From my old contacts, I’ve been hearing the Christian Music business has been on the decline for years, and with the economic situation, its gotten quite a bit worse. Certainly for those whose livelyhoods depend on the industry, thats a bad deal at a very bad time. From a kingdom point of view, I’m not so sure this is an entirely bad thing.
Far too many lost site of the passion for sharing the Gospel that drove them to the sector, and instead it was replaced with the concerns of where shall I eat, where shall I sleep, and other revenue related aspects. Far too many idealistic folks freaked out when they found out the Christian music business is brutal, in many ways, much more so than the secular one.
The thing is, Christian music, like all music requires resources. It may be diesel for the bus, cash for tolls, equipment breakdowns/repair, staff, food, medicine, promotion, recording, etc etc etc. To walk in with ones eyes blinded to the business aspect… Ie, I’m doing God’s work, I dont need to be concerned with that, in almost all cases will result in a crash and burn. Remember the parable of the talents, and also the admonition to be as gentle as doves and wise as serpents. By the same token, its pretty easy to end up consumed with the monetary aspect… even going so far as to require payment to hear the Gospel. Some quotes from folks in the industry.
“The money is just drying up,” says John W. Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association. “And it’s not being replaced.”
Industry veteran John J. Thompson is more blunt: “In the last four years, the sky has fallen. The industry is not what it was, and will never be what it was.”
New recording artist Stephanie Smith says she has to work an extra job because “it pays the rent. Music doesn’t. I have a college degree and I have a record deal, and I work at Starbucks. That’s my bread and butter. It’s just not how I envisioned it.”
Many Christian bookstores have closed their doors. Many at radio stations and record companies have lost their jobs. Trade show attendance is way down at gatherings like the recent GMA Week in Nashville, where Styll estimated that registration was down 25 percent, but others thought it was much worse than that; some observers said it seemed like a “ghost town” compared the typical bustle of a GMA Week.
And why is this occurring…. well, the same issues that have affected all music, as noted in Changes in the Business of Music are occurring in the Christian sector. The thing is… per memory, and also recent observation, while Christian groups are unlikely to blow revenue on drugs and alcohol, they also leave a great deal to be desired on the part of managing their resources, even with those who focus near exclusively on the revenue side. The combination of a downturned economy, and a lack of attention to detail is likely to be deadly to many.
By the same token, this is the time of all times to be out in the world.
Recording artist Matthew West says many musicians are choosing not to tour during the recession, when that’s just what many listeners might need the most.
“It’s the opposite of what needs to be happening,” he says. “We need to be out there.” West did a 30-city fall tour to smaller crowds than usual, “but we feel like God had us there for a reason. You’re on the road and thinking, How are we going to pay for this? But people are losing their jobs, they’re in the audience, and they need encouragement.”
When all is said and done… I’m guessing this may be a time of amazing prosperity in the Christian Music sector. Those dedicated, and skilled to make it happen will. Its not unlike my old friend (who passed away in the 90’s) who started touring during the depression era. He had lost his job in engineering, and turned to music to make a living, just when the musicians were leaving in droves. He did quite well… but its not business as usual, and his passion was as much as, if not more than his drive to survive monetarily. I see similar attitudes in some of the artists interviewed.
Motivation is now the key, says Thompson. “If you’re waiting for the payday, it sounds like it. If you’re really in it for something else, the payday takes care of itself. Either it comes, or it doesn’t—but you’ve had such a good time doing it anyway, you don’t care.”
The economy has forced us to be more creative about the way we go about things, and that’s a really good thing. If we needed a reset, and I guess that would go for the church too, then praise God for it.”
“From a kingdom perspective, I am more keenly aware of being a good steward than I’ve ever been in 20-something years of doing this. The fact that we are able to make music and put it out to people is a precious gift. That we have money to do that is something that we need to be grateful for.
All quotes taken from Christianity Today’s article on Music in Recession.
Keep an eye on tourtips as I periodically look at ways to enhance revenue, and look at alternate ways of making a go of things.