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Letter to a Young Musician

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of CARDUS.

You've chosen a noble vocation. Or, perhaps music has chosen you? That's even better. An invitation is preferable to a cold call.

At all times and in all ways, you must relentlessly pursue success. That is, as long as success is defined as increased skill and ability, imagination, humility, generosity of spirit, good humor, gratitude, innovation, love, and empathy, and becoming more like Jesus, not less. Your life as a musician is an invitation to become one kind of person in the world and not another, while leaving the world a better place than when you first arrived. It is a unique calling to live a seamless, integrated, creative life before God and the world, cultivating and enjoying the gift of music. Take it seriously — at the same level of seriousness you hope surgeons and airline pilots take their work.

Music involves many things, and not the least of these is the work of story-telling and storied living after the pattern of Jesus. Your songs and performances will tell stories, as will your life. Make sure both of them are true and winsome. In imaginative ways, shape your work to be inescapably connected to the Father's business in the world. Ask yourself how your musical life might cooperate with God in restoring rightness, doing justice, and showing mercy. Wonder out loud how music might remove impairments to healthy functioning. See your musical life as one faithful way to care for God's creativity — people and place, and all of creation. Be in perpetual dream mode about how music might exist for the good of people and to proclaim God's excellence as Creator.

More than anything, consider that music is one way of loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor with the same love and care you desire. Good music can actually be a means of doing for others what God has so graciously done for you. Sing over people, mend their hearts, and open them up to a renewed life. Be the wonder and surprise they need and for which they hope.

As you are developing, wind your way up through the circles of affirmation that are family, friends, school, church, city, region, state, province, and country. Do all that well, and then you just might find yourself making a few musical trips to stages in such dreamy places as London, Amsterdam, Koln, Berlin, Sidney, and Shanghai. Make sure you take the phrase "if only" out of your vocabulary (as in, "if only I had a 1953 Fender Telecaster"). Great tools are nice to have, but they are no substitute for great and astonishing ideas. I would venture to say that music is everywhere and in everything. If you must have some tool to discover it, then it's likely you don't even know what you're looking for yet. Confused?

Do this. Put away everything you own that is traditionally considered a musical instrument or tool. Now, for eight to twelve hours each day, work to gain total and complete independence in the fingers of both your hands. For example, tap 4/4 quarter notes with your forefinger on your right hand while tapping 3/4 quarter notes with your middle finger — put a new emphasis on one with each bar of three. Add eight note triplets in 4/4 time with your little finger. With your left hand, tap out the rhythm pattern of a dotted quarter note followed by an eighth note. Let your left thumb tap out two eighth notes followed by a quarter note until a bar of 7/4 time is complete. You now have several independent rhythms going on, as well as three independent time signatures. Imagine working through every possible variation of rhythm, time signature, and tempo with each individual finger and gaining mastery in this. Imagine working on it every day for five years! Once you can do anything you imagine, pick up a guitar and change the world.

For all the talk about how bad the music business is, I offer this: Sing songs, not business. Get your music on, not your mogul. And remember, there is no limit to the creativity of God and no knowable end or limit to the imagination of those who bear his image. The music of God's people is only truly faithful to the degree that it trusts in and reflects this.

Here's the deal: Business ebbs and flows, but the music is not going anywhere. The artists and songwriters may change with every generation, but the music is not going anywhere. The economy may contract and expand, but the music is not going anywhere. Music lives in rarified, protected air

We can never, ever forget that the life, death, and resurrection of one man — Jesus Christ — inspired the greatest body of music and art the world has ever known. The music of God's people is not going anywhere but forward to the new heavens and the new earth where all God's people will sing together:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and
wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!

So learn the art, find pleasure in your privilege, imagine and love well, learn to read a contract (or at least get a good lawyer), be kind and generous, keep your hands clean, read books, watch films, and listen to lots and lots of music. Finally, if at all possible, learn the secret of making music— not sacred, secular, Christian or otherwise, but true music, just the right sounds and meaning at the right time in history for the good of people and planet.

Yours truly,
Charlie Peacock

Charlie Peacock and his wife, Andi Ashworth, are Co-Founders/Executive Directors of Art House America. An award-winning record producer, Charlie has worked with The Civil WarsSwitchfootSara Groves, and more. He is the Sr. VP of A&R for Twenty Ten Music. Recent Film/TV music credits include The Rabbit Room starring Nicole Kidman; Something Borrowed starring Kate Hudson; Searching For Sonny starring Minka Kelly; MLB Promos; Vampire DiariesPretty Little Liars, and the NBC Friday Night Movies (The Jensen ProjectA Walk In My Shoes).

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Reader Comments (8)

This is a legacy from a legend, except he is real, and he lives what he advises.

I am not young, but this is going into the front pocket on my anthology of songs!

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I appreciate the content of this site...a lot. Keep up to date with it. As a lowly aging songwriter myself, I do like your concept of encouraging young writers to take their craft seriously. I never did really, and am surprsied still when anyone but myself is charmed by a composition.
Keep up the good stuff!

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterByron O'Donnell

Such words of wisdom from a man I have long admired. Thank you for sharing your wisdom & experience with us. Looking forward to your book!

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersabrajo

Charlie! It's been so long since I've come in touch with any of your work. I'm still listening to West Coast Diaries. I've been in the midst of doing at 42 what most people are doing at 22. Luckily, I have some young people along for the ride (4 of my kids). For 5 years I've been wrestling with calling, business, ministry, parenthood and my own lack in musical skill. I've seen heaven come down at concerts and wished the earth would open and swallow me at others. While I need the advice you are giving, I must admit (to my shame) that I found myself getting angry as I read. I feel so unable to do what you recommend. In fact, as every day goes by I am more intimidated and more afraid of the opportunities in front of me. Now, I know the right response to my sinful responses. I know that faith casts out fear. I know the fruit of the Spirit is what should be coming out and flowing into my art and finding expression there. But it overwhelms me. I often find myself asking, "does the world really need another rock band?", Christian or otherwise. My prayer for myself is that I will be able to slow down, take a deep breath, and then go through your recommendations again with an open heart. I need these things to soak in and not just give mental ascent to another list of wise advice. Thank you for offering it up. I know you are expressing lessons learned from years of (sometimes) hard experience. Thank you for your generous Spirit and your faithfulness over the years. Blessings.

July 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

SO praying for Brad...I hear his heart. So does Jesus. :-)

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSabrajo

"Be in perpetual dream mode about how music might exist for the good of people and to proclaim God's excellence as Creator." That's a hard one for me. I'm a planner. My husband is a dreamer. Good thing we are together.

Thanks for the reminders, encouragement, and tips.

A wise musician once told us that, to make it in music you have to keep a lot of different plates all spinning at the same time. This piece illustrate that truth. What I especially appreciated were the reminders to keep focused on the non-measurable matters - loving art, being kind, remembering that all art only exists because God wanted it to. We get to be little creators because we are made in the image of The Creator.

It is very very hard to keep a balance of all the different facets....practicing, networking, budgeting, concertizing. It is so challenging. My husband and I frequently think, "we have no idea how this is going to work, how ends are going to meet," but we just can't shake the feeling that this is what we are supposed to be doing. As we pursue wisdom, we trust that things will work out. Healthy emotions, healthy relationships full of love - are what we are keeping high on our piority list.

As I read my daughters' simplified Bible story book I am struck by how God is so not bound by the physical laws of this world. Fish and loaves for a multitude? Thousands of people walking through a parted sea? A walking stick turning into a snake? They're not fairy tales. Those are things that were accomplished by the same being whom I consult about my meal plan and grocery list. Our family's theme for this month is, "Expect miracles."

But then there is also Job. God let that happen. He is God, and He can do whatever He wants with us.

"The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord." Remember, this is God's battle...but the horse is prepared - that's our part. We can do any number of perfect things to make this music career work....but it might not all play out as we hope. He still wants us to pursue love, wisdom, and beauty. Do the next right thing. Acknowledge that God makes it work how He wants.

Also...are you SERIOUS about that finger tapping thing? Is it even possible???

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

that paragraph about tapping polyrhythms might the most disheartening thing i've ever read, i can't even wrap my brain around 4/4 and 3/4 at the same time

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Can you post a video of someone tapping out the different rhythms?? :)

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

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