INDUSTRY UPDATE: Ellie Holcomb on the Importance of Building Community

By January 13, 2015Industry Update

Ellie Holcomb was just glad to be there. She left with a New Artist of the Year Award.

The independent songwriter enjoyed a memorable year in 2014, from a very successful Kickstarter campaign and a spot on Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God tour to a hit album, As Sure as the Sun, and the aforementioned Dove Award win for New Artist. Yet for those who think Ellie’s the new girl on the block, she wants you to know that such success comes with a “slow build” of the community around her.

We recently asked her about the lessons she’s learned over the last eight-plus years as an independent artist and how it all bloomed in the last 12 months.

A year ago, you were on the Behold the Lamb of God Tour. Looking out at the scope of it all, it seems like that was the beginning of a really incredible ride. 

That’s exactly right, it was. I got to go see that show last night, and it was so sweet and brought back a lot of memories for me. That was really the first tour that I went on by myself, and I couldn’t believe that they asked me to do that. I love all those artists so much, and that was a sweet way to being because it became in the context of community. So from that and the Kickstarter campaign, which was happening during that tour, it felt like I got my start when Andrew Peterson believed in me, even more than myself. And the team that we had around us, it was a really beautiful convergence.

Kickstarter had some great interactive elements to it, but what else have you learned about fan engagement in the last year or more? 

I think one of the most incredible things that my husband and I have seen over the years is the impact of people on your career. I have the advantage of being on my own for eight-and-a-half years, and building relationships with people. Over those years we have been in the music business, we have discovered that when you build relationships, you build a tribe of people who you love, and who love you, and who support you in whatever you choose to do. God has been so powerful in that, and that has been so powerful for us.

What’s been most important to you in the last year, as far as staying organized and staying connected? 

Great management. I’m so grateful for them. By the grace of God, it’s been unbelievable. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who are better at what they do, from a business standpoint. That’s been a really big gift to us. And honestly, just spending time after shows, connecting with people face-to-face. It’s a powerful thing if you get to connect to someone’s music and then you get to connect with him or her in a physical way. It’s work, but it’s important work. Music gives me that important opportunity.

How connected are you away from shows? The pressure’s there to stay in front of fans, but you’ve got a family and probably want to have a life as well. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, that’s a great tension. I’m naturally not inclined to be on Twitter and Instagram. That stuff feels like work to me. Those have never been personally social things, but they’re beautiful to create connection. There are great benefits to both of those. But my tendency is to not engage in that way, since I’d much rather it be face to face. However that obviously can’t happen. There’s only one of me, and a lot of people in a lot of cities.

I try to think of it as building a community. That helps me when I think of it; that it’s extending community farther. I couldn’t do it without those platforms and those tools. So when I’m driven by building community and want to speak words that make souls stronger, that helps in the tension of being connected all the time. I like being disconnected, and I need that to make and to create the art. I have to disconnect, too. There is a balance there that I’m still figuring out.

Congratulations, by the way, on a great night at the Dove Awards. That had to be a real highlight from the year. 

You know, I’d had a really dark night. About a week before the Dove awards happened, I’d just had a shame storm in the middle of the night. I was fighting the good fight, speaking truth into the darkness, but man, I was tired. Drew was out of the country touring in Europe, and I called him and he prayed with me, but I was having a really hard time getting back to sleep.

There was a record called “The Undoing” by Steffany Gretzinger and I turned it on. Literally, it felt like her words were a shield over me, a force field of peace pushing the darkness back. So, I remembered a week before the Doves happened how powerful music can be, to help us hold onto hope having experienced that in a very tangible way.

So it was such an amazing place to walk into the night and see such a celebration of the gift that God has given us with music. I had been so clearly reminded of the privilege that we get to sing light into the darkness, and I was so grateful for that.

I walked into that evening, first of all, not expecting to win. I was just glad to be invited. But secondly, I was so grateful for the gift music is to me. It’s an honor that I get to contribute to that body of work. I get to be laying ground with the others, and be a part of singing and speaking hope into a dark world, and into my dark world, too. I just have a grateful heart. I was just all in. It was such a sweet celebration of the community that we get to be a part of, and link arms with a story bigger than ourselves. That was an amazing place to be in and walk into that night.

What’s in the sights for 2015?

More songs are coming, so I’m trying to write them down. I don’t even know. I’m asking the Lord about that, and I’m actually going on the road with Third Day, which I am so excited about, for their spring tour. I am so thrilled about that. Then obviously we will be doing a handful of shows in churches and women’s conferences. There is some touring and I imagine the fall will be a little quiet to maybe make some more music, if the Lord has that in store. I’m trying to catch up with writing things down at this point!