Editor's note: Audrey has provided some of her new music to the Register's online readers. Listen here.
For the last few years, Catholic singer-songwriter Audrey Assad produced music with a label.
But after six years as a touring musician, she decided to do things a little differently. Assad, 30, left her label, Capitol CMG, and raised the funds for her latest project with Kickstarter.
"I am increasingly convinced that the way forward for most musicians is going to be the independent route," said Assad. "To do that, you absolutely must have a very close connection to the people who like your music and to the people who support you."
Kicking Off a New Project
Kickstarter, a Web-based fundraising tool, is designed for creative projects. Rather than simply a donation-based system, Assad said, Kickstarter invites supporters to partner with creatives like herself. They buy into the project and into helping make it a successful endeavor. There is also a reward for supporting the artist: Assad’s backers were to receive a copy of the new album, Fortunate Fall, two weeks before the Aug. 13 release. Assad’s supporters could also communicate with her via message boards on Kickstarter’s site during the fundraising phase.
"It was the best way to take that first step toward becoming an independent artist — to really huddle in the fans and say, ‘This is what we’re doing, and this is what I’m about. Are you in?’" said Assad. "I got such a great response. I really felt like they were becoming involved in my job and in my ministry in a unique and different way than ever before."
As an independent artist, Assad now has the flexibility to write and record songs she wants to, without conforming to a label’s suggestions. Expectations, she said, were the most difficult aspect of being connected with a label in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) business.
"I felt that there was this expectation that I would write a certain way and my music would have a certain sound," said Assad. "I’ve spent a few years … feeling frustrated by what was expected of me as a ‘Christian artist’ and what I felt I was actually gifted at."
The word "Christian" is used as a marketing term rather than a genre like pop, rock or praise and worship, said Assad. She also felt pressure to evangelize while on stage, which is not her gift, she said.
After Assad experienced what she calls an "emotional crisis" during one of her tours, she realized she was unhappy with the way she was making music and the way it was being marketed.
"When I first started writing music, I never imagined myself being a Christian musician," said Assad.
"I thought, ‘Well, shouldn’t it be Christian people making the music they make, and that is enough?’"
After leaving the label, Assad is focused on writing sacred music for the Church and for the faithful. This, she said, falls more in line with the gifts God gave her.
"I just feel so quiet, calm and peaceful about settling into the role of ‘sacred musician,’ which is very different than saying ‘Christian music,’" said Assad. "I’m settling into something I really feel like God has gifted me to do: to be a musician who writes songs for the Church and for the faithful to use in prayer."
Her new album includes songs for adoration, Mass, prayer and personal meditation. In the liner notes, she includes suggestions for how and where to use her songs in prayer.
While much happier pursuing this direction, soliciting funds for this project was a challenging concept for Assad. She did not want it to seem like she was asking for handouts, and she knew she would have to be vocal on all her social-media channels for the project to be successful.
"It was emotionally difficult for me when we initially talked about it," said Assad. "It was hard for me to imagine asking people to support me in that way. Once I got passed the initial investment of my mind and emotions into the project, it was really a breeze."
A breeze it was. Assad exceeded her goal of $40,000 in 50 hours. Her 2,207 backers raised more than $79,000 during the one-month funding period.
"We were really shocked," said Assad. "It was a lot less painful than I anticipated it to be."
Assad converted to the Catholic faith six years ago, and she has since fallen in love with the three recent popes, she said. Blessed John Paul II transformed her view of human sexuality through his teaching of the theology of the body, something she knew little of before her conversion. Pope Benedict XVI enforced the Church’s teachings, and Pope Francis, she said, is the motivation to live out both John Paul’s and Benedict’s teachings in the world.
Pope Francis inspired many of the songs on Assad’s upcoming album, she said. The first week he was pope fell in line with one of Assad’s first weeks as an independent artist. Pope Francis’ expression of humility motivated Assad to include multiple songs about that virtue on the album, such as Help My Unbelief, which includes the lines:
O happy fault that gained for me the chance to know you, Lord,
to touch your wounded side and know the joy of my reward. …
I know, I know, and I believe that you are the Lord.
Help my unbelief.
Assad is also convicted by Francis’ commitment to go out into the world to help others through Christian witness.
"I’ve heard a lot of chatter about the three of them as almost a triumvirate, like a trio, with Pope John Paul II being the heart, Pope Benedict the mind and Pope Francis the volition or the will," said Assad. "I think Francis is just what the Church needs today."
But sacred songs are not the only thing on Assad’s mind and heart.
She recently established a pop-music band called LEVV. The band is named in honor of a character in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Tolstoy’s novel was paramount in helping Assad realize that she was unhappy with her past music career. "I tend to discern things in myself through classic literature," said Assad. "Anna Karenina has a huge insight into humanity, with the way the characters interact and the story they tell. It’s beautiful. I credit Leo Tolstoy with helping me make the decisions I needed to."
LEVV will be both electronic and piano-driven, with careful attention to well-written lyrics. LEVV is expected to become her main focus early in 2014, and it will afford her another way to reach people.
Said Assad, "Evangelization doesn’t have to look like standing up on a stage and preaching. It can also be just living your faith in the world. I want to let my life preach."
Autumn Jones writes