Following up on last week's post, How to Love Your Independent Artist, Pt. 1, here is Part 2. For some reason, I'm a bit nervous to hit "Publish" on this. Not sure why...maybe I'm afraid it's going to sound self-centered or whiny or self-serving. Please know it's not intended to be anything more than vulnerable, on behalf of my brothers & sisters making art. So here goes.
4. We don’t all have the same goals.
I think people often believe all artists are hoping for the same things: notoriety, money, awards, platinum albums, or even just to be picked up by a label. We are all either on our way or not on our way due to unfortunate circumstances.
If we weren't after those things, then what could possibly be the point?
The reality is that the majority of professional artists do want all of those things. But there are many of us who honestly don't.
The longer we stay in or around the business, the more we're aware that all good things come at some cost. Those costs are too high for some of us. Loss of creative control, financial obligation to numerous entities, inability to maintain personal interactions with listeners, struggle for stability in relationships, etc. are very real considerations. We would really like to be financially compensated for our work, but we're often torn over the rest.
People have asked how it feels for me to have another artist record a song I write, whether it bothers me when the artist is credited with writing the song. And my answer is honestly that it feels great & I don't care if they are mistakenly credited. It takes nothing from me. Because...I get to do the writing, which is what I love. And hearing the song used is what I desire and is the best reward. I get to be a part of that without the stress or pressure of being a label artist out on the road half the year. Pure gift!
People joke about musicians or actors who were only on the “mainstage” for a few minutes. We call them “one-hit wonders,” or we ask, “What ever happened to that guy?” A Google search might show they’ve been quite active in their field on Broadway or in small music venues. Their best work may have taken place beyond the limited scope of the public eye, the best song may be track 13 and only the diehard fans ever heard it. We miss some things when we only choose blockbuster films and radio hits for sure.
What I’m suggesting is that we might care for artists by helping them to discover and fulfill THEIR unique purposes, be thrilled when they release solid work regardless of its ranking on iTunes…and refrain from the kindly-intended but unclear “I hope you make it!”
Remember, we mainly make art because we don't know how not to.
5. We feel “different” and long for creative community; we feel "normal" and just want plain old community, too.
Especially for artists living outside the big centers of activity, it gets a little lonely. Before my life became the crazy epicenter of travel and work and kids that it is now, I was often quite lonely, especially for people who were "like" me. We tend to feel a little odd (and yes, we can be too introspective). Our external lives and work can look so unusual that we often assume our inner worlds are quite unusual, too. Sometimes they are. Often we (artists, teachers, doctors, gas station attendants, office admins, pastors…) have more in common than we expect.
6. For artists who love God with their whole being, the whole being can be written into song.
This may be the trickiest subject, and entire books have been written on what it means to be Christian and be an artist. I personally recommend Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and Charlie Peacock’s At the Crossroads, for starters. But I’ll keep it simple here.
Christian audiences, particularly listeners over college age, love music that uses familiar Christian language and is directed toward God and is suitable for corporate singing. Many are fed by these songs, and the Church is edified by the artists who create this type of worship music. During the hectic moments of the day, many turn to these songs to be quickly re-directed and saturated in the gospel and scripture. This is good.
It's just that this is not the music all of us are called to write. And writing about the rest of life is – in my humble opinion – equally good and valuable. Just as the Bible is not only the book of Psalms, but also contains real stories and parables and metaphor and teaching of all kinds, and is spoken in varied voices…we long be free as artists to illustrate or reflect the whole of life, because the whole of life belongs to the Father. And our “small stories”…aren’t they merely reflections of the “Great Story”?
Birth and love and fracture and redemption…the story is told in countless experiences and endless melodies and lyrical lines.
Many artists of faith do not have a home on Christian radio, do not get invited to play for faith-based groups, and in general do not feel supported by the Church, because they do not write, or maybe lead, "praise & worship" music.
I think that's a mistake.
So, I guess I'm saying...
If you ask an artist at the merch table if she has any “worship CDs,” she may say, “Yes! All of them. Take your pick!” And you may later be surprised to hear her singing about her child or her neighbor or her husband. :)
8. We are grateful.
So sincerely grateful. For every single email telling about how this song affected you. For every smiling face in the coffee house or listening room. For every download. For every kind word after a shaky performance. For people interacting on blogs and Facebook. For the invitation to come and sing. For you sharing the music with your brother, who shares it with his boss, who shares it with his niece…
We feel unworthy and so very lucky to get to write & sing, to do what we love.
Grateful that you found us in this wide world of options.
Grateful that you stayed.
Artists, what would you add to my thoughts?
Supportive listener-friends, does some of this resonate with you, as well?