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 and subscribe to the mailing list to be updated when tickets become available.

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.

Seeds in the Storm: Why you must invest in your goals when it’s inconvenient

Growing as a creative requires commitment that isn't swayed by circumstances

As a creative, you likely dream about doing great things and creating wonderful art.

However, we all know dreams aren’t realized unless we wake up and start working.

Anytime you have a new creative idea, project, or movement, the most important step is to start the process of making it happen. Unfortunately, starting is often the hardest part. Millions of people simply keep their dreams and goals on the shelf of “one day.” Even when we get serious about our biggest goals, we’re faced with opposing forces.  This force, one that author Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art  calls the “resistance”, rears its ugly head in the form of obstacles, unforeseen circumstances, and other factors that make it difficult to see the way forward.

4 lessons I’ve learned from writing a book

The author of God and Gigs reflects on the book's anniversary and lessons learned

I'm Allen, author of God and Gigs. I'm passionate about helping everyday artists excel in everyday life, by helping them strengthen their faith, improve their careers and deepen their relationships. You're invited to join this community of faith-focused creatives, musicians and artists by signing up for my newsletter at

Author’s note…

[Just kidding. This post is basically an author’s note, so the tone will be different from our previous informational posts.]

September 6th, 2016.

I woke up like a kid on Christmas. I was excited, but I was also as nervous as I’ve ever been. It had nothing to do with a performance. Neither was I getting married, nor anticipating the birth of a child. I wasn’t starting a new job or moving to a new house or city.

I was becoming an author.

September 6th, 2016 was the official release date of my first self-published book; God and Gigs: Succeed as a Musician without Sacrificing your Faith. For nearly 5 years, the book had only existed as an idea, then as a slowly growing set of paragraphs in Microsoft Word, as I began to realize what it would take to actually finish the project. It then evolved into an ever-expanding research project, an aggravating reminder of my procrastination, a classroom which forced me to reach out to new teachers and mentors, and a mirror where I had to confront my past, my failures and my life’s journey to that point.

The School of Prince: Advice on music and business from Rhonda Smith

A discussion with the N.P.G. alum proves that Prince's legacy goes deeper than music and talent.

Only a special kind of musician can handle working with a one-of-a-kind artist.


A supremely gifted musician, Prince helped to launch the sound that re-introduced live instrumentation, soul, funk and classic R&B to a generation at a time when hip-hop and other forms of electronic music were gaining ground. His dogged determination to own his music inspired artists to be more business savvy and purposeful with their contracts. Of course, it’s also impossible to discuss Prince without mentioning his legendary work ethic and demands for artistic perfection on stage.

It’s therefore easy to surmise that if Prince was so unique, so are the people who shared the stage and performed with him. One such artist is Rhonda Smith, bassist and member of the famous New Power Generation during a span of over a decade.  In a South Florida seminar presented at Church by the Glades, Rhonda shared some lessons she learned while working with such an iconic artist.