A few months ago Callum Best interviewed me for the Hum & Buzz podcast: Making Your Music Matter. I speak about my journey as an artist and also the book that I’m writing with Rachael Forsyth about becoming a resilient artist in a post COVID-19 world.
Last week I was interviewed by Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol about my song Where Are You God? This was used as part of their online church service and helped to inspire their prayers for the coming week. They asked me some deep, soul searching questions such as “do you think any good can come out the pandemic?” and we explored my reasons for being so honest with how I felt about the current global crisis. You can see the interview below.
My hands smell of bleach and I’m wondering if I remembered to register an ISRC code with PPL. My son is waving a school form in his hand and I’ve just received an email from a radio station about airplay. This request then makes me have a slight panic as I realise that I haven’t prepared the EPK (electronic press kit) for the single. There’s laundry everywhere and I haven’t done my invoicing. This is the day to day reality of being an artist in 2019. I’m a mother, a singer-songwriter, a friend, a painter, a daughter, a writer, a sister and my manager all rolled into one. Everyday I spin plates to make things work at home and at work.
There are lots of romantic notions about artists and how they live. As though we spend our days drinking coffee and pondering life’s realities whilst creating something beautiful in a loft apartment. For me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes I do drink a lot of coffee and I do spend a lot of thinking, but my life is surrounded my other elements as well. I’m a single mother of two children, I live in a terraced house in a market town, I have a job as well as running a business. I’ve learnt to be creative in small pockets of time, whilst cooking the dinner or after I’ve put the kids to bed, while there’s an hour of quiet or while I’m sat on a train to town. In fact, large spaces of time seem intimidating now; they have no structure, no deadline to spur me on. That one hour slot of time makes me seize the day and be decisive in my work and thinking. Before I had children I could waste hours on projects that didn’t really go anywhere. Juggling family life and work has made me more focused on what I want.
From the outside, my day must look haphazard and chaotic. Sometimes as I’m being creative, other ideas spring to mind and I have to shelve them so that I can get on with my day. I used to find this frustrating but more recently I’ve found that it makes me hone in on what I really want and what will work. It makes me work savvy. The chaos adds to the creativity; it’s a constant stream of ideas.
Sometimes you have to be forgiving of situations that arise that you have no control over. Sometimes projects get delayed, or they change. Sometimes things just don’t get done. Life will take over. The secret is not to be too hard yourself and ride the wave as it comes towards you.
If anything I want to encourage you to create and work in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. There will never be a perfect time to create. An idea has to lift off the ground at some point. If you wait for that perfect moment, you will miss an opportunity. I used have have an office to work in; over time that office has become a bedroom for one of my children. This morning I answered my emails at a small workspace in my kitchen; it’s also where I paint. Yesterday I worked on a recording of a new song; no fancy office, I curled on the sofa with my laptop. It’s less than ideal, but if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. It takes resilience and tenacity to work through the challenges, but it is worth it in the end. It is possible to balance family life and work space.
All dreams start from small beginnings. A humble seed may take years to grow, but it can grow into a mighty oak tree. So while I’m writing this blog, my hands smell of bleach from cleaning the sink, I’m uploading a song to a music distributer and the washing machine is on in the background. It’s all in a day’s work and I love it! Don’t let the excuses stop you from creating.
The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on.
Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity.
Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do.
Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it.
So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make.
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…
Sometimes God likes to remind us how powerful He is. We think that we are too far gone, and that we have missed His plan for our lives. The situation seems impossible and we believe that nothing can change. Sometimes the vision He has given us for us lives seems so outlandish that we believe that it can never happen. We’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, we don’t know anyone who has the contacts to help us. Our perception of God becomes limited to what we can see.
And that’s when God likes to remind us that He hasn’t forgot us, that He can do anything and bring the most unlikely of people together. On Saturday night, the doorbell rang and on the other side of the door was the much expected Tesco delivery man. What wasn’t expected, was the conversation that ensued whilst he unpacked my food order. After apologising for being half an hour early, and me saying “oh that’s fine, I needed a break from editing a song”, we discovered that we both had something in common: MUSIC. Turns out that he’s a sound engineer and mixes and masters a lot of projects for the BBC and local radio. Somewhat downcast, he then said “I expect you’re wondering why I’m working for Tesco”, I replied, “not really, lots of people in the music industry have several jobs. Helps to pay the bills”. And at the point, he relaxed and his story came tumbling out…
Turns out he needed some encouragement and to hear that it’s ok to have multiple, different streams of income. He needed someone to say that they understood how hard the music industry can be and that he’s not alone. We talked about the seasonal nature of life and that low points can often to be a blessing as they lead us to make changes that create new seasons and creativity in our lives. I was rather surprised to be having this conversation on my doorstep; I hadn’t thought I’d be discussing this in my slippers whilst checking if my favourite crisps had been delivered but evidently it was a divine appointment which was beneficial for both of us.
What God was reminding me, is that He isn’t limited by our location or condition. He can bring two people together and make His will happen. Divine connections can happen in the strangest of places, and when we least expect it. He doesn’t need us to try and engineer these meetings, He’s got it all under control. Some of these encounters are short lived and serve to encourage us, while others have a lasting effect and are to bring us into opportunities and seasons of life. The important thing is to be prepared for the unexpected, we never know when God will want us to help someone or to be available to make something happen. Whilst He doesn’t need our help, He loves to partner with us so that we can see how powerful and great He is. It’s often in the smallest of details that we realise that God loves us and has a plan for our lives. Often what keeps life exciting, is the encounters that makes us say “I wasn’t expecting that…”
A friend recently challenged me to write more about the reality of being an artist. And to be honest this is something that I dread, cause no-one likes a whiner… Often that’s how artist lives come across, but the reality is that being an artist is HARD. It is not for the faint-hearted, or the fame hungry. It requires commitment, huge personal cost and you lose friends along the way. But that’s where music fans come in, they are committed, altruistic and are prepared to dream with the artist. They are often the backbone of the artists’s work and career, they provide support encouragement and resources. So here are five things you need to know about being a music fan:
You mean the world to the artist. Yes really you do. You are part of the songwriter’s journey and they are thinking about what they want to convey to you when they are writing a new song. Every time you comment on a social media post, buy a CD or download a single, read a blog or share their music with someone new, you support the artist in ways you cannot imagine. When a songwriter shares new music with her fan base, it brings the music to life. So don’t forget to share the artist’s work, buy the music and tell your mates about it.
Artists love it when you interact with them. It helps them to know when their music is reaching people and who it is impacting. They love it when you get involved with music and are part of the creative process; it can be inspirational and add new dimensions to the work. We’re so lucky with social media that we can do this quite easily and regularly. At some point in their careers, most artists will experience loneliness and depression, especially when writing a new project. It can be a solitary time when you’re working away on a song or on the road touring. Over the years I’ve become great friends with some of my long term fans; they are the ones who know about the latest project before anyone else. Some of them have even suggested subjects for me to write about it. Thanks to technology and social media, the era of the inaccessible artist is long gone – get interacting!
Buying the artist’s music is a game changer. Yes, I know artists aren’t meant to talk about money. However, the sum goes like this: no money = no music. Sad but true. It costs a lot of money to write, record and produce music and most artists pay for it out of their own pockets at great personal cost. Sadly in the current era, music doesn’t sell as most people listen to it for free on Youtube or stream it through platforms such as Apple Music or Spotify. These platforms are good in terms of getting music out to a broader audience, however they pay peanuts, far less than the single actually being downloaded directly from the artist. It’s a costly business and can mean that a lot of artists live below the poverty line in order to support their work. Buying a single, CD, T shirt or supporting their crowdfunding campaign makes all the difference.
Your RSVP is a confidence booster. Turning up to a concert, interview or Facebook Live makes it all worth while. Releasing new music takes guts. Mosts artists are nervous about new projects, they’ve poured their heart and soul into it but they’ve no idea how it will be received. When you turn up to an event, you’re giving your seal of support and approval. A fan’s interaction can be make or break for a project or even a career. Booking agents look for acts that have an active, attentive fan base, who will turn up to concerts and bring crowd with them. RSVPing and be there, makes all the difference…
Sing! Dance! Enjoy! We make the music, the art, the shows for YOU. Enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the artist and the music. Enjoy the recordings, the live shows and the interviews. Enjoy every moment of it; life is too short not to enjoy each other’s gifts and talents. Thank you for all support, the music and the future!
Yesterday I hit a wall with the lyrics for a new song. I stared at the same piece of paper for two hours. I played the same part for two hours. NOTHING. Typically the week before I’d written 90% of the song and then got stuck on the last two lines. For many songwriters, this is the point that is “make or break” as to whether a song will be finished or not. I played the song over and over in the hope that something would materialise, but no. In the end I did a Facebook Live session about my frustration (you can watch it here) and it turns out that many of you have been through the same frustrations.
There seems to be a perception that songwriters just write a hit song in ten minutes and its complete. In reality, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind each song. There’s more than an element of truth in the saying 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Often with lyrics, the version that lands up in the published domain will have had umpteen rewrites and edits to get to the final product.
So a morning was wasted. Or was it? It’s in these times of perceived lack of growth that our giftings really develop. We learn perseverance, tenacity, patience; all good fertilizers for creativity and art. We learn how to how practise our gifting: we can have all the talent in the world but if we don’t practise songwriting, our talent will never grow and flourish. We look for new ways of doing things, we try new techniques and we seek to understand the purpose of the barren season. We also learn to make the most of what we’ve got; I got two hours of piano practise out of my wasted lyrics session. That’s two hours of practise that I hadn’t planned but happened anyway.
So how did I break out of this lyrical dead end? A change of scene always helps; I went for a drive and a walk and cleared my mind of all the clutter. I pondered on what the song was really about… Had I conveyed the theme adequately in the current lyrics? Was there more that I needed to say? I also have several notebooks and cloud storage with ideas for songs which I plundered through looking for inspiration. Sometimes something that I scribbled down three years ago has relevance for the current song topic, so it’s worthwhile keeping old ideas for future projects. A couple of days later I wrote down a random idea that turned out to be the missing lyrics. Once the pressure was removed from the situation, there were the words waiting for me.
What I’m trying to say here is that all experiences whether bad or good can lead to growth and development. It’s the ability to keep going through barren seasons that lead us to have expertise in our field and the tenacity to deal with whatever our craft throws at us. Although we may want to quit and have an easy life, we gain more from continuing and seeing the task through. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the “daily pages” where she writes down everything on her mind each day. I can’t say that I’ve ever had the time to do this, but I can see the value in practising a creative art form daily. If you are in the habit of writing, then you are more likely to prioritise it, and it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. The same is true for any art form or project that you’re working on. So as I said in my Facebook live video, don’t quit, keep going, deal with where you are, find a way to make it work and the rest will follow.
You can listen to the new song You’re So Hard On Me here.
A little song about not judging others and letting people be themselves…
So here’s a new song that I started writing back in 2014. I finally finished it a few weeks ago after pondering over verse two for four years! I’m hoping it will be recorded on a new project and will be creating a demo of it soon. Im very excited as my Helen’s Angels Patreons are the first to hear this song – this is a world premiere folks!
I decided to go one further than the archetypal love triangle and write a love square! It’s about the interplay and regret between two couples and the history that they share.
I hope you like the song – I’d love to hear you thoughts on it.
To listen, click here to join the Helen’s Angels Patreon community.