We’ve all been there: stuck in a rut, frustrated, can’t produce anything new. Our creativity diminishes and we fear that we’ll never produce anything new or good again. There are two things you can do in this situation: firstly, rest. I can not emphasise how important it is for creative people to rest. A few years ago, I was told by a record executive that you have to keep going and produce new work all the time. “People always want something new to consume” he said. And that’s where I switched off. It is true that as an artist you need to keep some momentum, it’s also true that if you don’t stop you will burn out and lose your passion for creating music altogether. That is a far worse state to be in than just taking a few months off. The whole idea of producing for consumption does not appeal either. Art should be revered not consumed.
Secondly, do something new. Be brave and try something completely different that takes you out of comfort zone. Just because the route you were on has come to an end, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your creativity. Sometimes we need time to recalibrate between creative seasons. We change as people, which also means the way we think and do things has to grow with us. What we perceive as an ending, is actually the beginning of a something new.
So what did I do when my creative energy came to a grinding halt? Well I did eventually take my own advice and have a rest. It took some doing, I was convinced that I needed to keep going but in reality it just wasn’t possible. And you know what? I actually enjoyed having a break! I watched films, saw friends and did things that I normally don’t get time to do. And then.. I started to listen to all the music I love and remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. It’s important to remember that you get one life; spend it well, with the people who are important to you and doing the things that make you happy. Success can be measured in many ways, but it can also lead you to search for things that ultimately become meaningless in the course of life. You’ll make better art if you learn to enjoy life and get your priorities in order.
I also changed the way I write songs. I used to spend hours at the piano working at the magical moment when music and lyrics come together. I decided to write songs by just singing without the piano and seeing what happens; this meant that I could write anywhere. Then I went back to creating backing tracks and top-lining, something that I haven’t done in a long time. I gave myself small creative challenges, such as writing a short song in thirty minutes and recording it using vocal loops, (you can hear the song here). The return to simplicity helped free up my creativity and took the pressure off. Bravery came calling and I decided to release an EP of my demos (I still can’t believe I’ve let you hear them!) so that listeners could experience the live, raw element of songwriting (you can hear the EP here).
I also decided, after a lot of soul searching, to change the way fans can support my work. In the new year I will be launching Helen’s Angels which is a VIP club that fans can join and receive new music, videos, merchandise each month. More details about this will follow in 2018.
So what I’m saying is that there comes a time for all us when we have to throw our net over the other side of the boat and see what happens. It’s a game of trust that will lead to self-development. In letting go, we can gain new skills and experiences. So if you’re stuck in a rut, try something new!
Every time New Year’s Eve rolls around, I have two little rituals. Firstly, to have the biggest clear out known to man, which everyone in my house fears as I can be quite ruthless! It’s therapeutic to clear out the old in readiness to welcome the new. And secondly, that I exchange Bible verses and words with friends and family for the coming year.
Four years ago, a friend sent me the phrase “Do not be afraid”. On receiving this, I was non-plussed but rather excited about what might happen. Over the following week, I received the same phrase and some accompanying Bible verses from other people, one of which I didn’t know very well, so I was pretty sure that God was trying to say something to me. What I didn’t know at the time was that God was taking me on a journey, some of which I had not expected.
Over the next four years, God reminded me of words and dreams he had given me twenty years ago. A lot of these I had long abandoned as they didn’t seem to materialise and I presumed that I had got it wrong or that God had changed his mind. Nevertheless, throughout 2014 God kept telling me that he meant business with his promises and that he is in the process of bringing them about. This turned out to be an essential period of encouraging and building me up for what was come. However, sometimes for God’s plan to prevail we must be realigned with his plan…
Time rolled on and life became difficult and not what I was expecting. A drunk driver smashed into the front of my house and we had to move out in the middle of the night; we landed up moving house four times in fourteen months. Due to the endless moves and other issues, my business collapsed and on top of that a joint business venture ended when my business partner walked out. And the final straw came when my fifteen year marriage ended quite dramatically. It was a rock bottom time; I was abandoned, abused, ridiculed, homeless, and I left my marriage with two my children and £85 in my pocket. I didn’t know what would become of me. Looking back now, I can see that God was having a clear out out in my life so that he could bring me into line with his plans.
What sustained me through this period were the promises that God made me and his encouragement to keep going. Most days I just wanted to lay down and die, except you can’t really do that when you’ve got two children! You have have to keep going and as time has gone on life has improved. I’m still waiting on God to come good on some of those promises. One in particular has already come to fruition and came quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes to get to where God wants us to be, we have to allow everything to die, so that he can do a new thing. I’m looking forward to God doing new things and bringing about what he promised. Guessing how he is going to do it just makes it all the more exciting. Sometimes it’s good that we can’t see everything in advance. Through all of this, I had plenty to be afraid about: a court case, finding a job, relocating yet again, moving my children to their fourth school. But in the end everything has eventually fallen into place. And now I walk on into the future and wait for God to do the things he promised all those years ago… DO NOT BE AFRAID.
A few months ago I hosted a worship evening at my church. In light of the theme of the evening, I decided that we needed to highlight how important prayer is in our lives. The phrase “every prayer a powerful weapon” seemed particularly apt so I added We Want To See Jesus Lifted High by Doug Horley to the set list. The well known arrangement always seems suitable for children’s worship but we needed something about more edgy and contemporary for this particular event. I came up with this arrangement which I performed with a bassist and guitarist, giving the song a a more jazzy feel to it.
In 2015 I was in a dark place when I had this vision from the Lord. Two years on and life has changed dramatically and is slowly getting better. I believe the vision was to encourage me and others in this position. I still need to finish the painting so feedback is welcome!
Want to listen to something new? For the rest of August you can download “Close That Door” for free! Just click here to listen and download the song.
So it’s Sunday evening and I’m at a loose end. What’s a girl to do? Yep that’s right, sing in her pyjamas. I decided to try out some simple vocal looping and write a short song as a test for the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch 2. Enjoy Tomorrow’s Brighter...
Words and music – copyright 2017 Helen Sanderson-White.
So vinyl is hot right now (probably one thing that it shouldn’t be!). Over the last few years Aylesbury has seen it’s fair share of record and music retailers come and go, indicating the precarious nature of the music business in today’s climate. However, there’s a secret that the town is hiding… The Vicious Squirrel, based at Deco Audio. A few days ago, I took a trip to visit the record store in its new home since relocating from the town centre. Now based on the Gatehouse Industrial Estate (it took some finding as I didn’t know that it was inside Deco Audio!), the store boasts a dedicated warehouse space that houses vinyl from a wealth of genres and decades. There is also a floor of turntables and a repair workshop on site which tells you how serious they are about music – it’s a love affair and they are going to help you make your vinyl collection dream come true!
I was greeted on arrival and taken up the vinyl floor where I was offered a coffee to assist my browsing (if only I’d had more time!) which is great perk that other stores don’t offer. What I loved about this is that it’s record hunting for grown ups; time out from the kids and work to relive your childhood dreams whilst feeding your caffeine habit. The vinyl area is decorated with black walls that double as blackboards for the sales team to add on their favourite albums or record of the week recommendations. There’s even a vicious squirrel who watches over proceedings from his own top shelf… If you’re looking for new albums or old secondhand favourites, this store has got it all. The staff were knowledgeable and offered me advice on the best companies for reissues (and the worst too). I’ve since contacted them via social media and told them of my love of 80s Madonna and they’ve dug out some LPs for me to go and peruse. Attentive, good customer service is rare in this day.
My only bugbear is that their signage isn’t great, so it took a while to find the centre and it only opens three days a week. Give me records all day please! Notably I was the only woman perusing, which having worked in the music industry for decades I’m well used to, but come on ladies, get in on the seen! We know just as much as the boys!
The Vicious Squirrel have to some great events coming up in the near future. One that particularly caught my eye is the record fair from 30 August to 2 September, which quite frankly you all need to go and support! If you haven’t got a record player, why not??? Last night my evening was made perfect by George Benson and Pat Benatar whizzing around the turntable! The team also mentioned that they are keen to forge links with local bands and host album launches and music evenings. Aylesbury needs more opportunities for live music that extend past its established rock scene. They already have connections with Sweet Billy Pilgrim who originate from the town.
So would I go back to The Vicious Squirrel Records again? You betcha! I’m counting down the days! If you want to find out more information, The Vicious Squirrel.
Recently in an interview Bono said something that is very close to my heart. It’s something that I have been quite passionate about for a long time. It’s a reason to get out of bed, a reason to song-write and create, it’s a reason to be the person we were made to be as artists… It’s no secret that Bono has criticised Christian artists who only produce worship music, and that his own musical and creative journey started in a worship band that eventually morphed into the internationally renown U2. However his stand point is refreshing and challenging, “we don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest,” he said. And that’s what I love. The fact that I can be brutally honest in my songwriting.
Bono’s thought process goes further than that though; just because an artist is a Christian doesn’t mean that they can only produce worship music. He goes on to say that “Creation screams God’s name. So you don’t have to stick a sign on every tree.” And I agree with him. I always think it’s sad when artists are pigeonholed with the label “Christian” as the genre immediately limits their scope of work. We don’t need to mention Jesus in everything we do, we carry the fragrance of Jesus with us so his presence is always in our work.
Our music might help someone… Over the years, I’ve been encouraged by many a song that wasn’t Christian because I connected with it some way. This is usually because I could empathise with the topic because I was going through the same life experience. Our songs don’t always have to rejoice over happy endings, some of the best selling pop songs over the decades have been sad, yet the music-buying public lap it up as they need something to help them through their difficult times.
I am not a Christian artist. I refuse to be. I’m an artist who happens to be a Christian. What’s the difference? Well although I write the occasional worship song for church, I don’t feel that worship songs are my calling. I don’t feel the need to mention Jesus in every song I write; I believe that my art should be influenced by faith and that it needs to go much further than the walls of the church building. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are called to compose worship music for church gatherings, and if that is what God has called them to then that’s great, but for me it’s not the be all and end all.
This route into artistry is often lonely though; artists who don’t tow the party line and stick to producing worship material are often overlooked by the Christian public. Churches in the UK don’t tend to support artists whose work moves beyond the church walls. We need to release artists into their callings and let them create the works that God has designed for them to do. There are far more opportunities for people to meet Jesus if we are honest about life experiences and allow those experiences to help others. And how much more will we learn about God if we dare to explore further than the praise and worship genre? Some of my greatest experiences of God have come through secular lyrics, the process of songwriting or going to concert. So take Bono’s challenge and dare to go further than praise and worship song in everything you do. You never know you might help someone…
Burt Bacharach sang it best “What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” but it also needs… ART. Over the last few weeks we have seen unspeakable acts of evil on our British streets. As a nation we are no stranger to dealing with conflict; as a child I grew up in the era of IRA bombings and the Falklands and Gulf wars, my parents were born during the second world war and my grandparents were born into the horrors of the first world war. Each generation has seen conflict develop in new ways and now my children are growing up in a society where terror is on the street, in a pop concert and on the London Underground.
The New York Times reported that Britain was “reeling” from these attacks. I beg to differ. As a nation we may get knocked but we have an incredible way of picking ourselves up immediately and getting on with it. In the Blitz we made tea, but there is something we do better than that in a crisis: we make ART. Each crisis has seen this country produce art and music on a unprecedented scale. During World War Two music was used to rally troops and muster morale for those left at home. In the 80s Bob Geldof encouraged us to unite and bring famine relief through a charity single and the world’s first ever charity concert, Live Aid.
Two weeks ago, Manchester burst into song after a minute’s silence for the victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Their song? Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. I’m sure that Oasis had no idea how that song would be used when they recorded it. Yet their art united people in grief and solidarity when they needed comfort and strength. What does this show us? We need to produce more art that helps people overcome everyday challenges. When sing we become one, when we view a work of art we discuss its beauty and our response to it, whenwe watch a film or play we are drawn into someone’s world and have a better understanding of they tick. Art brings us together, fosters community, initiates discussion and brings understanding. Music has the prophetic ability to change atmospheres, communities and individuals.
Yesterday I watched the One Love Manchester concert, thousands of people united through music. On social media I observed that people of all generations were watching this concert, whether they knew who the acts were or not. A national act of defiance in the face of adversity. Though there was mourning for those we have lost, there was also joy that we have our freedom to express ourselves, a joy that was expressed through song.
In 1937 Picasso painted Guernica, it depicts the horror of the Nazi bombing of the town. Some say that its graphic nature makes it to gory to view, however, in the long term I would suggest that it has given us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone and that others understand what we are going through. It reminds us that they got through it and came out the other side. It’s also a warning to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to stand strong for freedom.
You may feel that your art has nothing to offer the world, but you never know how it will be used. We must learn to not let fear and lack of confidence stop us from creating. So go write a song, a poem, a play, a film, paint a picture, make a dress, carve a sculpture, write a novel, a blog, a manifesto and help someone who needs to know that they are not alone, whether it’s someone living now or in generations to come. Give them hope…