I would love to start a movement that helps people see life through the lens of delight, of knowing and giving delight. This applies at every stage of our human development and transcends every experience. It provides focus to the artist and the business leader alike. It invites us into a lifestyle that is more playful than performance-based, where innovation and creativity thrive. It is also where we can hear our truest name, and call out the true names of others. Performance goals and key measurements have their place, but that place is not in the realm of one’s identity. I want to speak life to the places people know self-contempt.
As part of my series featuring the rising stars in the music industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Browning. Matthew has been writing and playing music from the time he was old enough to crawl up on the piano bench in his childhood home in Memphis, TN. Now based in Colorado Springs, CO, blending post-progressive rock with theatrical overtones, Matthew engages the listener with both emotional and spiritual depth. Matthew played and co-wrote in bands in earlier years with the now lead singer/bassist of Skillet. With a background in formal music theory and composition and influences as diverse as Peter Gabriel, Queen, Radiohead and Arvo Pärt, Matthew’s music brings both a subtle symphonic counterpoint and a sense of complexity that draws on the heritage of a musically rich era.
Thank you so much for joining us Matthew! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve had a successful career that has spanned video post production as well as entrepreneurial work in media development and video streaming technology. But I felt a longing to do something that only I could uniquely do. At some point in our lives, we begin to ask, “What is the gift that I can uniquely offer the world?” At least that has been true for me. Music has always been a central part of my life, and in many ways the interpreter of my experiences. The desire to release my debut album, Love & Grief, oddly came after spending some time in a counseling training program. I wanted to offer music that had the depth to truly engage the listener’s own journey.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
On release day of the Love & Grief album, I was contacted by a writer in Russia. This was quickly followed by publications and radio stations all over Europe. One DJ made the comment to me that he felt like I was singing his story back to him as he listened to the album. I think the unexpected, organic global exposure of the album along with the connection that it seems to have made with its listeners has been the most meaningful thing for me. It has also been a reminder that the work of the artist is first to listen — to the stories of others and to our own story — and to stay true to the principle that we can only take others as far as we’ve been willing to go ourselves. For me, it has been exciting to discover an audience of listeners willing to take that kind of journey.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently in pre-production for my second album, finishing up the track order and working on the story arc of the album. The theme centers around consciousness and relational connection, and we’re exploring lots of sonic boundaries to help support that theme, interweaving physical instruments and strings with modular synthesis and industrial elements. It is fun to lean into being an independent artist and step into the role of serving the songs to try to let them become the best they can be. But the songs retain the melodic, symphonic, and theatrical feel that are signatures of my debut release.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Tracking sessions have been some of my favorite times. The first day of tracking Love & Grief was interesting, and thankfully the producer, Michael Rossback had prepared me. By design, none of the musicians had heard any of the tracks. And me being an independent artist releasing a debut album, they weren’t quite sure yet if the project was cool enough for them to be a part of — its kind of like a blind date with everyone but the producer — so everyone has their guard up just a little bit, you know. Then you come to that magic moment in tracking where there is an energy and excitement and everyone is all in.
We started tracking the first song with the band listening through the track writing out their charts. I had put a lot of work into my demos, and so I started to get really offended as Taylor, the guitarist, kept messing with his phone all the way through the track. I thought he was bored and disengaged. I’m glad I didn’t say anything (though I’ve talked with Taylor about it since), because not only had he charted the entire song nailing all the key changes, but he had also pulled a number of music references for guitar tone and style.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I’ve been deeply inspired by Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber through their writings.
Martin Buber’s concept of living dialog has shaped so much of my thinking about human relationships. His most prominent book is I and Thou, and in it he draws a distinction between I-It (objectifying) versus I-Thou (encountering/beholding) ways of relating. The distinction comes down to our capacity to live in the world of encounter, of beholding another rather than the lesser existential mode of objectifying others for what we can get out of them. “Encounter” is a difficult word, because in our modern language it can for some connote a negative type of confrontation. That’s why I like using the idea of beholding another.
A core concept of his teaching and writing is that our capacity for I-Thou is proportionate to our ability to approach another without prejudice, without pre-judgement of the outcome, because this indicates our capacity for change. This idea has impacted my life in so many ways: when I sit with a friend, when I take a day to explore the mountains, when I disagree with a family member or colleague, how I pray, and so much more. It is so much more than being willing to be wrong — that’s far too binary.
That is of course a simplification of Buber’s work. His book, I and Thou was written in 1923 and first translated into English in 1937. Yet in a world that has become so divisively polarized around issues, I believe his work is as relevant and important to us and the spirit of our age as when it was first published.
Kierkegaard, considered by many as the father of existentialism, transformed how his generation and those following understand their faith, moving from organized state institution to personal relationship. That is a massive shift in perspective!
I am inspired and challenged by the enduring influence and legacy of each of these men. I want my life and work to be fruitful as well.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The statement that I want to make to the world is the idea of delight: you were created to know and to give delight. Each of us has experienced trauma at some level or another. We have all known a measure of goodness, and each of us know tragic stories of loss and of pain. Those places in our stories can create fragmentation, self-contempt, and perpetual disconnection from others. I want my work to move listeners toward wholeness. I want to invite listeners to delight, to see their longings as a goodness, to speak life to the places they have given up.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think that really ties into what I was saying about delight. I would love to start a movement that helps people see life through the lens of delight, of knowing and giving delight. This applies at every stage of our human development and transcends every experience. It provides focus to the artist and the business leader alike. It invites us into a lifestyle that is more playful than performance-based, where innovation and creativity thrive. It is also where we can hear our truest name, and call out the true names of others. Performance goals and key measurements have their place, but that place is not in the realm of one’s identity. I want to speak life to the places people know self-contempt.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think a lot of that comes down to identity, and transcends any career. Stay connected to who you are as a human. Who you are is not determined or measured by success or popularity. You are not a brand. It can be hard when trying to market ourselves to make ourselves a more marketable product, and somewhere in the mix of that to lose our authenticity. Ask yourself the question, “What would it look like if I had nothing to prove? What would I write? What would I say? What would I value as most important?”
Lots of people talk about work-life balance. For myself, I like to use the concept of work-life integration. How can I bring the whole of myself to the whole of my life engagement? We are taught from childhood to live life in a fragmented way. Reject that myth and model! But also understand that is a journey. What it means is that you will learn to value all of who you are brought to bear on all that you do.
The role of diligence and taking strategic risks is a given for any craft. I’ve learned both in business and in writing that when I approach things in this way, what most people mean by balance is the natural result. I find that I’m never not working, and I am equally never not at play.
But what is transformational is that we begin also to see others as whole persons (or moving toward wholeness), and not just there to serve a given function for us. It is powerful when we begin to relate to one another in this way.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Your voice has power
When I was in my mid-teens, I had the opportunity to submit a tape to a music executive. Even all those years ago, long tracks with unique song structure was very characteristic of my music. The feedback provided by the executive was that in order to be successful I needed to write shorter, more formulaic songs. In his position of influence, he failed to nurture what was unique and special about my writing. I wish he had called that out and helped to clarify it. I wish he had encouraged me to continue to find and develop my musical voice. Now, as a father, I recognize how powerful that statement, made in so many different ways, is one of the most important ones that we can make to those we care for.
2. Into the dirt
A number of years ago, I attended an intensive Story Workshop weekend hosted by The Allender Center in Seattle, WA. Over the course of the weekend, we each shared with our small cohort several traumatic stories from our childhoods and developing years. At the conclusion of the weekend, each of us in the group having been witness in many cases the first time that many of these stories had been given language, shared a short encouragement with each of the other members of the group. The group leader challenged me with this phrase, “Into the Dirt”. She challenged that my writing was at times fantastical, and that I seemed to romanticize. This comment was the inspiration for my song Artificial Sunset. Her encouragement was toward how powerful it could be if I’d be willing to let go of imaginations and get into the dirt of my own story and helping others in that way as well. They were hard words to hear at the time, but have been some of the most transformational for me in many ways.
3. The work of the artist is first to listen
In the wake of Black Lives Matter, and social media discussions about Civil War monuments, Confederate flags, white privilege, and #metoo, there was a season in which a poet friend of mine began ending all of his social media posts with the simple statement: “I’m listening.” This was for him part of a posture toward that which we cannot understand from our own experience, a posture that listens first to understand. I am grateful that our friendship has grown as we have both endeavored to engage life and others with more humility and hospitality.
I say that the work of the artist is first to listen, because our power to express and give language is far more powerful and meaningful when we mature past making it primarily about ourselves. Our stories do have importance, but the primary work of the artist is not self-expression. Our engagement with our own story should serve to deepen our capacity for presence with and to others. That is counter, I think, to what has been a very individualistic culture drawn to celebrity. I am hopeful that is changing.
T. S. Eliot wrote a wonderful essay entitled Tradition and the Individual Talent in which he discusses how the writer does not write in a vacuum, but as part of a conversation that started before s/he writes and will continue on long after.
The challenge I hope that I am accepting in my work embraces humility in both of these contexts: first, in valuing the stories of others and finding empathy and shared joy, and second, recognizing that my work is a part of a larger conversation and finding my voice within that context.
4. Hold Up A Mirror
I meet monthly with a spiritual director, David. This is a practice I’ve had now going on five years. There are times toward the end of some of our sessions that he does something he refers to as holding up a mirror, to reflect back to me what he sees, as a friend on the journey. It is so valuable to have a trusted friend that knows the deep places of my journey to serve me with this sacred act of friendship. Knowing the value of this has not only made me desire to be a better friend to those within my community, but also has caused me to ask how I can incorporate this into my music. How can my music hold up a mirror to the stories of listeners, as a friend along the journey? I know that for me personally, songs that have been this kind of friend along the journey have been the most influential and meaningful.
5. Value every relationship, but watch out for energy drains
There are plenty of people lined up to sell some kind of promotional effort. It would be easy to burn through lots of money, time, and energy really fast for little benefit. Know what your goals are and be strategic about the tools and resources you use. Nothing replaces building meaningful relationships, and a commitment to cultivating your craft.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Wow, that is a huge question! My mind initially goes in several diverse directions, but given the opportunity I would want to sit and spend some time with Bill Gates. I am inspired by the way he and his wife steward their wealth and influence for the good of others through their foundation. I think there is something to be caught by a person who lives in this way. We are at our best when we are investing in and celebrating the success of others. A mentor once said to me, “Don’t pray to become wealthy; pray that you might become a good steward.” As an artist, I obviously consider myself a creative person. I believe strongly that the most creative thing we can do is to invest in the success of others, in all the ways and forms that can take on. I think the mark of a truly generous person is an individual who sincerely desires to see others go beyond where their own gifts, abilities, food fortune, and determination have brought themselves. I would love to hear Bill talk about his passion, motivation, and turning points in life that brought this about in his character.
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Thank you for these great insights. This was very inspiring!