It’s a new season and it’s time for new things. I’ve been thinking about doing things differently and new goals. Over the last decade, a lot of my projects have been produced by other people, which I have loved and it’s been a great experience! However, I haven’t had chance to have creative control over my music for a long time, so my next project will be produced by me!  After writing songs for the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies last year, it gave me taste for producing my own music again and having that creative control which can sometimes be lost in corporate production. I made a decision that I wanted to be able to involve my fan base and supporters in the actual creation of the music. In the past I’ve had a call out for stories for songs from fans and then created music from their ideas; this time, the songs are based on my experiences and will feature the backing vocals of others. Part of being an artist, is being able to let go of what we’re creating and let outside influences join in shaping those ideas without losing the original vision. 

The first song I’m working on is called Womankind which looks at the aspects and personhood of being female. I have strong female characters in my present and past that have influenced my life, and a story of my own that has led to who am I, and that really is where this song begins. My own experience of being female has balanced between  being resolutely strong and empathetically vulnerable. Like all women, I’ve played a variety of roles simultaneously: daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend, lover, ex-wife, colleague, confidant and the list goes on… The role of women is often down-played and lost in society and I want to highlight the essential nature of what women provide and bring to our culture. This album will very much feature our contribution. 

One of the greatest gifts that we receive from God is knowing who we are and having the space and opportunity to explore and find that out throughout life. I am very proud to be a woman and believe that we should increase the volume of voice in our communities and push forward for as many opportunities as possible. If we have learnt anything from our female predecessors, it’s that tenacity, strength, and perseverance eventually open doors to equality and that we have the right to obtain the same roles and levels as our male counterparts. 

Over to you… I need as many women of all ages and backgrounds as possible to record themselves saying a set of words that I will incorporate into the song. You don’t need to sing the words, just speak them. Most mobile phones have recording devices on them, and all you need to do is recording yourself saying the words and then email the mp3 to me. It only takes about 5 minutes to record and your name will be listed on the album cover.  If you would like to be involved, please email me and I will send you the words to say. Also, if you have words based on your own experience that you want to incorporate into the song, that would be most welcome…

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-22-20-42Well here’s something I thought I wouldn’t say for awhile…

To listen to my new song with Adam Overton, Worn Out Shoes, click here.

One thing about moving house is that forces you to get through all your things and have a clear out. I’ve been doing the same with my songwriting and music material recently. I was going through some files on my computer when I found this song that I wrote with Adam Overton on 21st November 2014. It was during my time of living in Oxford and part of great period of songwriting and composing, most of which I haven’t released (yet!). This a rough, live recording that we took at the end of our songwriting session; not bad for a morning’s work!

The song is called “Worn Out Shoes” and very much reflected the our life journeys at the time. One of the most exciting things about songwriting, is the first time you record and capture the song and listen back to your efforts. You know instantly whether it’s going to work or not. Two years on I still love this song, even though we didn’t quite know where we were going with it when we were recording it, there’s something about the melody, harmonies and rawness of the performance that is magical. Enjoy the live experience of capturing a newly written song…

Adam Overton – vocals and piano
Helen Sanderson-White – vocals

Words and music by Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White.

IMG_2106We all assume artists will go on forever, that the muse will constantly demand some creative output. However, a few days ago I read a quote from Carole King stating that she no longer writes songs and prefers to write novels instead. I wasn’t shocked but I was intrigued; she claims that she feels that she’s just writing about the same topics over and over again. Notably she hasn’t stopped being creative, just channelled it into a new form. King isn’t the first musician to do this and she won’t be the last, but it can be hard for fans to understand why their favourite artist no longer wants to create in the same way. This got me thinking about seasons and how life changes and evolves…

Well it turns out the that The Byrds were right, “There is a season… And a time to every purpose under heaven.” Some people love change, while others hate it. Change often helps us to refocus and try something new; what seems unwelcome can actually be the making of us. Who knows if Carole King is the next big novelist? Only time will tell…

Seasons are necessary for shaping our character and making us more robust. Without challenges and successes, we wouldn’t know what we are capable of or how strong we are. What’s meant to throw us can often be the making of us. Seasons also bring variety and colour into our lives; without it, life would always be the same.  One thing we can be sure of though, is that no season lasts forever. If you’re in a difficult situation, rest assured that it’s not forever, things will change and improve. What I admired about Carole King is that when she faced a wall in her creativity, she found a way to climb over it and start something new. She hasn’t wasted her talent, just shifted her focus. And of course, she is still touring and delivering stonking shows.

It’s knowing how to respond to change that dictates how successfully we will navigate the mountain high and low valley. The composer Aaron Copland retired from composing when his health started declining. He gracefully bowed out on a high and also went on to write a two volume autobiography with help from another writer.  Failing health did not stop him! So next time the season changes whether it is for better or worse, find a way to be positive and find a route through. You may find you’ve got hidden talents! The the show isn’t over until the fat lady sings!

When I was 17 I had a dream of how my songwriting career would pan out… I would live in London in a tiny bedsit, just me and my piano and spend my days writing beautiful songs whilst trying not to starve to death from crap pay and late night gigs. My days would be spent thinking up new ways to be bohemian, playing my Carpenters vinyl and reading trendy paperbacks. To some extent my student days were like this: I lived in a damp house with 3 friends and piano, I drank Cinzano and Jack Daniels (not together in the same glass, that would just be weird), listened to Sarah McLachlan and Sophie B Hawkins (showing my age now!) and bought clothes from Camden market.

However my life 20 years on is very different. I’m married with two children and although I lived in London for 11 years, I now live in the Home Counties in a sensible house that hasn’t seen any bohemian, artistic deaths. My songwriting techniques have changed over the years and I’ve learned to adapt as my situation changes particularly with motherhood and the demands of running a business. Nothing ever prepares you for these changes but here are the things that I have found interrupt my songwriting…

Blog photo sept 15

  • At the crucial lyric or harmony development stage, my 2 year old will always fill his nappy with something disgusting and demand a nappy change. Not only does it disrupt my creative flow, it completely and utterly kills the mood…
  • I stuff myself with food. Yep I write 8 bars and then immediately think that I deserve some sort of treat for 15 minutes of concentration. Hello treadmill!
  • Suddenly everyone wants to visit. My doorbell only ever rings when I’m working, yet no-one ever shows up when I’m watching TV or cleaning the sink.
  • The smell of burning food. I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve ruined by “just having a few minutes on the piano” while its cooking. I always get into the song, forget the dinner and serve up something cremated with a side of “would you like to hear my new song?”. My family aren’t impressed.
  • My children join in… There’s nothing more distracting than my 7 year old daughter singing one of my songs in face or my 2 year old son banging the piano and pushing me out the way so he can have a go.
  • The piano is too messy. I can’t deal with untidiness in the area I want to be creative in. If it’s not tidy then I’m not writing. I’ve spent many hours procrastinating under the guise that  “I can’t possibly write unless the ambience is right!”.
  • I’ll just check Facebook, Twitter, my emails. LISTEN UP HELEN: NO-ONE EVER WROTE A SONG BY READING FACEBOOK.
  • I get lonely.
  • The spreadsheet of doom… or otherwise known as “The album song list”. This can either cripple or energise my composing. It’s either “Ooooh I’ve written 8 decent songs that could go on the album, let’s write a hit!” or “Great. 8 crap songs, let’s see if I can completely kill the album”.

And then there are all the other things: accounts, emails, promotion and of course writing blogs! So I’m off to write a song…

It will take as long as it takes…

Last year I embarked on writing the new album; an exciting new adventure filled with lots of creativity. Or so I thought… Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE songwriting and creating new music. However, I couldn’t find my joy with it. Years of having to write to a deadline whilst under the pressure of teaching, running a business and holding a family together were beginning to catch up with me. Previously I had felt that the quality of the music I was producing wasn’t up to standard and that I hadn’t got sufficient time to think and prepare the material.

11666043_10153166177393863_2720499530418960870_nI was also becoming entangled in the machine… Constant promotion, constant reinvention, constant campaigns were getting in the way of writing and in 2013 when I went on maternity leave I made a vow that things would be different when I returned to work nine months later. I’m not decrying that these elements aren’t important, but they were beginning to supersede what I was meant to be doing. The pressure to continually produce something new was becoming immense, and in my mind this way of working doesn’t always mean quality. I’m not driven my money (if I was I wouldn’t be making music!), I’m driven by artistry and the desire to create, and represent life as I see it through music. With everything that was going on, I didn’t feel that I had done my best. Something had to give.

The journey of artistry and creativity over a lifetime is varied. Sometimes the path of creativity is exciting and sometimes it is downright boring, other times it is full of joy and then it can be excruciating. It’s messy, outrageous, quiet, dormant, unrelenting and possessive all in one go. It changes all the time, it’s never the same. For me, the only thing that stays constant is the goal to produce something of beauty that helps others.

The upshot of taking my time is that I am finally writing the songs I’ve always wanted to! I’ve got time to go deeper into the subjects that intrigue me and compose in the styles that aren’t necessarily commercial but suit the topics on my heart. I have a group of trusted colleagues that listen to my work during the writing process and give me feedback, so far their reaction has been great and they are loving the new direction that things are moving in, which means the world!

So please excuse me while I take my time, lie in a field, staring at the sky and be excessively artistic for the next few months. This will mean many trips to Starbucks while I ponder on the issues of the day and will lead to huge piles of manuscript paper being left all over my house (this really winds my family up!). I like doing my best; I want to do my best, so the new album is going to take as long as it takes… Hhhmmm that sounds like a good album title!

A songwriting crime… I’ve been re-evaluating a lot of my songwriting and creativity techniques recently, trying to push the boat out a little bit more. It’s true; you only get the best out of your skills if you develop them and keep the process fresh. Here are ten crimes that I’ve learnt can hinder the songwriting journey:

Crime 1: It’s a crime to rhyme. That is, unnecessary rhyming. I thought I’d try using this technique more in my work but it has backfired spectacularly as the rhymes have been cheesy and crude. Only use rhyming if you are ultra confident!

Crime 2: Not getting a second opinion. Always get a colleague, musician, friend or mentor to listen to your work. Another point of view can help you develop a song or help you see where the weak spots are.  Make sure it is someone who is supportive of your work and that you trust implicitly.

Crime 3: A lack of ideas is the road to nowhere. Make sure you are as creative with lyrics as possible. Don’t explain an idea using one set phrase; try using as many adjectives, similes and metaphors as possible. The English language is one of the most descriptive in the world. Get a thesaurus and go for it. It will help stop the song from becoming boring.

Crime 4: Write in haste, repent at leisure. Don’t rush a song, try living with it for a few weeks or so before you unleash it on the unsuspecting public. This way will know if it is a song that really works as you will have had a chance to sing it through many times. Rushing can lead to mistakes and you don’t want to release that into the world.

Crime 5: The key is stuck in the lock. That’s right you’re stuck in the same key and all your songs sound the same. If this happens there are two things you can do to get out of the rut: firstly transpose the song into a different key signature. For example, if I’m in C major, I go up a tone to D major and try singing the song in that key to see if it works. Secondly, in your practise time find some cover songs to learn in a variety of different keys. This will help you to broaden your music theory knowledge and become more confident with challenging key signatures.

Crime 6: I haven’t got a clue. You know that feeling when you start writing a song, and you get to the chorus and you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know what you’re singing about. That’s the time to focus on one topic; try describing the song topic in one sentence. If you’ve got more than one sentence you might have too many ideas.

Crime 7: I’ve just written a well known song. We’ve all done it, written a fantastic song and then realised that it sounds exactly like a song you’ve just heard on the radio. Don’t panic, we’ve all done this, so you’re not alone. The song can salvaged, it just needs some lyric rewrites and some new chord progressions. As one of my university music lecturers once said “there’s nothing new in music”. Do remember though that plagiarism is illegal!

Crime 8: Screeching and growling. The song is either too low or high for you to sing.  As before trying changing the key until you find a suitable one for your vocal range. We all have a particular area of the voice where we sound fantastic – so find your “golden” spot. Karen Carpenter was known for her tenor vocals but she actually had a large vocal range and could sing very high. When challenged as to why she only sang her hit songs in the lower range she replied “the money’s in the basement”.

Crime 9: Not crossing the bridge over troubled waters. I’m lazy, I hate writing bridges because it involves having to think of a new aspect to a song.  However, if your song needs some oomph or it just isn’t long enough try adding a bridge. You can bring in some new musical and lyrical ideas here.

Crime 10: The sock drawer should only contain socks. Sing your songs; don’t leave them at the bottom of the drawer where no-one can hear them. They are your gift to the world. Your song might help, uplift, console someone; or help them to see their situation in a new light. A song that is never sung is a crime…

But hey, don’t take my word for it. You could probably add a few of your own crimes to this last too. Creativity is a muscle, keep on flexing it!