Shallow Thoughts of a Starving Artist

Contributed by Heath McNease

I just want to preface this by saying that what you are reading is a painfully long, self indulgent “state of my own union” letter in a stream of consciousness format that will be spelled badly and punctuated poorly.

I really can feel something happening now. More than I ever could before. For the first time in my career as a musician, artist, emcee, songwriter, vocalist, rapper, dime store clown, or whatever label one might choose to slap on me for the sake of convenience…for the first time I can feel good things coming. Finally I feel like momentum is on my side. It’s not based on the obvious mile markers that people associate with success. I’m still not making a ton of money. I still sleep in my car most nights while I’m on the road. I’m still virtually unknown and unheard of at almost every venue I play. The specter of anonymity still follows me everywhere I go. And I know people mean it as a complement, but it almost serves as the diametric opposite when they tell me that I’m “one of their favorite unknown artists” or that “it’s such a shame that nobody knows who I am.” Haha. Their intentions are pure, and it means so much to me that they care enough to say it. But it’s almost like further brick and mortar evidence that for all intents and purposes, I’m still just a blip. There’s humility and edification to be found in that. People rise to some sort of notoriety only to crash and burn shortly thereafter all the time…so it could be worse.

But the change…the feeling I have is specifically this…it’s the listener. It’s the listener, the fan, the supporter, the backbone. The word “fan” will forever be a difficult term for me to use freely. It feels so flippant and distant. It feels like there’s no real give and take. It feels almost like theft even though by saying without pause that I’m a huge Paul McCartney fan would seem to put me in the same position that I want others to avoid. And I don’t want to belittle or devalue how much someone else might appreciate my art…so I will use the word fan, but only because there isn’t a word that better describes what I’m talking about.

The fans of what I do have made it possible for me to keep doing it. And the reason I feel a change is because I feel like the fans are genuinely coming to understand and appreciate not just my art, but the mechanics and method behind it. I will always be a deeply private person, because the public is a frightening place to be. But I feel like I’m able to share the most deeply personal stuff through my music and live shows…and that’s what is coming through in the translation. Being prolific musically helps, because with each release I’m showing fans and newcomers alike just how much I care about music and the process of sharing it. In the last 18 months I have put out 3 albums, 1 mixtape, and I have another one about to drop on November 8th. The Gun Show, Shine On, The House Always Wins, Straight Outta Console, and now Wed, White, and Wu. Guys and girls… that’s 72 completely original creations of music (not counting the other 75 that were thrown out during the process) that were fully conceived, recorded, mixed, engineered, mastered, and then sold (all produced out of my pocket with no financial help or assistance from anyone) either through the label I was signed to through stores/iTunes or most recently on Bandcamp. But over the past year…they have ALL been given away for free online. All of this was done while maintaining a 250 day road schedule with very little time off.

Straight Outta Console, the free mixtape that gave the option for fans to donate any amount of money they wanted, was the first album I ever made money on outside of selling it on the road. I never saw a dime for the albums that were charting on iTunes and Amazon. Never one dime. So I decided that any money I made on the mixtape before I started taking it on the road would be icing on the cake. And I also knew that by giving it away for free it would allow new fans to give it a chance and wouldn’t exclude people who were dirt broke.

Now without getting into a ton of specifics…this is where things can start to devolve and break down if proper measures aren’t taken. After a few months now, The Nintendo mixtape has been downloaded thousands of times just on Bandcamp. It was in the top 5 for 2 months. Who knows how many times it was downloaded off of other servers, etc. I’m so incredibly thankful and humbled by the people that donated even a dollar. Because it was a labor of love that was free. But the thing that really stood out to me was that I averaged 20 free downloads per 1 donation. Yikes! Haha. And again, I’m glad I was able to do that. And I’m glad I was able to make the other 3 albums free to download, and I’m glad that Wed, White, and Wu will be free too. But this is where music is going.

Music will eventually be like water or air. There will be no expectation of ever having to pay for it. It will seem like greed for one to expect to be compensated for their hard labor. These creative and intellectual properties just seem like entitlements now. And I’m not for or against that idea. I have no idea where I stand on it. I only know this. I can’t continue to do it like this forever. I can’t creatively keep churning out 5 albums every 18 months or 2 years without expecting the quality to drop off or become redundant at some point. I’m so proud that each work of art I’ve released has been it’s own independent thought and stood separately from my other work…or together with it. But I have to give myself time to rest, take a vacation, get away from music, get away from touring, and just live normally. Even if it’s for a month. I’ve got to guarantee that my art is a manifestation of emotional communication…not financial obligation.

My dear fans are with me. They laugh at my stupid tweets. They tell their friends to watch my videos on YouTube, come to a show with them, pick up an album…etc. And that’s my hope. That’s my solution. God has been so faithful to me during all of this. The times when I bang my head on the steering wheel and yell at him for not making it easy. The times where I make the selfish compromise instead of the noble follow through. The times where sin and despondence cover me more than I allow his grace to.

And my awesome fans…they don’t question my motives. They don’t crawl me for saying the word “freakin” in a song. They don’t hypocritically wear the powdered wig and condemn me when I say things that other cookie cutter religious types would never say on the mic. Because they understand that I’m communicating normally. I apply what I call “The Office” method to my content. If I could picture something I say being on The Office…then I know it’s ok with the exception of just a few things. If it’s too buck-wild for it to make it on The Office…I won’t say it. The reason why is because it seems to be a show that 98% of Christians under 40 watch. So if they were to condemn anything I say or do…they’re also condemning their self same viewing habits…which they have no need to, because it’s a great show that pushes the envelope without ever compromising genuine scruples.

I love the Lord and I would never care to say anything that would steer anyone away from him…or cause anyone who isn’t a believer to further distance themselves from the potential of their Damascus Road experience. I lead worship all the time! I would never want to compromise that! I love the Lord and I love people too much. But I refuse to bow down to other people’s expectations or interpretations of what “appropriate” is in the context of positive music. Because that’s the music I make. Uplifting, clean, positive music. I pray about every word of my music before I let it enter someone else’s life, and If I felt spiritual pause…I’d change the song. I’ve done it before. I’ve even made compromises that I felt were ridiculous just to make big Christian industry types happy. And I hated it.

I’ve said a lot. I don’t even fully know what I said. I just felt that it would be good to get some thoughts out in an honest, stream of consciousness format in order to let you guys know what’s really going on.

The mixtape comes out on November 8th. And I probably wouldn’t have written this if I didn’t have something coming down the pipe to peddle. This Wu Tang mixtape ain’t gonna be for some of my fans, because it’s based on some realllllllly raw hip hop from the past. Hip hop from 1995 might as well be jazz from 1935 for a lot of listeners. But many will love it, because wu tang clan is a language they speak. I was too young for Wu Tang Clan, so I won’t blame people for not knowing their music. But I had to go back and get educated once I made music my profession. And maybe this will be the chance for a lot of my fans. Give it a chance. Along with the Nintendo mixtape…this is some of the best rapping I’ve ever done. And I wanted to rap in a different medium…something grimy and deliberate. Something raw and minimal. So go with it.

And if it’s at all possible…if you’ve picked up my albums for free….maybe think about donating or buying one of the packages that will be available at as well as I’m not a charity case and you are not an investor. I’m not an artisan who needs to be championed and sanctioned by you. I’m just a freaking plumber. I’m providing a service and I hope you might pay for it, because this is my job. And if you can’t pay for it…don’t! Take it for free and enjoy it! Just please…share! Share what I’m doing with everyone you know. Don’t keep my music hidden from those you love. Support those artists…all artists, poets, musicians, actors, playwrights, directors, etc who are creating things that you love. I used to be greedy towards “Deepspace5”, because I loved that they were my secret. I loved that they were underground and inspirational. And I loved how empowered I felt that my other friends didn’t know who they were. Deepspace5 is still my favorite rap group, and not many know who they are…because I kept them to myself. I’m in this for the long haul, but I can’t do this without a ground swell of support. I’m not asking for money, because I don’t need it. I’m just asking for support and grassroots love. Please share links, songs, videos, tweets, come to shows, and support like fans do.

And if you can’t…Just keep me in your prayers while I’m careening down the interstate somewhere near you. I love my fans, friends, supporters, and colleagues. You’ve made this kid so happy to call music his life. God bless and W’s up!


  1. Keep giving it to God, Heath. Never stop pursuing him and what he needs to do with your life and your tunes.

    As an artist myself, I just want to say I appreciate your transparency to your fans. It’s so very hard to find these days, in the music community. Just, never ever fall into the trap of cynicism being a means to justify your situation (I’m not saying you are, I’m just saying it’s so easy for us as artists in the modern world). Instead, push further into God. He’ll do more in his power than we ever could with ours.

    Thank you for your music. Good luck for the release of the new record!

    God Bless.

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