When I woke up yesterday, it was just a normal day. I got the kids ready for school, dropped them off and then drove to work. Work followed by tea, homework, baths, bedtime, piano teaching and THEN… by the end of the day I had released a new song. Yes that’s right, I just randomly released a single spontaneously, on a whim. That’s one of the joys of being an independent artist (believe me there aren’t many, but that is definitely a good thing).

Over the last two years, people have asked me to release some of my demos and live music so that they can hear how the process works. It’s funny, as artists, we often think that people always want the finished product; however, it seems that people like to to see what goes on behind the scenes. There’s something edgy and exciting about hearing a rough demo or a live performance. You can feel the energy and emotion that the writer originally intended, and hear how the song developed. Often the demo sounds vastly different than the actual song that is finally released.  The reaction to Worn Out Shoes, a song I wrote with Adam Overton, was overwhelming. Despite the rawness of this recording, (I laugh in it and Adam apologises!), people went mad over it.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to release an EP called Sketchbook:The Demos which will be released later this year. The first single from this project is What Am I Meant To Do With This Love? You may remember that I recorded a video blog about this song in November 2015; it took me ten and a half years to write this song! Sounds weird but in artistic terms that’s normal. The amount of time and maturity needed to process the topic and create something you’re proud of can be a long event.

Releasing this single is a real kick up the arse for me. In March last year, I announced that I was pulling out of the music industry due to the fact that people stopped sodding well paying me. As romantic as it sounds, teaching music and making music for free ain’t gonna to happen: I have two kids and a mortgage. I have managed to partially to stay in the music on a part-time basis, however the threats of non-payment continue and recently an organisation cut my pay by 20 per cent and backdated it by four months. The arts are in big trouble. Only today I had a text from a friend in the arts industry to say that she was made redundant on the spot just two days before.

I’ve spent decades trying to make good music. There were times where I felt that I had sold my soul to do that. As soon as organisations become involved with art, you lose your baby in both good and bad ways. The good being that many hands can make a song or the bad way, can mean that your music gets wrecked. I couldn’t handle being told what to write about anymore. I’ve never been able to fit into the traditional mould of “Christian Artist”, I consider myself to be an artist who happens to be a Christian. That’s not to say that my faith doesn’t inform and influence my art, however I feel it’s my calling to write on wider topics and explore what God wants to say. So what I’m very politely saying is… this is me. Deal with it!

So enjoy my spontaneity, warts and all recording! Check out my new song: What Am I Meant To Do With This Love? and support my art. I’d love to hear from you about my work, you can contact me here.

Helen sunDo you remember when Mike and the Mechanics sang Over My Shoulder? I used to sing along to that song in bedroom, standing on my bed, yelling into a hairbrush. I was eighteen at the time. Twenty one years on, nothing has changed, except now I repeat the same performance with my eight year daughter. One the sad things about the song is that it is full of regret and hankering after the past. I was driving to work the other day when this song came on the radio and it got me thinking the consequences of looking back when we should be concentrating on the future. At the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt. She was told not to, but a fleeting moment of curiosity ended her life. I don’t do regret, it’s a lens that distorts the reality of the future. It leads to nothing and makes us focus on our failures.

If we constantly have our eyes on the rear view mirror, we repeat the cycle of who we were and not what we could become. Time allows to move forward but never back. We are given a gift of moving  forward and it’s up to us to choose how we react. We can meet the future with hope and expectation or with fear and sadness.  Even when we pass through seasons that are not what we want, every day moves us closer to something much better… even when we don’t feel that way. When Alanis Morissette sang “the only way out is through”, she hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and believe that there are better things on the other side of the season.

A few months ago I hit a wall with the whole music thing. Everything I had built up came crashing down and try as I might I could not rebuild it. Truth be told, I was too knackered and broken to fix it. Years of being a freelancer, performer, teacher, composer and everything else had worn me down. I kept looking in the rear view mirror and what I had lost and wondering whether there was any point continuing in music. But the law of life is that as something dies, something else is born and new shoots begin to sprout. Things are already moving on and I’m getting back some of the music opportunities that I lost a long time ago. I have opportunity to reinvent my music and in turn myself. Life constantly evolves and we should take every opportunity to grow and develop.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s don’t look back over your shoulder, face the future and reinvent yourself. Reinvent yourself

 

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!