BBC Introducing artist Annabel Steele shares her journey to achieving success and confidence in the public eye by baring her most intimate thoughts and feelings through music. In this beautiful muse on creativity, she also dismantles notions of ‘genetic’ ability and inspires everyone and anyone to persist in the pursuit of their craft.
If you surround yourself with creative minds for long enough, it can start to feel as though every artist was born knowing that they wanted to act, paint, or dance. Art is so often spoken about in terms of a gift rather than an acquisition. I could never paint or draw, no matter how hard I tried; I was terrible at classical singing despite my terrifying middle-school music teacher’s efforts to get me to find my ‘head voice’; I was still working towards my Grade Two flute exam six years after I started learning. I had been acting all my life and it was at university that I fell in love with being on stage, but I still felt as though I was a pawn in another creator’s pursuits: I wanted to make something, from scratch.
A year into university, inspired by absolutely nothing other than a nameless ‘in-the-moment’ feeling, I downloaded a free music production software, borrowed my friend’s studio microphone and recorded my first original song, Breathe. And I’d have said you were mad if you told me that six months later I’d be sitting in a radio booth, describing the whole process during an interview with BBC Music Introducing.
I had submitted my second and third tracks, Lion and What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid, to BBC Music Introducing before I was contacted by Sean McGinty, the scheme’s coordinator for Lancashire, my home county. It was like a lucid dream: a surreal fantasy and a palpable, slow-motion experience all at once. I know it sounds a little dramatic, but this was the first time I had received validation for my own personal creative project. It was crazy to think that I had finally organised all the creativity I’d been harbouring for years into some sort of song... and people actually wanted to listen to the result.
Art doesn’t play by the same rules as sport or academia: you don’t need years of physical training or a lifetime of reading behind you to get somewhere. I never allowed myself to adopt that mindset because setbacks at school made me think, “That’s it. I’m not good at this, so I will move on and find something new.” Only years later, when I pushed myself to make music without any knowledge or experience, did I realise that artistry is not genetic. If you want it, you can have it.
When I knew I wanted it, I had to decide exactly what it was. There are a million different ways of expressing yourself through creativity, from sonnet-writing to makeup artistry and everything in between. Music has been a pretty integral part of my life for as long as I can remember – my dad brought me up on Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, determined to raise a daughter who appreciates ‘real music’, and although I only started to cultivate my own music taste when I was about sixteen, it took over my life immediately and I never looked back. I have playlists and artists to accompany every single emotion or situation, and I don’t leave the house without headphones. My entire life is set to a soundtrack, whether I’m listening or not, so when I decided I want to become a creator I knew exactly what I wanted to create.
Another hurdle to tackle as someone relatively new to the creative scene is putting it out there for the first time. I think it is one of the most vulnerable positions a human being can ever place themselves in: it’s like bleeding out everything that makes you who you are, then just standing there surrounded, by yourself, as people float by, listening and judging. And surprisingly, for me, the most intimidating part wasn’t the idea of having my friends and family listen to what I created. It was, and still is, the thought of strangers listening to my music with the power to construct their own versions of my identity.
But I will never let that stop me from continuing to create – I’ve always battled a little bit with social anxiety, but it’s amazing to think that I am overcoming those obstacles by pouring my heart and soul into an entirely public project. I guess that, for me, this is a way of talking with no filter and allowing people to like or dislike it, and not letting myself take that as a way to measure my creative ability.
After all of this, I think what I’m trying to say is that if you ever wanted to pick up a guitar, a paintbrush, a camera – there is nothing stopping you. And if you love what you create and it makes you happy, nothing else matters. I learned that via one of the best journeys of my life and I am so grateful for the BBC Music Introducing scheme for supporting me and my music, and for letting me unleash the artist inside myself.
You can find Annabel’s music on the following platforms:
YouTube: Annabel Grace https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQ420eoOGu95ZfeQH3AXHg
Music blog: www.soundofsteele.wordpress.com