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...