As I turn 40 this month I’m writing a few reflective posts. It’s always good to take step back and ask, “What have I been learning and experiencing these last few years… or better yet, decades?”
It was ten years ago and Betony was pregnant with our first child. We were having dinner with some friends who are a bit older than us; people whose wisdom in the music profession I trust.
After dinner we were talking about dreams and songwriting and insecurities.
My friend turned to me and gave me something I’d been looking for a long time: permission.
He told me it was time to take my music career out of the closet and give it some sunshine…
let it breathe. He told me I could do it and essentially to stop wishing it and go be it.
Isn’t it strange how just a bit of encouragement from a trusted source can be all we need?
Before this moment I had played in bands and led worship music and produced demo albums with incredible musicians. But I’d never taken any of it as seriously as I’d liked. When we played a show I rarely invited anyone. When we made an album I wouldn’t invest very much money or even pay to get it mastered. I had this major fear and hinderance in my mind. It’s one I still will wrestle with on bad days. It goes like this:
If I don’t make enough money doing this then I’m not successful.
If this doesn’t lead to a tipping point of notoriety that leads to sustainability then I’m not successful. If I don’t create enough income to arrive at the American dream of a sweet house and some cars, then I’m not successful.
If I can’t make a living doing this, isn’t it just a glorified hobby?
And around and around my mind goes
until I feel embarrassed calling myself a musician.
We all have a major hangup, don’t we? That main roadblock that’s in our way that we just keep struggling with.
Mine seems to be this definition of success. What’s yours?
My hangups are still present, but after this eye opening conversation 10 years ago something in me changed. I had a big shift in perspective.
I probably wasn’t ever going to be a singer-songwriter as a singular career. But that was ok.
I was going to keep being an intentional singer-songwriter because…
when it came down to it, I had been compelled to since I was young.
I had written songs and longed to share them since 2nd grade.
I had a fire in my bones, as a prophet once put it, and I had to create and share.
That sentence reads melodramatic, but I think most creatives know what I’m talking about…
the compulsion to make something meaningful and share it with the people we love;
to connect in deep ways where what’s being sung and experienced becomes a conversation of “me too”;
to make something beautiful that speaks in and over and through the human condition.
So that year, a decade ago, after that important conversation, I started taking creating seriously. I had another job as a worship leader but I also started dedicating time to songwriting, to having a website, a Facebook page, to setting up a series of house concerts. I put together my first ever tour with the goal to break even (I made $500 and was so thrilled).
I had just turned 30.
And I’ve kept this up the last 10 years.
When people ask what I do for a living I tell them musician
and it’s usually with a great deal of pride.
That title is a juggling of a whole lot of “main jobs” and “side hustles”. I think the most important thing the intentionality over these years has done… it has addressed the compulsion to make and given me space to create.
To put it maybe a better way, it’s helped me be the person I’ve needed to be; the person I’ve felt called to be.
I’ve made work I’m proud of. I’ve had people respond and let me know a song or project or experience meant a great deal to them.
And that truly has felt like the answer to the calling.
And it’s still not been my main source of income.
But it’s not a hobby.
It’s an identity.
I’m so thankful, grateful that someone came along to give me permission to do this.
I needed the affirmation and encouragement
that even though creating this art is not my sole income, it’s my soul income.
That has personally been my largest hurdle to overcome in being an artist.
So now I say this quite seriously
to those of you with the fire in your bones to make and create and connect,
whatever your hangups are:
You can do this.
You feel deep inside you’re called to it and you HAVE to make.
Do what you need to do.
Be responsible. Live economically. Make it work.
It’s worth it.
Keep on your side hustles and passion projects
and add beauty to this world starved for meaning.
It makes a better us when you are fully you.
Thank you for being bold. It’s we who benefit.