Last summer, Vicky Gao began writing songs. She hasn’t stopped since.
Earlier this year, the Abilene High School senior penned a song titled “Little Ghost Inside my Head” that is now available on Apple iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, YouTube Music, Pandora, and iHeart.
Writing her own songs was not something Gao ever really thought about when she first got involved with music at five years old. She’s been playing the piano and singing since then but has only been writing songs for a little more than one year.
“I’ve always admired songwriters and wondered how they did it,” Gao said. “I’ve played the piano and sung since I was five, but I’ve never been able to write music until August 2021, which is really pretty recent. I don’t know what made me finally do it, but I sat down at the piano one day and decided I was going to write a song. And then suddenly these songs started coming out.”
Writing in the style of her song-writing inspirations Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift, Gao penned 17 songs, including “Little Ghost Inside my Head,” which she wrote over the course of the first two months of 2022. She describes the song as “Indie Pop,” but says the other 16 songs would fall into the “Indie” genre where Bridgers lives.
And, like so many of the songs that Swift writes and sings, Gao said her debut single is “about someone … they’ll know eventually it’s about them.”
After she wrote the song, she began working with her longtime friend and neighbor, Hansen Penya (who goes by the stage name “Goodbye Alex”), who has been creating and producing music for a few years. The 2020 AHS graduate took the track of Gao playing the piano and singing her song and plugged it into his software, adding a beat and instruments to fill out her creation.
“I sent him a recording and his keyboard translates what you play onto the software,” Gao explained. “So, I played it on piano, and then we put the vocals over it. From there, it was a lot of trial and error for what I wanted it to sound like. We experimented with adding strings and then percussion and guitar. Then we had to work with the mix and where the music would be louder and then back off. It was a long process.”
After about three months of work on the song, it was ready to release on Oct. 31, 2022. Gao used the distribution platform called DistroKid to make the song public. She sent the song’s final version to the company and, after paying a $40 distribution fee, the song was live for download or purchase on several music apps.
“The first time I heard the final version, I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s the one,’ ” she said. “Then I played it for my friends, and they loved it. I didn’t know how it would turn out because we had experimented with many different elements. But obviously, it made me happy to hear it.”
Gao, who is a member of the choir at AHS and president of the National Honor Society, had some in-house guidance in writing her songs from AHS assistant choir director Remel Derrick, who has been composing choral music for several years. His advice to Gao was to “be true to her voice, style, and sound, and to not compromise those values to appeal to a commercial market.” It seems as if Gao paid heed to that advice.
“During the summer, Vicki played some of her songs for me and wanted to get my opinion on which ones I thought would make the best as a single release,” Derrick said. “Her songs were so intimate and personal, that any of them would have made a very special release. After she recorded the song, she then allowed me to listen to get my opinion on the production.”
Derrick has been around Gao almost daily for four years and isn’t surprised at her motivation in carving her path as a songwriter.
“I am constantly impressed by Vicky’s self-motivation and her level of performance, whether academic or artistic, which is always at a high level,” he said. “What equally impresses me about her is her humility, and desire to not really stand out, but blend in. Vicki never seeks to be center stage but is always willing to encourage others to shine.”
And now that she’s got one song out, Gao, who has applied to, among others, three schools in Nashville (Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, and Belmont), is weighing what to do with the other 16 songs she has written. She originally wanted to release an LP titled “Farewell to Yesterday” of about three or four songs on her birthday in early January but doesn’t believe she has the time to get those songs produced in that short amount of time.
However, there’s a reason for wanting to release one of her songs in January.
“I’m turning 18 in January, and I have at least one song I’d like to release on my birthday,” she said, “and it’s called ‘Last Day of Being 17.’ I thought it would be fitting to release it on that day. We’ll see what happens.”