My wife Joanna and I have been interdependent artists for over a decade now. We say interdependent because over the years we’ve learned that the independent artist label doesn’t really accurately describe how we’ve been able to continue sharing our art and message over the years. In fact, the only way this label applies to us is that we are independent from a record label. In every other way we are dependent on those who have followed our music, supported our ministry financially-especially our monthly supporters, those who have consistently prayed for us, or given us the opportunity to share our music with new audiences. Beyond this we’ve hoped to have a more symbiotic relationship with our supporters. Hence the name in(ter)dependent artist.
When we began our ministry I was selling insurance products for straight commission. Minus the fact that I had very little administrative gifts, this setup worked well because it gave me control over my work time so that we could do more events. By the end of 2004 after a couple of summers of leading worship for Lifeway’s M-fuge camps I left the insurance job to concentrate on our ministry full time. We were fully supported by our ministry for about a year and a half (well almost-I drove a chicken truck truck route a couple of days a week for my Dad for some of those months) before I took a staff position at The Bridge Community a startup church in our community. For 7 years I was on staff there believing that I could excel at growing our independent music ministry and grow a church worship team at the same time. I had a great arrangement. We could be gone about one and sometimes more Sunday(s) a month to do outside events because part of my job was to help prepare and give other people on our worship team the opportunity to lead worship. Our hope was that they might be a part of planting a church in the future. A couple of years ago, however, I realized I couldn’t ever thrive at either one of them if I didn’t let one go. I honestly didn’t want to let the church job go. I was well liked and had a great team to work with and not to mention a regular monthly paycheck. In 2013 Jo and I made the decision to phase out of our music ministry so that I could focus on my church position and she could pursue other interests. Before we made this decision we had already committed to doing two church youth camps that summer-one in Florida and the other in Wyoming. These camps gave us 3 weeks away from the church I was serving. When the time came to do them we were kinda ticked about packing up with our 6 year old daughter and heading out for three weeks to do youth camps. We were insecure because we were feeling like we were too old to connect with the kids (It was not a fun car drive to FL-lots of grumble-mumbles on the way). While we were on this trip, however, God really made it evident that we were thriving on the road as a couple and family and connecting well with the youth and people we met on our trip. After a good talk on the ride home we made the decision to share with our pastor that I needed to transition out of my position. Though they thankfully weren’t celebrating this decision our church was REALLY supportive. They reduced my responsibility continued to pay me the same salary and gave us a 6 month window to raise funds to launch our ministry. Since 2013 we have been supported fully by our ministry (along with a few outside jobs), Joanna began homeschooling our daughter Myra, and we’ve added our baby Cara along the way.
This full-time independent artist ministry path has not been easy and is still not easy. In fact, it feels like we are just getting started-and I’m 41! Joanna and I still struggle to be organized people. I often try to make people believe I am type A because of my sin nature and the fact that I really wish I was! The truth is our 9 year old daughter is more type A than we are. (For those of you that do events with us, let it be known that God has provided Siri as my personal assistant and she has helped us be very good at following through on important commitments).
Prequel to Our Story
Before I met Joanna I got a degree in Music Business at Belmont University located at the top of Music Row in Nashville, TN. My goal at that time was to make it big as a country artist. In the process I came to the realization that that lifestyle and style of music wasn’t what I really wanted to go after. Honestly I had gone through a 6 or 7 year long identity crisis. Yes, I grew up on a farm, but I was notoriously known as the most citified of my rural friends. I only started singing country music when I was 16 because I was a good mimicker and I thought that since I couldn’t really sing rock music Country was the most masculine style of music I could sing (I really needed an angle for the ladies because I had somehow become the token good guy friend at my high school-a job I somehow landed but never applied for). After entering our high school talent show my junior year and having 1000 classmates stand up and clap for me I thought I’d found my special purpose in life. I promptly stopped dressing like a clean cut preppy kid, grew a mullet and a mustache, bought boots and tight jeans, and started living the dream. I started jamming with the metal heads in my high school because they were the best commercial musicians in our school. We were infusing the sounds of Dwight Yoakem and Metallica together at incredibly high sound pressure levels in my friend’s basement. I was awesome! As you can tell from the following pic.
(I’m glad my unibrow has receded over the years BTW). Ironically I was doing all of this while I was the president of my church youth group!
A couple of years after moving to Nashville and chasing that neon rainbow I became involved in a church called New Hope Community in Brentwood, TN and became a part of their worship team. I really started to grow spiritually again there after a couple of years of not necessarily being wild college kid, but one who was not that involved in church. During that time I was learning what it meant to live by faith and follow God’s plan for my life and not my own, I was learning the importance of Christian community. One day I happened to be listening to Christian radio one day (a rare moment for me-especially back then) and I heard Chris Rice singing Deep Enough to Dream. I marveled at how he was just using his voice-his NATURAL voice to sing. I hadn’t used my natural voice in years really. His voice sounded similar to what I remembered my voice to be when I was a few years younger and something clicked for me in that moment. After a couple of years of being on the worship team our worship leader Neil Andrews told me he was going on vacation and that he’d like for me to lead worship for him. Despite being the worst musician on the team and the fact that I had never led worship before, I reluctantly said yes. It turned into the best experience I ever had up to that point in my life. Through experiences like this I learned that I wanted to minister through music-not necessarily as someone on a roster at a Christian record label, and over time I learned as I described above not even as a worship leader at a church. I felt God calling me to go back home in a “normal” city and just start finding places to volunteer in a church. It was a humbling and hard decision to make because I was not discouraged as an artist in Nashville. I loved the friends I had and the way they made me want to grow more as an artist. Though it was a hard choice, looking back it was an awesome decision to follow that leading. I met and married Joanna, and helped lead my now best friend and favorite co-writer Rich Fyhr into a relationship with Jesus.
When I left Nashville I really didn’t know what options artists would have today, or that I’d meet my incredibly talented wife to sing and play with, but as the years have gone by it has been crazy to see the opportunities there are for artists no matter where they live. Above all of the technological advancements for recording and marketing and promotion that the internet has afforded unsigned artists, I’ve grown to believe the most incredible opportunity is one that has been available to us all along-people who believe in your art and mission. The greatest part of our story is the people behind us. We wouldn’t have had the funds to continue or opportunities we’ve had without them. I don’t consider myself a comprehensive expert or successful in all of the topics I’ll be discussing, but I hope you can glean from some of my experiences and where I lack I hope to point you to helpful links, resources, and people who are more knowledgeable than me. Most importantly, I promise to encourage you to become who God has designed you to be and to show you that you can accomplish more with the help of others than you could ever accomplish on your own. If you feel like I’m keeping that promise and that this content is valuable please share it with the peeps you know who you want to see stick with their calling! Thank you in advance!