Rising USC producer Ashley Fulton opens up about her musical journey

Ashley Fulton performing at Brite Winter 2019.
Ashley Fulton is leading the way as a woman in a male-dominated program. Photo courtesy of Ashley Fulton.

When Ashley Fulton was just seven years old, she developed a strong musical foundation that would serve her for years to come. Fulton started her music journey learning classical piano, but by age 11, she picked up music production after discovering GarageBand. By age 13, she was using Logic Pro, a digital audio software she continues to use to this day.

Since then, her love for music has only grown stronger. And now she is on her way to pursuing her childhood dream of being a professional musician as a sophomore at USC Thorton School of Music majoring in music production.

Her parents were very supportive of her musical ambitions throughout her childhood, and Fulton attributes a lot of her success to this support. She also got involved in theatre early in life, allowing her to develop her voice. 

During high school, Fulton had mentors in songwriting, piano and voice, performed in venues in multiple states and went to many programs and workshops related to songwriting and voice. 

She spent high school as involved in music as possible, and knew that it was something she wanted to pursue in college. She only applied to two schools, both far from her hometown of Cleveland: The University of Southern California and Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

Now, the 19-year-old has already won many awards and scholarships, including a gold medal for the national NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, the Delta Sigma Theta Jabberwock Scholarship talent competition, the Great American Songwriting Contest, the Shining Star CLE singing competition and many more. 

At one such competition in 2018, the 5-week summer music performance program at Berklee College of Music, she met Paige Thibault, a musician who would also go on to attend USC. The two were roommates their freshman year, and in early 2020, Fulton opened for Thibault at a concert at Genghis Cohen on Fairfax Ave. Thibault, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance, enjoyed working with Fulton. 

“[It] was really special to see her get up on the stage and command the space in the room. And her set was like, so cool, my jaw was dropped to the floor the whole time,” Thibault said. 

Fulton is skilled in many genres such as rock, pop, trap, hip hop, jazz and something she describes as “sci-fi, ethereal, like gamer music.” 

“Stylistically, I’m kind of all over the place, but I definitely don’t see that as a bad thing … just because there’s so much, across the world and across the boundaries of time, to appreciate and to get inspired from,” Fulton said. 

But Fulton has always particularly looked up to 15-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. Fondly remembering listening to “Songs In A Minor” in the car when she was a kid, she said that she engages the idiom similarly to Keys in her own writing. Fulton has both perfect pitch and synesthesia, which has allowed her to get more into microtonality recently. 

She describes microtonality as “expanding the range of notes that you’re able to fit into an octave”, and personally, because of her synesthesia, “[expanding] the amount of colors, I mean that quite literally, like colors on your palate, that you’re able to use.” 

As a woman in music production, she deeply values the perspective she brings to the space, saying “I feel like my lived experience as a woman in this space does actually tend to color the way in which I approach music and the music that I do end up creating.” 

She wants to encourage that diversity in any way she can, using the opportunities she has gotten at USC.

“[I want to] use all the resources that I’ve been given to open the space and to encourage more women, more girls, more non-binary folks to really, really get into the industry and into music production specifically,” Fulton said. “Because I think with this specific craft, there’s just so much artistic integrity and creative freedom that comes with it.”

Over her last three semesters at USC, a lot of Fulton’s time has been spent writing for other musicians, but she hopes to step into the artist role in the next few years. She likes working with other creators though, saying that working with other people is the most interesting part about making music. 

One of her favorite recent collaborations was with another Thorton student, Hannah Abrahim. Abrahim, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance with an emphasis in voice, was working on a group project with Fulton, which, according to Fulton, initially started out small, and eventually became a fully produced pop song. Abrahim credits their good chemistry. 

“Ashley is just a beast. Like, she brings so much to the table. She’s so knowledgeable,” Abrahim said. “She’s so talented … she literally does it all. She plays every instrument, she’s incredible at the keys, she produces really well.” 

Fulton and Abrahim’s collaboration had to be completely virtual during the pandemic, which is common for young musicians right now. According to Fulton, it’s doable, but there are a lot more things that can disrupt the creative process. Some artists like it, others can’t stand it. 

Fulton’s process hasn’t changed too much. She said that “[the pandemic] is coinciding at a time when DIY music is also really, really starting to become the norm within the industry.” 

Fulton looks forward to having free time this summer to work on music more, saying “it’s just a chance to reground myself creatively and to just step into a new space.” She is currently in the process of finishing her next album.