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.


Mendi said...

God likes to make us aware of our perspectives. It's good that He does that for us. Brings out what is in our heart, good or bad.
I'd like to keep an "ear" out for your songs. I was kind of thinking of the irony of them maybe showing up in a hemorrhoid cream commercial. Because, in my life, God is always providing ways to humble me, and for me, I think that would be one way He'd use!

By the way, those "underground" guys or bands that make it big are never as cool afterward as they were before EVERYONE knew them. This is just a way that you will be able to stay cooler, longer. :o)

Chris and Amanda said...

Sorry the song didn't work out with, I'm guessing Casting Crowns, the big music group but I can tell you that your songs effect people because I've seen it. Speaking of music when can we expect a new CD? Keep up the good work and writing songs that get played at camps all around the country.

kathryn said...

I'd love to hear the instrumentals!

Mike and Erin said...

Hey Ross,

The thing I love about the post is the thing that hooked me since Sullivan's Flaw - your willingness to be genuine and authentic in order to build up the body of Christ and help them love God more. We could all use more of that from those in shepherding positions.

Thanks for all you are and hopefully we can get you out to our place again for another concert. I still have great memories from last November.

And I'd love to hear the instrumentals - I'll add them to the other 1,245 RK songs in my iTunes.

Mike from Woodcreek Church

rk said...

thanks for all the responses so far, everyone. I'm going to give it a couple of days and send all the songs at once, probably tomorrow afternoon or evening.

honestly, i'm less scared of my stuff being on a hemorrhoid commercial (hey, that stuff really helped "a friend" of mine once) and more scared of some of the other possbilities. I mean, prime time TV knows very few limits. Yikes!

Dave Wyble said...

Nice post. I'd like to think I have similar motivation, although a whole lot less demonstrated talent, to get my music out to the world. It would be great to hear your instrumental work.


- Dave

dave at wyble dot org

Johnny! said...

Send 'em to me too.

I'm hoping for a drug commercial. Da-da-da..."May cause explosive diarrhea."

Allison said...

Me too, I want to hear. And PUH-LEASE. You of all people should know that your songs are way cooler than what's on the raido. They are cooler because they are making thier way around this country (and world) one person at a time.

Hey, have you heard of that Ross King guy? Hey listen to his stuff! It's awesome!

I mean, I must hear that at least 6 times a day. Seriously though, blessed will be the day you enter Heaven and millions are lined up to tell you how your songs led them to know Jesus. I mean, if Ray Boltz said it would happen (Thank you for giving to the Lord) then it will!

And on an even more serious note, whenever someone asks us about Andy's traveling days...we always tell them that he left Chris Tomlin for you. Awww...

send the instrumentals to my email address...i know andy wants to hear too.

Brian, Steph, Jada, Kiva, and Judson said...

I would love the music...maybe we could dance to it and then willie in the dance world will hear it and must include it while dancing with Usher at the Grammys or something! You never know?

Logan said...

I enjoy your music and would love to hear the instrumentals. Thanks,


Alex Burdine said...

Long time listener, first time caller...

Are you concerned there's a chance your music gets played on "Rock of Love" or some other VH1 reality TV show?

I'll hang up and listen to your answer.

brandon said...

Hey Ross,

Good to hear you are still alive and almost famous. I love your transparency - it feeds my self-righteousness. I never struggle with that stuff.
No, seriously, I always find myself encouraged and challenged by your thoughts on this paradoxical struggle with sin that none of us can escape. Thanks for sharing. It's probably better you that you won't be going to the Doves this year. Besides, when Jesus made it to the big show and was finally famous they crucified him. Count yourself blessed - you have a message that sounds a lot like his, so your appearance at the Doves might end up like Jesus' appearance in Jerusalem.
Oh, and I'd like to get those instrumental songs. My email: fivehix at ymail dot com.


thad said...

This is a really neat story, and I'd believe you if not for one little detail: Huge Christian Bands do not record songs long enough to make Meatloaf seem like a jingle writer. It turns out nothing over 3 minutes, 30 seconds is safe for the whole family. At first I thought that was a function of people's brains exploding if they were asked to listen to anything approaching 4 minutes, but I've since discovered that people are 17 times more likely to sing something dirty after the 3:30 mark. So, you know, let's be safe and just keep things short and to the (rarely original) point.

Anyway, I really believe you (since I knew the story as it unfolded given my special access to your middle class, unknown adventures). I just think that someone in John Rivers' office found out HCB was going to make people's brains explode and put the kibosh on this whole deal.

Also, I like how this has the potential to turn into a guessing game. Can I guess?


What? They're not recording anymore? Okay. Hmm.

Aaron Jeffery?

Them either? Wow. That explains why I've been listening to the same album for the last 13 years. One more try...

East to West?

Dangit! I knew that guy in Rascal Flatts looked familiar.

Now, in what may be my only serious few sentences ever here, let me add this: one of the reasons God has not hoisted fame upon your shoulders is to spare you (and the rest of us) the tragedy of a manager who would badger you not to write (songs or blog posts) with such honesty. We can all thank God for the absence of that character in your life.

Lindele said...

I would like to get the songs.

So my favorite word in this opus is "plutonic." And you have a real gift with words and storytelling, so I think you should gather all these essays up and publish them.

Mitchell Borges said...

You should call Willie's manager back and just tell him to just re-release "...And All the Decorations, Too." I'll take the Ross version personally. Besides, I'm not sure how good a hip hop remake of "Clear the Stage," would sound recorded by Willie Will.

I'd love to get the mp3 instrumentals:

Jill said...

Hey Ross,

Please add me to the list.


jlejcar75 at hotmail

Laurien said...


I would love to hear the instrumentals.


Rusty said...

I still think you're awesome Ross! :-) Would love to get the music.


rk said...

I'm so glad you think I'm still awesome. I agree. i have been awesome for years, and the only thing that has kept me from bragging about it is my humility, which is as replete and prolific as my awesometasticness. but you brought it up, so now i'm just agreeing with you, which is really just a way to encourage you and say "rusty, you say really smart and correct things."

the point is that we are in unity about my awesomeness, and the other point is that i'm a big encourager. is anyone keeping tracks of this?

now that we have that covered, what's your email address?


Unknown said...

I'd love to hear your instrumental work!

Misterkling at gmail dot com

Mitchell Borges said...

Hey Ross,

On a serious note, I thought I would give you some unsolicited encouragment/advice. I wouldn't get too down about your encounter with this "Markie" or ahem...I mean this "Willie" guy...pardon the speculation. The biggest thing I believe is that you have made a connection with him, and that he now knows your name.

Being in cable TV advertising sales for nearly 12 years now, I have had plenty of potentially great deals fall through. But I've also had some of those deals happen a year or so later, so persistence is the you know God's timing is a lot different than ours.

OK, here comes comes the really unsolicited encouragment/advice part. I would send Willie some of your stuff, if you haven't already...maybe not your entire catalogue, but you know a few records wouldn't be bad. You never know if there isn't another one of your songs that hits him or maybe he makes a call to one of his friends who's another big player in the business. It's not like "Clear the Stage," is the only song that could be remade. You've got a lot of potential tunes that could be used.

I would then follow-up with him and just stay in touch. I'm not advocating that you beat him into submission or anything...but just let him know from time to time that you're still consuming God's oxygen on the planet.

Well, there are my unsolicited thoughts for you. Thanks for sending the new stuff.


Unknown said...

I would love to hear your instrumentals!! YOur songs have been inspiring to me and helped me to grow spiritually- and if your music only impacts one person for Christ, it is well worth it. Thank you for doing what He has called you to!

Darin Dunn said...

I'd love to hear them!