Natasha Bedingfield: Forward Thinking
Forward ThinkingWords Paul Watson
Natasha Bedingfield is one of the UK’s most successful female exports. Her debut album, Unwritten, sold 2.3 million records back in 2004, and several of her songs also made it to mega status across the pond. Although out of the UK limelight for the last few years (she now resides in LA), she’s in the middle of a brand new album, and is writing more prolifically than ever. She’s also just brought out a new single, Hope, in collaboration with fashion brand, Philosophy and its Hope & Grace charity initiative, and she has a refreshingly positive outlook on the music industry – a pretty rare thing in today’s gloom-infested times.
“Philosophy, as a brand, is one of my favourites, and I want to work with people that I feel in line with, message-wise; it's a positive company, and the first of its kind to support mental health," Natasha informs me. "And that really resonated with me because there is so much craziness in the [music] industry, and just in the world in general. You hear so many stories of people that you think are so happy and then they're committing suicide; it feels like craziness is celebrated, like a spectacle, but the truth of it is, so many people feel very alone.”
Natasha prides herself on trying to remain balanced, which can't be easy in a business where, as Ronan Keating famously put it, life is a roller-coaster.
“When you're doing well, you're like a God, so how do you stay down to earth?” she ponders. “Between every album, it goes up and down; everyone knows you and wonders if you can make a comeback, and then you do. I see a lot of my peers being pushed into a state of imbalance, and I think this is a really good issue to focus on.”
I agree. Aside from the glitz and glam, this industry is notorious for its demons. If there was less of a stigma associated with mental illness, or if people felt others were also going through their pain, it would be a little easier to combat. And on that note, twenty-percent of the revenue from her new single (out now on iTunes) will go to the Hope & Grace initiative“This song isn't really a single for me, it's a collaboration between myself and something that I strongly believe in,” says Natasha, with a sense of drive. “Releasing music as a product, as yourself, can actually damage art, so for the new record I am working on, I've decided to make music for the fans, not for the executives: what do people want to hear, and what do I like, you know?”
If her hits Unwritten and Pocketful of Sunshine are anything to go by (both were huge in the US), then the new album, which is out later this year, could well be a belter.
“I hope so! Since I came to the US, I've just been on a wave,” she smiles. "I've done a lots of shows here, and I've written lots of songs, and I've travelled the world doing corporate stuff, but I haven't toured for some time, and that's what I would love to do again.”
LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Unlike a lot of artists, Natasha thinks the 'new look' industry of today is one that people should embrace and be excited about, as it's providing more opportunity for many artists across the board.
“The Internet is now so important, and it's so much easier for people to connect; it's a great avenue for new singers to get their music out without needing a middle man,” she insists. “To me, this is really exciting, and has burst the doors wide open. People are not being forced to listen to things as much, as they have more control. The real challenge for artists today is to be heard above the noise - what makes your music more listenable than anything else, you know? And I think this changes the way that people market themselves. Artists are putting their stuff out online, then it goes viral, and that seems to be a way that is really working.”
Natasha believes that 'anyone can find gold and strike it rich', and suggests that record labels are getting more and more concerned. It’s a valid point, we think.
“Think about it. Labels don't create the music, they just find people who create it,” she explains. “But if you're someone who does create music, you shouldn't be concerned. I know I'm not worried; I have a very deep well, and I can pull water. I am writing songs every day, and haven't dried up.”
The UK and US music scenes have always crossed over, and the new buzz word between the two territories today seems to be collaboration, as so many artists from both sides of the pond are now making plenty of music together. “You have to be open to working with other people to achieve success,” Natasha insists. “Look at Sam Smith; he was on everyone's records as well as his own, then there's Iggy Azalea, who is another good example. And I like that. Music should be much more about a culture - an experience rather than this one person that everyone worships. Music is powerful, andthewaytogetitoutistokeep building momentum. You'll see people rise to the top, but often, it's taken them years, especially songwriters. You might see a guitarist on stage that is just beyond brilliant, but what you don't see are the hours they've put into their craft becoming the best guitarist ever.”
And talking of being on stage, Natasha loves nothing more, and the experience has just got a whole lot better, thanks to her decision to acquire a set of JH Audio JH16 in-ear monitors. Compared to anything else she has worked with, it's night and day, she says:
“I love singing live and I love the reverb that comes back, but when I first started out, I was on wedges, and it got complicated because you'd have everybody singing along, which is beautiful for an artist to hear, but technically it bounces back, so it's very hard to hear the music.
“New singers normally end up singing too hard, and you can end up hurting your voice if you do that; and from my perspective, that was the key point for me to start using in-ear monitors. It took a while to get used to, but switching to JH in-ears has completely revolutionised the way I perform. I love the detail that they give me, and they give me a great stereo image... Oh, and they make them in wonderful colours, too! [laughs]”
Natasha is a real advocate of social media, and for several reasons: one, it gives her direct contact with her fans; and two, it saves her from getting writer's cramp:
“I remember when I was getting sent letters, you know? [smiles] And it was always hard to respond to them, because you'd have to buy a stamp for each one, and it's a lot of extra work. There were a lot of them too, so replying to mail used to be very tough. But today, thanks to these social platforms, it's much easier to connect, and I really like that.”
So how does she feel about the mp3 evolution, and the death of the CD?
“I actually never liked CDs! I know that's a weird thing to say, but I never thought they were very functional, as I would buy one and then it would just stay there on the shelf,” she replies. “I love that you can pick and choose songs today. It's difficult for the industry, yes, but on a practical level, making your own playlists is like making mix tapes, which is much more personal. Besides, people don't often even want to listen to a whole album these days.
“Yes, we're losing a lot of sound quality, and often I'll be in the mixing room and I'll think, 'this is the best it's ever going to sound', because no-one will ever hear it as it was intended, but I don't think many people realise that, so I do think there will be a move towards that in a few years.”
And what about streaming?
“I like the format of Spotify, and it makes more sense, like Netflix does, where you can watch the movies you want to watch when you want, and I think that should be the same with music," she admits. "It's like the new radio, but it's not monetised right, and I think people are actually stealing. Spotify needs to work out how to distribute the money better... I guess technology is just moving quicker than the laws!”
LOVING YOUR WORK
Conversation turns to stand-out musical moments, and rather than go down the self-indulgent route, Natasha, in what I am now realising is true Natasha fashion, chooses to look at the crop of new talent that is coming up instead.
“There's so much talent out there, and you never know who's going to make it, and that's what excites me,” she says, passionately. “A year ago, I was asked to sing a VH1 show with Iggy Azalea, and now she is winning awards, which is amazing; and when Nicki Minaj was making her first album, her record company called mine and said she would love to have me on the record, and everyone was like, 'who's Nicki?' They said she was going be the next hugest thing, so we got on there, and I obviously liked her stuff too, and within a week, her album comes out and she is just huge! I just love that! To me, something exciting and moving is getting to feel a part of another artist's journey.”
Our interview is drawing to a close, and I'm realising that Natasha has had a very positive and uplifting effect on me. No-one likes a hater, and if music is easier to make and easier to put out, then I guess what's not to like?
“Exactly! There is a lot of doom and gloom, and that is because of fear, and I don't like that. I don't think fear creates a good culture for creativity at all, and I'd rather look at possibility," Natasha concludes. "It's like the Wild West: there are a lot of rules being reinvented, some people are breaking the rules, but what are the rules?! [smiles] Those are the questions that I feel like asking at this time. Good music will be good whenever you put it out, and this year for me is about getting my record out there and showing it to people. It's really hard to hold back when you know you've got good music, but I will know when the time is right. It's like a puzzle, but one I feel excited about!”