Today, Beth Ballinger stops by the blog to talk about her creative process. I actually met Beth at Unity North Atlanta church, but then I discovered she was playing music with Kienan Dietrich in Sarah and the Safe Word. So the Atlanta music scene is a small world! We’re probably all connect by six degrees. Like Kevin Bacon.
What is your main form of creative expression?
I am primarily a musician. I play piano and sing, and am working on getting back into playing bass again.
Do you work as an artist/creative full-time or do you have a different day job?
I do have a day job, but my day job is teaching piano and voice to students of all ages. I’m very grateful to be so surrounded by music all the time, and it is incredible to watch the next generation of musicians spread their wings.
How long have you been creating music?
I have been playing piano since I was 4 years old. Both of my parents play piano, so I remember each of them teaching me little things on piano at a very young age. I started taking piano lessons at age 5 and voice lessons at age 7, and participated in state competitions in middle school and high school. Music has really always been a huge part of my life as far back as I can remember.
How do you handle the pressures of creativity being your job? Or how do you find time to be creative if you have a separate day job?
Teaching a creative activity comes with extra aspects to manage that are not necessarily creative, but I find I appreciate the balance. To manage the pressure, I make sure that I have at least one piece I am working on at all times that is just for me. I usually have no intention of ever performing these pieces, so I pick off the wall stuff that I’ve always wanted to work on. I find it’s important to remind myself that I am a musician because it’s how I choose to express myself, and I am not creating simply for other people to approve of it. Not every project needs to generate money and not every project needs to be released.
Do you engage in any additional creative hobbies? Are there any you’d like to try?
I draw and scrapbook occasionally. Recently, I started taking ballroom dancing classes and that’s been a lot of fun!
Who are some other artists and creatives that inspire you to create?
There are several jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James that have not only inspired me but have also influenced my style of playing/singing. Honestly, I could pull artists from every genre of music that have both inspired and influenced me—from Stevie Wonder to Fiona Apple—but the artist that really made me feel like I could put myself out there was Sara Bareilles.
I will never forget the first time I heard “Love Song” on the radio. I was a singer who could also play piano at the time, and read stories about Sara’s experience that were very similar to what I was dealing with. I was struggling to figure out how to get myself gigs because I felt like I didn’t fit in with the musicians I had seen at bars and restaurants, and even on the radio it was mostly singers who had big bands backing them and rock bands. I played classical music and could fake my way through a cover. When I read Sara Bareilles’s story, I felt like I had found a path that would work for me, too. She wasn’t the first to do what she did and she won’t be the last, but she was the first one that made me feel like my music could be out in the world, too.
Why do you create?
It gives me a sense of accomplishment to have a vision and follow it through. Hearing a song that started as an idea come to life with a full band is incredibly cool, too. I also know how much music has helped me through trying times in my life; I hope that my music can do the same for someone else.
What advice do you have for other creatives?
Don’t stop and don’t be afraid to do it full time. It’s easy to get bogged down in lack—especially moving into a creative avenue full time—but your creative skills will expand and grow so quickly when you are doing the things you love. Look for ways to create multiple streams of income, and remember that creating your own business is also a creative activity!
What are you working on right now?
My band Sarah & the Safe Word just released two new singles! Our song “Dig a Fancy Grave” came out on 2/4 and our cover of “Face my Fears” from Kingdom Hearts 3 came out on 2/6. We are already booking studio time to start on our next release, hopefully out this summer.
Outside of the band, I am working on composing a couple of songs that I don’t know what I’ll do with yet (haha) and am learning “Victor’s Piano Solo” from The Corpse Bride. I am also in the process of preparing my students for a recital at the beginning of March, one of my favorite events.
Where can people find you and your work?
I also have music listed under The Bystander Effect, an original band I wrote for and sang lead vocals on. We haven’t played a show in a couple of years, but you can find our music on Spotify as well.
Thanks for allowing me to pick your brain, Beth! I love what you said about how creating a business is still a creative act. So many of us forget that, I think.