Nicole Witt

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.



 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...  


In the Image of the MAKER...with Ann Voskamp!

*Friends!  Thanks for spreading the word about this little retreat.  We SOLD OUT in 4 DAYS!  Wow.  Please add your name to the waiting list if you missed it (you never know) - and stay tuned.  We are working on the possibility of adding another date for this retreat in the next few months.  Maybe we'll see you there? :)

Dear Friends!

I've been so excited to share this news with's been in the works for months and we have finally landed on specifics enough to invite your participation.

If you have been around my Twitter feed much over the past year or two, you are aware of my great affection and admiration for Ann Voskamp, Canadian blogger/writer (although she would first list wife to Farmer and mother of six).  Ann writes vividly, poetically, and with profound depth about faith, life, and living gratefully.

Across the miles, Ann has become a dear friend to me.  The title track of my new EP: How Emptiness Sings originated with one of Ann's marvelous blog posts -- Soulcoustics: How to Hear God in the Dark.  This will be releasing in March, and we've hoped to join forces in some way, her speaking and me singing about the music that comes from the hollow places.

Together with Nicole Witt (another name you know by now), we began envisioning a weekend of women gathering to celebrate the Creator God and the ways we can image Him in artful living.  The gathering will be deliberately small (75 women).  During our overnight time together at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, NC, we'll listen in quiet, make music, pray, share meals and words of encouragement, and celebrate the countless ways God has borne His creative spirit into all of us "makers."  The date has been set!  June 10-11, 2011.

Join us?

You don't have to be one who calls herself an artist, or a seller of any product.  You may express beauty in the kitchen or an office or in your garden or a classroom...If the idea of reflecting His beauty in daily living connects with you in some are welcome and invited.

Click the Green Button for more... Register for In the Image of the Maker Retreat in Sophia, United States  on Eventbrite

NOTE: Registration opens Valentines Day.  :) Because we need to provide the retreat center with numbers at the end of March, we are closing registration at that time, so don't wait!

On the road again...

oh, delightful, sunny day!  Blue Carolina skies overhead.  A strangely quiet house!

Tomorrow at this time I'll be driving out to the Asheville, North Carolina, area to meet Nicole and perform at Colonial Theatre in the small, charming town of Canton.  The town is storybook-like and the theatre is just beautiful, with a lovely rounded-front stage and grand piano overlooking theater-style seating and balcony.  

Picture 4

We are doing this concert for FREE, so I do hope if you're in the area, or know someone who is, you'll choose to spend your Friday evening with us.  We haven't played in that part of the state yet and are so excited to introduce ourselves and make some new friends.  

We also have house concerts in Wake Forest and Charlotte this weekend, in addition to participating in the installation service for new SIM director Bruce Johnson in Charlotte!  We've grown a bit attached to those SIM folks, so we love an excuse to be with them again.  

In December Nicole and I will be out together again, in NC, and will be having fun adding some Christmas music into the set!  Check the calendar...would LOVE to see you.  And, we could possibly squeeze in another couple of dates, so definitely contact us if you have an event in mind.

p.s. Have I told you lately how grateful I am for you?  



You've noticed I changed the color scheme here...I'm not a graphic designer but I will soon be having this blog-baby made over by one!  However, in the meantime, I needed a little change...a little red energy as the light is dimming with winter's approach!  Hope you're okay with it, too.  :)

Okay, so I'm posting this everywhere and would be overjoyed if you will take a moment to respond.  Nicole and I travel next week to Chicago (my old stomping grounds) and would LOVE to know that we're going to see YOU (yes, you) at UNCOMMON GROUND Clark St on FRIDAY NIGHT, OCT 2.  It's a late show--not for the faint of heart, but we know none of you could be described that way.  Capacity is 30, so it's gonna be a nice, intimate gathering.  

Please come, and please let me know you're coming.  We're bringing FLY GOLDEN EAGLE, too, so you're gonna get some diversity between the three of us.  

If that night doesn't work for you, or you just can't stay up past 9:30pm, we'd love to see you at The Heartland Cafe on THURSDAY, OCT 1.  Bring some friends--we will be oh, so happy to see you in the flesh.  

As for those of you not in the Chicago-land area, please check the schedule and come say "hello" when you can.  

We are forever grateful for your support.



House Concerts

House Concerts: More Fun for Everyone!

What do you mean by “house concert”? 

Simply put, a house concert is just that…a concert at your house!  It can be in your living room or in your backyard or any other space that will hold 50 or more people and have enough space for a keyboard plus three guys (smaller percussion set-up, when room is tight).  If you prefer, we can keep it even simpler than that, with keyboard and percussion or keyboard/guitar.  (My own living room is not large, but with some rearranging I can squeeze in about 35 folding chairs and spillover in the kitchen.)

There are endless good excuses to have a house concert: start with major and minor holidays (and don’t forget your own birthday) or a seasonal shin-dig!  Then again, all of your friends would thank you for spicing up a plain old holiday-less month mid-winter!

Before you get scared and think this sounds way too hard/scary/expensive/newfangled/artsy/fillintheblank. . . read on.


You say it will be “more fun for everyone."  Why?


·         YOU: Enjoy the music from the comfort of your own home…without noisy talkers, smoke, or other distractions. 

·         YOU: Share the music with your friends in a private &comfortable setting.

·         YOU: Throw a great party and feel good about it later.

·       THEY: Enjoy your lovely home and gracious hospitality.

·         THEY: Get acquainted with new music and meet/support  local musicians (who happen to be saving up for a new recording project!)

·         THEY: Have a sweet date night that didn’t cost them a month’s groceries.

·         WE: Get to do what we love (make music) in an intimate setting without disturbances you might encounter in a public venue or elaborate set-up. 


How is it done?


A house concert can be done in any number of ways and you can plan it as simply or as creatively as suits you.  It might be dessert & coffee, or a full catered dinner, or a potluck.  Let it be known: you do  not have to have a mansion to host us!  The Wells fam recently hosted a house concert for Jessica Campbell & Kelleigh Bannen (see some footage at: ).   We actually moved out the large chairs and couch and arranged 35 smaller chairs and stools in rows (had to borrow from the neighbors!). 

 We encourage you to be intentional about your invitations and follow up to confirm intentions to attend.   Consider asking people to contribute financially in advance, reserving their seat, which helps you know there will be enough people to hold the concert, but not too many for your space. When it's time for the concert, everyone can gather round and get comfortable.

My friends have never heard of a "house concert" before.  How can I make them comfortable and encourage a listening environment?  

Through some trial and error, we have found the following things helpful:

1.  Make sure your invitations/Evites emphasize that this is a "House Concert" and explain that it's a private concert featuring guest musicians in an intimate setting, etc.  

2.  Also state on your invitation something to this effect: "To support our guest artists, a minimum donation of $10/person ($30/family) is suggested.  All proceeds will go directly to the musicians.  Merchandise will also be available for purchase."

2.  Invite your guests to come an hour or so prior to the start of the concert--and state that on the invite--ie.  "Doors open 7pm/Concert at 8pm."  This way your guests have time to visit and talk and get their coffee and dessert.  

3.  If possible have the food in a very separate space from the music, so that guests who want to revisit the refreshments can do so without disrupting the listening environment.

4.  At the concert start time, dim the lights in all spaces except for on the musicians.  This really helps to give a concert vibe and people instinctively understand to keep noise levels down when the lights are low.  

5.  Introduce your musicians from the "stage" area, to draw your guests' attention.  


How much will it cost me?

If you provide food and beverages (often dessert and coffee--or you can ask guests to bring something), you only need to suggest (on your invitation) that your guests contribute a minimum donation of $10 ($30/family) in lieu of a formal ticket price.  

For contact/booking:

How can I ask my guests to pay for the concert?

If you simply include it on your invitations, everyone will know up front and be prepared.  People are used to paying for performances and usually enjoy contributing to good causes, such as local art!  As suggested above, phrasing might look like this: "A minimum donation of $10/person to support our guest musicians is suggested."  Also, let them know if there will be merchandise available for purchase that night and what forms of payment will be accepted.  

You can set out (at the door or by the drinks) a tasteful "tip jar" with a reminder of the minimum donation.   


This sounds like a lot of fun.  What do I do first? 

If you are able and interested in hosting a concert for 50+ people in your home, please contact Toby Wells at and we’ll  find a date that works for all of us.  

*The band is able to perform in your home for 50 or more people.  If you would like to host a smaller gathering, we may be able to accommodate with an acoustic singer/songwriter performance.  



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