6 Wrong Reasons For Being In Christian Music

Posted: August 3, 2013 in Helpful Tips, Music Business, News
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by Eric Nordhoff

 

I’ve worked in the Christian Music industry since 1996.  I’ve seen a lot of things that are good about our industry and I’ve seen things that are not so good.  Our industry is filled with many, many good people with sincere, righteous motivations.  The challenge we all face as an industry is how do we make Christian music for the right reasons and avoid the wrong ones.  So, in this first part of a series of blog posts on the Christian Music Industry, I want to talk about some of the most common wrongreasons people have for entering the Christian music industry.

To view the Vlog Posts on this subject, watch these videos:


There are people in the Christian music industry that are miserable.  You know why?  They aren’t supposed to be in it!  Maybe it’s because they’re called to make some other form of music.  Or they simply may not be ready, able or even called to be in Christian music.  If this is you, please spare everyone, including yourself, a lot of heartache and striving.  PLEASE!!  So, with that in mind, here are 6 wrong reasons for being in Christian music…

Reason #1 You’ve always been creative, musically talented and you love God, so naturally, you should make Christian music.

Let me just break the ice here and say if you want to be as creative as you can be without limitations, Christian music isn’t for you.  The Christian music industry, no matter the sub-genre (rock, AC, worship, black gospel, etc), is set up to encourage people that are already believers or for evangelical purposes – to minister to the lost.  If you want to make music and minister a message full time that speaks to these two important needs, you are on the right road by doing Christian music.  Our entire industry is setup to serve these two main needs – whether it be Christian radio, touring, festivals, retail, TV or online outlets.

 

If this doesn’t excite you and might make you feel limited to only writing and singing about God or for God, then Christian music might not be for you.  I think you would be better served being a Christian and making God-honoring music for a mainstream audience.  There are far fewer limitations or boundaries to your creativity.

 

You shouldn’t feel guilty or less of a Christian for making music for a mass audience.  God still loves you and He gifted you that way.  You, more than likely, will gain more respect and a more solid fan base if you pursue what God has really called you to do rather than doing anything with a motivation to please others or please some sort of spiritual guilt or shame someone else puts on you for not doing Christian music.

Reason #2 You grew up in church singing Christian music all your life and you want to make your parents proud.

I’ve seen young talented people who grew up in church all their lives make a career out of singing Christian and Gospel music, but 5 years later, they’re miserable because they were never really called to it.  A very sincere motivation.  You’re young and you’ve impressed your church members, your parents, your family and friends with your musical abilities leading worship, performing special music or singing in the choir growing up.  Well, people in church or friends and family might have sincere motivations, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily for you. You should be mature enough to decide for yourself if you’re ready and are called.  Our industry gets this wrong all the time.

 

This is a typical story – well-meaning parents bring their teenagers to Nashville to take meetings with industry people or perform at GMA’s Immerse for instance.  Those are all good things.  But if you don’t know for sure what kind of music you want to make and you’re doing it because your parents are strongly encouraging you to do it, yet you feel a sense of pressure or obligation to please them, you’re not going to be happy in the end.  It’s okay to say no to it right now.  Wait until you’re ready spiritually and emotionally to handle life on the road singing for God.  A side note, I’ve seen marriages fall apart because of disagreements and stress about a child’s career path.

 

A word of caution to parents: are you willing to sacrifice anything for your kids career these days – even your marriage?  Please make sure you’re marriage and family is ready to handle the added stress of a career for your child.  I can recommend you to talk with several parents of Christian artists whose marriages became second priority to their kids’ ‘success’.

Reason #3 Christian music will make you famous.

Buuaaahhhaaaaahaaahaaa!  LOL.  That’s funny.  Ok, let’s be real, most people that make a living doing Christian music, aren’t famous.  Yes, okay, there are artists that have achieved a certain bit of fame as Christian artists, but it’s usually been a result of recording music that has more mass appeal (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Sixpence None The Richer and Switchfoot are the only real famous Christian music artists that have had enough name recognition with the masses).  But, 99% of the other artists making a living in Christian music, do it because they love God and love people.  They do it to serve God and serve others.  That must be your motivation.  It’s really hard work and you face the same amount of rejection as anyone else. I remember when a new artist released her first album.  Her name was Katy Hudson – it was a Christian album that went nowhere.  She didn’t become famous until she released her second album and started doing mainstream music and changed her name to Katy Perry.

Reason #4  You will make lots of money in Christian music.

I’m almost tempted to laugh again. Just like with fame, there are very few people that make a lot of money in Christian music.  Oh yes, you can do well financially if you have carved out a specific niche in the genre.  If you give and serve your fans for a long time, you can have a long and rewarding career in Christian music.  You don’t have to become ultra famous or ultra popular to make a good living at it and provide well for your family.  It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and a good team of people around you to be successful in doing it full time.  But, money shouldn’t be your motivation.

Yes, we depend on income to continue doing what we are doing.  It takes money to put artists on tour, record music, buy gear and equipment and to market and promote music.  Even if you are ‘only in it for the ministry’, it still takes money to do ministry.  So, how do you still do ministry without selling your soul to the god of money?

Part of the challenge is that in Christian music, there is less money to go around.  And, in most cases, it costs just as much to put an artist/band on tour as a mainstream artist, but the return is usually far less.  Read an excerpt of a recent article from Beliefnet.com where then Gospel Music Association President, John Styll, is interviewed – and you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about:

“Artists on tour are expected to deliver a high level of production to an audience that is not willing to pay ticket prices that approximate those for shows in other genres with similar levels of production,” Styll explains.

Madonna’s upcoming show at Madison Square Garden, lists ticket prices from $64.50 to $354.50. Believe it or not, people do pay that much to see mainstream artists.
Tickets for the upcoming Jonas Brothers show at the San Diego Sports Arena are a much more reasonable $40-$80. That’s comparable to tickets for Christian music’s hottest act, Casting Crowns, upcoming show at Christian Heritage Church in Tallahassee, FL, where ticket prices range from $25 to $60.

The difference? The San Diego Sports Arena seats a lot more people than the Christian Heritage Church. More tickets sold means more income generated, which covers more of the bells and whistles needed to put on a first class show.

“The problem,” Styll explains, “is transportation, sound, lights, etc., cost the same. Thus their margins are pinched. Now, with the extremely high cost of fuel, it is even more economically challenging for gospel artists.”

And don’t forget that artists like Casting Crowns also do ministry shows. The band is also playing a show in October in Lucedale, MS, where tickets are just $10-$15. (I can’t remember the last time Madonna played a show where tickets where $10.) Gas costs for Jonas Brothers or Madonna tour bus costs the same amount as a Casting Crowns tour bus. But at the end of the trip, the mainstream artists have more money to cover those costs.

Reason #5  It will be just like church – almost like heaven.  Everyone is nice, serves one another and loves one another.

This is a misconception I made when entering my first job in the Christian music industry at age 24.  I actually thought people in Christian music would be a lot like church.  After all, they all went to church – some of them even went to the same church as me.  I was young and naive.  I had just accepted Christ into my heart one year earlier and was very much on fire for God.  Well, I was in for a rude awakening.

 

It wasn’t like church.  Christian music was, and still is, a business first.  And sometimes you can be incredibly disappointed in the actions of the people in it.  It isn’t Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  Christian music works in much the same way as the pop, country or rock music industries.  The only thing that’s different is that it’s harder to know who you can trust in Christian music.  There’s a thick layer of ‘religiousity’ that covers almost everything.  Sometimes we play church, sometimes we play major record label.

 

I honestly don’t think we in Christian music are any worse or better than mainstream music people, it’s just that it gets complicated when you mix a Christian environment and business – especially Christianity and music business.  It’s an entertainment business, after all.  And the systems are structured very similar to mainstream music.  So, if you combine that with the fact that it’s harder to become famous, harder to make money and harder to find true happiness if you try to find it in worldly things, you can truly get lost in all of the confusion and quickly become discouraged by the industry.  I’m grateful I was able to get a good perspective on it early on from mentors and people I found I could trust.

Reason #6  You intend to use Christian music as a stepping stone to eventually do mainstream music.

Some people think Christian music is an easier path than making it big in mainstream music.  That may be true and it may not – it depends on how you look at it.  If you have no interest in ministering to people, you’re going to be miserable in Christian music.  If you are not ready to play in front of small crowds for very little money, traveling in stinky vans, staying in strangers homes that the church set you up with, then you’ll be miserable singing Christian music.

 

Or, you may not think you’re talented enough to make it in mainstream, so surely the Christian music industry will take you.  It’s sort of a fall back because you couldn’t make it in mainstream.  Please hear me – we don’t need or want unmotivated, semi-talented people writing, producing, playing and singing in our industry.  Doing Christian music well takes hard work, talent, perseverance, relentlessness and purpose.  It takes a calling from God to do this well.  You face lots of rejection and even spiritual warfare when you’re doing Christian music.  To be ‘successful’ in our industry takes a strong faith.

 

OK, well now that I’ve completed ruined Christian music for you (I hope not), I want to focus next on the right reasons for making Christian music.  While I may have seemed negative about the industry, I’m very much pro-Christian music industry.  I make a living at it together with my wife.  We love the people we work with.  My point with this post is that just because you are a Christian who has gone to church all his or her life, you love to be in the spotlight and you see some people making good money in it, that doesn’t mean you should be making Christian music.  You have to have a calling and a deep purpose.  And that’s what I’m going to cover in my next post
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Comments
  1. Keith Mohr says:

    excellent article Eric! You speak the truth!
    Keith

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