Posted on April 13 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is the wonderful Deborah Williams - a singer/songwriter whose beautiful songs have featured on major advertising campaigns for Victoria Beckham, Louis Vuitton, Wickes, Palma Pictures, and others. Her latest single Here and Now is is also out on iTunes. Here's her story:
Newnham: What is your background?
Deborah: I grew up in London. My parents both worked in the theatre so I spent many hours hanging out backstage. I think I was always destined to work in the arts in some capacity. Or to have a good crack at it in any case.
I remember at aged seven, being desperate to start piano lessons and my teacher telling me my hands were too small. I stretched my little hands as far as they could go and I guess he took pity on me. I started playing and by twelve, I was writing simple songs.
I took various paths in my life; studying at film school, teaching Pilates for many years (another passion of mine) but I always had my songs as my constant.
Newnham: How did you get into singing/songwriting?
Deborah: I have always written songs. I don't know how I got into songwriting exactly but it’s something I've always loved. It’s cathartic; a creative process and it makes me feel connected. It's what I feel like I should be doing.
I have quite a catalogue of songs now and so I thought it was a good idea to start getting some of them "out there” and my husband, who has a film editing company suggested cataloging my songs as performance videos on YouTube which I did.
Newnham: Your songs have been featured on major ad campaigns - how do you go about making that happen? What lessons can you share?
Deborah: Once I started putting my songs on to YouTube, it soon led to friends and filmmakers asking me to pitch on various jobs.
I have also also been trying to get in touch with companies that make music for commercials and let them know I am available to write bespoke work. My initial experience of writing for commercials has taught me to a) work quickly, and b) not be precious. There are so many people involved in the process, and quite a lot of hierarchy involved in advertising… I am a relatively unknown musician fairly low down in their pile! So I just do the best I can and am grateful for any opportunities I get to pitch. My advice to anyone else trying to do the same is the advice I give to myself: "Just keep at it."
Newnham: What are some of the bigger obstacles you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
Deborah: Clearly this sort of business can be quite ruthless and I can say I have persevered but rejection was/is not my biggest obstacle. My biggest obstacle has always been myself.
I’m not a “natural” performer. Despite years of gigging around various pubs and clubs in London, I was always terrified of singing and playing to an audience. Not ideal, I know - a bit like my want to surf despite my deep fear of waves. So overcoming my own judgement and ego has always been my hardest battle. Two things have helped me greatly with this:-
1) Age - I have, in line with all the clichés, learnt to love myself a bit more as I have got older (just a smidgen). And not love so much the opinion of others. It's not complacency or arrogance but rather an acceptance that we are who we are and so we should just be that. (I think Winnie the Pooh might have said something similar but perhaps more eloquently - Editor: “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”)
2) The Internet. I have been able to gain exposure without feeling like I'm exposing myself. Cheating… perhaps. But actually I think you have to know your strengths and I ain’t no Beyoncé.
Newnham: Who/what inspires you?
Deborah: When i was younger, poetry inspired me. My dad introduced me to Rumi. Game changer. Now, more than anything, people inspire me. Anyone who gets off their butt to do something that means something to them. That inspires me.
Oh, and Ella Fitzgerald
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice, if any, would you offer a younger Debbie?
Debbie: To a younger me…? I think I'll save my breath as I know I wouldn’t have listened.