I’m an alt rock singer-songwriter that writes my songs for one person at a time. For hours I will wrestle with words and melodies so that I can give a single person hope and courage. When I sing my songs I want them to be an anthem rising up in a person’s heart.
But I’ve spent most of the last 2 years locked away on a recording project. I’m holding down a full time day job so there’s not a lot of time left to focus on my music and the complexities of writing, recording, designing and manufacturing a CD is enormous … but it’s why I write and play music – to change one heart at a time.
The hardest part of the recording has been the limits has caused meaning I’ve played live only a few times. I write my songs for a live audience and there has only been a handful of opportunities I’ve had to play for one.
The second problem is that people judge the success of a musician on the size of the audience they play for – the bigger the concert venue and the longer the line snaking around the building the better musician I must be …
But I’m not 20 something anymore so I’m over the self-important “green room” elitism most musicians seem to live for. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve performed on stage for thousands of people many times over and I’ve loved it when thousands of voices join together in chorus – but it also comes with schedule demands and the need for Concert Security that squirrel the musicians away from the audience and isolates me from the very people I’m making the music for. It’s always seemed pretentious to me to be backstage so I always head out front to meet and hang with the most important people there – not the performers … the audience. I want to hear first-hand people’s stories and look them in the eye and get to know them one-on-one so I can see what my songs have done for them.
I was in the process of mixing the CD when on a cold winters night in Auckland I drove up to a suburban house for a Mercy Ships “get together” for people who had served on the ship. 20 or so people were crushing into a lounge to hear a long-standing Mercy Ships staff member who was over from the US. I’d been invited to sing the song I’ve written for Mercy Ships – Hope On My Horizon but I haven’t served on the ship in a volunteer capacity so I felt like a fish out of water … and to make it all worse I was going to start the evening with my song.
We were sardines in a sitting room sitting atop of each other … there was no smoke machine, no lighting rig, no power amps or fold back or In Ear Monitor system or Front of House PA … not even a multimedia countdown introduction or a warm-up act!
There was just me and my guitar eyeball to eyeball with a bunch of strangers who weren’t there to listen to me … so as I strummed the first chord and began my song I knew I had about 3min and 30secs to connect with them, tell them a story and hopefully inspire them with my words and music and set the evening up for them.
That night I was impressed with the close connection that comes from playing for a small intimate group of people. It’s one thing to record music and load it up on the web so people can listen and give you some “Likes” and comments but it’s not the same as looking an audience in the eye while you sing, seeing them tap their feet when they like what they hear or worse still, look down at their phones if your music doesn’t stir their hearts and souls. It’s a raw uncomplicated “lie detector” that tells you if your songs are worthy of the audience.
That night was great and they loved “Hope On My Horizon” and I realised I couldn’t wait to get back to playing live again and being with the people I wrote these songs for.
It’s been exciting to get playing again and to do that on the North West of the US! The privilege and exhilaration of playing in places I’ve never played before to bunches of total strangers is a test of me as a person and whether my music connects with people and makes a difference in THEIR world.
You may not realise it but it’s also terrifying for an introverted musician like me! When I pulled up at my first gig with only the host contact, without knowing anyone else or anything about the audience who started arriving I was out of my comfort zone and about to put myself and the songs off the soon-to-be-released CD to the test.
What if they didn’t like my music? How would it be for the hosts if the audience got bored, stood up and left during my set? How would I cope if they were more interested in their smart phones than the smart-alec songwriter :p
This was both a test of the CD songs and me as a performer – the moment of reckoning for me to start playing again … I sucked it up and leaned forward into faith …
When I wrapped up my set of songs I was met by calls for an encore and our host Lee jumped up to the mic. He talked about how he didn’t really know me before I drove up and wasn’t quite sure what his wife had gotten them into. He described how my songs and stories of my own struggles and following my my faith had meant something to him and that he wanted people to support and get behind me and my music. The night was over but people stayed around talking and kindly thrusting wads of bills into the wooden donation box until one by one we bid each other goodnight and slowly strolled off into the cool Salem summer night.
It was in the moments talking that night that my soul and spirit were touched. The people I wrote these songs for – Liz, Don, Lee, Christian, and so many others – gave me what I need to keep writing, to keep singing, to keep serving the audience. They make me a person who looks beyond my own world, beyond the typical “self-orbiting rock star system” and makes me break out of my introverted shell to give myself away for the audience and pour out my energy and hope for them – it’s these moments touring that makes me a better person.
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