WHEN you've supported Diesel, Thirsty Merc, Kasey Chambers, The Black Sorrows, Glenn Shorrock, Tori Forsyth and William Crighton all by the age of 16, you must possess serious talent.
That is certainly true for Newcastle's Americana singer-songwriter Piper Butcher.
For the past five years Butcher has been steadily honing her craft on stages around the Hunter, including at respected music venues like the Stag and Hunter Hotel, Lizotte's and the Wickham Park Hotel.
Her first gig was at The Hood Milk Bar in The Junction when a then 11-year-old Butcher played at an open mic night and was joined on stage by Kasey Chambers' guitarist Harry Hookey, who played harmonica.
However, it hasn't been easy. The past six months, since gigs have returned after the COVID-19 lockdown, have been particularly challenging for Butcher due to complications with her cleft palate.
Butcher was born with a cleft palate, a common birth defect where the palate fails to develop properly, creating a hole between the roof of the mouth and the floor of the nose.
It can create feeding, hearing and speaking problems in children.
At 18 months old Butcher underwent two operations to fix the cleft palate.
The surgery proved successful and Butcher has lived a relatively normal life, but doctors always warned she may require a further operation in her teenage years as her mouth grew.
Over the past year it's became apparent to Butcher her palate was beginning to affect her speech and singing, particularly as she fatigued during three-hour pub sets.
"I'm really struggling with the long sets that I play and it's really impacting me," Butcher said on Monday prior to surgery.
"I feel really insecure about it, to be honest, thinking that people are gonna hear or see me differently or judge me, and this is something I can't help."
Certain sounds like T's, are especially difficult.
"We realised in the last year or so every time I was making certain sounds it sounded like there was almost a little engine in me that was starting up," she said.
"It was very unusual. It went away when I had hay fever and it would block up everything and I'd be able to pronounce better.
"What we found was the palate isn't closing correctly so they're going to fix that and pad it out so it will close."
I feel like this is something that will be big in giving me more confidence in the way I sound.Piper Butcher
After consultation with specialist doctors and dentists, Butcher chose to undergo a third operation on her palate on Tuesday at the Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick.
She's expected to spend several days in hospital and will be forced to take a break from singing and performing until March or April.
Butcher said she plans to use the recovery time as a chance to concentrate on improving her guitar playing.
"I feel like this is something that will be big in giving me more confidence in the way I sound," she said.
"I definitely wanted to get it done as soon as possible. Even in the last month and a half it's been really big for me music wise.
"I don't want to stop that momentum in the future when I'm going even better, so I wanted to get it done ASAP."
Music has also taken on far greater importance in Butcher's life, making the need for surgery more pertinent.
Last year she left school to focus full-time on music.
"I've been fortunate enough I've had some fantastic opportunities around Newcastle and the greater region and I decided that this is what I needed to do," she said.
"This is what I wanna do and I'm chasing it."
And so far Butcher is kicking serious goals.
Last month she sold out her first ticketed headline show at Mayfield's Stag and Hunter Hotel.
"That was pretty amazing and set in stone that I was meant to do this," she said.
Being invited to share the stage with acclaimed artists like Diesel, Kasey Chambers, William Crighton and Thirsty Merc has only consolidated Butcher's confidence that she has the talent and the motivation to become a career musician.
"I cannot explain how amazed and fortune I feel to have those opportunities," she said.
"I've done some awesome stuff. I supported Diesel four times, which was amazing. I've done Thirsty Merc and I've loved them since I learnt to sing when I was a tiny tot.
"Kasey Chambers and William Crighton were some of the latest ones after COVID and it was unbelievable. I have no words to describe it.
"Just to work in close contact with such big names, but such humble people, was amazing."
Once Butcher fully recovers from her palate surgery she plans to take the biggest step in her music career yet, by releasing her debut single.
It'll feature on a five-track EP she finished recording late last year with producer Gareth Hudson at Hazy Cosmic Jive studio at Adamstown Heights.
"I'm really excited about that," she said.
"This is gonna be my year definitely. We know 2020 wasn't everyone's year, but I think 2021 is gonna be a fantastic year."