The internet home of John Voelz

artists Archive



July 2019



15 Funny Questions I Get Asked as a Working Musician

Written by , Posted in artists, money, music

Q: I know you usually play for two+ hours. Since we only want one hour, can we pay you half?

A: I understand but, no. It takes me an hour to set up, an hour to tear down, travel time, and practice time for your gig. Playing one or two hours makes no difference to me. Same price. Also, I make more tips for two+ hours. Higher tips come at the end of the evening so, cutting my time and guaranteed rate in half works out to cutting my take home by about 60+%.

Q: Do you want to bring a friend to play with you? That could be fun.

A: Absolutely fun. But, I pay my friends to play so either you have to pay more or I have to pay them out of my pocket.

Q: Do you want to play my event for free? It would be great exposure for you.

A: No, thank you. I get plenty of exposure and I believe in paying musicians what they are worth. When musicians start playing for free, it cuts the throats of musicians who try to make a living at it. Also, free exposure doesn’t have the payoff one might think.

Q: Can you play my event for free? It’s a benefit concert.

A: Maybe. I do at least one benefit a year. I also donate art and give money away to various charities. I’m a fan of generosity. But, I get asked to do about 10 benefits a year so, give me some grace if I say no.

Q: Since you’re officiating our wedding ceremony, can you also bring your guitar and do a few songs?

A: Probably not. Unless we are really close friends and, that’s a lot to ask. It’s like asking your mechanic to do a free oil change and rotate your tires since he’s checking out that noise anyway.

Q: Since we are hiring you to play 2 songs in our wedding, will you throw in music at the reception?

A: See above.

Q: Can we save money if we provide the sound system? My friend has one.

A: I’m willing to talk but, in most cases the answer is no. Once I showed up and they wanted me to play through a stereo receiver using the headphone jack for my guitar and just sing really loud without a mic. I now travel with my own sound system and everyone’s happy.

Q: Do you ever play for tips only?

A: No. But my freshman-year garage band did. We sucked.

Q: The wedding is in Yosemite but, you only have to play two songs without amplification in the woods. It’ll take you like 10 minutes. Is that cheaper?

A: No. Sorry.  It’s more expensive. Yosemite is a 3.5-hour drive one way. Your wedding is at 8:00am so, I need to spend the night the evening prior to make sure I can be there on time. Which means, I’ll be committed to your wedding from about 3:00p on Friday to 1:00p on Saturday. Plus accommodations. Plus meals. Plus fuel.

Q: I can’t pay you too much but, food is provided! The food will be awesome! Is that okay?

A: Thanks, but . . . as my friend, Ben the youth pastor once jokingly said when he received a bunch of cookies, bread, and jam at Christmastime, “Someone please tell these people I’m not hungry. I’m poor.” Also, food and drinks are provided at almost every gig I play for my going rate.

Q: How many people will you bring to our restaurant when you play?

A: Ummm. I put the word out but, I don’t require RSVP’s to my shows. It’s a gamble. I can tell you I usually draw 50-100 folks depending on the venue and the night. I can’t make guarantees.

Q: Can you do all these songs on this request list?

A: I like doing new songs that I usually don’t do but, that takes time to learn them. If you want to pay me to learn songs not in my repertoire, I’m game. I’m usually generous and add one or two I know you like but, not your 150-song list of B-sides and Rarities. However, I LOVE hearing what kinds of songs you enjoy so I can see how that lines up with my repertoire.

Q: Can my (daughter/son/husband/wife/friend) get up there and do a song with you?

A: I like having fun. If you are the person paying me, we might be able to work that out. Let’s talk about it in advance and keep it to a song or two. Also, it depends on the venue. And, it means I’ll have to set up more equipment.

Q: Can I bring my (guitar/harmonica/uke/djembe) and join you sometime?

A: Probably not. Unless you are a professional, and I’ve heard you, and you want to practice, and we talk about the tunes in advance, and it seems best for the gig.

Q: Can you play Free Bird?

A: No.

Other things that are sometimes used to try and “sweeten the deal” that aren’t super helpful:

“It’s a beautiful place. You’ll love it here!”

I’m sure it is.

“Your wife can come too!”

My wife has heard me 10,000 times. She’s my biggest fan but, would rather stay home and sip chardonnay while binge watching Madam Secretary. I understand.

“This might lead to other gigs.”

Actually, that makes sense sometimes. Not always. Rarely, actually.

“We will put you up for the night so you don’t have to drive home.”

I appreciate it but, I love my bed and my wife that’s in that bed.

“You can drink all you want!”

Thanks. While I enjoy a good beverage, I’m a professional and limit myself so I can give you a good experience instead of drunk playing.



December 2013



Q & A: Why We Write Much of Our Own Music at Westwinds

Written by , Posted in artists, church, music, music experience, songs, The Cue, westwinds, worship, worship music


Westwinds puts a high priority on being indigenous. Sermons, initiatives, missional endeavors, children’s curriculum, graphic design, visual art, songs, etc. Being indigenous is one of our plumblines—something that is not right or wrong but very important to us in the way we approach ministry. Indigenous means, local, homegrown, native, etc. This approach to ministry is very truthful and honest to who we are. We often say, “We grow our own WE.” Indigenous worship is not just about feeling good about ourselves or stroking our ego (though there is a good deal of healthy pride in creating out of our experience). It is more about being truthful and current in communicating and celebrating what God is doing in US. NOW.

I’ve written a lot about indigenous worship music on this blog and I dedicated a good portion of my book, “Quirky Leadership” to it as well. Weekly I get questions, emails, and comments about original music in church. So, I thought I’d take the time to answer some of those questions here and frame the discussion a bit different.

Here are some questions I received in 2013:


Q: I’ve heard you encourage churches to write their own music. Why not just sing the songs that people hear on the radio?

A: I don’t know what radio station your people are listening to. I think you are referring to the songs someone might hear on Christian radio. In this case, there may be a song here and there that is well written and works well for your congregation. If so, go for it.  We also hear songs from time to time on secular radio that work well as worship songs in our environment. I’d encourage you to give that a shot as well. A well-written song is a well-written song.

We are not entirely impressed with the music that is being played on Christian radio today. We are allergic to songs that sound formulaic, uniform, similar, and that aren’t really well written. So, it feels a bit cookie-cutter to us to pilfer songs that aren’t true to who we are. Just because it’s on the radio, it doesn’t make it good or good for us.

We encourage our writers to create music that is born out of our own story, from our own people, with words we believe and want to sing.


Q: How many original songs are too many to sing in church? Should we bring in other people’s songs as well? My pastor says it makes it easy for visiting believers and Christians looking for a new church to fit in.

A: I want to know who started the rumor that we need to sing other people’s songs in the first place. If you find him or her, I want a word with them.

Sure, it’s nice to go visit another church or go to a Christian concert and know the words. Sure, it’s nice to move into a new town and find a church that is singing the songs you used to sing back home. But, that is not the goal of worship music. If the goal is to sing what other Christians are singing somewhere else to make it easy for another Christian to transfer to your church that’s a crazy goal. If the goal is to sing the same songs to make it easy to visit another church that’s dumb.

Any time a new song is introduced from any source, there is a learning curve. Let the visitors and the seasoned Christians take a few weeks to learn your new songs. Pretty soon, they’ll be learning new songs right along with your own people.

Psalm 96:1-3 says, “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.”

We don’t sing new songs because God gets bored. We sing new songs because there are always new reasons to praise him. The story is always changing. Our lives are finding new meaning in Him. Our circumstances change.

When we sing a new song, that song better ring true to our story. The best way we have found to adequately represent what God is doing in us and around us is to write our own music.


Q: My pastor says our songs aren’t as good as the ones he hears on the radio so he won’t let us write. What do we do?

Well, he may be right. But that just means you have to work harder at your craft. If it means enough to you, keep bringing your newer and better stuff to your pastor so he can see and hear the improvement. Pray he’ll give it a chance. Most people don’t write great songs from the start. It’s a craft and an art that takes time and dedication.

Talk to him about the wonderful benefits to your community of faith and your songwriters including the pastoral opportunities you have with them to shape their stories, disciple them, build camaraderie, create pride in your faith community, celebrate people honing their gifts and abilities and finding their place in the kingdom.

P.S. Your pastor’s sermons probably weren’t that great at first either. Maybe they still aren’t (please don’t tell him I said that).


Q: People have been singing other people’s songs for years. Why change it now?

A: Interesting. And only partly true.

We have always had a rich history of singing the words of scripture. Many of those melodies have been preserved and shared through the ages. Some have not.

Imagine a time before the Internet. Before Mp3’s. Before printed sheet music. Before email. Before easy and affordable travel. The cherished hymn writers had to start somewhere. They took pen (or quill) to paper and jotted down their thoughts like we still do. Then, they had to have an audience. Maybe they shared the song with their family. Maybe a friend or two. Eventually though, someone else had to sing it. The only reason Church B in Boston started singing Church A’s song from New York is because Church A started singing that song!

Once upon a time, your church would have sung Jewish and Byzantine monophonic chants (later and now known as Gregorian chant). Then, sometime during the 9th century, your harmony singers would have been thrilled as church music incorporated 2 or more melodic lines. In the 12th and 13th century your church may have learned a new song from a traveling minstrel or troubadour.  But all those songs started somewhere. And we can trace many of these songs back to their origins. To small communities. Or, to large cathedrals intent on writing good music. The music took a long time to spread. And, it always had a point of origin.

Today, church music still has a point of origin. And sadly, in many cases, that point of origin is songwriters sitting in a room writing music for a music company that will then distribute that music in 5 minutes (hyperbole) for the public to consume.

I have dozens of friends that are in the industry and are maddened by this process. They all want to go back to a time when it was simple and true for them as musicians. When was that time? When they were writing songs for their own church. Out of their own experience.


Q: Our church is thinking about writing our own songs. How do we start?

A: For us, it was as simple as discerning who had songwriting skills and mining for those who wanted to learn the craft. Then, it just takes time. Patience. And most of all TRUST. New songwriters need to look at their songs like they would a college paper. Expect to do rewrites. Expect to have theology challenged. Expect to have conversations about trite phrases and cliché rhymes. Expect to be challenged to write better. Expect not everyone to like your song.

Write some songs. Ask a larger group of people what they think. Play the songs in other venues. Get feedback. Then, try it out with your congregation.


Q: Are there advantages to singing other people’s songs instead of our own?

A: As a rule? No. But, if you find a good song that is true to your shared story, go for it! Celebrate it. We don’t write our own songs just to buck the system. Although, sometimes the system is worth bucking. Don’t do ANY song “just because” it is available and/or easy.


Q: What if you have a great song that isn’t easy to sing?

A: Good question. Some of the songs we do are harder to sing than others. Some have easy choruses and harder verses. Some take a long time to learn and aren’t easy to pick up on. But, if we think it’s good, we do it. If we think it’s good but it’s way too difficult for people to sing along with, we may just do it as a feature song. Just something we share.

Ephesians 5:19 tells us to be filled with the Spirit “ . . . speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Sometimes, the songs that come from the heart aren’t simple and we certainly don’t want them to be dumbed down.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs give us a lot of freedom. God does not have a prescribed format for us. Different tempos, different themes, different stylings . . . God loves all these things. Sometimes songs are good to set the mood, celebrate, have fun, make a point, raise an issue. Some songs are about our journey. Some songs invite everyone to sing along. Some songs call out the name of God. Some songs are prayers. Some songs are responses. It’s all good with God.

We tend to steer clear of songs that say the same thing over and over. Or, songs that say the same thing a lot of other songs say. We don’t like songs that use the same easy rhyme schemes. We challenge ourselves to say things differently. Just like a good preacher does.

Harder songs may take longer to learn. That’s okay. If it’s too difficult, you’ll know soon enough. Then, retire it. We’ve tried out dozens of songs that didn’t work well for us—originals and covers.

But remember, good songs aren’t always easy. How many people do you know that sing along with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody?” A TON. It’s fun to sing. But, it’s not easy. It took a lot of repetition for them to learn that song.

Sometimes worship songs should be easy. But not always.







October 2011



Lies Artists Believe

Written by , Posted in art, artists

No one enjoys wallowing in his or her own stereotype like an artist.

Painting with large brush strokes . . .

I have worked around artists my whole life. I am an artist. I know what you say about us and I know what we allow ourselves to believe.

Artists are always late.
Artists can’t think straight.
Artists are flighty.
Artists are unorganized.
Artists are self-absorbed.
Artists have high highs and low lows.
Artists mostly have low lows.
Artists are out of control emotionally.
Artists’ passions often lead them astray.
Artists are tortured.

Wearing his or her “temperament” of shame (wrapped in pride), the artist often wanders through life discouraged, sad, and feeling misunderstood.

Disappointingly, some artists find a toxic strength in the identity of popular opinion and embrace the labels as a badge of honor. They begin to live out their self-fulfilled prophecy of a helpless and tormented soul. They become the bad girl or bad boy everyone thought they’d become–blaming indiscretions on the “way they were made.”

Some artists wave our temperament like a banner and a license of freedom to do whatever we want. On a path of self-destruction.

I’ve seen a sad trend with artists embracing the stereotype of the tortured artist as if they have a disease as opposed to a gift. As if they’ve been dealt a bad hand as opposed to a special prophetic way to heal the world.

If I hear one more male artist tell me that “every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God” I am going to punch him in the neck. I get it. You’re full of emotion. No one understands your passion. Sometimes your sex drive (masquerading as passion) gets you in trouble. But, it’s not because you are an artist. It’s because you are making stupid choices.

Artists: If you drop the ball and show up late and give an excuse like you were tortured by a dream all night and had to paint it out on canvas to the wee hours, that is not a legitimate excuse. You didn’t set your alarm. It’s your fault.

If you didn’t prepare for something because you . . .

a) forgot
b) thought you could wing it
c) haven’t prepared for anything before and everyone knows that’s just how you are . . .

Stop playing a victim. Buy a notebook. Put reminders in your phone. People may expect you to blow it but I guarantee you they don’t like it. They tolerate you. Or ignore you.

If you have high highs and low lows that’s okay. Lots of people do. But they aren’t called artists. They’re called humans. You may need medication. You may need to be in community. You may need perspective. You may need to let go of some baggage. You may be lying to yourself. You may be in denial. Maybe all of the above.

Temperaments make sense. I get it. I believe in predispositions. I empathize with being wired a certain way. I understand having a certain bent. I too feel tormented at times. I’ve had seasons of driving my self crazy with dreams. Sleepless nights. Feeling misunderstood. I’ve been mocked. I’ve made bad decisions. I’ve battled narcissism.

Owning up to all the above, offering them to God, being accountable, allowing ourselves to be edited, practicing full disclosure with loved ones, and surrounding ourselves with people we trust to help us navigate life in Jesus is the way forward.

It’s time for artists to stop constantly getting caught with our hand in the cookie jar and blaming it our natural bent towards the smell of cookies.



April 2009



Good Friday Art Piece

Written by , Posted in art, artists, good friday, westwinds

Our friend, fellow Westwindee and an exceptional artist, Mrs. Heidi Rhoades did a beautiful 4’x8′ charcoal art piece on good Friday between the two Fusions. She started with a blank canvas at 6:00 and wrapped it up at 8:30.

Heidi told me beforehand she was excited to have no idea what she was going to create beforehand but create as she worshiped.

This art is now on display at The Winds.



June 2008



Beneath the Covers

Written by , Posted in artists, church, cover songs, music, songs

Tonight I spent quite a few hours putting together the songlist for the 3rd quarter at Westwinds. I know, I know, I’m on vacation. But, I really do have fun doing it because I sit down and listen to A LOT of music for a few hours when I put it together. Plus, it was girl’s night out so . . .

I am really excited about the lineup of covers/feature tunes for this quarter. Alanis Morissette, George Harrison, Dan Wilson, Tom Petty, Carrie Underwood, Counting Crows, Lenny Kravitz, Coldplay, Duran Duran, The Black Crowes, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and the list goes on.

I even had some folks from Westwinds weigh in on the decisions via Twitter.

As I was wrapping up the list, I started reminiscing. I am coming up on 15 years of “professional” ministry soon. Over the last 15 years I have been able to cover some pretty incredible music in church.

I believe music—whatever “category” you put it in (style and/or genre)—should stand on it’s own merits. I have never done a song because every other church is doing it. I have never done a song simply because it is labeled “Christian” by someone.

Music is more than a “tool” to be used by the church.

It is a celebration of life. It is a story. It creates a mood. It presents a scenario. It conveys emotion. It stirs the soul. It asks questions. It hurts. It rejoices. It reminds. It performs heart surgery. It messes with you. It is like an old friend. It hopes. It empathizes. It is a dialogue. It speaks when poetry cannot speak alone.

In my mind, it is a shame to simply look at songs as a “setup” for a message. It is a shame to force-feed music into a theme. Sure, if a song works well for a theme you should consider it but, not just because of what it says—because of how it feels. Sometimes a song will “say” what you want it to say but it will feel all wrong. Sometimes a song may not be your “perfect fit” but it feels so right. Sometimes a song will not be anywhere close to your theme and you should still consider it.

So, I went back through the years of covers/features and made a list of some of my favorites. I will post more later. Here are the first 50 that I checked off the list because they jumped out at me as favorite moments.

1. You Might Think by The Cars
2. Yellow by Coldplay
3. Wishlist by Pearl Jam
4. When Love Comes to Town by U2 and B.B. King
5. What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
6. Weather With You by Crowded House
7. The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley
8. That Kind of Love by PFR (ummm, with Joel Hanson singing it with me)
9. Ten Cent Wings by Jonatha Brooke
10. Tempted by Squeeze
11. Stop this Train by John Mayer
12. Stand by R.E.M.
13. Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughn
14. Pride (IN the Name of Love) by U2
15. No One Knows by Queens of the Stone Age
16. New Year’s Day by U2
17. New Routine by Fountains of Wayne
18. Neil Young Heart of Gold
19. Mr. Jones by Counting Crows
20. Move Along by All American Rejects
21. Livin’ on the Edge by Aerosmith
22. Live Like You Were Dyin’ by Tim McGraw
23. Like a Stone by Audioslave
24. Life in the Fast Lane by The Eagles
25. Let There be Love by Oasis
26. Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters
27. It’s Love by King’s X
28. Honesty by Billy Joel
29. Home by Foo Fighters
30. Hole Hearted by Extreme
31. Hard to Handle by The Black Crowes
32. Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
33. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash
34. Fool on the Hill by The Beatles
35. Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
36. Everyday is a Winding Road by Sheryl Crow
37. Everybody wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears
38. Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips
39. Dig In by Lenny Kravitz
40. Come Sail Away by Styx
41. Come on Over by Rob Thomas
42. Come Alive by Foo Fighters
43. Clocks by Coldplay
44. Bright Lights by Matchbox Twenty
45. Breathe (2am) by Anna Nalick
46. Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
47. Baptized by Lenny Kravitz
48. Always on Your Side by Sheryl Crow and Sting
49. A King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb
50. (Tell Me) When God Will Speak by Billy Mann


This post is part of Watercooler Wednesday over at Ethos. If you have any creative bone in your body, you should join the fun!