(📷 Photos by Sandy Butler)
Hi there! I’m Becky, a harpist based in Glasgow. When I was asked to write a blog I pondered over writing about my lockdown home recording set up and a step-by-step process of my recent virtual harp series. However, I’ve decided to speak a little more about how creating regular online content has really helped me deal with some anxiety and doubts in my own ability. It sounds mad, Facebook definitely does not usually ease anxiety levels, but here is my recent experience of it. There have been so many inspiring blogs about the parallels of mental health and the creative arts that have really resonated with me, and I guess I felt it might be more beneficial to add another voice into the conversation.
Anyone who is interested in the techy side of creating online material feel free to get in touch, I am more than happy to at least show you how I somehow managed it!
I have always been someone who lacks confidence in the music I produce, sitting on ideas for months on end without developing them much further than a short voice recording on my phone. I’m pretty self-critical and showcasing my instrument has been something of a challenge. This time last year I would not have believed I could be confidently ‘sharing’ music on social media, especially un-polished material. At the very least I would have unnecessarily disliked what I’d created it and cringed at everyone’s comments. This is always something I have annoyingly accepted with myself. Many artists I know have too. I guess it’s sometimes what happens when you decide you’d like to have a go at pursing a career where you have to wear your heart on your sleeve. Emotionally investing in compositions and arrangements then trying not to over analyse the listener’s reaction to it is tough, and it can seem almost impossible if you’re feeling self-critical.
Just before Covid-19 I had decided to work on this recurring dislike I had for my own music. I created a short EP with Graham Rorie in the flat where I felt it was easy to work on daily. It was probably a sub-conscious decision to do it at home, I wouldn’t be spending too much money on it or ‘wasting’ anyone’s time in case it went ‘wrong’ (whatever that means!). In the end I enjoyed the process, especially getting stuck into my own arrangements and working alongside a couple of cool musicians. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it in the safe environment I’d created and I was proud. When we performed the EP at Celtic Connections I felt the buzz to perform it again, I really hoped that it would be the year I would push myself and enjoy sharing some music again.
2020, an uphill battle for mental wellbeing. I counted myself lucky, I did a lot of private teaching and some instrumental tuition in schools which was moved online. It was extremely easy to get pretty static and stop paying attention to my mental health. This led me to a less than fulfilling routine of waking up in the (late) mornings, tying my hair up, shoving on a giant jumper, wandering over to the brightest corner of my living room for the best light and starting teaching. Between lessons I would complete e-mails and drink tea, then return to teaching. In the evening I would watch some telly and get to bed.
It wasn’t ideal for me but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I was watching people around me constantly losing their touring, festivals, ceilidhs so again I counted my lucky stars and stayed a bit numb. Any creativity was gone, but at the time I wouldn’t alter my routine or give myself a break because I was thankful to have some kind of income.
Winning ‘Up and Coming Artist of the Year’ at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards in December was more than a surprise, I can’t thank people enough for their support. It means the world. If I’m honest, at the time I really felt like I didn’t deserve it and was embarrassed to accept an award that I think very highly of. I love the Trad Awards and seeing recognition for new music and innovative projects from inspiring Scottish artists but I didn’t recognise that in myself.
It was around then that I noticed any positive feelings towards my musical ability and writing had dwindled back to zero and I was pretty harsh on myself. All the online content I’d scroll through daily was made up of big-budget videos or brand new singles. I was very self- conscious and nervous about trying to join back in on this new virtual music buzz. I had very little desire to touch my harp unless it was for teaching. I can imagine this has happened to a huge number of artists, especially this last year, and it’s rubbish that we’ve not been able to talk about it together in the pub or over coffee. Eventually, I had (not so) simply had enough and decided to set myself some kind of deadline to get myself making music, and most importantly back to enjoying the creative process.
I got in touch with Tasgadh and proposed a series of collaboration videos showcasing Gaelic traditional material alongside music from other cultures and artists over a period of 8-10 weeks using my harp, the most basic video editing software I could find and a selection of wonderful sources of traditional music as my tools. I was offered the funding and to be honest my first thoughts were ‘oh god, it’s happening’. Realistically, it was a very achievable project but by that point doubt had crept in and it felt like a bit of a mountain.
I have loved this project.
I am so grateful to live with Graham Rorie and his recording engineering skills and equipment. I recognise how lucky I am to have access to this during our new world of restrictions. This meant that the recording process was mostly simple. After virtually arranging a set with each musician through skype calls and shooting across recordings on Facebook, I would ask them to record their parts in their own home and send it across. By this point a lot of people, who’d had the opportunity to, had invested in mics, interfaces and a small bit of recording software due to most performance opportunities unfortunately being moved online. Graham would then record my harp part over the top in our home studio, we would mix it together and I’d pop it all into Davinci Resolve. It didn’t feel simple at the start but I got the hang of it! Control, finally!
A good tip I can offer is switching off notifications on your music pages on social media platforms when sharing material. It helped me anyway. Suddenly I wasn’t bogged down on who was ‘liking, commenting, sharing’ my posts. I didn’t have to worry what the world thought, I just wanted to focus on how happy it made me. Not every video was finished or polished by any means but I was enjoying it and getting stuck into the routine.
Everyone I approached to take part were so excited to get involved, and that was really encouraging. People love creating, don’t be afraid to ask, I’m not sure why I was. With each video, my confidence in my music grew, and so did my (still very limited but growing) confidence in basic video software editing and project planning. It’s been fun, I would really recommend a recurring project with committed deadlines for anyone who happens to be struggling with some anxiety and self-doubt around their own creativity and skill as an artist. Each video got easier, and I began to thrive in the challenge rather than being unnecessarily embarrassed at what I could produce.
I have a couple of projects on the go now, that I really am so excited to share with you all (and this time I mean that!).