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.

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.

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!