Songs That Take You High and LowPosted: June 3, 2021
Hey everybody! This little space on the Internet I’ve had going for over a decade now has really been about sharing resources, ideas, thoughts, and experiences as they relate to worship ministry. And I think most of you who read this blog serve in that arena in one way or another. Crossing into this space occasionally are also thoughts about creativity, and the arts in general, and today’s post is along those lines. If you read on, please indulge me in hearing a bit of my artistic and creative journey the last few years.
I appeared on a friends podcast recently and spoke quite a bit about the connections between how I view myself as a creative person, an image-bearer, and how my relationship with God connects to all that. Whereas before becoming a disciple of Jesus creativity was much about self-expression, when I submitted to the Lordship of Christ my art became more about worship, and offering the best of myself to his purposes and for his kingdom. This even caused me to shift majors in college. I had started out as a fine arts major (I make paintings and illustrations), but my visual art at the time was so inward-focused I chose to move to music (eventually getting a music degree with an emphasis in audio engineering) which for me was more outward in expression. I made music in those days that was alternative rock, played some shows around town and on college campuses (we even one the “battle of the bands” back at CU Boulder, due not in small part to the frenzied CU campus ministry in the audience). And my friends and I would regularly play rock sets of popular tunes and my own songs for campus retreats.
Later I started writing some songs for the church to sing (mostly because I was tired of some of the songs we were repeating so frequently) and made it my goal to write simple, catchy, easy to sing songs that could be sung at a campus gathering or baptism, or also could be scaled up and done at a conference or big worship service. By God’s grace he gave me some great songs, some of which caught on and spread around our fellowship of churches.
I still always had my alternative rock musical foundations though, and a while back I started writing songs again in that vein, partially with hopes of playing out around town in non-church environments, just to meet wholly different categories of members of my community, to reach out and meet new people. Artistically, it was also fun to branch away from worship music, even as the message of many of the songs came from a worshipful perspective or a place of commentary on the spiritual journey. They were songs about people falling away, getting spiritually numb, finding God in campus ministry, needing community, striving towards Christ, feeling distant in secular culture. But the lyrics are all couched in metaphorical terms with universal themes that hopefully everyone can relate to. In order to distinguish the material from the worship music most people knew me from, I released the songs under the band name “Ties to the Light.” (Here’s the new Facebook page for that music.)
Worship music has to be simple, easy to sing, musically uncomplicated, not dependent on a certain groove or instrumentation (at least if it’s going to be easily sung by average church members and shared amongst diverse congregations). In particular my goal has been to share really easy songs, as much of modern worship music feel radio/performance driven, in my opinion, more than being about congregational engagement (of course there are some great exceptions of easy-to-sing songs). Conversely, my Ties to the Light songs could be more about artistic expression and my own musical and production technique exploration, even whilst still being vehicles of spiritual messaging. My recordings of worship songs were made primarily for the purposes of sharing the songs themselves, so I used whatever audio technology I had available at the time, without getting overly concerned with production value. So while I still love the songs, some of the recordings are not so great. With my Ties to the Light stuff though, in order for it to stand beside commercial releases it had to be higher production quality, so I invested in paying to have some of the songs mixed and trying to learn newer recording techniques and equipment.
Just this past week I am now releasing the second album of Ties to the Light music (three of the songs on this new release are cowritten with Geoff Fawcett, which is cool). Because it’s under a new artist name and not my own name, almost no one knows about it. So for example while I have a decent number of listeners who listen to “J. Brian Craig” on Spotify, for Ties to the Light there are 9. Actually now it’s up to 11. So if you’ve read this far, you probably are a supporter of my music and ministry so I’d like to ask you–can you help me get the word out about Ties to the Light? Listen on streaming devices. Download and/or rate and review on iTunes. Like and follow the Facebook page I just set up (and share the videos that are on there). And, if you like the music, tell your friends about it! Because I get feedback that some of these songs would be great for sync purposes (like behind a commercial or TV show or some other media vehicle) I’ve included acoustic and instrumental versions of the songs on this one.
By the way, with the time I spent the last few years finally getting that Ties to the Light music up and running and out into the world, I’ve been building up a backlog of new worship songs that God has been giving me. So I have at least two albums worth of newer worship songs I need to get decent recordings of and release. Some of these I have posted in this space or shared in one way or another — more introspective songs like Let Me Rest, I Belong, Only In the Cross and more upbeat songs like Heavens Declare, Emptied All, and Worship You My King. There’s even a worship song that acknowledges climate change called Every Rock and Tree. Please pray for me that I can make time to get all these songs recorded and share them; there are some songs my local church really loves singing or the kids at camp totally love belting out, and I feel a calling to share them with a wider audience. One cool thing is I’ve been getting faster and better with mixing and production, learning Logic along the way doing Ties to the Light stuff, and especially all the virtual choir worship videos I made during the lock down. So hopefully I’ll be able to work a little faster getting the material released.
Thank you so much for cheering me along on this musical journey, and thank you for all the support that so many of you have given me through the years!