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How to Love Your Independent Artist, Pt 2

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.

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Artists, what would you add to my thoughts?  

Supportive listener-friends, does some of this resonate with you, as well?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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...