It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.
I get it. They can seem pretty self-indulgent. Annoying. Boastful. All those posts from writers, artists, and creatives of all kinds, letting you know about their latest project or accomplishment. You've seen them. And some of them have likely rubbed you the wrong way. Sometimes they rub me the wrong way and I even post them myself now and then! But here's what you need to know about the people who write those posts. We have to. And here are the reasons why.
First, creatives are compelled to complete their work and our work isn't complete until it is shared with the world. A song isn't finished until it is heard. A painting isn't finished until it is put on display for others to see. A house isn't finished until it is lived in. For the creator of those works, it is as if they haven't gotten "paid" for their time and effort until someone else experiences what they have made. And sometimes, the recipient's experience with their work is the only currency the creative will ever receive.
Second, for those creatives whose work is a part of their livelihood, it is a necessity for them to do their part in marketing themselves. Just as a small business owner places social media or radio ads to let the world know they exist, a creative must let the world know they are "open for business" as well. Realtors plaster their faces on billboards. Restaurants put coupons in mailboxes. The general public seems to be okay with all that. We might complain about the sheer volume of ads placed by a software company or plumber or bank, but we don't necessarily see it as arrogance. People are just trying to make a living, right? They can tell us about how their business was rated #1 in the region or post quotes from satisfied customers and we're okay with it. But when an artist tells you about their latest success, we often think they are tooting their own horn. I would argue that most of the time, that is not the case.
Most artists I know are uncomfortable with the whole self-promotion thing. It's awkward. It just feels wrong. Also, our work is so personal and vulnerable, we can be terrified at the mere possibility someone won't appreciate what we've created. And most of the artists I know are incredibly humble people who are also scared to death someone might think them otherwise. So they drum up the courage to tell you what they've done, knowing full well they will be misunderstood. And they risk it anyway.
Lastly, (I hesitate to write this because even I have a tough time always understanding it, let alone trying to explain it) there is such a thing as calling. Creatives believe, deep in their core, they have been called to create for the betterment of the world around them. They have an answer to someone's problem. A salve for someone's wound. A resource for someone in need. If you aren't the person with the problem, wound or need, you might not understand it either. But you will, someday. Because at some point, you will find yourself longing for something you haven't yet been able to find. You might look for it in all the places you usually look for answers, salves, and resources, but you won't find it. And then, you'll see a painting. Or hear a song. You'll sit down to an exquisite meal. Watch a play. Maybe even read a blog. And suddenly, you will feel different. Enthralled. Encouraged. Satisfied. Entertained. Moved. And when you feel those things, we creatives will feel the same. Because that is when we feel like we've truly done our part.
So go easy on those people who tell you about their latest "thing." They are simply trying to make their way in the world, one creative work at a time. And in doing so, they just might have something you've been searching for. So give them a look, a listen, a taste. Experience what they have created. I think you'll be glad you did.
The Music Business. Otherwise Known as the Land of the Unfair and the Unexpected. Otherwise Known as God's Playground.
You've probably heard the phrase, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." I've modified that a bit to create a songwriter's version: "If you want to make God laugh, write a song, tell Him exactly who should record it, when and where that should happen, how successful it should be, and then tell Him you'd like to receive a nice financial reward for your efforts.." Oh yes, I've made God laugh plenty of times.
My early writing career was all about writing songs to sing myself. But for much of the past 20 years, I've been writing songs for the purpose of pitching them to other artists for their records, musicals, sheet music, etc. I love the challenge of coming alongside someone else to help them communicate what they want to say. But challenging isn't the only word I'd use to describe the world of being a professional songwriter. I would also say it's frustrating, exhilarating, miserable, magical, and so much more. If you're in it for the long haul, let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart.
A few years ago, 2014 to be exact, I wrote a song with one of my regular co-writing friends, Lee Black. We were targeting a certain country group who was about to start looking for songs for their next record. We finished the song, Lee made a demo and we were certain it was perfect for the group we had in mind. Probably a hit. Probably their next number one song. Remember that whole God-laughing thing? Yeah.
If memory serves, we sent it off to a few of the powers that be. No response. That isn't unusual. If I had a dollar for every time I heard crickets after pitching a song, I could buy my own island. Those crickets can wreak havoc on your confidence as a writer. And it isn't just the crickets that make you feel less than. It's everything from no communication, to the politics that come into play, to the injustices regarding royalties, and more. It's brutal, in a first-world-problem sort of way. I'm aware that this is just the music business we're talking. I'm not walking ten miles a day to get water for my family. So yes, I do have perspective. Still, it makes me grumpy sometimes.
So the song we'd written sat for about a year and a half. I had another writing appointment scheduled with Lee and my friend, Riley Friesen. We threw around some ideas, which included going through old songs to see if we could recycle one that hadn't found a home yet. We came across the song we'd written in that earlier session and discussed our options. The style really didn't fit what Riley is into, so at some point one of us said, "What if we go a completely different direction musically?" In the next hour, what was an uptempo, country song, became an inspirational pop ballad. And we loved it. Again, we discussed pitching options, but I honestly can't remember the who/what/when of all that. I just know the song remained uncut. That was 2016.
Fast forward to last summer. The high school music teacher I work with was looking for songs to fit the theme of a show choir show he had in mind. He called and asked if I had any ideas. I started scrolling through my iTunes library, hoping something might hit me. The theme was to be about a journey of some kind so I was looking for uplifting songs about travel, destination, adventure, etc. Let me just say here, that when perusing my library, I intentionally didn't look through songs I've written myself. As hard as I try to get my songs placed with artists or publishers, I work equally hard at not forcing my songs to be used because of my role at school or my church. If I ever suggest a song for those purposes, it's because I honestly think it's the best fit, and even then, I feel a little reluctant to do so.
So, while looking for songs, my mind kept coming back to the song I'd written with Lee and Riley. I finally sent it off to the director with a plea for him to feel absolutely no obligation to use it. Long story short, it made the show. I smiled inside, thinking about our list of original pitch ideas for the song and how a high school show choir was nowhere on that list. God was giggling. Over the past few months as I've heard the kids I work with learn the song and make it their own, I have been moved to tears more than once. Partly because they sound amazing, but mostly because the message of the song is one I believe in and it feels incredibly appropriate for so many of the students who are singing it and the audiences they sing it to.
Just last week, I heard the show choir sing it for an auditorium full of kids. Again, so many emotions. I went home that day with a full heart. When I got home, I found I'd received an email that afternoon from Riley. He is not only a songwriter, but also an incredible producer who works with a variety of artists. A few weeks earlier he'd let me know that the same song was being recorded by a trio he was working with. I thought, "Well, that's cool timing," and didn't think much more about it. This time, he was emailing me to let me know the song was about to get major airplay in South Africa. What?! Wait a minute. So this song, which could find no life in the places we thought it would thrive, was now being sung by high school students in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska, and by a trio of grown men, one a Super Bowl winner, one a multi-platinum selling artist from South Africa, and one a Grammy-nominated artist from Canada. Excuse me? God was full-on belly laughing now.
For the record, I've never been to South Africa and I have no idea what "major airplay" means there but I really don't care. I'm still shaking my head over the fact that I, once again, have no explanation for what has happened with our little song creation. All I can say, is in a business that will likely befuddle me 'til the day I die, God chooses to do His thing exactly as He sees fit. And it rarely looks like what I expect. The truth is, I'd rather hear 54 high school students in 68th Street Singers, singing Even A Long Road to an auditorium of fellow students and their parents, over some hot shot country group at the top of the charts. And somewhere in another part of the world, three men in a group called reBORN are encouraging people to not give up, no matter how hard things might get. That's just cool. And I imagine Someone laughing. And it makes me laugh too.
Even a Long Road
Lee Black / Gina Boe / Riley Friesen
Recorded by reBORN
Video of 68th St. Singers coming soon.
Feels like a hurricane
Like the wind that won’t stop blowin’
Oh and it’s pourin’ rain
While you’re gettin’ where you’re goin’
It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other
Each day feels a little tougher
But you keep on, yeah you keep on
It’s a long road baby, it’s gonna twist and bend
When you think it’s over it turns and turns again
Keep goin, keep walkin’
You might even have to crawl it
Can’t tell you where or when
But even a long road, even a long road
You might not see it now
But that’s a mountain there you’re climbin’
And someday lookin’ down
When you see all that’s behind you
I bet you say it was worth the trouble
The blood, the sweat, the tears, the struggle
So you keep on, yeah you keep on
Even the strongest heart
Even the bravest soul
Can feel like giving up
Can feel like letting go
Even the strongest heart
Even the bravest soul
Can feel like giving up
All I can say is....don’t
.I finished something last night. Yes, I know, we all finished 2018. But last night around 8:00 p.m. I also put the last period on a project I've been working on for over a year. Actually the idea has been stirring for much longer. I recently found a journal entry from January 10, 2017 which listed this particular project as a goal for that year. Okay, so it took a little longer than I hoped, but it's done. I enlisted the help of two friends and it turned into something I am fiercely proud of. There will undoubtedly be revisions to make, and I'm hoping this work will find an audience that will embrace and enjoy it. Celebrating that will come another day. Today, I celebrate finishing this part of the journey.
I am not a great finisher. It's something I know well about myself and really don't like. When I turned 50 a couple years ago, that became one of my life goals. To become a better finisher. I think my fellow creatives will agree that when you are a person whose brain is often a stampede of new ideas, it can be tough to wrangle one to the ground, tame it, then train it to be something worthy of sharing. When you do, it's a feeling like none other.. I just know I don't get to that point near as often as I'd like.
Over the years, the importance of finishing well has been one of the things I've consistently preached to my kids. What they probably don't realize though, is how with every time I've hammered home that message to them, I've really just been trying to convince myself of the very same thing. Because I know how hard it is. The battle to fight excuses, resistance, disappointment, negativity, physical and emotional exhaustion, and discouragement from others, is one that really doesn't seem worth fighting some days. Isn't it easier to cave and move on to something that seems more exciting and invigorating? The answer to that question is yes. It is easier. For a while. Then one day you're confronted with all the hard things you faced the last time. And again you must decide: press on and finish well or quit.
I've seen this play out in various ways with each one of my kids. One of the best things to ever happen to three of the four has been the experience of playing on a losing sports team when they were younger. Losing, as in they did not win a game the ENTIRE SEASON. After every game, we'd have the obligatory conversation about how sports is about more than winning. It's about the relationships. It's about learning how to be coachable. It's about growing as an athlete over the long haul. And it's about the absolute most important thing regarding youth sports - the post-game snack. As parents, we kept a brave face. We desperately tried to keep our kids engaged and enthusiastic, even while having conversations in our own heads that went something like, "This just sucks. How long is this season? Good grief, we're terrible." I can admit it. I hated those experiences. We all laugh about those seasons now, but it was not fun. I'd like to be able to tell you all the positives that came out of it, but really, the main thing they learned, we all learned, was to just push through it as best you can and finish. And finishing well doesn't always mean finishing in a manner others recognize as successful.
Lest you think I have a "you will complete this at all costs" mentality, trust me I don't. I understand the only way to finish some things is to abandon them. Several years ago, I resigned from a job I still don't feel like I finished well. I had stayed too long and nearing the end of my employment, every day felt like banging my head against a brick wall. Every. Single. Day. It was brutal and would take years to recover from. In the end, all I knew to do was abandon my position. The cost of staying had become too great. So, it was time to leave with things undone. Quit. There was no period at the end. No celebratory sense of accomplishment. My only hope in leaving was that I would go with some relationships still in tact. Some were and some weren't. Through that experience I learned there are some things you can only finish by moving on. In those moments, you can only hope a day will come when you'll be able to put a period at the end of it. Somehow.
2019 will bring some unavoidable finishes as every year does. For our family, it's another high school graduation. And for the next few months I'll be encouraging H#3 to finish well. And every time I do, I'll hear that same voice in my head telling me to do the same thing. Finish mothering another high school student. Finish another song. Finish that other project that's been on my to-do list since 2017. And when I do, I will celebrate. Just like I'm celebrating the fact this blog is now finished.
Happy New Year, all. Now go finish something.