, often unintentionally getting recognized for a record someone else produced. "They end up putting in most of the work, though,” she says, "so they deserve most of the recognition. And sometimes, as a vocalist, you have to check your own ego.”
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Vassy is currently working on a more pop-oriented solo album. And last month, she was nominated for her second IDMA award for her vocals on the Tiësto and KSHMR’s track “Secrets." She’s up against some tough competition, though — fellow female vocalists MØ, Sia, and Justin Bieber are in the running. She’s honored — and surprised — to be nominated again.
She's good at managing her ego too. “I don’t have a chance,” she says laughing.
Vassy with Tiësto. 7:15 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Ultra Music Festival, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $324.95 to $1,249.95 plus fees via ultramusicfestival.com.