What Real Love Is

Free_Love_by_SenVeBen

Dear Indie Girl,

In my first year of college, I was a mess with questions about love. I’d never really been the dating type in high school. I didn’t really see the point to be honest. Both my siblings went away to college and found people who fit them perfectly, so that’s exactly what I intended to do.

It was my first experience with dating and my first heart break. I remember sitting down with a friend afterward and saying, “I need to learn what love is. If not now, then when?!”

It was in the middle of this season that Jesus met me in a dream that would haunt me for years and change my life.

I was dressed in a fancy old dress in a historical old theatre sitting on a bench talking to a very attractive man dressed in a black suit. His hair was long and brown, and even though he was dressed up as I was, he looked weathered, like a man who worked outside. I was telling him my life story, just pouring out my heart to him like we were best friends. The way he listened made me feel so loved. He cared about every detail I told him.

After some time, he got up and said, “I have to go away for a while.”

“Can I come too?”

“No,” he responded gently, “Not now.”

As he walked over to the exit, I followed him. Before he opened the door he picked me up and spun me around just like a scene from an old romance movie. Before he set me down again he kissed me just below my neck, like he was kissing my heart. As he was about to leave, he looked into my eyes and said, “I’m going to show you what real love is.” And he was gone. And that’s when I woke up.

As I opened my eyes, they were fixed already on a poster that hung in my room. It was a sketching of Jesus’ face. My eyes were locked on his eyes. All morning I was haunted by the man in my dream. I knew him, but who was he? A famous actor? A family friend? I thought for hours about this until I stared again at the poster on my wall. It was Jesus. Jesus had met me in my dream to tell me not to worry about finding love. That he’d show me what real love is. And he did. He faithfully showed me what love is. And what it is not. And he still does.

Thinking about this dream still brings me to tears. It is one of my most precious memories. If you’re questioning the idea of love, wondering how you know what it is, when you’ve found it, and when to hold on to it. If you’re afraid you’ve lost it, and it will never forgive you, or never find you again. Ask the one who embodies love. The God who is Love. Ask him to show you. And he will! I pray he’ll meet you in your dreams as he did me. And I pray it will haunt you until you put a name to the face of love.

Kelsey

What writing regularly has taught me

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Dear Indie Girl,

Don’t be afraid to write a bad song. 

I used to be terrified of writing bad songs. And I still have a twinge of fear when I’m staring at a blank page, but ever since I started writing more regularly (everyday if possible, if not at least one day a week), I’ve learned to do it anyway.  

I learned this from my husband, James Pray, who is a fiction writer. He is our main bread-winner working 40+ hours a week. Everyday after work he comes home, we eat dinner together, and he goes right back to work in his office working on his book. Everyday. He would write eight hours a day if we didn’t need… money. I’m so proud of him, and so inspired (and envious) of his work ethic!

So this got me thinking… so what if I write a bad song! It’s not the end of the world, right?  Well it could be the end of your career if you stop there, so don’t stop there.  Keep writing.  

George Gershwin used to write 3 songs a day so he could get two bad songs out of the way and work on something really great.

What did George known that we have yet to figure out? Writing crap is part of being a writer. Not every idea is gold. Get over it.

Someone (I can’t remember who at the moment) once said, Don’t be afraid to write crap, it fertilizes the rest of your writing.  (I’m paraphrasing)

Because that crap you wrote yesterday could hold a seed of an idea that starts a new song or book or blog post today.  Inspiration is a fickle friend. Today you’re besties, tomorrow you’re “what’s-her-name”. So don’t hang your career on inspiration. It’s nice when she visits, but you know she won’t stick around.

Be willing to get your hands dirty and spread your crap ideas out all over the page, you’ll be surprised what beautiful things will come of it.

Love, 

Kelsey

p.s. this is also written to my future self on the day I wake feeling like a failure, or I get a bad review, or something.  Just get to work.

Encouragement!

Dear Indie Girl,

Update time!

I had a wonderfully successful weekend!  It was further confirmation that I’m on the right path.  Don’t you love when that happens?!

This weekend I played two smallish Michigan churches and I was so amazed at the response!  People were open and eager to hear about my work with Women At Risk raising awareness about human trafficking.  They were attentive, they lined up at the merch table afterward to sign the email list, buy a CD and/or talk to me.  I made connections with people to possibly play other gigs.  And while these things alone would make it a good night, and money is not the most important thing in life… I got paid to do what I love.  I want to stress that the love of money does not drive what I do (if it did I’d have quit a long time ago), but without getting paid gigs we can’t fund future projects and will be forced to continually beg you, our audience for money to record and print new CDs which is something I really don’t want to do forever.  

I just wanted you to know, I’m feel encouraged, and I hope to see you at a show soon!

 

Kelsey 

Full Circle

Dear Indie Girl,

Listen ->Coming Home– written and recorded by Kelsey Rottiers in 2007

It’s funny how life comes full circle.

Tonight I was thinking about this song I wrote in 2007 after a much needed break up.  I was still convinced we were going to get back together.  I was sure running back to this relationship would be like going home.  Well, it wasn’t.  But because of this break up, I did end up moving home to rebuild some relationships I had really hurt in the process.  I remember standing in the kitchen with my parents and telling them in between sobs how I felt like I had failed them because I’d let this relationship dominate me in the worst way, because I wasn’t as strong as they had raised me to be, and ultimately because I had given in to a counterfeit love.

They both, with tears in their eyes, assured me that they had never seen me as a failure, but only saw how strong I was for finally turning away.  And reminded me that I got out of the situation when I saw that it was not right for me.

Listen-> Home– written and recorded by Kelsey Rottiers- Pray in 2014 (seven years later)

Last week I expressed some pretty heavy ideas I’ve had about where we’ve been playing and some new directions we’re taking.  I wrote this song after realizing that I didn’t feel like my music had a home, and I was scared that it had no audience that would truly receive it.

And after revealing my intention to seek out gigs at churches (and venues more like a listening room) I repeated this refrain, “it’s time to go home.”

I’m choosing to play at venues better suited for a listening environment for the same reasons that I chose to move home and reconcile with my parents.  I’m choosing to say “no” to venues not suited for a listening environment for the same reason that I walked away from that relationship that was hurting me.  He wasn’t an evil person.  He wasn’t even a bad guy.  In one of our last conversation I told him how much I respected him and liked him as a person, but that I just didn’t think we were fit for each other.

As we round this corner into a new season, I’m humbled to continue serving you in music.  I hope you keep listening.

It’s funny how life comes full circle.

Love,

Kelsey

Lines in the Sand- follow up

Dear Indie Girl, 

I want to clarify some thoughts from my last letter. 

Although I described the catalyst for this revelation in my life as that one bar in Ann Arbor, on that one night when my dad came to watch me play… the sum of my frustration with playing at bars, clubs, and venues like these does not stem from this one event.  It had been building up over a period of time, and continued to build up after that conversation with my dad on the drive home.  And the post was really talking about all of these events as a whole experience, not this one gig in Ann Arbor.  

So, I’m going to share a bit more of myself and my background to maybe shed some light and make my intentions for such a strong declaration more transparent. 

Many of you already know that I started writing and singing professionally in a duet with my sister, Aubree, when I was about 15 years old.  We wrote Christian music, played for local churches and had a manager.  If you don’t know, a concert at a church is a VERY different experience than a gig at a bar/club.  One is an Event, the other is more or less background music.  I fell in love with performing while playing regularly for church audiences who were attentive, and interactive.  We didn’t have social media to fuel our interaction with fans, it was all live shows, and some of those fans have followed my career through various changing seasons, and continued their gracious support.

The letter I posted earlier this week, was really me expressing some birthing pains, if you will, for the next phase in my career.  I’ve been feeling the tug on my heart to get back to my roots. After College, I felt the need to prove that I wasn’t just another CCM artist who fell into Christian music because it was expected or because it was all I knew.  I wanted to explore my options and find other kinds of venues and audiences to perform for. And I did.  And it made me a better writer, a better performer, and I think a more well rounded musician and person. It also, just about, burned me out.  It’s time to go home.

 

The venues we’re lining up for the coming months are mostly churches, listening rooms, colleges and conferences around Michigan.  I’ve also joined forces with Be Loud Promotions recently, a grass roots Christian PR/booking company based out of Muskegon and we’re in the process of booking a “Ladies Night Out” tour featuring myself and Katy Kinard for churches near Tennessee and then a follow up tour around the Midwest.  I’m really excited about the changes we’re making and I feel more and more confident that it fits our music best!  

I want to be clear that this move is not about naming some venues as bad, and others as good, but it’s about me trying to figure out where my audience is.  For the past few years I’ve played just about wherever I was invited to sing, with few exceptions, mostly because I didn’t have a clear understanding of who my audience was and where to find them.  This is about finding those places where my fans already are and building my career there. I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported my music through the years and has followed the Rising Tide wherever we go, even if you can’t be there in person, your support is always appreciated! 

Love to you all,

Kelsey 

Drawing lines in the sand

Dear Indie Girl, 

This weekend I had a perfectly pleasant gig at Ecclesia church in Muskegon, MI.  I met new people who were excited to become fans, buy CDs and invited me back to sing in the future (I mean quickly wanted to set down a date). This seems like like such a boring update maybe, but to me, it’s a huge victory.

About a year ago I played a gig at a bar in Ann Arbor and I brought my dad along with me.  I’ve played lots of bar gigs, and they’ve never been my favorite, but I put up with it… after all, it’s part of the job, right?  

While playing song after song and pouring my heart out to a crowd of people talking over me (who were actually watching a football game and yelling at the ref) with my dad sitting at the booth in the back of the bar, I got this strange feeling of shame.  Like I was giving away something precious, and my Father, who has always encouraged me to write and perform my music, was witnessing this reality for the first time.  That night on the drive home, he encouraged me that I deserved to be treated better at my shows.  That I deserved shows where people would listen because I had something important to share.

Nothing against this bar in particular or any other bar for that matter.  I just hate, no, loath playing at them (coffee houses aren’t much better).  Why?  No one is listening.  No one buys anything or signs the email list.  And most often, I don’t get paid.  I might as well be playing songs in my living room at home… where I also am not building a fan base or making any money, but the bathroom is clean, it doesn’t smell like beer, and the only guy that hits on me is the one I’m married to.  

I’ve learned in the last year that any show I play must do one of two things.  1. Build a fan base.  Get the word out to new people who will sign the email list, follow us online, and tell their friends about us.  Without fans, I have no career.  2. Pay me actual money (like that stuff that buys gas for my car and keeps loan sharks away).  This is not a hobby any more.  It’s fine that it started that way.  But now I have a degree in music, and I have bills to pay (largely because of that degree), and money is essential to do this.  I also have to eat, and pay for gas and travel expenses.  And I need to save up for future expenses like recording more albums, and buying more merchandise to sell… without paid gigs, this is impossible.  Now, I do have a day job teaching music lessons, but honestly, what’s wrong with asking for money to do what I’m skilled and trained to do?

Because of this, I’ve decided, unless the above requirements are met, to stop playing at bars and coffee houses.  

Sometimes we just have to draw lines in the sand.

love,

Kelsey

Be Gumby, Baby!

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Dear Indie Girl, 

As my voice instructor told me in College, “you gotta be Gumby, baby!” 

Ok, out of context that sounds weird…

She was referring to surviving as a musician solely on music jobs while fully understanding that, for a while at least, you won’t be able to do the one thing you really want to do all the time.  You will probably not make money playing gigs with your band on weekends for a long time.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do something you’re also good at and enjoy.  You can still use that crazy expensive degree you got and are still paying off.  Heck!  You might as well, right?!  

For me that’s, utilizing my teaching skills and developing my music lessons business, Pray Music.  A service I provide, teaching guitar and voice lessons to students of just about all ages.  I’m actually really enjoying myself and it challenges me to be a better musician and to really know my stuff since I’m teaching it to other people.  Plus, I get paid to sing and play guitar with people all week.  That’s pretty awesome.  

So… as you take steps to make your dreams come true in the music industry, be Gumby, baby!  Be flexible, be versatile, and be willing to be creative to make a living doing what you love.  But never be a door mat.  Find a way to enjoy what you do right now.  And if you don’t enjoy what you do right now, do something else.   

Enjoy yourself, 

Kelsey

Be your best boss!

Dear Indie Girl,

The other day, James told me to be a good boss to myself.  Quite a concept.  Everyone’s had or at least knows someone who has a bad boss.  Too strict, not strict enough, too friendly, not likable in the least…

So when you’re your own boss, be the kind of boss you want.  Be a good boss to yourself.

Recently I found this productivity schedule by Storyline.  If you’ve ever read Blue Like Jazz or Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller, you should check out his new brand Storyline.  It’s a new twist on a mentor program.  You can order the Storyline workbook exclusively on Amazon.com and work through it to find areas in your life that may be holding you back from your full potential.  I love stuff like this, so of course, I ordered it and started working on it right away.  But I just found a FREE product they offer called The Storyline Productivity Schedule which is a day planner on steroids.  It’s AWESOME!  It not only helps organize your life, but helps you keep working efficiently and helps train you to keep these good habits.

This is my first step toward being my best boss.

love,

Kelsey

My “calling” is for me!

Dear Indie Girl,

This week was filled with revelations.  Truly.

While talking to James about shows recently, I realized that I love performing, but I’ve started to hate playing shows.  Confusing, I know.  It’s mostly because we’re constantly playing shows for the wrong audience in venues that don’t care about us or our music.  So, we’re not getting paid, we’re not making fans, and we’re not selling our merch.  This kinda makes my “calling” to music like donating a kidney.

Then James said something about how I need to be doing what’s good for me too… and it hit me… My calling is for ME TOO!  Most of my life I’ve known that I am called to be writing and performing music.  But lately I’ve been treating it like it’s only for other people to enjoy, and it doesn’t matter if I enjoy it or not.  But it does!  My calling is for your good and for my good too!  Your calling is for my good and for your good too!  So we should go after our callings in a way that brings joy to our lives. More on this in upcoming blogs.

Enjoy your calling.

love,

Kelsey

You sound like…

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Dear Indie Girl, 

The above comic is brought to you by Mr. James Pray, my beloved husband/ artist in residence.  I was telling him about a kid I met who’s in a band.  When I asked this kid what his band sounded like he was so worried about being original that he refused to list any influences at all.  He wouldn’t even tell me what his favorite bands were!  So that’s where the comic came from.

This is a common struggle among Indie bands.  I’ve felt a lot of pressure from my fellow artists who don’t play cover songs as a rule because they might sound too much like so and so, or don’t list influences because they want to remain completely original.  There are also those bands that come up with a completely obscure genre of music to shy away from being grouped in with everyone else.  I’ve had friends tell me to change the name of a song or change a line because it too clearly referenced another artist that they know I’m influenced by.  See, the thing is, I want to let my influences show so long as there’s no copyright infringement and it’s done as a tasteful shout out to those who’ve gone before me.  I see this as honoring their legacy.  Those artists have influenced me and I want to pass that on.  

Because if we tried to strip down and peel back all the pieces of our work that were influenced by someone else’s band or sound, there’d be nothing left.  Just an empty paper sack.  Sometimes in the pursuit of being completely original, I fear we risk anonymity.   

People who have never heard you play need to make some kind of connection with your music in order to come to a show or go to your website and download your album.  A good example of this recognition thing is The Crane Wives.  They’re a local Grand Rapids, MI band with a HUGE following.  They got a lot of recognition because they’re not only great performers and have really solid music, but also they named their band after a Decemberists song.  The Decemberists got ahold of their album, took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook.  Then all the Decemberists fans went crazy over The Crane Wives.  Talk about a blatant musical reference.  These guys listed their main influence in their band name.  And it paid off.

If you don’t have a “sounds like” pitch ready for everyday conversation, it would be like going to a job interview and handing in a resume or application without references.  “I didn’t want to list the other places I’ve worked because I didn’t want you to think I am only capable of doing one job.”  No one would hire you.  In the same way, if you’re not ready with a 15 second pitch to explain your sound, not many people will book your band or buy your album (except your mom).  

For example, when people ask me what my band sounds like, I typically answer, “We’re an Indie-folk-pop band and we sound a bit like Ingrid Michaelson and Brandi Carlile.”  BAM.  That was actually like a 6 second pitch.  You should also be ready to list one or two big venues you’ve played at or bands you’ve opened for.  

Bottom line, there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Anything original is really just a Frankenstein’s monster of various influences.  And that’s okay.  Being an artist is really just making the old … new. This surprises people in the most pleasant way.  If you’re nervous about people thinking you’re too much like one band or another, then you should know, you sound like them for a reason. Probably because you only listen to them and bands like them.  Maybe it’s time to vary your influences.  Listen to something completely different.  What comes out is directly influenced by what you put in. The only way you’d have to worry about being a real copy cat is if you were a 100% cover band.  But hey, cover bands can make a lot of money having fun playing everyone’s favorite songs from way back when!  

Here’s to doing what we love, 

Kelsey