Sometimes, I wake up in the early morning, and walk outside to a silent, starry sky. A peace washes over me as I breathe in deep the cool of the shaded morning. I say “thank you God,” because He has given a special memory for the stars to hold. A promise was given to Abram (later called Abraham by God in Genesis 17), that he would have many descendents, and the whole world would be blessed through him (Genesis 18:18).
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars —if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
- Genesis 15:5-8
I relate to Abram because there are times I have to be reminded, away from the noise of the worldly opinions… reminded that God can make innumerable amounts of stars, and people, thus so infinite is His power and sovereignty in my life. He will accomplish all He set out to accomplish in me, as He washes me and sanctifies me with His Word, and then sends me out with His Word (Psalm 138:8; Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 2:10, 5:25-27; Philippians 1:6).
I appreciate Abram asking, but Lord….How?
When I wonder, “But God, how will you use me?” He says… “look at the stars”…
He who created the heavens, considers me so precious and His thoughts are so numerous and intentional concerning me (Psalm 139:16-18). So I say, “Thank you God…and I trust you… lead me and guide me.”
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. - Psalm 8:3-5
When I look at the stars, I feel hope and confidence.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. - Hebrews 11:1
Blessed am I, as I do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,but my delight is in the law of the Lord, and I meditate on his law day and night.
I am like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever I do prospers
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
(Paraphrased from Psalm 1:1-6)
A tree… which yields its fruit in season. The trees look dead at the moment, because of the harsh winter, but they stand the test of time, and will bud once again. So it is with me. During the harsh winter, I will stand the test of time, as I plant myself in the Word of God, Jesus Christ; God is watching over me, and the Holy Spirit guides and comforts me.
I was unawares that there is a snow storm forecasted for tonight. Well, perfect blogging weather as I sit in my hammock and watch the flurries continue outside my window! 🤷🏾♀️
What is on your music playlist right now?
I personally enjoy YouTube Music the best for listening to music, and all my music playlists are on there.
I recently started a morning walk playlist, because God has recently been waking me up with songs in my spirit that relate to what I am going through, and these have been encouraging to dwell on when I go on walks outside with Him.
Usually, I let YouTube create a playlist for me based on a song I have in mind or a particular artist. I am one to listen to music from individual artists’ discography on repeat, but once in a while I will use the radio feature to see what YouTube introduces to me. But here are three of my favorites (all are independent):
Jamie Grace… She is a trailblazer in my mind, as she is now independent, but used to be a part of Gotee records (TobyMac). Jamie Grace’s music has morphed into an indie style from her earlier pop days. She also seems to be more accessible as a human. I admire her approach overall, and love how she does not confine herself, though she does have a clear message advocating for awareness for mental health issues and even wrote a book called “Finding Quiet”. She talks about these things on her YouTube and podcast if you are interested in learning about her smart work-life dynamic.
I will share a bit more about why I like the independent approach rather than getting signed with a record label (look out for a future post in which I share what I learned from Michael W. Smith’s team). Briefly, I am not driven to make a living off of music as much as I want to build an effective ministry. That being said, being independent can stilll make you more money than getting signed anyways, depending on your approach. Either way, your approach depends on your goals, but the common thread is building relationships with people who can help you in areas where you are not knowledgeable. This can be with a management group, a label, and simply by building community with a collective of other artists and entrepreneur-types.
Josh Garrels… definitely one of those artists I first heard when in radio mode on YouTube Music. He exhibits a mix of folk, indie…uh… he doesn’t fit in quite one category, in my books. Maybe skater music? At least that’s what I like to call it because of his background story, and I like to listen to his music while roller-skating.
He is my favorite artist by far, because of the uniqueness of his style, biblical references in his music, and overall relevance to life (I know that’s vague, but try his music and it might click 😆). Certainly, the style may not be for everyone, and sometimes I have to be in a certain mood to better absorb it also. I would say my song, Pulling Weeds, is closer to his style of writing…but also, not really that close, as I do not know how to categorize that song myself (see my blog post titled, “Pulling Weeds“). Again, obviously not for everyone. As for me, I am really digging this semi-cyptic poetic-freeverse-indie-folk stuff.
Jonathan Ogden… I look up to this cat for his worship-oriented, contemplative/meditative style. He is a lo-fi-Christian-worship artist. I probably listen to his music the most out of the three mentioned. He may also be the most accessible artist out of the ones mentioned. Highly reccommend: You can join the global discord community he initiated for Christian artists here (he pops in the threads fairly regularly, and I personally can’t keep up with the discussions as much as I would like to).
Furthermore, his writing is heavily based on scripture, and the manner in which he uses the artist platform to glorify God is what I observe as a model for my own ministry, especially considering I desire to travel internationally (he also has pursued ministry endeavors over-seas). He has videos on YouTube that are great discipleship tools, and I would encourage any Christian in the music industry to take note of his intentionality to keep God first and foremost in his life. For artists creating for the kingdom of God, his project Magnify Studios is a helpful resource, to say the least. If you are looking for some neat instrumental study or prayer music, he released a mix-tape relatively recently based on the 24 hours in a day, succinctly called Twenty Four. He also creates visual art, including to brand his own album covers.
There are many more who have inspired me and will continue to do so one way or another: Britt Nicole (❤my❤adolescence❤), Francesca Battistelli, Moriah Peters, 7song, Daniel Martin Moore, and numerous artists in the gospel-music scene. I could not possibly name them all. I also have to credit my dad, and family in general, for fostering in me a musical diversity. God used them to make me feel its ok to explore musical styles like bluegrass and reggae.
Solitude can feel painful, because so many fail to master it. My solitude is found in Jesus Christ. I love to walk in nature, because I feel close to Him, as it all points to a magnificent Creator (Romans 1:20). And when I do not read and apply His Word to my life, then I am failing to find solitude (James 1:22). Prayer is also an important aspect of solitude, as it expresses reliance and trust in God through every circumstance, because “Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from prayer” Jerry Falwell Sr.
In Hebrews 4, the rest that believers have in God is considered in greater detail.
Verse 16 says: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12
When I fail to find solitude, things like envy and depression seep in. The scripture rings true: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
Jesus said: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:9-11
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 4:4
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Perhaps, you have the following dilemma as an artist, or even as an individual discovering your purpose…that you have come to the point where there are bits and puzzles pieces of things you are passionate about, or a cacophony of skill-sets you have, or want to have, to the point that you are not sure how to hone in on your thing. Here’s the thing, there is something extraordinary within you, and me, and God knows exactly what that is. He placed it there, after all.
Ben Shive is one of those guys that has honed into his marketable skill as a producer and studio musician, yet, he also has some other notable skillsets that are not obsolete, and actually enhance his primary role, such as a poetic gifting he utilized to write one of the popular songs sung by Ben Rector (quoted above, “Extraordinary Magic”). Ben Shive did not say all of that, but I gathered it as a personal lesson from a talk he gave to my school on October 18th, 2021.
As I observe people who are successful at what they do, I imagine what it must have been like to be just starting out, unsure of where God will lead them, and then I am encouraged. One day, even today, I will be walking out a purpose for which only I was designed. When you decide to take the dive and market one specific thing you are passionate about, you are not giving up the other passions, at least not completely. There are creative ways you will utilize all of what you are passionate about, and those little skills, ideas and characteristics you have, no matter how obscure and seemingly unrelated, to set yourself apart in your field of interest. Because those idiosyncrasies inevitably make up who you are. This is about thinking like an entrepreneur. Ultimately, however, you must surrender each desire and plan to God and ask for His direction.
That was a tidbit of encouragement to start off a series of posts based on presentations and interviews I have had with commercial music gurus. On deck are Jackie Patillo (Gospel Music Association), Leonard Ahlstrom, and a couple of folks from Michael W. Smith’s team. Disclaimer, I am sharing notes from the sessions I attended with them, thus, the words I share are mostly useful advices from the information they shared, non-verbatim.
One major theme I got from Ben Shive’s talk was the importance of networking in a musical community where the people have shared values. He also mentioned listening to music with “a high musical IQ” He has been influenced by artists and groups (some even collaborated with) such as Rich Mullens, Mark Classen, Andrew Peterson, Ed Cash, Colony House Records, J.J. Heller, George Martin, Harry Connick Jr., Spike Jones, Paul Simon, Rick Ruben, and Dave Barnes. One of the most impactful opportunities was working with Brown Banister, his daughter Ellie Holcomb, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. Although Ben Shive’s background as a classically trained jazz pianist certainly helped land him excellent opportunities, he observed other important factors in play when it comes to playing gigs.
Here are some isolated notes for studio pianists/keyboardists as well as for aspiring producers:
Be humble and have a workable/teamwork attitude, know when and what to play, remember what you play…
Do not rely on the instrument, but try to make a melody
Listen to things with a high musical IQ
Learn to be dumber with your playing keys, especially if you are trained classically/jazz because nobody needs that for most records. (think diamond chords, which is particularly encouraging, as you do not have to be impressive, just functional).
Keyboard as an arranger: voice lead, avoid the vocal line, and know where the melody sits in the register so that you can compliment the vocal line
Arrange as a keyboardist: Arrange on the individual instruments’ terms, think “What are these instruments doing?”
Dynamics: What did I do last? You have to remember what you did and change just when it is needed
Do the right thing at the right time, and remember, silence can be just as dynamic; listent to your band mates!
In session playing, be able to receive correction, and be able to hang with what’s going on musically (be skillful/astute as needed), chord on 1st try, and be able to play it back on repeat in the other room if needed
Have technical proficiency, good ear, and think like a part-writer
Production & Technology
Producers do not need to know everything, but they do need to know how to build a team, it’s just cheaper to know more and hire less. 🧐
Be there for the artist: make them feel like a queen or king; the artist needs a chance to be heard; Create rapport with your artist
Have processes in place that never waste money
Producers attract certain types of artists due to the producer’s style
Make one decision at a time, to find out what the artist is NOT
>rather than trying to adjust the whole band at once
>and having references from the artist is helpful, especially when they do not know how to communicate verbally what they want to hear
Any programming should fit with the style of the producer and the band members
Know how to get on the talkback mic, to help get good vocals out of the artist (include very specific instructions and a compliment, so that it is constructive)
If at all possible, try to have session players whom the artist knows
Be assertive, but aiming to please. There will also be a frank exchange of ideas occasionally
Think about tempo, key signature, feel, and form; have quality pre-production
You’re getting somewhere once you feel the emotion when you listen to the artist; “lights are on”
You do not have to be an audiophile, as being a producer is more about workflow
If you are using live piano, it should only be right before the MIX; find what you want to do on a piano sample as it’s easier to adjust before mixing.
Remember what you did last time, talk numbers, and shape the tones you play
As a producer, you will use: subtractive synthesis, juno emulator, oscillators, and signal chains (to shape tone with reverb and delay)
Bonus Note for Artists
You can make a record off of nothing
Play shows and build a following, then think about a budget for an album
If you have any questions about the notes above, please comment below
And I would love to know, are you an aspiring or already established musician or producer? Could you add some tips or questions related to anything mentioned in this post? 🙂
P.S. I am late for my second #bloganuary post, as it is now technically day three