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!

Half written songs, rejections, unshakeable belief and failed projects; it turns out that you’ve got to have guts to be an artist! Last week I had a conversation that sadly I’ve had over and over again in the last fifteen years…

Person: “so I hear you’re a musician”

Me: “yes that’s right”

Person: “so what do you do for a living?”

Me: SIGH…

IMG_3524You see no-one ever believes you when you say you’re a singer, musician, artist. People either think that I’m going through a phase and that I’ll get over it or that I have delusions of grandeur. But what if being an artist is just about wanting to create something beautiful and represent the world that you see around you? Art has many purposes: social comment, raising awareness, soothing emotions and trauma and “just because”.

But I’ve discovered that this isn’t for the faint hearted, its not just about singing, playing piano and painting a few nice pictures here and there.  I’ve found that to follow those artistic purposes involves painful honesty, boldness and courage. Earlier this week Adele, admitted that she didn’t think she could write another record and that the “25” album took much longer than she thought as the songwriting was difficult. The reality is that the creative process takes a piece of you and this is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Then there’s the practical side that no-one ever warns you about. Like all freelancers and business owners, I have to go out and find work opportunities and more often then not, if there aren’t any, I have to create them. Everyday I work as my own manager, promoter, booker, marketer, financier, administrator as well as composing and dreaming up new ideas. The launch of every new album, EP, single is a gut wrenching roller coaster ride of excitement and terror. Will the songs be well received? Will the project break even, let alone run into profit? Have I just released some terrible songs?

The exciting part of being an artist is that you get to be a pioneer! Artists are often called into uncharted areas where there is little creativity to shed light into darkness. We’re called to try new things, expressions, media to see where it will go. It’s risk taking – we put our hearts on our sleeves in order to encourage, enlighten, warn and protect. The downside of this can mean that we risk rejection, being misunderstood, loneliness and sometimes humiliation. The artist’s world is a brave one; it means going out on a limb.

Artistry also means accepting a Bohemian lifestyle. Artists choose a lifestyle that the world says is unconventional, different and not “normal”. We are called to think and see the world differently: to dream… Sometimes we choose to create when the mood takes us, other times we are forced to put pen to paper and hope that we can conjure the magic. We are often misunderstood as the creative force means working with ideas, notions and timetables that are different to what the world says is acceptable.

The whole package of artistry means being DARING in everything from self belief, to work, to lifestyle. It means daring to be different and knowing your own mind. You need to seek out others who will support you through all seasons, not just the good times and the successes. They may not always understand but they are the type of people who will support you no matter what. You got to have guts to be an artist…

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!