This one's for the mothers (& all creative caregivers)...

Repost from a while back...in case you could use a reminder. :)

 Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

DEAR FELLOW MAKER,

I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same issue, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a tiny human or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because you have:

1. no homemade bread on your counter, OR

2. no new song/story/painting to show for yourself. 

And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of recording vocals for Feed Your Soul, I cried on the couch in front of my producer 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came into the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with four kids, two dogs and 12 stressful situations on my mind.

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND most of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I'd like to make, I most certainly do not have the hours or money to do that WHILE also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina, and our community relationships…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Florences but always & forever in league with six other members of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who just know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING, but you can do SOMETHING, and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts and likes but to souls.  Yours in particular.

Listen.

I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been given something marvelous.

You must invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

In it together,

christa

NEW MUSIC + Thoughtful Gifts For Songwriters

Well, friends, the time really got away from me this fall! While it's not quite as wintry here in Nashville as in this lovely photo, it's getting a bit brisk for the thin-skinned (me) and Christmas is a mere 15 days away! 

Somehow between tour's end and now, I failed to post about the two most recent songs released through Tune Tribe! These two happen to be a couple of my favorites this year, so I don't want to leave them out. 

ALSO, since it's December and you just might need gift ideas for a special music-maker in your life, I have some great suggestions for you at the end.


DOWN DOWN LOW

It was campaign season here in the States, and like most everybody, my ears were so tired of the ugliness. Many of us had to be intentional about taking a break from social media because it can become so unhealthy to feed on the strife. It was a challenge to me, too, because I want to know how to be a good listener and share my thoughts in a loving and open way.

So on the first leg of the Three Birds Tour, while I drove from Atlanta to Nashville alone, I kept the radio off and started thumping on the steering wheel and singing this melody a capella. A totally new approach for me, as I typically have to be at the piano to write.

The accompanying artwork by Mandy Rogers Horton is appropriately titled "Noisily Day and Night."

Here's a preview of Down Down Low:


THIS DECEMBER

The last new song of 2016 is "This December" which I also did not start at the piano. I wrote this chorus on the ukulele with my oldest son in mind, but also so many others who are asking lots of great questions about faith and tradition. It has a hint of Christmas and winter, but I like to think you could listen to it year-round and not be offended. :)

This piece of Mandy's is titled - also aptly - "Something I Cannot Name."


TUNE TRIBE + TRIBE SONGS

Digital Downloads - If you're new around here and are interested in getting these and the rest of the year's song demos digitally, you can subscribe HERE ($10) & we'll send you a link to stream/download (wav + mp3) at your leisure. You'll get 11 songs now plus one more next month and the opportunity to vote for the ones you think I should include in my next full-production album. Would love to have you join in!

Physical CD - Order a copy of Tribe Songs, my home-brewed album of all these new song demos I've recorded with Jess Ray this year. I'll send you a hand-labeled audio CD with 11 previously unreleased songs. Click HERE to get your copy of Tribe Songs ($12).


THOUGHTFUL GIFTS FOR SONGWRITERS

INSTRUMENTS or ACCESSORIES

A new or different instrument, other than their primary one...New strings...Travel case...Cables...Boom stand...Guitar stand...Yeti Pro USB Microphone (I love mine!) for home recording/worktapes...Quality headphones...Portable PA...Soundboard...Performance mics...

JOURNAL + GOOD PEN

Everyone has their preferences. In recent years, I've used basic marble composition books. My most treasured one was a small-sized soft leather journal with a string that wraps around it. Small enough to not be intimidating, lovely enough to be inspiring.

BOOKS

Here are a few of my favorite creativity-themed books:

  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  • A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
  • Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
  • Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison (supposed to be great, though I haven't yet read it)
  • Tribes by Seth Godin
  • Linchpin by Seth Godin

I also recommend books of poetry and great fiction, both great food for the soul and inspiration for songwriting!

SUBSCRIPTION to American Songwriter magazine. This is truly a great gift for any music-maker. I only wish I had time to read every issue cover to cover!

CONCERT TICKETS - There's almost nothing more helpful to a musical artist than to actually go see live performances. If cost were not an issue, most of us would be attending a lot more of these events & would be better for it.

Don't just look for the big productions, though. Those are a lot of fun, but your typical working artist needs real inspiration and ideas that can come from enjoying a great performance at a more intimate venue. It's so helpful to be up close and learn how to share music in an effective way without the big machine & lights. 

I also recommend giving tickets to theater productions and arthouse movies. Most of us will spend the money to see a mainstream film that's gotten great reviews. Fewer people take a "risk" on indie films, but those can be the most provocative and interesting. Read reviews & get two tickets so you can go together and discuss after!

HOST A HOUSE SHOW

If your writer is ready to share their work publicly, you could plan a concert in your own home and invite your neighbors, co-workers and family. Being a host is always a gift to yourself as much as anyone else. It takes a bit of planning and effort, but it's so worthwhile. You don't have to have a lot of space or a fancy house. Just space for some friends to gather & listen - everyone will thank you!

SCHOLARSHIP TO A SONGWRITING RETREAT OR MASTERPIECE PROJECT

Retreats - There are always songwriting workshops and retreats available & I speak from experience when I say it can be just the thing an aspiring songwriter needs to take the next step and grow. I am co-hosting one such retreat with my friend & collaborator Nicole Witt in East Nashville January 6-8, 2017 (one spot left), but with a little googling you'll be able to find one nearby, maybe even hosted by one of your favorite writers! (Link to our retreat: "Artist And" Songwriting Retreat)

Masterpiece Project - Masterpiece is a creative arts camp for high schoolers in southern Kentucky. I facilitate songwriting workshops there one week each summer and cannot speak highly enough of this experience. It's exactly what I wish I'd had when I was 16.

Escape to the LakeThis non-profit organization is all about promoting "gourmet" faith-based music, and their annual 4-day music festival is unlike anything else. The biggest difference is that it's small, no green rooms, no smoke and mirrors. Your songwriter will get to sit at the lunch table with the performing artists and writers, talk around the campfire, play at an open mic, and attend panel discussions. AND the festival is usually prefaced by a 2-day songwriting bootcamp! This is a fantastic opportunity, another one I would have loved to have had early on.

DEMO RECORDING SESSION

Help your writer get a song professionally recorded. Cost can range from $200-1500. Find some local producers, listen to their work online and make sure you like what they do, and consider the purpose of the demo before determining your budget so you don't over-spend. This can be an exhilarating experience for a new writer and would be a fantastic gift!

MUSIC

I know Spotify and Apple Music are the go-to, but here's the thing. They pay us next to nothing. The reality is musicians NEED to be paid for their work in order to keep creating it. Encourage your artist to pay for the music he/she loves most by giving an iTunes gift card. Or give a vinyl copy of a favorite album to your younger listeners. Physical CDs for the car. And maybe give music that has stood the test of time, something a young writer can learn from and enjoy.

TIME

If your creative person is married to you or has children, the best gift you could give them is TIME & SPACE. Take the kids for a whole day or one night a week and let her write in peace! Or surprise him with a room or space set up just for his composing. Simple, free, and oh so meaningful!

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS

We all need them, and the good ones are usually expensive. Help arrange and pay for their next session with someone who specializes in artist photography!

WEBSITE DESIGN

You can build your own, but some of us could use a little help taking it up a notch. Or maybe your friend doesn't have a domain yet and you could buy the domain in their name so it's ready when they are!

ONLINE MENTORING SESSIONS

I - and other writers I know - love to encourage up-and-coming songwriters. We don't have all the answers and are still growing ourselves, but we have learned a few things along the way, and it's really a pleasure to share what we have. When I host a session, I like to hear some music and give feedback and then discuss anything the other writer has questions about. It's really great (and rare) to get one-on-one attention from someone just a few steps further up the road. Email for more info: taylor@christawellsmusic.com

Through a group we've started called ARTIST AND, my friend Nicole Witt and I also periodically host online gatherings of about 8 people at a time to discuss particular themes related to artmaking. Join the Facebook community ARTIST AND to stay in the loop!

So I think that's a wrap (heh heh) on gift ideas! Have something you'd add to the list? Please leave suggestions in the Comments section.

Love to you and yours as we wait & prepare for the glorious coming, now just a couple of weeks away!

christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, there you have it. My quick brainstorm on thoughtful gifts for songwriters. Have more ideas? By all means, share them below!

Love,

christa

 

 

You Are My Defense: behind the song

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"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

Albert Camus

I love that quote. But it hasn't always been so. At least I didn't think so.

I finished high school outside of Chicago and don't remember the cold or snow, even in the black early morning at the bus stop, being the real issue. I was rather lonely during those high school years. I attributed that to being new, awkward, shy, fashion-challenged.

But maybe it was really the long winter. Or maybe I've merely associated winter with those blue feelings? Whatever the reason, my dread of the dark months seemed to grow over the years, even here in mild-natured North Carolina.

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As I said during a recent show, I even resented autumn because I knew where it was heading. The months of September, October and November formed a long, dreary hallway leading to winter, which felt like death.

(I'm not prone to overstatement at all.)

The slow but sure shortening of daylight was oppressive to me, to the point that the beauty of falling leaves or seasonal festivities went unappreciated almost entirely.

IMG_0694 I talk about this in the past tense, because this year and the last have, thankfully, not had quite the same effect. Certain circumstances in my life now allow for more solitude and focus which seems to be helping.

But in 2012, we saw a friend in our community repeatedly hospitalized for severe and chronic depression. This wife and mother of two young children known for creating beautiful and whimsical wall murals in playrooms seemed unable to keep her face above water for long, no matter the weather.

Numerous friends and family close to my heart have felt themselves swallowed up by depression during different life seasons, due to circumstance or chemistry or a combination of both. I remember the dread I felt walking into the apartment of one of these, the blinds closed mid-day, lights off, music blaring, finding there was nothing I could say or do that could get a smile out of this former class clown. I found red marks across his wrists and chose to believe him when he said he'd cut himself washing dishes.

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When I really look at it, I know my own struggles have never been quite that.  Depression is a brute, and I am less an expert than a bystander devastated by her own powerlessness to fix anything.

I asked my friend back in 2012 if she could describe it for me, what it was like for her. The songwriter, I suppose all artists, are prone to walking battlefields as well as beaches, gathering shells and making something out of them.

I wanted to write about this reality without trying to fix it. It's okay for a song to be a moment in time, to write where you've been and what you've seen. Of course, I've also seen too much love for it to not to make an appearance.

The stories of my people became linked to the story of me in winter, and this song, "You Are My Defense," took shape.

 

I feel the clouds coming over like a bad dream

Same shadows I’ve known since I was 18

Weeks before winter falls

You find me in the back hall, hiding

I feel the sunshine slip away

 

I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

 

You carve the stone with evidence of your love

Strike a match to warm us when the cold comes

And I will sing of summer light

That feeds the soul through the dark night

Will you feed my soul through the night?

 

Oh, when I’m a ship out on the sea

You are, you are the lighthouse calling me

And when I feel unreachable

You get to me

You get to me

 

And I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Every time you’ve laid yourself beside me

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

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I wish I could say I actually remember writing the second verse, what prompted the stone image. I sing it almost as a newcomer to the song, which is kind of cool. The stone may have had a different inspiration, but I now think of it as the whole of planet earth. Call me crazy, but I do believe there is a Person behind all this wonder. And I think the whole place screams it.

Similarly, the match doesn't have to be one thing, but one thing it might be is the faithful-to-return sun-soaked months that restore and revive before the cold.

The song I sing of hope is one I choose to sing and must choose and choose again, because it does not always come naturally. I sing of summer light because I want to live and that's the only way to survive. I sing because I remember the way the sun felt on my skin and expect to feel it again.

It is invincible within me if only I pry my hands from these fearful, reluctant eyes and see.

IMG_0707Time and time again while I sleep, Someone comes and lays himself beside me.  Being aware of that...saves me.

It's not about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps but by Love that lays down for you and with you.

Finding yourself not alone, not beyond the reach of one who loves you..it really is something.

-cnw


Through the end of January, every moleskine journal we ship will be sent with                       a handwritten lyric of your choice inside + a free copy of my COVERS ep.

The journals are a great place to record the things that feed your soul this winter or any season. The songs on this album are songs that, in their own way, fed my soul "back then."

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Plumb Exhale Tour Journal: 4

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29 Oct 2015

I’ve been home for three days, hanging with the kids and realizing autumn somehow breezed in while I wasn’t looking and set up camp. Carolina is looking fine in gold & bronze, and even this cold-weather hater is smiling about it. And about the butternut squash soup I made last night and will eat again tonight.

I didn’t post a journal last week. Monday was an early travel day, which left me wanting only sleep & cuddles. Tuesday was prep for youngest daughter’s birthday. Wednesday, family day. We kept the kids home from school (unexcused! Gasp!) and headed to the state fair, which was EXACTLY the right call. So much fun. Thursday I was back to Nashville and climbing on the bus for our last weekend of the tour!

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Several bus mates were ill over the weekend, leaving everyone a bit wary of picking something up. Would have made a very interesting finale! Plumb was recovering from bronchitis, and I was amazed by how she powered through. When your body is your instrument and it breaks…it’s a pretty stressful predicament. It would be for any of us, but especially when you have larger audiences and a busload of musicians depending on you to not cancel.

Connecting with people at the Food for the Hungry table.

 

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Anyway, the show went on & we loved every minute. Apparently pranks are common on last days of tours, and the best prank of all was the fact that Geoff Duncan & Brad Dring had me prepared (as in, nervous wreck) to be pranked during my last set and then DIDN’T. Exhale.

What we did do is scavenge some costuming backstage and rush the Rapture Ruckus set during Mister Roboto for a (somewhat) impromptu dance party. I guess they knew we were coming, but they didn’t know we’d come in style. It was incredible.

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I soaked up every late night conversation and listening session, knowing this was a special moment in life. I felt ready to be at the end of this stretch and home again, but not ready to let go of the people I’ve come to love & admire. I mean, you can’t brush your teeth with a bottle of water next to someone for five weeks and not feel pretty tight. It’s a strange temporary reality that I think resulted in permanent relationships. They are good people, every one.

 

Tiffany and I have lives that have circled back together over the years, and I love that. So grateful she took a chance and invited me to be a part of this journey. And overwhelmingly thankful to my Raleigh family & friends who cared for me & my family in so many ways. I wouldn't have been able to be present on the road if you weren't present at home. Thank you.

Cheers to new adventures & new friends & each of us doing the work we were made to do.

Love,

christa

 

Release Show & Other Happenings

photo cred: Taylor Leonhardt!  

Dear friend,

I sat down to write and realized that today is the 2-month anniversary of the COVERS ep release!  We gave away 3,000 full album downloads on Noisetrade the first week. Many thanks to the Kickstarters whose funding made it possible for me to give the music away that week, thus getting it into the hands of so many new listeners.

I really hope you've had a chance to hear it, because man, it's been GREAT fun to interact with so many people who have memories attached to these songs & others who had never heard of The Smiths.  It's surprised me how many people are into covers and would never have found me apart from me covering Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight." :)

So what happened after Feb 10?

Since release day, I've had the pleasure of doing several interviews/podcasts, a small tour in Texas, a writing trip to Nashville, and have spent a good bit of time working up those promised Kickstarter rewards, as well.

I'm also carving out time for songwriting--both for me and for other artists--which is maybe most exciting, because one of the things I hoped the COVERS album would achieve for me is a renewed sense of energy in my writing.

Flow...

With spring upon us, I find I'm waking up with my brain exploding, creativity sparking, and it's been noted at the dinner table that my knee is bouncing in that antsy way you do when you've been in a state of flow and had to stop to do human things like talk and eat.

At times like this especially, the work doesn't feel like a job but like being alive, at play, outside of time, lost. And found.

I told Toby the downside about the writing days where  lose myself like this is that my brief hours of solitude are gone before I even look up.  Still, it is such a great gift to have work that makes you feel that way; it's a small price for the joy & honor.

Also...

I'm gearing up for songwriting workshops/events such as Young Songwriters Workshops in Raleigh, Escape to the Lake, Masterpiece Project 2015, and a Writers Retreat some friends and I are leading in Nashville in August (currently being revamped, will repost soon).  If you have any songwriters in your life, please have them check out these opportunities to connect with peers & grow in their understanding & practice of the art.

Last but not least...

I've been practicing with this gifted & oh, so fun group of musicians for the only currently-scheduled full band show on the books.  Our COVERS Release Show will take place at Raleigh's Pour House Music Hall THIS SUNDAY, and I couldn't be more excited.

If you're in town, please come and enjoy openers Jess Ray and Claybrook and stick around to hear the newly released tunes as well as some originals from past projects!

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If you've hung in there to read all this, wow! Impressive attention span.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to have the privilege of your time and ears.  I know you have your own work in front of you & it's good to be in such good company.

Keep saying it your  own way...

christa

 

 

 

 

 

you CAN do a lot of things...

“You don’t HAVE to do anything, but you CAN do a lot of things.”

She was 16-years-old and said it with a comical grin, referring to my dilemma over whether or not to feel obligated to patch a small hole in my favorite skirt.  She’s a free spirit.

I have never been as free as I want/could/should/will be.

Her hair changes shape and color frequently.  Her opinions are strong, independent and well-supported.  She sees through people and things.  She was intimidating to adults when she was only 14, though she was almost always laughing, smiling, and teasing.

She had no idea that such a small, impromptu comment would linger and replay in my mind over the years. She probably had some idea that I have never really believed it.

What I've really believed is:  “I have to do a lot of things, and I can’t do just anything.”

I'm not talking about thoughtlessly following every impulse without concern for motives or how our choices affect others.  I'm not saying it's a bad idea to seek wise counsel...on things that matter.  In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes:

"Freedom is the freedom to live as persons in love for the sake of God and neighbor..."

But good grief, we put a lot of silly expectations on ourselves (and others) that have nothing to do with love...or anything.  We value things that have no value.

Apparently, I do not need to ask anyone's permission to wear that old skirt or to change my hair.  In fact, no one really cares, not even my husband, who says: "I don't care if your hair is long or short as long as you stop talking about it."

You do not need your friends to agree with your choice in music or college or parenting style.  Go ahead. Do your own thing.

I don’t even have to choose one approach to writing or one genre to work in or one way to interact with people.

I can be free to think my own thoughts without apology, make up my own mind and even CHANGE it later.  We can be free to (gracefully) disagree with each other.

How great is that?

In her song, "Conversations," my friend Sara Groves sings,“The only thing that isn’t meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and the way He set me free…”.

Because of this, I can wear the skirt with the hole and leave it that way.  Or fix it.  Or toss it.  I'm free to not think about it, to not waste a second worrying about what someone might think.

There are very few things that truly matter. Who I am is safely rooted in the fact that God loves me because He loves me.  With all my holes and tears.  As is.  Since that's secure, I have nothing to prove, nothing to earn, nothing to lose.

Because we ARE free; we should act like free people.  You don't HAVE to do anything, but you CAN do a lot of things.

 

Sorrow's Flower: Masterpiece Project 2014

1167237_529469640453237_88041736_o It's a unique place, but i's not geography.  It's community.  A safe place where teenage artists can practice and wonder and collaborate and worship.

We work hard and laugh a lot and commune in a way that leads to deep, lasting friendships.

It's what I myself didn't have as a young artist living "on the fringes," struggling to find people who understood the way my mind worked & longed to express itself.

Masterpiece is what I wanted but didn't know to want in those days.   We want to feed the souls of young artists & encourage them to be hungry for excellence & truth.  We want to learn together the secret of seeing and how to find cosmos in chaos and what sorrow's flower might look like.

I've written other posts about Masterpiece, so I'll let the images speak here.

Look around you.  Who do you know that might need a place like this for a week this summer?

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at the sea

Image 1 Heaven rises on horizon And I with her am bird and brightness through clouds Over open sea That opens me

I begin a pilgrimage west Leave bags, sandy shoes And don’t look back, not once

I see and see and see Endlessly Talk to self, talk to God In silence Out loud

Listen to the past Replay words given Hours ago Days ago Years ago

Listen to surf Listen for something Demand something Ask outright

This is where the sound breaks loud & clear at my feet.

This is where no gulf exists between us.

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Here you are ocean And I lay a foot trail at your side

Here you wash my feet And I let you.

Here you are unavoidable.

Here you overwhelm and overtake, And imagination can no longer compete With senses.

I want to not turn back.

I want journey I want what I haven’t seen I want to make new tracks Without retracing

To walk until some final weariness Turns me fully to your navy depths And I enter with gladness Without waste or regret

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Jealousy & Her Rival, Community

*This is for a couple of young artists who asked me about jealousy amongst artists & how to find community in art-making.  Maybe for you, too? Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.11.40 PM

JEALOUSY

So you were sitting there trying to enjoy a performance when all of a sudden something ugly starts to wake up inside you and you find you're staring at the stage and the performer with less delight than dejection, more jealousy than joy.

You're feeling insecure about your work.  You feel underused...overlooked...uncertain.

If it goes on long enough, you start to get really good at finding fault with those "more successful" creatives.  You get critical in an attempt to protect your own sense of worth.  But it doesn't work, because instead of fueling better art in you, it makes you bitter, brittle, dry.

You weren't meant to be this way, and you don't WANT to be this way.  You WANT to be generous and cheer others on.  But you don't know how.

The first track on my album Feed Your Soul is called "Vanity Vanity":

When they passed me over like a penny on the sidewalk

I wanted to roll into the gutter

I wanted to listen in case they talked

Oh, little darlin', you've got a problem

Better treat it before it's too late

Vanity, vanity, how'd you get your hands on me

Goin' to the doctor who knows my sin

And he'll show me what I've got and take me to the river to get clean

Nobody likes to feel passed over.

You have gifts, you're pretty sure, but have no earthly idea what to do with all those songs/screenplays/ideas/drawings.  Or you're trying.  But your thoughts and motives are confused, and you don't want to admit it to anyone else, because it's ugly and everyone else seems above it.

Prayer.

I don't have answers or a prescription but I've been ugly inside, too, and I've often felt like a big zero.  And when I heard someone say to pray for those you do not feel love for, that it would change things, it sounded a bit pious and quite impossible.  But I tried it anyway; I prayed for a fellow artist I didn't know personally, whose success felt, for whatever (no good) reason, like a threat to my own.  Prayed for her to be fruitful and heard and to get better at her work and find more open doors.  I don't know what happened to her through that, but my heart, like the Grinch's, grew 10x bigger.  I found it impossible to ask on her behalf and still resent her.

Doing your thing.

My friend, Aaron Rice, says: "Stay in your lane," and I think that's a brilliant way to say it.  It doesn't mean you can't try new things.   But it means we have to stop looking at what others are doing and get to work.  I really believe we're meant to SHINE in unique, inimitable ways.  The more I take that advice, the more lovely and useful I am.

Giving thanks.

Like prayer, giving thanks has the power to protect us from envy.  Maybe only Mom & Dad care about my music, so I thank God for them.  Give thanks for the coffee shop that opens its platform to the unknown artist.  Thanks for the life story that gives way to song or story.  For the weakness that makes me dependent.  For the older man who tells me how that lyric reached a cobwebbed corner of his heart. I learn to give thanks for my own voice, as unimpressive as it seems to me.

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COMMUNITY

When we moved to North Carolina, I was at a total loss for artistic community, knowing no one and finding few musicians to intersect with.  Art-making can be very isolating, even though music should ultimately be collaborative.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and it's easy to feel like the only weirdo in your town (or house).

There are more of us out here than we think.  We have to watch for kindred spirits and create spaces that will draw us together.   A lot of times for me it's meant volunteering myself and my time to creative efforts, however small they may feel.  It's given me the chance to spend time with others who are at least interested in seeing artful things happen, whether they are artists themselves or not.

Some suggestions? You might...

*Volunteer with an arts camp for youth

*Say “yes” to local opportunities in community & church

*Reach out online via email or websites or forums

*Share your work online and let others find YOU

*Share art with often overlooked communities of people

*Participate in conferences for creatives (International Arts Movement)

*Support touring indie artists who come through town. 

*Host a house show, provide a meal and a space for them to rest.

*Join the Nashville Songwriters Association 

*Be willing to travel for opportunities to meet/share/work

*Search the web for like-minded artists & reach out.

*Find artists you respect & ask how you can support them.

*Host a meet-up at a local coffee shop for area songwriters & musicians.

At the end of the day, we need each other.  We really do.  We make each other better.

Hey.

There's no room for jealousy or isolationism.

There IS room for all of us at this party.  Even me.  Even you.

Especially you.

And this last picture?  It has nothing to do with this post except to say maybe we also need to take ourselves a little less seriously now and then. ;)

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What we have to lose...

*With a new post in the works, but unfinished, sharing this one from the archives again. Go get'em. :)Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.54.53 PM

Steve Jobs died.

And a few days after that, I wept as I drove home from Tennessee.

Because of Steve Jobs? Not exactly…but sort of.

I’d just started down the long gravel drive, my parents waving in the rearview mirror, shouting their love…and suddenly all these years of being alive here together were also disappearing in the rearview mirror, and I faced ahead of me the likelihood of traveling on without them one day.

As she’d leaned into the truck for a last hug, Mom had said: Sometimes I wish you were still my little girl.

And as often happens, I stayed quiet while my heart said: Me, too.

I am not actually a worrier or a dweller on death and mortality. I do spy heaven on the horizon. But we all know time moves too quickly when you’re having fun, too slowly when you’re waiting.

My parents will turn 65 soon, and as amazing and energetic as they continue to be, they aren’t exactly the same as they were at 42. And 42 is the age they have been in my mind for the last 23 years.

Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a magazine from the big farm table in their kitchen and read this quote from Steve Jobs: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

And I thought: Maybe he's right.

I’d spent several days writing, meeting, and recording in Nashville. When I’m there, I’m both invigorated by the city’s creative energy and also a bit intimidated and out of place with the industry side. I told Nicole: When I’m writing from home, it’s like a hot tub. Dealing with business out here feels like climbing out of the tub and into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes, I just want to pull away...keep myself and my work in safer places where I don't risk rejection.  Where I don't have to deal with fear and insecurity.

But I read that quote in my parents’ home, and I gave myself a little talking-to that went something like this:

Okay, listen, you. You're going to die.

You may have a few brief years before your parents stop feeling strong enough to get on the trampoline. A few quick years to be brave and share the music that grows in your soul. A few fleeting years before your little ones grow wings and fly.

A few years left. At best.

So, seriously. SERIOUSLY. What exactly do you have to lose?

Do you really want to spend even one day whining or holding back because someone might not approve? Certainly, since the dawn of time humans have faced far bigger hurdles, greater resistance.

Stop looking for permission.  Love your Maker.  Love people.  Make the Greatest.Work.You.Can make...in Him and for Him. 

What do we have to lose?

Even as I ask it, I know the answer.  For me, what I have to lose is your esteem.  I have been a life-long approval junkie, now happily on the mend, but not wholly rid of it.

I write songs to communicate with other humans, but I write also to imbed more deeply in my own soul the truths I know I'm in need of.

I wrote this for Allison but also, as it turned out, for me:

"There's no way to earn what you've already got...nothing to lose when you're loved from the start..."

I have all that I need.  I really do.  And there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, nothing to make Him love me less.  If you know God through His son, this is true for you, too.

Let's boldly love and boldly make,

and let's repent of the moments lost to self-pity/self-consciousness/self-preservation,

because tomorrow we may die and all we'll have is what we've given away. (a truth found in a long ago Ann Voskamp post)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the reminder.

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At the time of this original post, I mentioned how Emily P. Freeman's book, Grace for the Good Girl had spoken to me.  It's awesome.  Now, in real time 2013, Emily has a brand new book out called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  I had the privilege of reading it in advance, and can heartily recommend it to you struggling creatives (You know who you are)!

Another book, a classic, on my short list for artists is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

For the Invisible...SHINE

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I would sit in the car before school and obsessively rub more black liner beneath and around my eyes.  “Why do you do that?” my cute, sporty sister asked.

Because I’m ugly.  Because my eyes aren’t pretty and nothing is right about the way I look.

“Why does your sister dress like that?” someone asked her.

Because she has no idea who she's supposed to be.  Which version of herself is true.  Because she's drawn to a kind of beauty she doesn’t see here in these horrible school walls, and she doesn’t know how to be like you. 

My own small bedroom walls & closet doors were papered with magazine images of idyllic scenery and girls in wacky & fanciful ensembles really only worn at photo shoots and not in real life.  Those images were the backdrop for my imagined life (read: escapist).  I didn’t have money, so I spent hours modifying the clothing I had into something that resembled the girl in my mind that resembled the way I felt on the inside.

“Why are you so bizarre?” my Mom asked (who is now appalled she ever said that – she’s awesome).  “Why is your room such a disaster?”

Because I am a disaster.  Because I’ve been the A-student you don’t need to worry about, but I want you to worry right now, because my mind is dark and I’m deeply sad.

During lunch hour, I hoped fervently for one or two familiar faces to be easily spotted in the cafeteria.  If not, I carried my salami sandwich to some quiet corner of hallway and kept my head down.  At least one or two pep rallies were spent behind a locked stall door in the bathroom.  Pep rallies were the worst.

I literally ached to be noticed, even as I hid behind shyness and long skirts and hair and eyeliner.  I dreamed of that moment where one of those confident, popular boys would walk out of a John Hughes script, see the skinny, strangely-dressed girl and believe she was a mystery worth risking his teenage societal status on.

I hid inside music, and the music hid me.

There were good friends & mentors & safe spaces along the way, but it’s easy to experience and remember that young season in light of the place where we spend the most hours daily and feel the most judged.

We moved when I was in 5th grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, and 11th grade.  We’d moved plenty before those years, but it wasn’t a big deal until middle school.   Everything is harder during the teen years, and moving between different cultures without having the financial means to conform make it harder.

Almost every day for the first 3.5 years of high school, I crawled into the shower at 6:30am, sat under the hot spray and meditated on how miserable the next eight hours would be.  After school, I cried on the couch, begged my poor mother to home school me.

Please, please, don’t make me go back.  I hate it. I hate it. Hate. It.

We’d lived in the D.C. area just a few weeks when I waited in the lunch line, a scrawny 14-year-old recently returned from four years overseas, and heard three older girls behind me commenting loudly on my hair and clothing.

“Why is she dressed like that?  Look at her shoes!  I guess she thinks she’s cool.” (laughter)

Did you know it’s entirely possible to feel both invisible and conspicuous all at once?   Invisible, immaterial, irrelevant, unnoticeable.  Conspicuously wrong, unattractive, unfashionable, resist-able.

Why I am telling you all this?  It's not a pity party.  Really.  This was a long time ago.

It’s because I see you.

You're like me.

I feel compelled to write this down, the same way I felt compelled to write to creative mothers a few months ago.

It's for the invisible.  The ones who are reading this now and are quite sure I’ve been spying on you, because this all sounds a little too familiar.

You stand outside the circle, whatever that means.  Seemingly locked out of what looks like joy and you have no inroads. You see no similarity between you and the beautiful, interesting people strolling, laughing their way through life.  

You don’t know your own talent.  Or you have an idea of it, but no one else is convinced.

You look inside and find nothing brave, only fear and anger and jealousy and sadness. You want to get out of this place.  No other destination is in sight, but you’re hopeful there’s something, some bright place of belonging, out there.

I understand. And there IS.  There is a Place of Belonging in the Person of God.

Those words are not a consolation prize.  That’s the kind of TRUTH that will lift you right off the ground if you let it.

I didn’t come to give advice, but I’d be failing you if I left that unsaid.

People ask what I’d say to my younger self, and I don’t know what might have helped that girl. Maybe hearing the story of someone who walked that road and went on to lead a semi-normal life?

Maybe a couple of songs written/recorded by the same girl a few years apart?  The first a snapshot of that time taken just a few short years after.  The second a bit further down the road when things can be recalled without as much sting.

Time changes lots of things, and if your eyes are open, time will change you for the better.  Awkwardness shall pass (well, mostly) and wisdom will take the pain of those crappy years and shape you into a stronger and more sensitive, more seeing, human than you would otherwise be.

You’ll be one to notice and believe others are worth the risk.  You’ll write a song or a book or an email you wouldn’t have.  You’ll be the friend or the parent or the (fill in the blank) you couldn’t have been without the memory of loneliness.

I wish.

I wish I had embraced uniqueness instead of carrying it around like a necessary but unwanted load of bricks in my backpack.  I wish I had found the way to thinking about myself less and about others more.

I wish I’d listened to truer voices.  I was never invisible.

I could have been SHINING all along.

So can you.

"Invisible" - Christa Wells/Mandy Rogers - A Rogers/Wells Project

 

"SHINE" - Christa Wells - Official Music Video 

 

FEED YOUR SOUL - Release Day!

christa wells feed your soul album I may start crying if I’m not careful.

I mean, we actually did this.  Nine months ago, I trembled my way into a Kickstarter campaign and asked for help making another record.  Who am I to ask so much from  others?  But I did.

Songs and substance were beginning to well up again, and there didn’t seem to be a way to get them out on my own.  This simply would not have gone forward at that time without a communal effort.  And you guys stepped out of shadows with so much joy & gratitude (!) it took my breath away.

And here we are.

Today was the official birthdate of “FEED YOUR SOUL,” an album of 12 new & original songs that begins with vanity & self-sufficiency and ends in authentic love & community.

I did not know where I was going with these songs at first.  I didn’t know how they would fit together or what umbrella they might belong under.  They terrified me, honestly, and I was often certain they were miserable failures.

But you’ve begun to take them out of my arms and carry them with you.  And I’m finding out from you that the course was right after all and the work worth the labor pains.

So, world, I humbly present “FEED YOUR SOUL,” bashfully placing it at the foot of the mountain of good things.  Hopeful it belongs there.

And if you agree it was worth the effort...maybe you'll tell somebody?

Two Ways to Show Your Love:

  1. Itunes/Amazon reviews & ratings…It really helps an album to have lots of good words written about it.  If you have 5 minutes…?
  2. Give a copy or copies away…to your neighbor, co-worker or blog-readers

The world needs music-lovers as much as music-makers.  It never escapes me how much I need you.  Humbly grateful you’ve chosen to be here in this moment with me.

Love,

christa

Landing

 

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This is what I saw from my window last night as we crossed the sky back to North Carolina.

I couldn’t help thinking of Louis CK on Conan O’Brien saying, “I’m sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY.” How do we possibly take it for granted, this lifting off, pushing against gravity and seeing the world from the top down?

Coming home from camp is hard.

Even the 7-year-old who tagged along and mostly watched and wandered the grounds cried himself to sleep last night.  As I closed my eyes, a few tears trickled down my cheeks and my heart ached, and it’s difficult to articulate why.

It’s just SO good.

Home is not less good.  Such glory and greatness in the ordinary.

The intensity and luxury of those seven days is simply a gift of another kind.  Removed from ground zero, we're lifted out of our usual contexts.  The shared experience amplifies time, and we’re sure we’ve known these people longer than one week.

There is a particular freedom & joy unique to that space.  Freedom in being an individual in community with like-hearted brothers and sisters, joy in feeling truly understood.

We laugh and pray, sing and write, draw and build and make films.  We prepare meals and share them around tables with laughter and life stories and love for our differences and similarities.

When the vans are packed, as much as we need to be with our families and sleep in our own beds again, we dread & delay our goodbyes.  Seems a lot of drama, but it’s not.

We leave grateful & aware of how blessed we are to have been there.

 

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And on our final descent, I ask myself how I can bring some of that sky down to the land that holds me.

 

 

 

Someone you know needs this camp: Masterpiece Project 2013

Today I repost my reflections on the time I spent in 2010 with high school students at one of the best creative arts camps out there, along with a note written by one of our students. This is where you'll find me every late July and where I am personally encouraged and challenged by an intimate group of young artists. This is where I would have spent my summers when I was a teenager, if it had existed, and it would have been a source of deep encouragement to me, as it is to these students.

We've been at it for more than 10 years now and are thrilled to see alumni out in the world making truly great art.  We don't claim credit for their skill or talent, but we were honored to help draw out what was always there.

Registration is now open for Masterpiece Project 2013 whose theme will be "The Secret of Seeing." To find out more, contact Sherrie Rogers at gslrogers@gmail.com .

Masterpiece Project 2013

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I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designerspainterspoetsphotographerscalligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

This one's for the mothers...

*This is long-winded and girly (see title). You've been warned, men and short-attention-spanners."

Dear Fellow Mother-Artist,

You know I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same challenge, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a human critter or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart-she-tries.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because there is either 1. no homemade bread on your counter OR 2. no new song on your piano.  And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of vocal recording last month, I was crying on the couch in front of my producer/friend 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came in to the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with 4 kids, 2 dogs and 12  stress-inducing situations on my mind (which Toby got to hear all about via cell phone as I drove).

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND the bulk of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I want to make, I most certainly do not have the hours to do that while also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina and our (amazing) local community…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Mumfords or Florences but always & forever in league with 6 others of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING but you can do SOMETHING and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts but to souls.  Yours in particular.

Listen.

I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been entrusted something marvelous.

Invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

Love,

christa

 

 

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If I asked you how many people are in labor at a given moment, you'd tell me Google says approximately 490,000 babies are born every day around the world, so at least that many women are in labor as we speak.  And I would say the number must be far higher, because I'm not thinking only of human babies carried in their mother's wombs, but also of the kind of creature you yourself have been carrying and the thing I have been carrying. The visions and books and songs and ministries and inventions and everything else that begins with that sudden spark and heartbeat and eventually grows limbs and lungs within us and waits to see the light of day...

Forgive the feminine metaphor, because it is most certainly not a gender experience, but as I approach this new stage of my recording project, I keep coming back to it.  Mainly because I have felt so keenly aware of struggle in the process this time around.  My brother-in-law said my visual artist sister is the same way in the weeks preceding her art shows.

The past few weeks I'd deem the painful "transition" stage where it was time to let the work move from my head to worktape and then allow others to enter the room.

I'm writing now in order to take note of that, so next time one of you can kindly refer me back here and my own words will bring the comfort of, "Oh, yeah, that's right.  I felt like that before, and look how great we all turned out!"

At some point in our lives will undertake the development and delivery of something, and we'll feel the weight and pressure and terrible fear mixed with thrill and delight of participating in originality and co-creation with the Maker.  Most of us will question the legitimacy of the conception or the sustainability of the idea and later will second-guess our direction.  We'll have to measure and weigh external input against our own instincts.  We'll find ourselves off-track, at times self-indulgent.

Eventually, we get down to business and welcome the help of other kinds of experts who believe in what we are carrying.  (It's not the Messiah, but we are hoping to see some resemblance.)  And when you know you're getting close to putting a face on the idea, all the sleepless nights seem (are) worthwhile.

It's okay to be scared now and then along the way.  It is a big deal to give birth to something new.  It doesn't matter that 490,000 babies are being born today.  That number doesn't diminish your ONE baby in the slightest.  THIS one is yours.

It's okay to say it's hard.  It is.  It helps, though, to remind yourself "What to Expect When You're Expecting" - every pregnant woman knows you need reminding what is going to happen when and how it's going to feel.

You might be developing a new course, adopting a child, training for the foreign mission field, brainstorming the start of a new church ministry or support group, outlining a new book, starting a small business.  Labors harder in many ways than physical.

What are you carrying?

Or if you're feeling rather barren?  This may not be your season bear a new thing, but it might be exactly the season for you to come alongside and support someone who is feeling the good weight.  Talk them down from the cliff when they need it.  (ahem - Many of you have done that for me recently.)

Maybe we are always to have our feet in one of those sets of shoes?

As for me and this making a record thing, I've rounded the bend, and the doctor has been called in. :)  Let the fun begin.

How to Love Your Independent Artist: Pt. 1

 

FIRST OF ALL.  I’m already loved.

Loved well.

Each of you I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or hearing from over the years since I made the bold move in 2009 to take my quaking body up to the piano in front of real people have done nothing but encourage and uplift.  I haven’t yet been able to think up an adequate “Thank you,” but I always feel it.

So, I’m not writing this because you have failed to love me well.  Quite the oppositeBecause you care, I think you might appreciate a peek behind the curtains into the life of fairly odd creatives like me.  Because you care, you want to understand our hearts, joys and struggles.

As you may know, I was really strictly a songwriter for several years, having abandoned an early desire to perform, due to extreme performance anxiety.  It was only after a false start in 2006 and a more legitimate launch in 2009 that I really entered into this world independent artistry.  And my path hasn’t looked very much like the majority of indie artists, Christian or not, because of my particular life & career circumstances.

Still, there is a sense of brotherhood amongst us who determine to keep making music with or without the sometimes-helpful, oft-constraining scaffolding of a record label.

 

SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS (3 of 7):

 1.    Behind every hour onstage, there are roughly 6-60 hours of work offstage.

There are a million kazillion things independent artists spend hours learning and applying, with writing & rehearsing often getting the shaft.  Many of us handle our own booking, planning, band-management, book-keeping, product inventory & shipping, website maintenance, blogging, etc. and are hard-pressed to get to the creative work we are passionate about.  This is a real struggle, as many of us have other day jobs and/or family, as well.

Prior to 2009 I was surprisingly clueless about this side of the music business and recall thinking: “That’s a pretty great gig!  Even if they only make $100 for a house show, that’s not bad for 2 hours of fun, fulfilling work.”

It IS a pretty great gig, getting to do what you love.  But needless to say, I’ve been enlightened about the hours.

2.  We aren’t always sure we should be doing this, but we can't seem to stop.

 

  • Is anyone even listening?
  • Do our musical & lyrical efforts seem to resonate?
  • Can this really be financially feasible?
  • How much should we model ourselves after label artists?  How much should we model ourselves after full-time indie artists?
  • How free are we to write what we really want to write, even when it doesn’t match current radio trends (Christian or not)?
  • Is it possible to stand under stagelights and keep a right heart and motives?

Ultimately: Is this of enough value to really make it worth the sacrifices of time & money?  Am I on the right path?

We return to these questions, but ultimately we LOVE MAKING MUSIC & we don't know how to do much else. Don't WANT to do much else.

3.  We're looking for our place within the art world.

 

Even if we’re sure we SHOULD be making art, we continue to ask:  Why?  What exactly is MY particular purpose & place?  Where do I fit?

Nashville, New York, Atlanta, LA…or Raleigh, NC?  Coffee shops, house concerts, music festivals, arenas, conferences…?  Americana, pop, folk, Christian, rock, bluegrass, country…?  Am I speaking to people who share my faith or to people who do not?  Is my natural audience teens, young adults, 35 year old moms, other artists, radio listeners, theologians, former hippies…?

It’s demographic, but it’s more than that, a sense of calling.

Artists: If this is a question you are struggling to answer, I would suggest you start with a little inventory of what you really know about yourself.  This is a spiritual exercise, I think, if we acknowledge that we were in fact designed by Someone for a specific purpose & workOur passions and gifts and personalities point toward that purpose.

For me, these are some things I know:

  • I am compelled to put words and music together in the most honest way I can to uplift and challenge myself and others,  reflecting life and truth.
  • I deeply desire balance in all things.
  • I have an insatiable thirst for wisdom and understanding of the Maker and humanity, and the relationship between the two.
  • I love to be taught and to teach.  (much to the chagrin of my family members)
  • The joy of writing for me is in finding beautiful, inventive ways of painting pictures, not in being safe.  At the same time, communication is important to me, so I want the songs to be accessible.
  • If something does not interest me, or if I do not believe in it or feel its purpose or respect the approach, I cannot muster motivation. The possibility of song being a hit is not enough to make me care.
  • I enjoy creative independence and collaboration, but do not want to feel controlled by a “machine.”
  • I have a family and a local community, and it’s important to me to be present & faithful to both.  This means I have to strive to be a good steward of my time & resources.

All of the above have shaped the path I’ve taken and continue to take regarding music.  If I say "no" (an important word for all humans to use wisely) to a request or opportunity, it's because whatever it is doesn't quite fit with all of the above.

You have your own list, right?  Artist or not.

 

ARTISTS, feel free to chime in below.  I'm presuming to speak for all of us, and I'm sure I'll miss something.  MUSIC LISTENERS, would love to hear from you, too.  Do you have an artist in your life & you're not sure what to do with him/her?

Because of the length of this post, I'm dividing it.  Look for "HOW TO LOVE YOUR INDEPENDENT ARTIST: PT. 2" next week...  

 

Masterpiece Project 2012: Already/Not Yet

Some fun sound & images for you today! A week ago, we crossed the mountains of western North Carolina after a 12-day trip to Boston/Cape Cod, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Needless to say, with the constant change of routine around here, my attempt to post anything regularly this summer did not pan out.

Ah, well.  :)  You had plenty to do and read without my help, I'm sure.

As you probably know if you've been hanging around here awhile, one of the best things about summer for me is the week I spend at Masterpiece Project in southern Kentucky.  This year may have been my favorite year yet.  Word must have finally gotten out, because we had more young artists than ever apply and sadly had to turn a few away.  It is just that special. Our theme this year was: Already/Not Yet, which was a provocative springboard for our camp-wide collaborative project.

View all photos from the week on the Masterpiece Facebook page, or subscribe to the Masterpiece Newsletter (email your addy to: gslrogers@gmail.com) to read articles by students & staff!

Growing up, we had no camp for creative students, but we did have parents who supported and encouraged our creative endeavors, paid for music lessons, attended performances, and gathered around the piano joining in our sing-alongs.  So last week when, for the first time in Masterpiece history, all my siblings and both my parents were at camp together at one time, it was the heartfelt plea of our dear Mom that we sing something together one night at open mic.  :)

Here we are obliging Mom's request (l-r: Mandy Rogers Horton, Gordon Rogers, Jeremy Botts (dear old friend & artist/Wheaton College prof), and Reagan Mountain) with a song I wrote for the Definitions Conference (inspired by Hebrews 11, lyrics below).  I love that you can hear Masterpiece camper voices singing along by the end.

For a Faith Like That 

I ask for one thing

Of the gifts you could give me

What I want is what I need

Give me faith like an old oak tree

The faith of our fathers

Lord, plant and I’ll water

Plant and I’ll water deep

 

Til I offer like Abel

Til I bless like Jacob

Imagine like Abraham under the stars

Let me speak like Samuel

Let me dance like David

Remember like Moses where I belong 

For a faith like that

 

To wait the promise

When I can’t see the finish

To go the distance

Heart set for the city of gold

To welcome the danger

Knowing I am a stranger here

Lord, let me persevere

For your glory

 

Chorus

 

I pray that whatever comes to me along this way

I’ll follow you, I’ll follow you by faith

Lord, if I do it’s only by grace

By grace

 

Chorus x2

 

I ask for one thing

Of the gifts you could give me

What I want is what I need

Give me faith like an old oak tree

(c) 2012 kiss me not publishing

 

Also from our time at Masterpiece, fun was had by these three groups of songwriting students in our workshop on Day 1, as they got to know each other and shared some of their musical awesomeness.  Their assignment: rewrite the lyrics to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and then create new music for your new lyrics.  Voila!