Flaws and All: A perspective on musicians and grace

Worship musician and producer Greg Johnson offers hope to artists burdened by mistakes and failures

 

Greg Johnson (Naomi Paul Photography)

Greg Johnson is a keyboardist, musical director, producer and songwriter who is passionate about communicating God’s grace through word and music. He currently serves as musical director at Northview Christian Church in Dothan, Alabama under Dr. Hart Ramsey. He agreed to share his thoughts on musicians who are dealing with internal struggles.

“Broken can be beautiful when Grace sings the melody” – Gwen Smith

I remember when I found myself sitting in church wondering, “What am I doing?”

I felt as if the whole world knew areas of my life that could only be labeled as failure. I’m sure as a musician or an artist, there are some skeletons that you would not want anyone to excavate because they could lead to guilt and public shame. Let’s be honest; 95% of the time the title musician is associated with negative terms. However, musicians are not born with flaws, people are.

Here is the truth:
All have sinned.
All! (Rom 3:23)

Anyone who has been born of a woman has sin within them. Without sin, there would not be a need for Christ to come as God’s rescue plan for humanity. For years, the church has made us fearful of being honest about the flaws and failures that we have experienced; that is not Christianity.

The truth is your flaw does not negate God’s grace on your life. Your flaw does not change God’s mind about you. In fact, it is in our weakness that we are made strong and His strength becomes the source that we draw from every time that we serve (2 Cor 12:9). Your flaw is what qualifies you for His grace upon your life. God isn’t looking for anyone self-made as my pastor would say. That burden will exhaust you, because the image that you create, you must hide behind. And the image you hide behind will be the image that you will have to perpetuate.

It is Jesus who fully sees and fully knows a Samaritan (enemy of the Jews) woman at the well who, after encountering Jesus, goes into Samaria and testifies causing many to believe in Him.

It is Jesus who gives grace to the Prostitute caught in the act and, possibly as she stood naked in front of her accusers who classified her as the most immoral human being to walk the earth, He (the only one without sin) stoops and writes something that causes stones that were meant for execution under the law to fall one by one as her accusers to walked away.

It is Jesus who goes out of His way to break the Sabbath by healing a man who was paralyzed, not letting him wait another day for his healing.

It is Jesus who further violated the Sabbath when He told this same man to take up his bed which was considered work, a violation that caused one man to die for doing something as simple as gathering sticks.

It is Jesus who meets a man on his way to persecute the church, knocks him off his horse, and forms a lifelong love affair that changes his identity and life mission which was to testify about the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

This same Jesus died for you. His death is greater than your flaw, and it is through our broken vessels that His light shines through. Wherever you are called to, whether it is in your local community or out of the country, know that you are not a failure but a redeemed and adopted child of God. Before being a musician, you are His. You may be wretched, but let your response be “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ”; in Him there is no condemnation. (Romans 7:24-25; 8:1)

Your identity is in Christ; not in your best days and certainly not in your worst.

Wherever you go, before you take the stage, reflect on Christ and His boundless one way love for you as you are – not some future, better, and cleaned up version of you. Rest in His accomplishment for you and make your boast in Him every chance you get. Jesus takes even the worst of sinners to demonstrate grace. Broken can be beautiful when Grace sings the melody. Playing and singing takes on a new meaning once this truth is understood. It will all be to the glory of God who gave you the gift and the redemption despite every failure that you or anyone else can name about yourself.

Chantae Cann: Empowered to Shine (Bonus Interview)

This unique artist discovered a new level of emotional freedom in the midst of creating new music

What empowers an artist to express his or her unique voice? In this bonus episode, recording artist Chantae Cann provides exclusive insights into how she embraced her creative freedom through her newest project – her 2nd studio album, Sol Empowered, available on October 13th, 2017.

 

A Chicago native, Chantae has traveled the world as a background vocalist with the likes of Leon Timbo, Darlene McCoy, P.J. Morton, Gramps Morgan, and Grammy Award winning artist India.Arie. Her collaborations with artists/bands include: Snarky Puppy, Tarriona Tank Ball (of Tank and the Bangas), Jarrod Lawson, Jonathan McReynolds, Tony Momrelle, Jaspects, The Foreign Exchange, Zo!, Mike Hicks, Sho Baraka and Khari Cabral Simmons. Her first solo album, Journey to Golden, was released in 2016 to rave reviews. Both that album and her new project Sol Empowered are eclectic collections of soul, rock, funk, jazz, and world music-flavored songs, linked together by Cann’s melodic and inspirational vocals.

Co-hosts CriStyle and Allen met up with Chantae in Atlanta while attending the 2017 Collective Music Conference, and recorded their conversation outdoors in the courtyard at their hotel. This relaxed atmosphere fostered an engaging dialogue about Chantae’s musical and spiritual foundations, how they were tested as she learned the ropes of the music industry, and how they ultimately helped her create a project that showcases her unique style and perspective on life.


HIGHLIGHTS

Chantae’s musical influences and what draws her to certain artists

Why artists should not be limited to a single genre (including church music) and why individuality is so important

How serving in church music ministry helped prepare her for her solo career

How the different experiences of recording her first and second projects helped her to deal with internal anxiety and grow more confident

How working with charitable organizations helps her reach people on a deeper level and adds meaning to her work as an artist

 

QUOTABLES

“To me, music is the soundtrack to the universe and beyond” – C.Cann

“I feel free, and I feel like I want to help other people get free too.” – C.Cann

 

GUEST LINKS

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

BandCamp

ChantaeCann.com

For more info on Huntington’s Disease, visit http://hdsa.org/

Watch Chantae’s YouTube clip on her experience with HD here 

 

 

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The heART of the Artist: A recap of the 2017 Collective Music Conference

This conference sought to touch the hearts of artists with compassion and encouragement

What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:45b (NLT)

 

CriStyle Renae, co-host of The God and Gigs Show with Collective founder Trent Phillips

Perhaps no subject gets more attention in songs, poetry, movies, and other forms of artistic expression than the heart. We sing about when it breaks, write poems about giving it away, and equate true art as coming from it.  As Donald Fagen sang, we’re all trying to get down to the heart of the matter. Which is why five members of our God and Gigs team, along with over 100 other artists from around the country, spent two warm days in Atlanta at The Collective Music Conference hosted by Trent and Brittany Phillips. Truly, the heart of the matter during this Conference was reaching artists in areas that matter most – our relationship with God and our need to be artistically fulfilled and emotionally healthy. It’s impossible to recap everything that we experienced, but here’s a summary of some of the most powerful and inspirational things we heard and saw.

Day 1 Highlights

We arrived at Oasis Family Church in Atlanta a little behind schedule – partly because the church really isn’t in Atlanta. Those who know the area know that ‘Atlanta’ is a huge metropolitan area, so we had a bit of a drive to get there from our hotel. Once we arrived, the Collective staff greeted us warmly and immediately gave us a great spot to share our materials. It’s always a blessing when the details are already handled for you! (It was a double surprise when the first customer nearly bought our entire supply of group guides!)

Our first session started of with a jolt of inspiration as recording artist MAJOR. led off the conference. His humor, likeability and enthusiasm had us laughing immediately, but the real power of his presentation was in his story.

MAJOR. with CriStyle Renae, co-host of The God and Gigs Show

Sharing how he dealt with the stigma of being a ‘church boy’ in the music industry touched all of us that have wondered if we might be rejected by the very world we were trying to reach.

Some key points MAJOR. shared:

We may be great naturally, but training is necessary to reach excellence.

God doesn’t bless the fake. We artists have to be true to ourselves.

Being ‘cool’ means unapologetically embracing your uniqueness.

Honor every moment and be consistently grateful.

Dr. Hart Ramsey teaching on Pastors and Musicians

Our second presentation was from none other than Dr. Hart Ramsey, who has established himself as one of the leading authorities on pastoring musicians and worship ministry dynamics. The ‘truth-bomb per minute’ ratio was so high that I (Allen) could not write fast enough and resorted to recording the entire lesson. Here’s just a little of what he shared:

Everyone who has served in worship ministry has been wounded in some way.

If it wasn’t for our struggles, our gifts would not operate effectively.

A death ends a covenant. A date ends a contract.

There are three kinds of worship team members: Partners, Pirates, and Parasites. We must be honest about which role we are filling in a ministry.

God and Gigs author Allen C. Paul and Bridge Hooks and Stuff CEO Rachel James with her new book B.G.eVolve: The Manual. 

Following these general sessions, we separated into breakout sessions with a producer roundtable featuring Trent Phillips, Gerald Haddon, Nicole Neely, Tarrio Broome, Justin Raines, and Carlton “C-Dub’ Whitfield in one room, and vocalists with vocal arranger and BGV specialist Rachel James in another. Both breakouts provided opportunities for the attendees to ask specific questions and get invaluable feedback from top figures in the music industry.

Producers and Musicians Roundtable Discussion

Despite all of these wonderful career tips, perhaps the the most impactful session of the day was the Mental and Emotional Health Panel, which was led by Trent Phillips and Abigail Foard. Their honesty, sincerity and clarity on deep psychological issues opened the door for dialogue which you wouldn’t normally hear in conferences like this. The openness continued with Foard being joined by Dr. Khaalida Forbes and Pastor IIka Murray, and the roundtable was similarly full of heart-healing strategies and honest discussion.

Closing out our day, the world-renowned and prolific songwriter, pastor and worship leader Bishop William Murphy taught on the Heart of Worship.

Bishop William Murphy

Using Old Testament worship practices as a guideline, Bishop Murphy explained how worship musicians and leaders must prioritize a right relationship with God and with each other in order to minister effectively. Some key points from Bishop Murphy:

We should be shaped by God, and not by our circumstances.

We will be tested to see if our worship is genuine.

Being pure does not mean being flawless; it means being honest.

(Moment of honesty from all of us in the God and Gigs delegation: There was also a great performance Friday evening at Battery Park featuring several of the artists from the Collective. Unfortunately, we were so tired from the day that we missed it. Oops.)

Day 2 Highlights

Saturday morning at the Collective Conference began with the same focus we left off with on Friday; an emphasis on spiritual and emotional health. Worship artist KJ Scriven absolutely wrecked the audience (in a good way) with a powerful worship service and a talk on the need to lead and perform from a place of affirmation, rather than attempting to use our gifts to gain affirmation.

Performance and technique again took center stage in the following sessions, as master keyboardists Justin C. Gilbert (Justin Timberlake), Antuan Walker (Angie Stone, Musiq Soulchild) and conference host Trent Phillips took the musicians through a keyboard lab segment, while vocal coach Ametria Dock worked with the vocalists. The breakouts continued with specialized training on tax filing for artists, production techniques, and music ministry leadership.

Justin Gilbert working with the advanced keyboard lab.

L-R, CriStyle Renae, Ametria Dock, Naomi Paul, Lia Paul after the session

The remaining Saturday general sessions were full of practical and applicable career advice, as entertainment lawyer Heather Beverly shared the nitty-gritty on why obtaining good legal counsel early in your career is the best strategy.  The final general session featured a true giant in the industry, multi-Grammy winning songwriter, producer and music director James “Big Jim” Wright on a panel with several of the weekend’s other presenters. Wright summed up the key to staying relevant on big tours and in TV work with four words – “Character first, musicianship second.”

 

Trent Phillips, Justin Gilbert, James ‘Big Jim’ Wright, Ametria Dock and Rachel James sharing keys to working on tours and in TV.

All in all, this Conference once again proved to be worth much more than its small registration cost insinuates. It’s obvious that Trent and Brittany Phillips have a heart for helping artists as well as the churches that are connected to them.  In this way, the heart of the matter wasn’t just about making us feel better as artists – it was to make us better in every way. The 2017 Collective Music Conference certainly gave every attending artist the tools to do just that.

The God and Gigs crew – Naomi Paul, Lev Curtis, CriStyle Renae, Allen Paul, Lia Paul

Links to Resources from the Conference

BRIDGE HOOKS AND STUFF ENTERPRISES – Rachel James – Entertainment Agency and Placement Service

FRUITION ORGANIZED MUSIC – Ametria Dock – Vocal Coaching 

DESERT STREAM MINISTRIES – Abigail Foard – Counseling and Mental Health 

MARRIED BGV – Kennya Miller – Apparel 

HEATHER BEVERLY – Legal Counsel for Entertainers 

For information on next year’s conference, visit CollectiveMusicConference.com and subscribe to the mailing list to be updated when tickets become available.

Making a Big Impact while Starting Small with Warren Brown

This musician and internet personality has harnessed the power of video and likeability

Can a musician from a small town make a big impact?  Warren Brown, multi-instrumentalist and internet personality, better known on Facebook as “Mr. Get’cha Peoples in the House”, knows the answer. With nothing except his family’s support, an engaging character and a willingness to take risks,  Warren has harnessed the power and reach of Facebook to create buzz and a growing brand in the gospel music industry, “The Yank Nation.” Warren hosts and performs in a live-streamed music show, drawing tens of thousands of viewers every week via social media. Warren exhibits a savvy approach to media marketing which seamlessly blends the line between ministry and entertainment. He spoke to us after a show in South Florida, in which he livestreamed his performance with musicians outside his church for the first time.

Major points shared during the interview:

  • Why Christian musicians can play in clubs and secular arenas without being condemned.
  • His father’s influence on his musical training and marketing strategies.
  • Growing up in a musical family with talented siblings, and how his father trained them with limited musical knowledge of his own.
  • The difference between ministry and creating an entertaining church-based show.
  • A recap of the Warren Brown Live in Miami event in September 2017 and how he approaches every live performance.
  • Changing a social media strategy from simply trying to gain attention from other musicians, and instead developing a recognizable brand.
  • How local musicians and Facebook trolls discouraged and almost convinced him to discontinue his show, and how he overcame his discouragement.
  • Confidence and how he still gets nervous until he goes into character.
  • Using Facebook responses to change attitudes and promote positivity

Quotables from the interview

  • “You are not going to get the anointing by hanging out with people with the anointing.” – W.Brown
  • “You’ve got the skill. Now put the mindset to it.” – Advice given by Warren Brown’s father

Guest Links:

Featured Patrons:

Host Links:

Theme Music:

  • Performed by Teja Veal, from “The Hopeless Romantic EP”

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Do you feel your location has limited your creative options? What are some ways that you could overcome those limitations?

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5 key steps to achieving your creative dreams

Creatives must be intentional about making their visions a reality - and the work never really ends

Always remember there are only two kinds of people in this world, the realists and the dreamers. The realists know where they are going. The dreamers have already been there. – Robert Orben

We all know the feeling.

You woken up out of a deep sleep and scrambled to write it down. You’ve been moved to scribble it on a napkin in a middle of dinner. You’ve written a declaration in your journal or have a vision board in your office. It’s what drives you, almost to the point that you seem obsessed to the outside world.

It’s your creative dream. And it’s not getting any easier to reach it.