”What we believe about ourselves has a way of coming true — the good and the bad.” – Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don’t Starve
It’s June 2012, and I’m in a rehearsal production space somewhere in Los Angeles, California, probably closer to Burbank. Production assistants are shuffling people through a few different rooms, and several of the contestants are talking to each other while we wait. This is the short period of time where I was on The Voice, Season 3 (a very brief stint). It’s my turn to enter one of the rooms, and film portions of me talking, that they will use or edit to show on TV. I made up my mind before this moment that I wasn’t going to say anything that I couldn’t stand behind, or explain to the people at home. The producer that is assigned to me begins asking me questions about my background. Everything seems fairly straightforward. Then he drops the bomb on me:
“If you won The Voice, would you quit being a graphic designer?”
I was in the process of completing the layout/design for Zac Brown Band’s second album “Uncaged” at the time, and the producer knew some of the details. He followed that up with something along the lines of: “You’ve been designing and doing work for other bands — don’t you want to be THOSE bands?”
Well, uh. Um. Yeah. Of course. I guess?
I hadn’t thought about that. I held the notion at the time, and for years before, that considering myself an “artist” or a “designer” or “musician” felt like I was overstating my occupation. I always thought that there might be a time in my life where I’d know my “one true path.” You know, like the movies! Divine intervention would step in and I’d be on my way! There would be this grand moment that I could say I was definitively this or that.
Let me provide a summation of my journey in the arts. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon in my hand. That’s always been my “thing.” All through school, that’s what I was primarily known for. Teachers used to ask me if my dream was to work Disney. Not that I was Disney caliber, that just seems like the logical mountain peak for a cartoonist, I guess. When I was about 13, I figured out how to code websites and operate Photoshop. I used to draw logos, so this seemed like a logical progression. Even then, I always figured I would be a newspaper comic strip artist (this was the late 90’s, early 2000’s, the newspaper funnies were still a thing! That makes me sound a lot older, writing it out.). Shortly after my 17th birthday, I illustrated/designed a t-shirt for a family friend of ours. As trade for my services, she gifted me a Yamaha acoustic guitar. I couldn’t put it down. I spent hours in my room just trying to figure that thing out. I don’t even think I learned how to tune it for months. Just like with drawing, or design or coding — I just kind of kept running with it because I loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ok, so back to 2012 and the question that the producer asked me. Would I have wanted to simplify what I wanted to do with my life? Would being just a musician or singer/songwriter simplify things? Maybe. Could I live with myself saying something like that, without knowing for sure in my heart? No. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember the look on my producer’s face when I said it. The disappointment. I wanted to do it all. I loved design and I loved music. Where was the drama? Where were the stakes? Where was the black and white? He tried a few more times to lead me in that direction. I didn’t realize it at the time that he was trying to create a narrative — I just thought I was speaking true to what I felt. I had fun, spent my 10 seconds on TV, and came home. Was he right? Should that be my goal? Let everything else go and just do music?
My band, Gin House, released our first EP that August, two months after I left The Voice. It still is one of my proudest moments, playing our release show to a packed room at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia. Gin House had been a collective, but the primary two members were always Paul and I. By the time the end of 2013 rolled around, Paul decided to go on to pursue other musical endeavors. Sometimes, life just has a way of snowballing on it’s own and then running you over. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I got married, and I was back working for a small marketing outfit in Duluth, Georgia as Creative Director. Still writing songs, but in my mind, the musician part of my life was over. Finally! I had the answer. I was meant to be a designer. Things felt simple. Or so I thought.
Songwriters often describe song ideas hitting them like a “lightning bolt.” That’s true. Sometimes it just feels like an idea is flowing into you from the ether. Just as I thought I’d let music go — it hit me. The idea of playing music again started seeping into me. I started a fun side project and writing songs with a friend of mine, Matt Wells, calling ourselves California Prayer Book. I was recruited into a party-band called The Retreat. My wife was going to kill me. I thought I had simplified my life. I had asked questions into the void, and in return, I thought that life had answered back definitively, “You’re an artist; a designer. You’re not a musician.” Then BAM, snowballed again.
It’s more convenient to deal in absolutes. It’s less complicated. It gives you less to worry about and I held that belief for a long time. But life isn’t that simple.
“The creative life is a series of small steps more than any single giant leap,” Jeff Goins exclaims in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve, which, after reading, I was way more inspired than I thought I would be. In the second chapter, he shatters the notion that you have to subscribe to all of the baloney and universally-held beliefs about what it means to be an artist. You don’t have to move to New York, with a penny to your name. You don’t have to quit your job, scream from the mountain tops and suffer for your art. It’s not about absolutes, it’s about putting in the work and just doing it. He posits that “We cannot create great art without continuing to create ourselves.”
I’ve been operating the past few years as a designer, AND a musician — and I love it. I don’t have to choose and I don’t want to choose. I don’t have to quit my job and be a struggling, starving artist (not to mention I can’t, with a family and two small boys at home). I want to hone my skills. Write a ton of songs. See what happens. Perform original material again. Record songs, in a legit studio. Release music again to the world. I’m an artist because I choose to be, not because life snowballs me into one absolute or another.
That realization tossed two problems into view: The infamous anti-heroes time and money. While I would spend time anyway writing and demoing songs, I can’t record and release material properly without more time and money. Which brings me to another epiphany that I had. The first chapter of Goins’ book reminded me that artists during the Renaissance had patrons. A patron is someone who funds an artist, and in return receives art. That sounds familiar. Where have I seen/heard that before…
Lightning bolt! Patreon! Patreon is a platform that allows patrons and artists to communicate and interact. It facilitates a community that helps sustain an artist. Back in 2014 or 2015, I found Patreon but didn’t think it applied to me. I didn’t realize what it was for or how it worked. So, after ingesting countless podcasts, reading several books (The Thank You Economy by Gary Vee, Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins) — it hit me.
That’s why I’m starting a Patreon and not a Kickstarter, or a PledgeMusic. I want to build a community, and new a way to power my music.
Just as Jeff Goins says “If you’re waiting for your moment, don’t. Start now.” So that’s what I’m doing. Starting Monday, May 7th, I’ll be firing up my Patreon page, going into the studio with producer/mixer Jeremy Griffith (JOHNNYSWIM, Drew Holcomb, SUNBEARS, Old Sea Brigade), my friend Ike Thurston (Last Year Portrait, Seth Ennis, Levi Hummon) and cutting my first song to release. It’s been six years since I’ve been in the studio and worked with Jeremy on Gin House’s first EP.
I’d love for you to hop aboard, and be a patron of my music. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, hop on over to my Patreon page and join the voyage. I’m a little nervous and anxious to get it all rolling. I’ll be documenting the entire process, doing live feeds, and more. I couldn’t be more excited and I’m as energized as ever to start releasing new music. I’m even more excited to have you all along for the ride. Welcome to the New Renaissance.