- Sarah Belkner
YOU ARE WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE
This article finds me gearing up to release my second album in 2020, and about to jump on a plane to the UK to play shows with the wonderful Tim Minchin for 2 months to sold-out crowds.
I sing and play the piano and synthesisers and work as a producer for other artists. I have a background in classical composition and arranging and love to arrange strings and things too. I work as a session musician and have just sung on a couple of films for the wonderful composer Caitlin Yeo. You can hear my voice on the main theme of the movie ‘Danger Close’ starring Travis Fimmel (who played Ragnar in Vikings!)
I grew up in Auckland, NZ and my husband and I live in Sydney where we run our recording studio ‘Free Energy Device’. Richie is the most talented music engineer I have ever met and we enjoy working together on other people’s music. I’ve learnt a lot from the studio about process, patience and project management.
I find freedom in creating.
And working on and being around other people’s creations.
I find freedom in being on stage, and hearing my voice fill a room, connecting ideas together and feeling the heartfelt feelings back from an audience.
It’s true that music and creativity are about communication.
Communication of things that are inside us that we often can’t articulate in our day to day language.
It’s the language of emotion and being able to emotionally express frees us from some of our daily sufferings. It’s good stuff. I’ve been touring heavily with many artists since 2015 and more recently with Missy Higgins, a highlight being performing with her opening for Ed Sheeran in 2018.
We played to almost 1 million people in the space of a couple of months, living the stadium dream with the good catering and the big sing-along crowd.
Another highlight was performing with Neil Finn on his ‘Out Of Silence’ Australian shows.
I’ve been a huge fan of his since I was tiny so that meant a great deal to me.
I put my debut album ‘But You Are, But It Has’ out in 2017 and toured the UK/Europe. It got some good press including a nice nod in Rolling Stone and my song ‘Susanne’ featured on a heartbreaking episode of Offspring. I have been loving becoming a producer in the studio for other artists. Brendan Maclean’s album ‘And the Boyfriends’ I co-wrote and produced was released in March 2019 and came in at no.2 on the iTunes chart, a huge feat for an independent release. Also, Richie and I just had the pleasure of making a track for Tim’s (Minchin) TV show ‘Upright’. It features Missy singing and so was a real case for me of seeing some incredible dots connecting there.
This has been a natural progression from making my own albums of which I have actually made 3 and 2 EP’s. Good to note that in the press I only say I have 1 album
and 1 EP, ha ha.
Context is everything.
You hear it all the time, but you really can define your own narrative.
Along with all these lovely things I can naturally talk all day about perceived false starts and failures.
Redefining false starts as learning and education enable you to see how it’s all part of your personal story. And failure, well learning to redefine failure and success has been a developing skill that I am finding lifesaving.
I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves to become ‘successful’ in our 20’s.
And often that ‘Goal’ we are holding on a pedestal is just something we keep telling ourselves we need to be seen as. Especially if there’s a lot of anxiety around it, chances are it’s an old idea we had about our life that really needs to be re-negotiated with our nervous system. I am starting to feel some freedom in my career since learning this, and by ‘freedom’ I mean being able to comfortably and clearly say yes and no to things and feeling proud of my achievements and my everyday existence.
These days I’m a fan of problem-solving, small wins and unforeseen opportunities.
I think my original dream was actually a bit narrow-minded and I was hard on myself for a long time about it.
It went something like this: I would make my songs; the right people would pick up on it and that would make me successful and I would just do my own shows and make my albums and that would be it.
But it just didn’t unfold that way. I moved to Australia in 2005 from Auckland and found myself in the throes of trying to pay rent and eat and be ‘successful’. It is quite common knowledge that trying to survive financially, and release albums is not a terribly easy venture. So over 10 years of trial and error working out what I am and aren’t comfortable doing I have found a freedom in the way my strange and fluid life works.
So now even if it is not ‘My’ project, I get to spend my time making some incredible music and ideas come to life with incredible people.
Something I never imagined or ‘dreamed’ of. I can safely say now that if I had stayed fixed on my ‘dream’ I would not have got to enjoy all the surprises and different opportunities that have come my way.
I wouldn’t be having the career I am actually having.
What I found is that my personal freedom comes from simply using the skills that relate directly back to my own passion of making things.
If it all complements and evolves myself as a creative, then I am happy. I worked this out and it became the focus a few years ago when I found myself in the throes of trying to support my music by working in a deli, a wine call centre, data entry at a university and teaching A LOT
I felt in the pit of failure and started to really look at how to redefine what I was
I started to cut back with focus and make space for new things and everything began to change. What I know now is that having a career in music, particularly as a performer is actually choosing to be a ‘Freelancer.’ You don’t have a fixed job you go to each day and so knowing how much you will earn or where your stability will necessarily come from is not straight forward.
You are committing to no holiday pay or weekends.
The first thing that tends to happen to freelancers is getting lost in the panic of it all and ending up having many side-line bill payers.
Often not actually a lot of financial support anyway, they just take up loads of time and make you feel down about it all. Many people get stuck here. I almost did. You can get very ‘BUSY’ doing lots of things that have absolutely nothing to do with what you really want to be doing thinking you are supporting your dream.
It’s a big trap.
So, step one is breaking up with busy. There’s no pride to it. You have to pay the bills, but you are not going to take any steps to your personal sense of freedom if you can’t even do the thing you want to be doing at all. BUT you can’t just quit everything in a huff and expect your
passion to support you.
The real freelance key is to build lasting relationships with people that you discover you love to work with within the world you love and build a reputation for the things you are happy to do within the broad banner of ‘musician’ or whatever your passion is. And it WILL grow.
My happy jobs outside of my own creating are touring with other musicians, producing in the studio, session playing/singing, arranging.
I’ll leave you with this…
A few years back I started introducing myself differently. At the time I was teaching a lot and it kept really bringing me down mentally.
When I was being asked by someone ‘What do you do?’ I would default to ‘I teach singing’ even though at the same time I was already making my own music etc.
And I was getting very frustrated that then most of what I was being asked to do was - you got it, teaching singing!
So, I changed it to…
‘I’m Sarah and I release my own albums.’ Then as I got more confident added. ‘I produce albums for other people and am a touring musician with xyz (name drop)’ And so, I just kept growing into this title and started seeing the extra irrelevant baggage drop off. I redefined my story and keep doing this regularly.
It’s made a huge difference.
You are what you say you are.