Monday, December 8, 2014

Transition: An Interview with Christian Songwriter Gene Ezell

An Interview with Gene Ezell, Emerging Christian Songwriter, Chattanooga/Nashville, TN

I’ve known Gene since we worked together as he was deciding to move forward as a professional songwriter. His passion has not waned, and it’s fun to see him at a later stage in life making the move from full-time professor and coach, to serious songwriter getting cuts in Nashville. I think this interview is a great read especially if you are considering a transition to work more at being a Christian songwriter.

How did you get started as a Christian songwriter?

I started writing creatively while in college many years ago, and continued that type of writing sporadically for the next several years; however, about 11 years ago several events occurred that allowed me to spend more time in songwriting. I began by connecting with local writers in the Chattanooga area, and attended several songwriting conferences.

When did you know that this would be a lifelong passion?

I played my songs for local songwriting groups and started receiving affirmation for my music; then I started getting songs evaluated by professionals and pitching my songs to producers. The positive feedback that I received at every level convinced me that this was my calling.

When did you first find success or make any money doing it?

It depends on how you define success. One sincere measure of success was when my wife, my harshest (and best) critic said one of my songs was beautiful after I sang it with our worship team in our church. Other measures of success include winning 3 national songwriting contests and being a finalist (runner-up) in 4 others. Also, I have several single song contracts with publishers, and have had over 25+ cuts with independent and commercial artists. Money – not so much. I had one song played in ‘heavy’ rotation on Southern Gospel stations throughout the country, and made a little more than $50 for that quarter.

Talk about your “real job” that you’ve worked for years before getting serious about songwriting. How is that transition going?

My real job is as a university professor and women’s soccer coach. As part of the professor job, I have written 15 textbooks, and that consumed most of my writing for several years. I am now retired from coaching, and will be retired from teaching after this academic year.

As far as transition, fortunately my jobs have allowed me a lot of discretionary time and that has allowed me to spend a lot of time songwriting. I am writing 2-3 songs per week even while working those jobs.

Further, I interned with Gospel Music Association and Global Songwriters Connection last Spring and Summer, and that allowed me to meet a lot of artists and publishers.

Lastly, my wife and I have purchased a house in Nashville, so I plan to spend a lot more time here in town in order to further my songwriting pursuits.

Do you think you’ll begin making an actual living or significant income stream as a songwriter?

I think eventually I can make a decent amount of money from songwriting, but fortunately, I am not having to rely on that income presently.

Do you find songwriting income to be consistent yet, or has it thus far been a mystery?

Honestly, it has been a mystery. I mean I know how it is supposed to work, but I am still waiting on royalties to be paid for some songs that have been on the market with commercials artists for over a year now.

How much time do you spend writing, working on demos, and pitching right now?

I have 3 scheduled co-writing sessions every week that last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. I write on my own at least another 10 hours each week. Demos, pitching, and marketing my songs otherwise vary each week, but anywhere from 5-10 hours per week. Many weekends, I travel to concerts to hear, meet, and connect with groups for whom I am writing or planning to pitch a song.

What dreams do you have of the future as far as your creative output or success?

I have set a 6-month goal to be ‘in conversations with’ at least 2-3 publishers to be considered as a staff writer or contract writer. I want to be writing full time by next June 2015.

What are your non-music hobbies? Or is music the only hobby you have time for outside of your other job?

I have had many hobbies throughout the years: I played several sports in my youth and high school, including baseball—semi prof until the age of 21; played collegiate soccer; ran marathons and triathlons; toured as a racquetball player nationwide sponsored by Wilson Sporting Goods; became a licensed commercial airplane pilot; sang with the Chattanooga Symphony Chorus; and, an actor/singer in several local theater plays and opera.

As the music “business” changes, do you find you’re affected by that at all, or is music publishing similar to the way it’s always been?

The music business has changed in just the time (last 10 years or so) that I have been pursuing this dream. It continues to shift almost monthly. I found that it is extremely difficult to break into the CCM market because so many writers are writing for themselves and it’s hard to connect with the CCM publishers directly. At this stage, I am writing more Praise and Worship and Southern Gospel music. Regarding Praise and Worship, I have a couple of songs in print with Lifeway, but haven’t received any action yet. Again, Lifeway and Word, etc., have their own staff writers so it’s difficult to break into that market also. The Southern Gospel market is shifting as well in that several artists and groups are signing with publishers and relying on their staff writers; however, numerous Southern Gospel groups are still open to pitches by independents like myself, and I have had some success in that market because of that access including cuts, single song contracts, and several songs on hold.

How have you seen the hand of God work in your life and creative work, focusing on the transition you’ve come through?

I firmly believe that God has called me to write songs, and I have experienced that continuously over the last several years. When I first began writing, I was pleased when my Mom and siblings liked my songs, but then when I started receiving affirmation and encouragement from congregations, from other, more experienced songwriters and from publishers, I decided that I should become very serious about my craft and work toward making it a profession.

Are you getting support from people about transitioning into songwriting? Family? Friends? Workmates?

Yes. Three professionals who are songwriters and publishers are collaborating with me now and helping me transition to the next level of songwriting and the music business. They are co-writing with me and introducing me to other professionals and publishers in the music industry. I am beyond blessed to have these people working with me and for me in this way. Now, remember, it has taken me 10 years to get to where I am now, but I am overwhelmed by where God has taken me in this field – way beyond any expectations I had 10 years ago. However, these professionals encouraged me to ‘think big’ and write big goals. I did, and several of those goals have been met through the leading of God and with the help of these people God has placed in my life.

Any words of advice for people wanting to pursue a life as a serious Christian songwriter?

Yes, have the heart of a poet and the skin of a rhino! Great saying and very true.

As an athlete for most of my life, I was very accustomed to taking direction, receiving critiques/criticism, and experiencing failure in front of many people. I know that God has used that background to help me navigate the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced in music. I have literally experienced the highest of music highs (receiving word that a top commercial genre group was going to record my song) and the lowest of music lows (a potential co-writer telling me my song wasn’t good enough for him to consider co-writing with me) in the same day!

Accept criticism with the right attitude. You CANNOT be afraid to accept honest and forthright critiques of your songs from those who are more experienced that you. If you seriously want to get better, listen and keep grinding. Once you think you have mastered the craft, you will either plateau or get left behind.

Work hard – I mean in terms of time and in terms of sweat – and realize that though a song might not get cut or even considered, you have still learned a lot about writing from that experience.

Show up. The more publishers and other songwriters see you, hear your song and/or read about you, the better chance you will have of being recognized and remembered. That doesn’t have to be in person (though it helps), but it can be through your online presence (website, Facebook page, online pitches to publishers, etc.) The better they know you, the more likely they will give your songs more consideration.

Especially for a Christian songwriter: Remember where your identity is and where your gift came from. If you start believing that you have done any of this on your own, it could adversely affect your walk with the Lord. I’ll admit that it’s a tough line to walk – that is, working toward ‘success’ in this industry while trying to remain an humble servant with your bestowed gift – but even if it is a daily struggle, that should be a significant part of your mission as a Christian in this business.

Find out more about Gene Ezell:

We're proud to have helped Gene in his journey. For more information on how we help Christian songwriters find success, and even transition from the career they are to a life of writing songs, check us out at

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Eric Copeland is an author, producer, keyboardist, songwriter, and president of Creative Soul Companies. What is Creative Soul? Our main goals are to inform, encourage, and assist Christian creative folks in ministry, no matter where they are in their journey. Thanks for reading! Find out more about us at