Helena Mayer ’20: Reaching the Lost Through Music

When Helena Mayer ’20 began her career, she had a pivotal choice to make. Although she had studied worship music at Azusa Pacific University, she felt unsettled about going into a career in Christian music. “I prayed and asked God what He wanted from me. I heard Him say ‘I want you to reach the lost,’” she said. “I feel called to be at the beginning stage of people’s faith journeys. For people who have turned around because they’ve been so hurt by the church, I want my songs to start the process of showing them there’s something more, something worth living for even if that’s not under the description of Christian music.”

Mayer draws inspiration from the story of Esther. “The word God is not used once in the book of Esther and yet everything about that story is about God and this complete surrender to God’s will in your life,” she said. “I’m not shy about my faith. It’s there and it’s present but I’m more passionate about showing people the good and beautiful life.”

Mayer debuted her first song, When It’s Over, in 2018. It got placed on Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist which led it to grow in popularity. Today, When It’s Over has more than 1.7 million streams. Although she was thrilled to see the song doing so well, Mayer had a sense of impostor syndrome at first. “I was insecure about being honest about where I’m at in life and translating that into music,” she said. It wasn’t until Mayer released her first EP, Growing Up, in 2020 that she felt a sense of confidence in her lyrics, especially with the song Childish.

“Knowing that it was about something that came from my own experience was something where it was really hard to sit and realize people could think of me differently because I’m not this cookie cutter, perfect, have done no wrong kind of human being,” she said. “I can’t be vulnerable if I’m not willing to be honest about my own experiences.”

Mayer’s vulnerability has led her to write songs on a variety of topics including anxiety, being an introvert, feeling misunderstood, breakups, and going through mental health struggles. Fans have resonated strongly with this and her 21 songs have more than 10 million cumulative streams on Spotify. However, Mayer doesn’t pay attention to the numbers—anymore. “So many of our formative years were shaped by social media where value is determined by likes. I’m trying to focus less on the likes and streams,” she said. “It’s hard for me to do and I’m still learning how to do it.” So what does she place her value in? “Response.”

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, like musicians across the world, Mayer had to halt her live performances. She moved back to her family’s home in Thousand Oaks, retreated to her room, and disappeared to the outside world for months. “That was really necessary,” she said, “I needed that time because there was just so much I hadn’t processed. I wasn’t really able to. It had just compounded over the years. I needed to recharge.”

When ready to perform again, a newer medium presented itself. While Twitch had mostly been used to stream gaming and esports prior to 2020, the pandemic led the platform to become a hub for virtual concerts, something musicians sorely needed for their livelihood. Mayer started streaming on Twitch in August 2021 and hit partner status after six months. She now performs four times a week for her more than 9,000 followers. While the platform is free for users, fans can support their favorite artists by subscribing for $5-25 a month. Half of these proceeds go to the artist.

Twitch revitalized Mayer’s life and career more than she could have imagined. She has dedicated fans across the world. Not only do they listen to her music, they want to hear the backstories behind every song and request their favorites on repeat. Fans’ response and engagement has driven Mayer to new creative heights. She hopes her music will have the kind of reach that changes lives.

“I’ve had multiple people reach out to me and share personal details about their life and how my song helped them get through tough times,” she said. “Even if that’s the only impact I’ve had through my music, to me, that’s enough.”

Reflecting on her time at APU, Mayer credits both her areas of study for equipping her to become the musician she is today. In her music and worship major, she was heavily influenced by Stephen Martin, DCM, director of the Worship Studies program. After taking a songwriting class with Martin, Mayer served as his teaching assistant for three years. “Working with Stephen was really formative. He was integral to my musical journey,” Mayer said. Some of Martin’s biggest impact came when Mayer would share her songs with him and ask for feedback on the lyrics. “He wouldn’t tell me to change this or change that. Instead, he would pose these really great questions that helped me reach the conclusion on my own.”

Mayer also drew upon many experiences in the music program that prepared her for her career. These included leading a chapel band which expanded her musical repertoire and gave her experience singing in front of a large crowd, learning how to use a soundboard which she uses every time she streams on Twitch, and being told to always hire a lawyer when working with other artists on songs so she receives fair pay for her work. This is also where she learned the true meaning of worship.

“When most people think of worship, they think of Sunday mornings before the sermon where you repeat the chorus over and over. There’s so much more to it,” she said. “Worship is something everyone can do using the gifts they have.”

Mayer also majored in honors humanities. Being a part of the Honors College was one of her favorite parts of APU. “I loved the intentionality of honors. It taught me how to think critically,” she said. “Writing and discussing deep topics is my bread and butter.” Mayer specifically credits colloquy with David Weeks, PhD, Diana Pavlac Glyer, PhD, and Gary Black, PhD, where she learned ideas that have inspired many of her lyrics. “They taught me how to look at the big picture and see how we can take these intricate concepts and make them into something that’s relatable, showing people a better piece of humanity.”

Mayer trusts that God is guiding her in the right direction. “I’d love to have a big impact, but I don’t want it to be about me,” she said. “If there’s a way I could take people on little blind dates with Jesus and have them leave the show talking more about the music than the artist, talking about the meaning behind the songs, that to me is impact.”