My Recording Journey
Staying in my comfort zone sounded much more appealing but there was no doubt in my mind that I had to step out - this was a Spirit-led project and God was in it all.
I have dabbled in music since I was a child. I took piano lessons and sang in many Christmas concerts at church. As I entered my teen years, a group of us entered into a talent contest at a youth convention. I played the piano, my brother, Paul O’Brien played the drums and we all sang. We ended up coming home with a trophy for first place. As the years went by, I sang in groups, choirs, and duets, and eventually was a regular at various churches as a soloist usually playing piano for myself. I had a strong ear for music and found playing piano was enjoyable so I continued to practice and as I did, I developed my own unique style. I had written a handful of songs over the years but never really considered myself a songwriter or a serious musician.
A friend of our family who we’ve known for several years and who wishes to remain anonymous approached me one day and asked me if I’d ever thought about recording. I replied that I had thought about it throughout the years but not very seriously. I always thought there were so many others that were a lot more talented than I was, why should I? I was comfortable just using my talents at our local church and I never wanted to step out past that. The truth is, I was afraid of stepping out and doing more and I never thought I was good enough.
Periodically, this person would ask me again if I’d thought any more about recording. I thought it was rather strange that they would ask me so often until one day, they said, “I think I’m supposed to help you.” I asked what they meant by that. They said they’d been praying and the Lord prompted them to offer to cover all the expenses if I were to record an album. I was very surprised by this and wasn’t sure if I should take them seriously or not. They were persistent though and over the course of the next year kept reminding me of what God had put on their heart.
One Sunday, we had Anita Pearce from Saskatchewan come to speak at our church. She is an evangelist/missionary that travels worldwide speaking and singing. She spoke about stepping out and doing what God wants us to do. She said that we should not compare ourselves to anyone else and that God had put gifts, talents, and abilities in each one of us and He would give us what we needed to accomplish what He asked us to do when we stepped out in faith. She said, “If you only did what you felt comfortable with, you wouldn’t need God’s help. He asks us to go beyond what we have the ability to do. Ephesians 3:20 says, ‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ He will call us and then give us the grace to do it in ‘His power.’ His grace gives us the ability to do what we cannot do in our own abilities or strength.” I sure needed a lot of that! “What He wants is our obedience,” she said.
God's grace gives us the ability to do what we cannot do in our own abilities or strength.
I prayed at the end of the service and tears ran down my face as I was reminded of the courage my dad had as he pastored for 50 years in 4 provinces and 2 states. He never felt good enough or smart enough but he was always obedient to do what God asked of him. His faith was authentic. He was the same man at home that he was behind the pulpit. When he stepped out, the anointing of the Spirit came upon him and he could do things in God’s strength that he couldn’t do in his own strength.
I certainly didn’t feel qualified or talented enough to record an album and I didn’t even know why I should, but I prayed, “God if you really want me to do this, I will do it.” When I said “Yes” to God, something inside me was instantly unleashed. A few days later, I felt God’s Spirit come upon me and I started writing a song. Within a couple of weeks, I started writing another one. A few weeks following that, I wrote another one. I could barely get one finished before the next one would come. Each song was different from the last in lyrics and style. This continued for about a year until I had enough music to fill an album.
When I wrote “What a Day” I felt God’s Spirit so strongly that I felt a buzzing sensation inside me that continued for 4 days after. As each new song came, I could feel God pouring into me and out onto the page. One day, as I was running up the stairs with the laundry, I felt a stirring in my spirit along with the words and music to part of a song. I put down the basket of clothes, went over to the piano, and started playing what I felt the Lord was giving me. I wrote down the words and within an hour or so, there was another song. I was totally amazed. As each new song came, I became excited about what God was going to do through this music. In my own abilities, I could never write that much music in such a short time. As I sat down to read God’s Word or a devotional book, I would feel God’s Spirit stirring again and another song started pouring out of me and I would have to immediately go, play it, and write it down. God’s Word came alive to me in a new way during that time.
I had written a handful of songs over the previous 15 years and at that time, I did feel God’s Spirit on me when I wrote, but nothing to the extent I was experiencing had ever happened to me before. I knew God was in this project and I was so excited to know what He had planned next but at the same time, I always felt a twinge of anxiety about stepping out into something I knew little about.
When I said “Yes” to God, something inside me was instantly unleashed. God's grace gives us the ability to do what we cannot do in our own abilities or strength.
One Sunday, I spoke to Trevor McNevan who was at church. Trevor is the lead singer and songwriter for Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK). He is a man with a heart for God and I knew I could trust him to answer me honestly. I told him I had someone approach me about recording and I asked him what he thought I should do. I told him all the reasons why I didn’t want to do it: I didn’t know if I was “good” enough, it wasn’t exactly my lifelong dream, I was too old to be taking it seriously, I have a learning disability that limits what I can do, I didn’t read music, and I didn’t like the spotlight. He said, “Neither do I.” I thought to myself, “You’re a rock star who’s played in front of thousands of people – you could have been a dentist or an accountant but a rock star’s life is all about being in the spotlight.” Trevor’s life as a rock musician is a testament to what God can do with a life that is totally surrendered and obedient to what God has asked them to do. He gave me some good advice and prayed with me that day for God to direct me on what I should do and show me my next steps. I so appreciated the encouragement he gave me. He said he’d be glad to listen to some of my music and give me some honest critique. Again, I was so thankful. It’s so hard to judge your own work and I needed someone with a critical ear. He listened to a couple of my songs and gave me some invaluable advice on how I could improve them. I took his advice and applied what he said to every song I had written.
I spoke to my sponsor again and asked them “When you felt the Lord wanted you to help me with the financing of this album, how strong was the feeling?” They said it was very strong and there was no doubt in their mind that they had heard from God.
I have always struggled with self-esteem issues, mostly because of my learning disability but also I am naturally shy and introverted so I needed the extra reassurance that I was moving in the right direction. I also struggled with what would come after the album was finished. Would that mean that I would have to “go on the road”? That wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do. Staying in my comfort zone sounded much more appealing to me but now there was no doubt in my mind that this was a Spirit-led project and that God was in it all.
I called a friend of mine, Virginia Tilstra who has had a few experiences in the recording studio, and asked if she would listen to the music that I had written with a critical ear. When I played and sang my music for Virginia, tears welled up in her eyes as she could sense God’s Spirit. She gave me some positive feedback and helped me smooth out a few areas that were concerning to me. When we were finished, she offered to come with me to the studio when I was ready to record. I welcomed the company of a friend especially because this was all new to me. I don’t think I could have done it without her. What a blessing she has been to me.
Virginia told me that she and a few other girls were doing a book study at her house and she invited me to join. The book is called Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey. Matt is a worship leader and artist in Ashville, North Carolina. The book and this group of ladies, comprised of musicians, artists, and an author, were a real encouragement to me. The book taught me about my calling and spiritual lineage as an artist in the Kingdom of God. If you’ve never read it, I would highly recommend it for every Christian artist and musician.
I wasn’t sure where to go to record, so once again I prayed and asked God for direction. I knew the producer had the power to change how the music sounded so it was important to choose the right one. I visited 2 recording studios and although they were good producers, I didn’t feel like they were really the right fit for me. I called the Christian radio station LIFE 100.3 to ask them where I should go. They directed me to AME Recording Studio in Kitchener, Ontario. After I visited AME, I felt confident that the producer, Andrew Horrocks would know what to do with my music.
On my first visit to the studio, he asked me to sing through each song. As a talented musician himself, once he heard the music, he could envision how it would sound with different instrumentation and background vocals. Andy is a gifted and award-winning producer of both Christian and secular music. He had unique ideas for each song but always took my preferences into consideration. He gave me the feedback I was looking for, giving me the confidence I needed.
Andy has a gentle and positive way about him that is very encouraging and his sense of humor put me at ease. I felt his studio was the right fit for me. I didn’t know if I had practiced enough or even if he would like the music. He said the music was good and he felt the songs were “ready” to record. He felt my piano and vocals were so integrated that I should play the piano for myself rather than have a studio musician do it, otherwise we would lose the unique sound of the music and he didn’t want that to change.
I made three trips to Kitchener with Virginia and spent 6 days in total to get my part of the recording done. We enjoyed spending a few nights at the Doubletree Hilton. We took a swim in their indoor pool and loved the warm chocolate cookies they gave us each time we came back to our room. We went out for dinner after each day in the studio and had lots of laughs and great conversation on those trips. Virginia prayed with me as we started each day before we got to the studio and was such an encouragement.
I brought my own piano to the studio and Andy recorded all the piano parts for each song. The next time I was there he recorded my vocals. Then the real work for the producer starts, making up the chord charts and getting the studio musicians and background vocalists in to add their parts to the recording. He then does the editing, mixing, and mastering of it.
Andy is a very creative, talented musician himself and works very hard, putting endless hours into each song getting it just right. As each song was finished, he would send them to me. What an uplifting and exciting experience to hear music you have written and given to him in its simplest form (just piano & vocal) after it has been fully produced! I am so thankful for Andy. He has been such a blessing to me and answered many of my newbie questions as I tried to understand the process. It was such a positive experience.
I pray that each one will feel God’s wonderful anointing ministering to them through the music I have written and recorded. The song “Walk of Grace” is part of my story. The album is called Unafraid. It is a reminder to myself that “I can face the future unafraid” because of Jesus. Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” We do not have to live our lives afraid. We can do the things that we are afraid of with courage because God will be our strength and give us what we need.
I encourage you to pray and ask God what He has for you to do. He is able to do above and beyond what we can ask or even think. Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” It doesn’t matter what your background is or how many mistakes you have made or how old you are, God specializes in doing extraordinary things with ordinary people as they step out in obedience to His calling. He will give you the grace to do it – that is the power to do the things that we cannot do in our own strength.
God specializes in doing extraordinary things with ordinary people as they step out in obedience to His calling. He will give you the grace to do it – that is the power to do the things that we cannot do in our own strength.
I pray that God would fill us with boldness, courage, and confidence as we move forward and do what He has called us to do. We can trust Him with our very lives and He will never let us down.