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Big Sky Girls – a mentoring program for regional female songwriters

Sugarrush Music’s Big Sky Girls program pairs industry professionals with emerging talent to foster Queensland’s next generation of regional and remote female songwriters



Big Sky Girls, delivered by Sugarrush Music, is a six-month mentorship program for young female songwriters from regional Queensland.

Launched in 2017, the program is helping drive gender equality in the music industry and address gaps in support and resources for emerging songwriters and artists in regional areas.

In 2018, the program supported 10 young women between the ages of 15 and 25 from across Queensland: Amber Farnan (Cairns); Briannah and Tiana Dennis: The Dennis Sisters (Sunshine Coast); Ella Hartwig (Cooktown); Hannah Rosa (Gold Coast); K-La (Townsville); Maddie Thomas (Roma); Meg Beth (Toowoomba); Tylah Rose (Burleigh Waters); and Zoey Mills (Mackay).

With a team of mentors, including songwriter Jackie Marshall, producers Jeff Lovejoy and Brianna Ansaldo, and other industry professionals, the 10 emerging songwriters participated in creative and professional development.

The program included workshops, recording trips to Brisbane and online mentoring via I Heart Songwriting Club, culminating in a showcase held in Brisbane in October 2018 in front of an audience of family and friends.

Group image of the 10 Big Sky female songwriters supported in 2018


When and where

May to December 2018 in Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns.


Key stats

  • 10 emerging female musicians supported
  • 22 Queensland artists 
  • 9 songs recorded professionally
  • 112 new songs written from participants and mentors 


Arts Queensland contribution

$47,400 Queensland Arts Showcase Program (QASP) Arts Ignite

QASP provides funding to support individuals, organisations or collectives to deliver vibrant and accessible arts and cultural experiences for Queensland. The Arts Ignite stream supports new and emerging talent.



  • Participants indicated the program had helped develop their skills, confidence and knowledge. More than 100 new works were created across the mentorship program, developing participants' songwriting skills.
  • Nine songs developed during the program were featured on the first Big Sky Girls album (Big Sky Girls Volume One) released in March 2019. Four songs were debut singles.
  • Artists received airplay on community radio, Triple J, Double J and other ABC networks. The group was featured in a full-page article in The Australian.
  • Participants and mentors developed close networks, and a number of participants have performed and toured together as a direct result of these networks.
  • Other achievements for participants have included:
    • Zoey Mills named as a finalist in the Toyota Star Maker competition as part of the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
    • The Dennis Sisters, now called Oh Harlow, received Queensland Arts Showcase Program support from Arts Queensland to record their debut album. 
    • Ella Hartwig received support through the Regional Arts Development Fund to record her debut EP, which was launched at the Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns. 



In a story for Scenestr, the participants talked about what they hoped to achieve from being part of the program:

"I hope to encounter experienced individuals within the industry to provide me with inside techniques and practices, and meet other young singer-songwriters who share the same passion for music." – Amber Farnan

"Before Big Sky Girls, I didn't know very much about the business side of music at all. But Big Sky Girls really helped me with that by teaching me about it and letting me ask questions to gain a better understanding. And seeing as I'm going to release my EP soon, the mentors at Big Sky Girls helped me to know how to do that and taught me things I had never even heard of before.

"Big Sky Girls signed everyone up to [I Heart Songwriting], which is a network where we have to write one song every week for 10 weeks. I am really excited for this because it will help me get rid of my writer's block by teaching me to not fuss too much about the lyrics. – Meg Beth

"I hope to work and create friendships with amazing musicians and mentors from the music industry. I want to learn new skills to improve my songwriting and write some killer songs." – Zoey Mills

"As an emerging artist, I cherish all the advice given to me and I feel as though these amazing influences will help guide, essentially mentor me and give me the push that I need into the wicked world of the overwhelming music industry." – Ella Hartwig

"We hope to continue growing as artists with guidance and advice as we are developing our sound and careers. We're both looking forward to joining the I Heart Songwriting Club with everyone and creating those consistent songwriting habits, and receive constructive feedback from talented friends and mentors." – The Dennis Sisters (Oh Harlow)

"Some new songs. The I Heart Songwriting program has been great for sparking inspiration so far." – Hannah Rosa

"I hope to gain potential connections with artists, managers, recording companies etc. to help me in pursuing my future in the music industry and to provide me with new experiences and opportunities that are not available in such a rural town. I hope to meet heaps of new people who will help me accomplish my goals and to improve my skills." – Madison Thomas

"To develop my music and writing skills as an artist, make great friends and have the opportunity to be surrounded by talented Queensland girls in the music industry." – Tylah Rose

"I would love to be able to sing and share my passion for music all over the world and to become a performing artist. I would also love to teach others about music and how to express themselves through writing music." – Kayla Conyers

Read the full Scenestr story



Feedback on the program

"Through participating in Big Sky Girls I have gained a confidence in my existing skills and knowledge that I didn't have before. It's made me more sure about my music and the direction I want to go in as an artist." – Participant

"The ongoing support anticipates my challenges of further recording, producing and release of original music and my optimistic hope of being in the music industry for the foreseeable future." – Participant

"Regional Queensland doesn't get nearly as many opportunities for young people to showcase their talents so this program is a way to do that and also expose the talent in the regions to the music industry. (There are some really exceptionally talented singer/songerwriter/musicians in regional Queensland). This whole experience empowers young women to exceed what they believe their capabilities are." – Participant


Tips for others

Most parents are undertaking a management role for their children in the early years of their music development and educating parents is just as important.

[Include] an additional parent liaison position within the project and a full-day parent workshop at the end of the program when parents travel to Brisbane for the showcase – to work them on the greater understanding on the music industry and opportunities they can continue to look at for their daughters. 

[Suggest] allocating large periods of time to working with the parents involved of young people in projects like these … assist in giving as much information and network development to the parents and to connect families to arts and cultural services and funding and other creatives within each of their communities.

This year every single family travelled to Brisbane to attend the showcase. This resulted in the parents network – being able to extend advice to each other has grown and developed immensely.


What next

The Big Sky Girls 2019 program was expanded to include emerging songwriters from Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and the Norther Territory. Seven of the emerging songwriters were from Queensland.

The second Big Sky Girls album will be released in 2020.


For further information

Sugarrush Music website

Big Sky Girls album (Big Sky Girls Volume One) on Spotify