Where do the years go? Fifteen years ago on Saturday 5 June 2004, I released my first Album Conversations With The Heart. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but that album came into being by chance. I was studying for a music degree at the time and was writing bits and pieces in between that and music teaching.
A friend of mine asked me to perform at New Eden Music Festival in Torquay in the summer of 2003 and after the performance I bumped into some old friends who were also recording their work. Those are lifetime friends, Peter and Debs Brazier. A quick conversation and a swap of contact details led to me sending Pete some home demos of my songs. Before I knew it was was standing in their dining room in Paignton, singing into a microphone. I faithfully trudged up and down from North London to Paignton with piano in the boot of my car for a weekend of recording many times over a period months until the project was finished. The whole project was made on the tiniest of budgets and a lot of tea from Debs! The artwork was created by Andrew Wainwright, a friend from music college.
The album launch took place on a very hot evening at St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge and from memory we had about eighty people there. It wasn’t just me performing that night, Sheryl Anne Ashton also sang some solos and then joined me for some duets. It’s so great to be able to perform and make music with friends!
And here I am these years on, still proudly an independent artist. I’ve had dalliances with record companies but I’ve never been made a sensible offer (just ridiculous ones!). Two albums, four EPs and lots of singles later. Still making music myself, still finding new ways to make it work. Here’s to the next fifteen years…
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 betweenbeing 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…
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!
Back in the autumn of 2015, I had an idea to research stories about special people from Buckinghamshire. I started out with good intentions, but as with all of these things, the twists and turns of life got in the way. At the beginning of this year, I began to think about what I might do with this project; the working title was Heroes of Buckinghamshire but it needed some good stories. Hadn’t got that far, when I noticed an advert from the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies on Twitter, asking for local artists, musicians, poets etc if they would like to submit works for the Centre’s World War One Centenary Celebrations this year. Within 24 hours, I’d signed up to write and create new material for their events this year.
Are You Coming Home? After visiting the Centre and speaking to the archivists, I was touched by the fact the men who left this county to fight for our freedom, were just ordinary people. In fact, many of the letters I read between soldiers and their families indicated that they were ordinary people with extraordinary stories and courage. Before war, they did ordinary jobs, going about their business with little indication of what they may face or may be expected of them in the future. For those left behind, the uncertainty and longing was palpable through these letters; their eternal hope was admirable. And really that’s where this new song begins… I wanted to chart the fact these were real people, whose absence created a gapping hole the lives of the people and towns they left behind.
If you’re local to the Buckinghamshire area, you’ll notice in the lyrics, the line that states
“you rang the bells in the church by the pond”
I was talking about Haddenham at this point. It’s village between Aylesbury and Thame. If you get chance to visit the village, go and check out the church by the pond!
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.
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!
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…
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!
Well 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.