Stephen James Hart Exclusive Interview

How would you describe where you are in life right now and how does that affect what you create?

Well, I’m currently living in Redding, CA and working for Bethel Music as their Visual Worship Leader (art direction, creative design, photography etc). I moved here 2 years ago from New Zealand where I’m originally from – and prior to that I’d been working for 8 months for Bethel Music remotely in NZ.

I’m 24 and single, which gives me the luxury of designing the life that I want to live. So I get to fully immerse myself into my job, and work as hard as I can because I don’t really have other personal commitments. I often find myself working weekends and evenings – because I genuinely love my job, and creativity is my biggest passion and joy in life.

Describe your typical schedule, what do you do in a typical day/week?

Ha! Our Bethel Music schedule changes from day to day, let alone week to week! It’s hard to pin-point that one down, but I’d say that my day starts with answering emails and catching up on what’s been happening over night – because we’re a record label with a global influence there are lots of international people that we work with so emails don’t stop over night!

Then, it’s straight into whatever project I’m working on for that month/week – which includes everything from our Bethel Music “Heaven Come Conference” promo material, designing/photographing artwork for our albums, social media content, or prepping for video work.

Describe how you find inspiration or inspire your team.

One thing that I learned very early on in life is, creativity and inspiration doesn’t just happen, it’s curated and it’s hard work. Of course there are wonderful moments when you find something inspiring (a great film, beautiful artwork, social media accounts, books etc), but rather than waiting around to be inspired, our team and myself are constantly hunting down inspiration in the day-to-day. IT’S VITAL. Inspiration is waiting to be found in the mundane, but you’ve gotta be actively looking for it.

Describe one thing you wish everyone knew about working in the creative ministry field and why it is important.

Hmmm. It’s not necessarily profound, but one thing that I wish people knew before considering whether or not to work creatively in ministry is that it’s incredibly rewarding. I’m sure it’s not that way for everyone, but for me I knew very quickly while studying design in NZ, that I didn’t want to try and “climb the corporate ladder” – it’s not wrong by ANY means, it’s just not for me. My greatest pride and joy is throwing my life into my work – His Kingdom work – and seeing people directly impacted eternally by what I’ve done. There’s honestly nothing more rewarding.

What has been one of the most frustrating parts of creative church ministry for you or your team? How did you overcome it?

I think sometimes people have this grandiose idea that working for a church or Christian ministry you’ll be saved from conflict – that somehow because we’re christians we’ll make life sweeter than honey. Obviously that’s what we try to do, but it’s not always the case. I’ve had to learn how to deal with interpersonal-communication difficulties very quickly, because when you leave human interaction “wounds” bleeding, it affects everyone around you, and it directly impacts your ability to steward Heaven’s creativity.

One thing that I love about our CEO Joel Taylor, is his commitment to our team’s “emotional wellness”. We all get paid-for counselling and life coaching if and whenever we need it, which is a tremendous blessing and has saved many of our inter-departmental quarrels or frustrations.

What keeps you going in creative ministry?

For me personally, the fact that I get to design albums and see the direct impact of these songs globally is the sweetest satisfaction and reward that I could ever ask for. On days when it’s hard, or I’m feeling in over my head, I’ll go for a long walk and listen to our albums. I’m instantly reminded of the incredible honor it is to get to do what I do.

If you have (or could) build a creative team or atmosphere, what are some of the key elements you would include?

Joy and laughter. Those are our two team dynamics that have literally saved our creative team on so many occasions. We have this saying in our team “choose joy”, and it’s a kind way of calling someone out if they’re starting to harbor a bad attitude or holding a grudge over something. Our team laughs; a lot. It’s the best medicine and we’re all closer and more inspired because of it. Truly.

Describe your work environment and what helps you thrive in it.

Honestly, the fact that our creative team actually is a family makes all the difference in the world. We all truly love and care for each other – it’s not uncommon for us to take a break in the day and gather to pray for someone or prophecy into their situation. I’m such a people person, so I thrive having friends and family around me all day! I love looking up from my computer and just having a laugh with the team!

Describe how your creative team works:

Over the years the answer to this question has evolved a lot! We start each project (conference, album, campaign etc) with a “kickoff meeting” where the key people involved with that project come together and present the essence of the project to our team.

From that kickoff meeting our creative team takes the notes and ideas we’ve made and dreams together and comes up with between 3-5 different concepts. We then execute these concepts (at a basic minimal level) and bring these concepts to the next meeting called a “creative brief”. This is where we present the comps and the key people pick a direction they like.

Once this is chosen, the full weight of our budget can be thrown into the art execution. For an album, we’d begin to location scout, starting hiring gear etc, and plan the shoot/artwork creation.

After we’ve created the final album cover, we then have a final meeting called an “art direction brief” which is where we present the final cover, and associated assets for that project (social media graphics, banners, promo materials etc). This is the final meeting where the other key people can give input and give feedback.

Then it’s all finalised, our team finishes off the artwork and it gets ready for delivery (print-ready artwork etc).

Tell us the behind the scenes of the projects that come to life and we only see the end product. What do you wish we knew?

Oh boy! There’s SO many things that I wish I could share, we’ve got tons of hilarious stories of album covers that never came to pass, photoshoots that fell flat on their face, concepts that just burned and died!

One of my personal favorites would have to be designing Leeland’s album “Invisible” last year in April 2016. Me and our creative director Lindsey Strand had been working on album cover concepts for a few weeks and we had one that was approved and loved by everyone. Only problem was the cover concept used a painting from an artist in France. We assumed that we’d just reach out to him and follow the process to license the artwork for the album cover – well it turned into a huge deal and his price was far too much for us to justify licensing the art.

So in a bit of a pickle, I turned to Lindsey and said “I mean, it can’t be that hard can it? Let’s buy some paint and make the artwork ourselves!”. Let me just say… I’m proud of us for chasing down that dream…but it was truly a God moment of blessed luck that we were able to create something with paint. Neither of us had any clue what we were doing, and we kinda just made it work. We literally laughed our way through it, it was the funniest afternoon – I wish you could’ve seen it – but hey, that’s the process sometimes!

Stephen James Hart

Visual Worship Leader at Bethel Music

Stephen is the visual worship leader for Bethel Music and also the founder and designer behind The Worship Project.