Full Circle: Conversations with Andrew Greer
Join singer-songwriter Andrew Greer as he chats with Christian music history makers past and present.
THIS MONTH: Montell Jordan + Ross King
Montell Jordan became a household name in 1995 with his smash R&B single, “This is How We Do It,” resulting in a slew of gold and platinum records and international tours. Two years later, Ross King requested the song be played for his first date dance with the woman who would become his wife. Nearly two decades later the R&B star-turned-worship leader sang one of King’s songs as a benediction to his sermon resulting in a face-to-face cowrite with the independent Texas singer-songwriter and a musical friendship in the making. For this exclusive Full Circle conversation the mutual admirers chat about songwriting, worship music and their respective musical journeys.
Andrew: From a platinum-selling R&B celebrity to a worship leader and artist, what prompted the shift in musical and career focus?
Montell: Since I was a child I knew I was called to ministry, I just didn’t answer. My journey to become a worship leader began in the music business as an R&B recording artist. I was doing what I was gifted to do, songwriting, producing and artistry, but not what I was called to do – ministry. I always found myself wanting more than success in other people’s eyes; I desired to be significant in God’s eyes. This journey has taken more than world travel, performances, triumphs and disappointments, but a lifetime to finally arrive in the place where I am satisfied in what I am called and destined to do. By answering the call to ministry, I am now also able to do what I am gifted to do in music.
Andrew: Your recent double-disc release, Shake Heaven, earned you a Top 5 Praise & Worship record and Dove Award nomination. How did this record help you answer that call?
Montell: Shake Heaven was a great introduction into the CCM music world, and I am honored that my contributions have been recognized in efforts to bring the music from our local ministry at Victory World Church into the national and international worship community. But I have one career. I am in ministry. I have been an artist before, so opportunities to share that career aspiration through Victory World Music and Shake Heaven are appreciated but not a priority. I see my peers touring throughout the world and I simply realize my journey has taken me in a reverse direction. They create worship music to take to the world. I took to the world to now create worship music.
Andrew: Ross, you have chartered a successful musical career as an independent artist, songwriter and worship leader. Where are you now in your professional journey?
Ross: There’s no short answer to this question, but I’ll do my best! I do several things, all within the “working musician” category. I am a staff songwriter for Simpleville Music/Fair Trade Records, a part-time worship pastor for Community Church in College Station, TX, a traveling singer-songwriter and worship leader, and occasionally a producer and engineer for various indie projects. I’m blessed to have enough work to keep me busy and pay the bills. And I get to have a nice balance of “mainstream” work in the Nashville CCM world and “indie.”
Andrew: With a dual experience recording your own songs and utilizing a historic catalog to facilitate corporate response as a worship leader, how do these seemingly different focuses relate?
Ross: The most obvious way that they complement each other is when I end up writing and leading worship songs, which I integrate with songs that I didn’t write – hymns and popular worship songs. I’m getting invited to write more with other worship leaders for their churches and their recording projects. That’s something I love because I get a chance to be a small part of what God is doing among other groups and other denominations.
Writing performance-based songs gives me a little more creative room. To me, worship music has a set of unwritten rules: it has to be singable, should not be too tough to understand, needs to be memorable and shouldn’t leave a lot of unanswered questions. But with my singer-songwriter/performance music, I can talk about anything without parameters or rules. Those songs are where I speak more bluntly about my struggles and questions. Those songs allow for humor and storytelling. Maybe worship music should have room for that, but in my experience it does not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just what music needs to be when you have twenty minutes on a Sunday morning to present to a wide variety of people.
Andrew: Montell, you recently wrote with Ross for your latest project. How did you first connect with him?
Montell: When I first heard Ross’ song “Clear the Stage” it wrecked me. It is simple, direct, cutting and truthful, everything I was experiencing at the time. After entering ministry, at the conclusion of a message I spoke called, “The Power of Music”, I sang that song. Victory World Music reached out to Ross afterwards to get clearance to post the song along with the message on social media, and Ross and I connected. Since then I have grown to know him as a beautiful person unafraid to explore the mysteries of God through music. And we found our writing styles complement each other.
Ross: I’m sure I knew about Montell a long time before he knew about me! [Laughs] I was just telling him that I requested his hit, “This is How We Do It”, at a dance around 1997, where my wife and I had one of our first dates. It was a Christian sorority event and they were playing mostly Christian music. As a kid who loved “secular” R&B growing up, I wasn’t happy with Christian music at a dance. (I’m not saying it was a good thing!) So I asked them to play some Montell Jordan and of course the place went crazy.
But a couple of years ago someone emailed me the video of Montell preaching and singing “Clear the Stage”. I was really honored and surprised. My publisher was going to send me to Atlanta to write with a church, so I contacted Montell and said, “We should write.” He was very gracious and open, so we did. We’ve only written one song so far, but it was easy to connect and find a groove. I think we will write a lot more.
Montell: Music brought us together.
Andrew: As a songwriter who are some of your major influences?
Montell: In my early years, I was mostly influenced by R&B songwriters. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson, Prince, Phil Collins, Babyface, The Winans and Commissioned. I currently am inspired by John Legend, Lecrae, Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, The Torwalts, Israel Houghton, Ricardo Sanchez and the young unknown worship leaders and songwriters I am currently mentoring and learning from daily.
Ross: Growing up, I was influenced by the music my parents listened to like Conway Twitty, Don Williams, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. Those guys were all fantastic songwriters. But like Montell, I was also into pop and R&B. Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, the list goes on forever! I remember becoming aware of writers in the liner notes. I started realizing there were songwriters like Diane Warren and David Foster who weren’t getting famous doing it. They were behind the scenes. And as a lifelong introvert, I was extremely intrigued by that.
These days I listen to a ton of worship music from Matt Redman to Paul Baloche, And I still love pop music. So I try to stay aware of everything from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry to Owl City and Coldplay.
About Montell: Earning a household name for his #1 R&B perennial hit, “This is How We Do It” in the 90’s, followed by a string of gold and platinum albums on Def Jam, Jordan released his first urban worship record, Shake Heaven, last year as a result of his worship pastor role at Atlanta’s Victory World Church. Shake Heaven reached Top 5 on Billboard’s Praise & Worship chart and earned Jordan his first Dove Award nod. Aside from handling worship leader duties at Atlanta’s Victory World Church, Jordan has a starring role in an upcoming Christian based film, “Adopted.” Produced by Fizz City Films and directed by Georgia Tanner, Jordan plays the role of Brian, a man who struggles with alcoholism while desiring to lead those he loves to Christ. For more information visit: victoryworldmusic.com.
About Ross: Having written songs for the likes of Jimmy Needham, Todd Agnew and Heather Williams, independent singer-songwriter Ross King has released nearly a dozen records, performed hundreds of concerts and written songs for the likes of Jimmy Needham, Todd Agnew and Heather Williams as a staff writer at Nashville’s Simpleville Music. Most Sunday nights you can find him leading worship for Community Church, a church he helped build from the ground up in College Station, TX. To find out more visit: rosskingmusic.com or comchurch.com.
About Andrew: Andrew Greer is a Dove Award-nominated singer-songwriter, writer and co-creator of the innovative Hymns for Hunger Tour with fellow singer-songwriter Cindy Morgan. His instrumental record, All Things Bright & Beautiful: Hymns for the Seasons (Lucid Artist), held the #1 spot on Nielsen Christian SoundScan’s Instrumental chart for 25 consecutive week last year. Andrew’s first Christmas record, Angel Band: The Christmas Sessions, reached the Top 10 iTunes’ Singer-Songwriter chart and features collaborations with music legends Phil Madeira, The McCrary Sisters, Cindy Morgan and Sandi Patty. For more information visit: andrew-greer.com or hymnsforhunger.com.
The era of the music video is often referred to in past tense, when MTV actually played music videos and artists could become as known for their visual creativity as their songwriting. A major success for Mandisa recently showed that the music video is still alive and well.
Mandisa’s No. 1 hit “Overcomer” recently enjoyed an incredible premiere of the entire video on Good Morning America. Even more, the video features inspirational appearances from Gabby Giffords, Robin Roberts and Mark Hamilton. It was not only a powerful ministry tool, but it also spoke to the power of the music video to reach viewers and change lives.
We recently spoke to David Sylvester, Vice-President of Marketing at Capitol CMG Label Group, who was instrumental in bringing the entire plan together for the video for “Overcomer”.
You guys just had a major moment with the new Mandisa video premiere for “Overcomer”. Can you give us the quick story there?
Good Morning America has been a big supporter of Mandisa over the past year, and when they heard about the video they wanted to premiere it. Typically they show a clip of the video – so we were thrilled that they played the full video, and talked about the story behind it. We couldn’t have asked for a better premiere.
How did you pull together such special guests?
“Overcomer” is an incredible song, and we wanted to make a music video that really encouraged people and helped bring life to the lyrics. As we were talking through video treatments, we had the idea to feature some well-known people that have overcome incredible challenges in their lives. As we talked through who we could feature, we came up with a lot of ideas and started pursuing them. There was a point in the process where we didn’t quite know how it would all turn out.
We were so honored to work with Gabby, Mark, Scott and everyone else, and our director Eric Welch weaved the stories together in an incredible way. It was important to have a weight loss story included, since Mandisa has lost 100+ pounds and has been very public with her journey. At the end of the day, I think there is a lot of favor on Mandisa right now, and that definitely played a factor in all this coming together.
What did that process teach you that you can utilize for other artists?
I love that it’s an upbeat pop song, and yet it’s such an emotional video. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does. Music videos can still tell an incredible story and move people emotionally.
What made you decide to focus on that area in the first place? And does your approach change for each project in terms of your focus on music videos?
The song is so strong, we knew that if we found the right concept for the video, it could be a powerful tool. I think music videos still matter and can have a big impact, especially considering that for a lot of people, videos are their main way of listening to and discovering music. You just have to find a unique approach that is right for the artist and music. And most times, those great ideas come when you really engage with an artist and find a creative way to tell their story.
Andrew Peterson Q&A
Andrew Peterson expected to meet his goal and perhaps even exceed it. What he didn’t expect was the tidal wave of support, appreciation and community he felt after his recent Kickstarter campaign for a new novel as the end result capsized the initial target.
Andrew has built a sizable fan base after 15-plus years as a singer-songwriter, the development of the acclaimed Christmas tour “Behold the Lamb of God” and his Christy Award-winning Wingfeather Saga series of young adult fantasy novels. It’s not surprising, then, to see an seasoned artist turn to crowdfunding for a new project. Yet even with a built-in audience like Andrew’s, sites like Kickstarter still present a reasonable gamble.
We recently spoke with Andrew about the campaign and what he’s learned about the crowdfunding model.
The latest Kickstarter project had to be an exciting time for you. Can you tell us what you expected before heading into it? I know you had the $14K goal to begin with.
I think I expected to pass the initial goal, but I didn’t think much beyond that.
When the campaign ends and you’re over $100K over your initial target, what are you thinking and feeling at that point?
Well, for starters I’m dancing around the living room with my wife and kids. And I’ve had to clarify this to quite a few people: most of that money will be spent on making all the great stuff and shipping it out. The celebration that night wasn’t so much about the amount of money—we were overwhelmed as a family to see the support and encouragement from an amazing community of fans. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. Not at that level, anyway.
What is it about the direct-to-fan model that really worked for your project and your fans in particular? Do you feel you learned something about that connection?
The sense of community was a total surprise to me. It was my first Kickstarter campaign, so I didn’t know there would be so much chatter between supporters in the comments section, so much camaraderie. We were able to experience the generosity and goodwill of the fans in real time—that’s something that could never happen with a traditional publisher. I liked Kickstarter before, but now I kind of love it for the connection it creates.
Do you feel the crowdfunding model might become a tool you return to in the future given the response to this one?
I think so. Ask me again after I finish the book, the audiobooks, and the bonus book we have to deliver to our supporters by April. Yikes!
The GOSPEL MUSIC ASSOCIATION Announces IMMERSE 2014 with BART MILLARD as Session Speaker and Performances by CAPITAL KINGS, JONATHAN MCREYNOLDS and American Idol’s DANNY GOKEY.
In a unique partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources
IMMERSE will take place June 22-25 in Nashville, TN,
Offering Unprecedented Training for Developing Artists, Songwriters and Worship Leaders
Nashville, TN (January 30, 2014) – The Gospel Music Association announces that its sixth annual conference for developing artists, songwriters and worship leaders, called IMMERSE will take place June 22-25, 2014. Held in its entirety at the LifeWay Christian Resources corporate headquarters in downtown Nashville, TN, IMMERSE is the only event of its kind where attendees can get hands-on training directed by music industry leaders. Registration is currently open at a special discounted rate of $149 for a short time. www.ExperienceIMMERSE.com.
Already artists are committing to be a part of this elite event. Bart Millard from the chart-topping band MercyMe will be a featured speaker and a mentor to young talent. American Idol contestant Danny Gokey will share his unique musical journey and perform songs from his upcoming album.
The Monday night concert is already promising to be a highlight of the week with a performance by Dove Awards nominated artist Capital Kings. Also performing during the event is Dove and Stellar Awards nominated artist Jonathan McReynolds, new country-infused group, Red Roots and actor/comedian, Bone Hampton.
In addition, top executives from companies such as Capital Christian Music Group, Provident Music Group, Word Entertainment, eOne Entertainment, True Artist Management and LifeWay Worship have committed to participate as speakers, mentors and judges.
For the second year, IMMERSE is honored to partner with LifeWay Christian Resources. The incredible 21-acre LifeWay facility allows the event to be held under one roof, creating a rare ease and structure for a conference of this size. By utilizing the building’s performance areas, classrooms, multi-purpose rooms, cafeteria and open spaces, attendees can move easily from one session to the next in safety and comfort.
“We are encouraged and honored with how IMMERSE is gaining momentum among aspiring artists, songwriters and worship leaders as well as across genres within our professional music community,” explains Jackie Patillo, Executive Director of the GMA. “We’re seeing an incredible response already in our registrations and are excited about expanding how IMMERSE serves these young creatives and, ultimately, our industry in the years ahead.”
Made up of classes, concerts, mentoring, competitions and networking events, IMMERSE is driven to equip attendees in an environment of excellence and encouragement. Staying true to the Gospel Music Association’s mission to expose, promote and celebrate the Gospel through music, IMMERSE seeks to inspire creativity, foster community and advance education, while keeping its focus solely on Christ.
As in years past, programming for the 2014 event will include classes and seminars in music business, worship leading, songwriting and artist development taught by industry leaders. The successful reVIEWyou program that combines mentoring with a songwriting and performance competition will also return to help shape and scout emerging talent. Conference speakers, competition judges and live guest performers will be announced in the upcoming weeks.
IMMERSE 2014 will be held June 22-25 at the LifeWay Christian Resources Building, 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234. Registration is open at www.ExperienceIMMERSE.com
About the GOSPEL MUSIC ASSOCIATION:
Founded in 1964, the Gospel Music Association serves as the face and voice for the Gospel/Christian music community and is dedicated to exposing, promoting and celebrating the Gospel through music of all styles including Pop, Rock, Praise & Worship, Urban Gospel, R&B, Hip Hop, Southern Gospel, Bluegrass, Country and more. The GMA community consists of agents, artists, church leaders, managers, promoters, radio personnel, record company executives, retailers, songwriters and other industry visionaries. The GMA produces the GMA Dove Awards and IMMERSE. For more on supporting the GMA or becoming a member, please visit www.gospelmusic.org.
LifeWay Christian Resources, established in Nashville, TN in 1891, is one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, including Bibles, church literature, books, music, audio and video recordings, church supplies and internet services through LifeWay.com. The company also operates 185 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation, one of the largest Christian conference centers in the country, and B&H Publishing Group, a leading Bible and Christian book publisher.
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For more information on IMMERSE 2014, or to schedule an interview with Jackie Patillo, please contact
In a time when many artists are choosing to distribute exclusively to digital, you chose to sell your new album, Drive, at retail only initially. Share with us a little about what motivated that decision.
(Wayne Haun/Stowtown Records) – Well, first, we still believe in Christian retail. While Doug is well known as the baritone for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, he is still relatively new as a solo artist. It’s difficult to break in a new artist to retail. Doug has a lot of fans. We knew if we asked them, they’d support him by “driving to retail” for his new CD.
How did your retail partners respond to the idea initially?
(Wayne Haun/Stowtown Records) – They all responded well eventually. The Munce Group was the first to jump in. The really got involved. Doug posted blogs on their website about the recording weeks before the release. Family Christian even did a pre-sale. They were all great. However, the staff and sales team at Provident immediately gave legs to our ideas. I’ve never seem a team so eager to help out a label.
Were you at all concerned that some of your fans might be frustrated by the limited availability?
(Wayne Haun/Stowtown Records) - Yes. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. We asked fans to be sure and call ahead to be sure that it was in the store. But anytime you try something new, you will run into kinks. However, this was worth it.
How did you communicate the news to your fans and community? What was their reaction?
(Wayne Haun/Stowtown Records) Social media was our strategy. It seemed to work. We also had help from industry media. The reaction was great. Gospel music fans are definitely the greatest.
It’s still probably too early to determine but do you think the exclusive to retail model is something you’ll stick with in the future?
(Wayne Haun/Stowtown Records) - We are very open to ideas from retail. As you can tell with this promotion, we’re crazy and brave enough to try anything. God is faithful!
Beyond your retail strategy, what inspired you creatively when making this album?
Doug Anderson – I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it upbeat and positive. I’m at a different point in my life. My perspectives have changed. I’m no longer worried about being number one or having to be the best. I am more worried about being the best husband, father and friend I can be. As the song says I’m just going to move over and let God drive. Whatever he wants to do with my life I’m happy with that. So I recorded songs that spoke to me. I have found that if you sing songs that speak to you it often speaks to others as well. I am thrilled at the way to project came out. It is exactly who I am.
You also worked closely with multi-Dove Award winner Wayne Haun to create this album, what did he bring to the table and what did you learn from him throughout this process?
Doug Anderson – Of course Wayne is one of my best friends in the entire world so I might be a little biased, but his track record speaks for itself. Wayne brings songs that he has written along with the pick of the litter from all the great writers out there. He also brings years of production experience. He has produced multiple groups in gospel music along with several secular artist including Celine Dion and Clay Walker. With all his experience and accolades, he still makes it a point to listen to the artist ideas and wishes. That’s what makes him a great producer and a great friend.
Now that the album is out, what will you be focusing on?
Doug Anderson – We wanted to make a splash with our Drive to retail campaign. I think we did that. The people and the retailers have really responded. It was fun to do something that not many people have done in our industry. I’m busy right now just promoting the project. GMA interviews (haha) Radio interviews and booking solo dates for a solo tour are taking up my time these days. I want to get the message across that God has a plan for all of our lives if we just move over and let him Drive.
Understanding what makes a great song is essential in attempting to writing one. Creating a masterpiece calls for enthusiasm, education, and experience. If you want to be a great writer, expose yourself to great music – then write, write, and re-write.
There are five basic areas in which we review song submissions. Here is a glimpse into what they are and why each is so important for success:
“ONE-OF-A-KIND” –Maybe there is nothing new under the sun, but creating songs that have a fresh feel, a one-of-a-kind approach and treatment, or an identifiable hook is the true measure of ability. If an idea has been done before, then it’s been done. For the undiscovered writer, writing a string of songs with some unique quality is the quickest way to capture the attention of those who can help propel a writing career!.
“THE ‘IT’ LYRIC” – This is where one can distinguish his crafting ability. It must be applicable, believable, and reasonable for the listener. It needs to be easily understandable and yet, intriguing – eloquently simple, simply complex. A great lyric separates average and good writers from the great ones!
“MUSIC TO MY EARS” – The best case scenario for the music of a song is that it seems familiar but has no exact point of reference, while having its own signature. Therefore, though we may not be borrowing on purpose, familiar structures, melody-types, and chord progressions are readily collected from the files of our minds. There should be a “build as you go” mentality in regard to the addition of volume, energy, and “high points” (melodically and instrumentally). Also, the style of music you select is a determining factor for commercial appeal.