Sunday, September 20, 2009

No monkeys were harmed or humiliated in the making of this movie

More worship thoughts and kids’ CD news coming soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about a conversation that happened in our house a couple of days ago.

The boys were watching a movie, and it was taking longer than Staci and I had hoped. Bedtime was looming nearer, but we really didn’t want to deal with the chaos of turning off the movie before it was done.

So the brief conversation went like this:
Staci: “Is that movie almost over?”
Me: “I’m not sure. Let me check." I go look at the screen for a few seconds.
Me: “I think it’s close to the end.”
Staci: “How close?”
Me: “Well, a monkey is driving an ice cream truck, and there’s also some small explosions. If that’s not the climax of the story, then this is the best movie ever made.”

There are only two kinds of people who willingly watch movies like this: children and weed-smokers. Weed-smoking monkeys, like the one above, would love it.

Bonus points if you can name the movie.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anyone? Anyone?

OK, so after getting more hits than this blog has ever seen by a massive margin (I wonder if it had anything to do with free stuff?), I've gotten almost zero feedback on these tunes. That either means that you've all gotten together and agreed that, since the songs are so terrible, it's probably best to just pretend that none of this ever happened, or you're all so engrossed in listening to my brilliance that you can't take time away from dancing and clapping to even type.

Or it could be something else. Either way, thoughts? Email or post them here. Also, let me know how the "passing along" is going.

More blogging soon. I mean, I'm on a roll here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Words that rhyme with frustration

OK, so the bad news is that I had a really frustrating day in the studio. Long story filled with techno-talk, but basically, I was hoping to finish up all the vocals today for the kids' record, leaving me with only a few acoustic parts to do, then mix. But it didn't happen.

That's the bad news. I'm a few days behind now. This shouldn't surprise anyone. I mean, the tentative release date for this thing has changed like 9 times. I think it was originally supposed to come out in '06 or something.

I blame the economy. Or the health-care reform. Or Sarah Palin. I don't know. It's someone's fault.

Anyway, here's the good news. I'm tired of waiting and working and talking about this project with nothing to show for it. And I know that all 17 of you are tired of that as well. I'm really excited about this music and I can't wait to share it.

Sooooo, it's time for more GIVE-AWAYS!

That's right, kids. It's on. Just like last time, only this time you'll be getting (unmixed!) songs from the new kids' record.

But here's the thing. I'm going to make this one a little more involved. I mean, posting a comment on my blog to get free music is a no-brainer. So I think I'll ask a bit more of you on this one, but I also think you're getting something a little more significant.

Here's what we're going to do:

As most of you know already, I'm extremely close to being finished with the record. I'm going to write more about it in the next couple of weeks as the release gets closer, but for now my big issue is HOW DO I MARKET THIS THING?

I mean, I've never done a record even resembling this one in terms of musical style, lyrical content, or target audience. So I'm just honestly at a loss for how to get it "out there." My usual methods for this kind of thing just don't seem like they will work this time.

So that's where you come in. I will send 2 of my kids' songs -- again, these are "rough draft" versions, not the final mixes -- on two conditions.

First, that you promise to send the songs to 3-5 friends each. Preferably these will be the kinds of friends that you think might be interested in the record once it comes out. So, mainly parents of young-ish children.

And second, that you promise to buy the record when it comes out.

I don't think that's too much to ask for two free, pre-release, sure-to-be-chart-topping-hit tunes from a formerly almost regionally famous celebrity like myself.

After you get the songs, you forward them to your 3-5 lucky friends, and then you just email me and tell me that you did it. You must do this! Obviously you'll already have the songs, so I can't coerce you to do it; and obviously if you do it, I'll just have to take your word on it, because I can't monitor what you're actually doing.

But the ethical standards of RKWT blog posters have always been top-notch (other than an occasional inappropriate joke, but I'm usually the only one that does that; and maybe Johnny), so I know I can trust you.

Basically, here's the plan in 7 easy-to-follow bullet-point steps:

Step 1: Post on the comments page, and give me your email (even if you sent it last time; I'm a songwriter, not a book keeper).

Step 2: Wait for the songs to come to your email. Take deep breaths and try not to call me at home and bother me while you're waiting.

Step 3: Enjoy songs with your children or the borrowed children of loved ones.

Step 4: Forward songs to 3-5 friends and/or family members (potential buyers!)

Step 5: Wait with eager anticipation for whole CD to come out, all the while spending inordinate amounts of time on various Ross King online venues.

Step 6: Buy CD upon release date.

Step 7: Hound aforementioned friends and family to buy CD also.This is what the kids call "marketing on the cheap." I am shamelessly engaging in it, and using the lure of free stuff to entice you to do the same.

Got it? Cool.

I think this can be a great tool for buliding relationships and blessing people in your life. I mean, who doesn't want some free music to play for their rowdy kids in the car? You? You sir? How about you, madam? Don't look away from me! Take this free music and find much enjoyment!

So,who wants some free stuff?

Final thought: I'm only going to do this for maybe a week. So don't tarry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Worship thoughts Pt 2: The Worship Leader

The job/role of the worship leader.

Let me start by saying that, if you want to get into the finer points of this one, context is key. There’s obviously going to be a vast array of places and groups and times within which one might find oneself leading worship. (Wow, that was a sentence that could’ve been better.) But I can’t possibly try to cover all that here. Instead, let’s just paint with a broad brush and then you guys can hopefully do the fine tuning for your own individual contexts.

So, here we go. By the way, I’m going to use some terms that I don’t care for, simply because not using them would force me to find and define new words to replace them. And that’s just more work for everyone. When I have to use a word that I don’t like, I’ll put it in quotes so that you know I’m pulling that word from The Great Ancient Glossary of Baggage-Laden Christian Lingo.

The role (or job) of a worship leader is a 3-step process:
1) Determine the spiritual identity/health of a given “congregation.” You could call this identity/health the where they are (spiritually) of the group.
2) Acknowledge that identity and resolve to love the people right where they are.
3)Take the group as far as you can, in the time allotted to you, to a new where they are, which is to say, deeper into love for and fellowship with the Lord.

OK, so that may be hard to decipher. So let me say it in a shorter way.

The role of a worship leader is to acknowledge where his/her people are and then to lead them from that point into a deeper maturity.

Make sense now?If not, here it is, really short: Acknowledge, Lead, Mature.

In other words, if you are working in a sort of “full time” capacity with a group of people (like, say, you’re "on staff" at a church or leading consistently with your home group or something), then you are constantly acknowledging the identity and health of the group (yourself included, because you’re a part of that group; more later on that) and constantly trying to help the group mature and grow and express at a deeper level.

But if you’re only with a group for a short period (like, say, a one-night “gig” or a retreat or a summer camp or something), you have a different sort of strategy. The overall assignment is the same. You just have less time to do it, and maybe you change your expectations for how far you can go with them.

Got it? Making sense? Thoughts? If so, post them.

Before I’m done, here’s one important note. No matter how long you are with a group (for one night, for two years, or indefinitely), you are part of that group. Every determination that you have about them; every goal you have for them; every frustration you aim toward them; all of those things include you. Always keep that in mind. Nothing ruins spiritual leaders faster than an absence of community.

Which leads me to my last point. I don’t really include this in my broad-strokes description of the worship leader’s job, because it’s just too nuanced to try to work it in, but I’ll say it here, because this is key to the way I lead (and to the way I attempt to fulfill the “3-step” approach that I’ve outlined above).

Be honest. Be real. Be vulnerable.

The two most common things that are said to me are:
“Thanks for singing songs in keys that I can sing.”
“Thanks for being a real person.”

I’ll address the first one later in the series. I suspect that some of you aren’t going to like that one.

But the second one ought to be significant to us. Why would people say that to me so often? If “being real” is fairly common among worship leaders, there would be no reason to pull me aside, time after time after time, and thank me for doing it. And I’ll be honest, sometimes they’re not thanking me, they’re just saying it as a fact, for better or for worse.

I remember a few years ago I led worship at this big week-long college thing where there were like 3000 college students. I was with them for a full 6 days, so they got more than enough of me. I’m not sure what was different about that week than other things I’ve done, but for some reason, I heard some variation of the “you guys are real people” thing probably 25 times. I’m serious. And the funny thing was, it didn’t always sound like a compliment. Sometimes it sounded like a puzzled, what-planet-are-you-from accusation. It wasn’t like they were picking on me or mad or anything. It was just an honest “I haven’t seen this before,” or maybe “aren’t you supposed to be cooler than this?” kind of thing.

I won’t attempt to explain or over-evaluate all that. What I do know is this. Among the thousands of qualified worship leaders in this country, I’m not even close to being the best singer or the best songwriter or the best instrumentalist or whatever. I don’t think those things have been the primary contributors to my 15-plus years in this field. I honestly think people call me because I try to bring something genuine, something “just like you, only maybe more messed up” to the table. And not everybody likes what I do. I’m not offended or holier-than-thou about that. It is what it is, and there is plenty of worship-leading work to go around.

But I do think that people are longing to be led by leaders who are accessible and real. They want to be led by people who are participants in the worship; co-travelers on the journey. They don’t want rock stars. Or if they do, they shouldn’t. Rock stars look at a crowd and see fans. Worship leaders look at a crowd and see family.

OK, that’s enough of my rambling. Thoughts?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Worship thoughts Pt 1: Definition of Worship

Let’s start out with a wide angle lens and then focus in.

For the sake of time, I won’t define worship as anything other than the worship of God. Obviously people can and do worship other things, people, etc. But instead of going into the philosophical and cultural nuances of all that, I’ll just give you my definitions of worship as they relate to the Jesus-following life. I think it’s pretty easy and appropriate to use those definitions to talk about any sort of worship (i.e. to take the God-words out of my definitions and insert other words), but that’s really out of the scope of what I was doing at the seminar. I was speaking to Jesus-following leader-types who hopefully have some mechanism for rooting out idolatry in their lives. So again, let’s just assume that we’re talking about worship of the Trinitarian God here. Cool?

Moving on.

Broadly speaking, worship is simply this: in view of what God has done and is doing, we offer ourselves – momentarily and continuously – to the Lord as living sacrifices. If that sounds familiar, it’s supposed to. I took it from Romans 12. I like using that passage as a blueprint for worship, simply because that’s what it claims to be. I like the idea of saying “sure, singing is worship, but this says that real worship is the lifelong act of offering our bodies up for God’s discretionary use.”

The word-picture is rich: one of a person voluntarily taking on the role that – in the Jewish or Roman (etc) heritage – would’ve been occupied by a valuable, but dead, animal. (Lots of stuff in Leviticus if you want to read up on this.) As a general concept for worship as life, I think this is a pretty great way to go at it.

So, again, if we look at worship from a broad, lifestyle perspective, we’re simply defining it as intentionally devoting oneself to the Lord, over and over, deeper and deeper, throughout life.

Any issues with that? Comments are welcome.

Now let’s get more narrow. After all, most people, when asking for a definition of worship, are probably trying to hone in on something that they can apply in the more specific context of “what are we supposed to do when Christians get together and say ‘let’s worship’?”

That definition has a little more texture, a little more complexity. There will definitely be disagreement about this among varying religious upbringings and spiritual leanings and such, but here’s what I think.

Narrowly defined – and for the purpose of use in basic Christian dialogue and practice – worship is the collective, corporate and unified expression of the people of God, in acknowledgement of Who He is, in appreciation for all He does, and in participation of His Kingdom work. That’s wordy, I know, but this ain’t something that we want to just rush thru. This is the worship of God we’re talking about.

But I know that definition is long, so let me do it another way. Worship is what happens when people who know God get together and agree about – and with – Him (think Acts 2-4, 1 Corinthians 12-14, etc).

Better? Well, either way, now we have a good starting point.

That’s about all I have for this first entry, but let me say this.

Some of you might think “but what about private worship? What about the me-and-God times of intimate praise?”

I’m not saying those times aren’t worship. According to my broader definition, they absolutely are. Time alone (mediation, prayer, fasting, study, etc) is hugely important to the Christian life, but I’m not sure that I’d ever want to call that my primary “worship” time. I’m not trying to be legalistic here. Again, remember that using the broader definition, all that stuff is worship. But one of the things that I’m learning is that we really are missing out on all that worship is if we undervalue the “believers gathered together” aspect of it.

I mean, think about how many times Paul talks about what should be happening in the group as a whole versus how much he talks about personal quiet time. It ain't even close.

And honestly, I just think those personal worship times have been heavily overemphasized in recent years, to the detriment of our corporate, unified worship times. Again, I"m not saying people are praying and meditating too much. I'm saying that sometimes we treat our corporate worship times as personal worship times, and that's not really the point.

Way too many times, we stand in a room full of several hundred people and sing songs about “me.” Way too often, we hear “it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, you need to worship God in your own way.” There’s some truth and value in that sort of thing, but there’s some potential harm there as well.

I’ll cover all this a lot more in the “Why does “corporate” matter? sections, but for now, just know that I am trying to get to the heart of what it means to deeply enjoy the worship of God, in all its facets. So I want to make sure define worship in a way that brings balance among those facets.

To that end, let's spend some time talking about the power of unified Jesus followers agreeing in song (and otherwise) that God is great.

More to come.

We’re in Tyler, TX tonight and tomorrow for Naomi’s adoption finalization hearing, so I will probably post part 2 of this on Wednesday or Thursday, and then another entry every 2-3 days.


Thoughts? Disagreements? Questions?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

If requests for free music were $100 bills...

...I'd be a multi-thousandaire today. Hey, thanks to everyone for showing interest in my somewhat out-of-nowhere instrumental music. I just sent out the third batch. I probably won't send out any more for a while. If you still want to hear them, you're out of luck, because I'm done, at least for now. If I get more requests, I'll get them out in a week or so.

In the meantime, I'm going to take the worship topics 1-2 at a time. I was hoping that more of you would actually read what I wrote and actually respond to it appropriately by saying "I'd like to hear about this specific thing," but instead most of you just said, "yeah, I'd love to hear all your thoughts on worship." I mean, I'm flattered, but I've already blogged more this week than I have in the last 2 months, so the prospect of writing a mini-book on worship is a tad overwhelming.

Oh well, I live to serve. And eat queso. But mainly to serve.

So I'm working on the first batch of worship thoughts right now. I'm not going to write a ton (at least not on purpose), but hopefully we can get some discussion going in the comments. Also, the seminar was recorded, so I'll try to get a link to that asap.

Second, this giveaway thing was fun. I'm thinking that I'm going to do another one this week. Don't start sending me your emails yet. I'm coming up with something a little more involved. The songs will still be free in terms of money, but I'm going to make you work a little harder.

I'll let you know within a day or two.

And just in case you've stuck around here long enough to know that I sometimes say "I'll let you know within a day or two" only to not say anything at all for like a month, this isn't one of those times. I'm on a roll this week, and I'm really getting excited about showing you guys what I've been working on with this kids' stuff.

So check back tomorrow or Tuesday for some worship thoughts and some info on more free music.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I only know about a few things

But this is one of them. Leading worship. I mean, I've been getting paid to do it for like 15 years, so that definitely makes me, I don't know, something.

I did a worship leader seminar today at Grace Bible Church here in B/CS.

(Speaking of "leading worship for 15 years," today, at the seminar, I was told by three very-much-grown-up minister types that I was their first introduction into good/modern worship. They were like, "yeah, I was just a kid and you were teaching me how to..." I appreciated the encouragement, of course, but gee whiz did I feel old. Oh well, you take your atta boys where you can get them, right?)

Here were some of the topics that we covered in the seminar, mostly in response to questions from the audience:

What is worship? (Broad definition and narrow definitions)

What is the job/role of the worship leader?

Why “corporate” matters.

How “corporate” affects what the leader does.

Interacting/co-laboring with teachers/preachers.

The integration of other creative arts into a worship gathering.

The pros and cons of tech/multimedia in a worship gathering.

It went really well. I don't usually enjoy teaching in large groups (read: I'm bad at it), but this was really just a long Q&A with a few planned teaching points. I had a good time.

Anyway, since I've never really talked at length about leading worship on here, I thought I'd see if there is any interest in that sort of thing. It would take days to write on all these topics, but if anyone is interested in hearing about any of this, let me know what stuff on that list is more interesting to you and I'll just kind of regurgitate my notes on here and maybe get some discussion going. If not, I won't get my feelings hurt. I've had more hits on this site in the last few days than I've had in a long, long time, so I'm feeling loved and all that. I'm sure all the traffic had nothing to do with the fact that I was giving away free stuff.

Free stuff

OK, I just sent out the songs to everyone who has asked for them so far. Let me know if you didn't get them, and of course feel free to share any feedback here.

Oh, and if anyone else wants them, let me know and I'll do another big email in a few days.

Thanks for all the encouragement and support. I love sharing this kind of thing with all of you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Making space for the One who deserves it and all that nonsense

OK, so here’s something you didn’t know. It's long, but I don’t think it will be boring.

I was in Haiti, on the mission trip that I’ve talked about a few times already. The furthest thing from my mind was how I can make big money in my music career. I mean, I love me some money and I love me some me, so that sort of thing is always wandering around in the back room of my brain, but when you’re in the second poorest country in the world handing out de-worming pills to orphans, your mind tends to exist on a higher plane.

So I get this email. We had wi-fi there, believe it or not, and we usually had time to check it once or twice a day. Anyway, the email is from this lady who says she represents the lead singer of a hugely successful Christian band (she tells me which one, but I ain’t telling you because I don’t want to get into trouble later; I know that probably makes it seem like I’m lying, but honestly, after this many years of crazy stories, you think I really have time or energy to make this kind of thing up?). She says this lead singer fellow – we’ll call him Willie, only because it would be even cooler if this story was about Willie Nelson, even though it’s not – wants to talk with me about something. She doesn’t say what.

Believe it or not, I didn’t pee my britches right then and there and beg her to tell him to call me asap. Don’t get me wrong. I was curious, but for some reason I played it cool. Maybe it was the crazy poverty and the orphans and the assault rifles and the other stuff I was bumping into over there, or maybe I just had a rare moment of “some things matter a lot and some things matter a little.” Whatever it was, instead of emailing her back and saying “MY PHONE IS ON AND I’LL BE EAGERLY AWAITING HIS CALL PLEASE TELL HIM I LOVE HIM AND WANT TO HUG HIM TIGHTLY BUT ONLY IN A PLUTONIC WAY!!!” -- instead of that, I just emailed her and said, “tell him I’m in Haiti and I’ll be back in about 8 days and I’d be glad to talk with him then.”

All cool like that. Can you imagine? What was I thinking, right?

So anyway, after I get back to the states, I start getting a little curious. I wonder if Willie is ever going to call.

About a week or so passes, and I start thinking, “I guess that was just a random deal and I’ll never know what it was really about.” Maybe a day after I started thinking that, I get a text from him one afternoon. He’s like, “hey ross, it’s Willie from Huge Christian Band. I’d love to talk. Can you call me?”

He gives me his number and I call him. I’m a little anxious, obviously.

Well, we talk for a bit, and Willie tells me that he was recently at youth camp with his church (I thought that was kind of cool that he went to his church’s youth camp) and somebody plays this video of my song “Clear the Stage.” He says that he really loves the song and that now he’s recording it for his band’s new record, and is that ok with me?


But I don’t say that, because I have said lots of stupid things in my life and I’m learning to say them less often and never in ALL CAPS. Instead I just say “yeah, that sounds pretty good, Willie.”

Well, things get a little weird and surreal from there. I talk to Willie’s manager on the phone a couple of times; I talk to an entertainment lawyer to make sure I know what to do next; I tell a few of my friends who are totally impressed and already figuring out ways to borrow money from me. Stuff like that.

On a totally serious note, this whole thing sent me into a bit of a dreamland where I start imagining that now, finally, I can write music for a living. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for worship gigs and house concerts and CCLI checks and download sales and all that. Of course I’m thankful for all that. But my passion – my main thing – is that I love to write music. And this seemed like the sort of thing that might give me some leverage in that world. As most of you probably know, I’ve never been a big hit in the mainstream Christian music world, so it’s not like I have ever (at least not in the last several years) really thought I had a shot at making any real money or having any significant influence with those people.

This development seemed to be the beginning of something new. I was surprised, excited, honored, and nervous. But mostly excited.

So it went like that for about 3 weeks. I talked to Willie a couple more times, and he told me how excited he was to have the song on the new record. I tried not to have Pokemon seizures every 17 seconds. You might even say that it was something that I wanted with all my heart; something I couldn’t stop thinking of.

Yeah, now maybe you’re starting to see where this is going.

And then one day Willie calls and says the deal has fallen thru.

The song just doesn’t seem to be coming together the way they want it to. Willie says he just doesn’t feel like he’s able to make it “his” in a way that feels comfortable. So, sorry man. But thanks.

Hang up phone. Pick up pieces of shattered dream from floor. Initiate self-pity.

Now, explain this to me. If fame and fortune and notoriety in the Christian music world are things that I no longer want or care about, why was I so devastated to get that call? Wasn’t I fine before this all happened? Wasn’t my life really great without knowing that Huge Christian Band was recording my song?

Clear the stage indeed.

Anyway, that’s basically the bummer end to the story. For about 3 weeks, I thought I was going to have a little extra money and a lot of extra influence in a culture that I’ve never been able to really break into. And then it went away, as if it was never there in the first place.

I feel fine with it now, in case you're worried. I mean, there are much wors problems in the world. I don't think Haitians complain about their songs not getting recorded by famous people.

Obviously I still would like to know what God was (is) up to. Couldn’t He have just left me alone and not allowed me to get all worked up? I mean, it’s not like I sent my CD out to Nashville and knocked on doors trying to get “discovered” or trying to “make it big.” I’m 37 years old for goodness sakes. I think that window has closed.

And honestly, I’m really fine with that. I used to write songs and hang out a lot with a guy who is arguably the most famous Christian musician on the planet, and I don’t want his life. He’s rich and famous and single. I’m middle class and unknown and I have the greatest, most beautiful family I can imagine. Really, I don’t want his life. I think he's really happy and I'm thrilled that he's out there writing songs that are inspiring (literally) millions -- compared to my hundreds -- of Jesus followers to love God more. But I don't wish I was him. I really don't.

But, for fleeting moments, I do still want – for better or for worse – to write music that has broader impact and deeper influence. I know that’s narrow-minded of me. I know it shows a lack of thankfulness. I know it flies in the face of all that I know about God’s first-shall-be-last and narrow-roads-beat-wide-roads economy.

I know all that. But I’m still working it all out.

Following Jesus is hard. Following Jesus while trying to entertain people for a living is weird.

Just wanted you all to know, because you’re the kind of folks who like to know these kinds of things about my world. Thanks for reading and being so nice and honest and real.

The end.


Then a couple of weeks after that, I got a sent a contract from some music publishers in Hollywoodland who want to add two of my instrumental songs to their movie-TV-commercials catalog. Yeah, I know, it's weird. Most of you didn’t even know that I write instrumental music. I actually don’t do that much of it. But occasionally I do and sometimes I submit that stuff to various industry people who seem to be interested in such things.

So right as I started feeling really sorry for myself because “nobody appreciates me” and blahblahblah, God gave me a little, random bit of encouragement. At some point, a couple of my songs will be on TV or in a movie. That's pretty cool, right? It’s not much money, and I’ll probably never even see the show or movie or commercial where my songs play, but it’s still kind of cool.

And that brings us to the last thing.

This is for those of you who actually read this far. Way to go, you.

If you want to hear those songs, post a comment on this particular post and give me your email. I’ll email you the mp3’s. Then you can join me in keeping a lookout for my instrumental music on “According to Jim” or “One Tree Hill” or "Project Runway" or wherever it might play. You’ll let me know and then my next blog post will be titled “I’m on TV!”

Only I won’t have to worry about the camera adding 10 pounds. Which is a real relief. Because there’s no way I’d look as cool as Toby Mac at the Doves.