Are We There Yet? - Part 1: Do We Ever Truly ‘Get There’?
By Seth Milliner - 04/23/2006 - 01:29 PM EDT
A Roadmap to Getting Started and Getting Noticed in the Christian Music Industry
The roads to so many dismal locales are “paved” with those good intentions we keep hearing about. Whenever I think of that old proverb (not actually in Proverbs) for some reason my mind immediately turns to long, arduous, car rides with family members fighting over the most pedantic and hair-splitting of travel-related challenges. Road maps, the brainchild of individuals smarter than me to assist with the reaching of one’s desired destination, were as good as firewood for the sparks that inevitably wound up flying from the seats of our 1987 Ford Escort Wagon. Erroneous street names on the 10 year old 20-fold document made the road map a martyred soul to blame for every tactless lack of judgment while simultaneously acting as the vindicating authority declaring winners and losers to disputes giving validity to passing comments like “we should’ve turned right at Albuquerque”. On occasion our pilot was able to get us to our eccentric destination without the use of maps, to which there seemed to be some degree of bragging rights won for such an accomplishment even if he did take twice as long and expend twice as much gas to do it. At some point though, I started realizing that even road maps are subject to interpretation. And, strangely enough, the whiney eight year old in the back (me) relentlessly requesting bathroom breaks and status updates ad nauseam while en route to Nantucket Island didn’t help the situation.
Recently I’ve been blessed with some outlets to assist some musical artists and consultants that are navigating the not-always-calm seas of the Christian music industry. It occurred to me throughout the process that there are many subtle nuances that make working your way up the echelons of the success ladder in this industry, from the business perspective, vastly different from that of the secular world. So in an effort to remove some of the mystique from such common questions as “how can I get noticed?”, “what do I do next with my music?” and “how do I get my music on Christian radio?”, I’ve decided to try to put together an essay series exhausting my experience and knowledge on these issues. And yes, I will include the compulsory “two cents” editorials here and there. This posting, the first of the series, is specifically targeted to the musical artist just starting out. Subsequent articles will pick up where the previous one left off, if I plan and prepare them the way I should. These are always the kinds of essays that you write and realize a couple days later that you forgot some very important part and as such they, like most albums created in studios, never really feel like they’re “finished” and “ready” so much as the creators simply run out of time. So while I will try to cram as much knowledge and experience as I can in as few words as possible (yeah right), please note that this is in no way an “all you need to know” synopsis.
Lesson #1: There’s no such thing as knowing “all you need to know” in this industry anyway.
I cringe a little bit every time I read the sub-title of this article. Especially the “getting noticed” part. I go back and forth constantly with the merit of being successful as a Christian artist. At what point does a Christian artist playing music “for Jesus” really cease to be a work for the kingdom due to the publicity machine that is constantly in play and seemingly necessary to make a living? When does the focus shift? Is it a shared focus? These are all questions you’ll find yourself constantly evaluating as you sojourn down this path (and which my previous posts have explored in detail, so we’ll skip that topic in depth at this time). Suffice it say however, there are those out there will dislike you for no other reason than you are trying to be successful at playing and selling Christian music. For one, let’s face it, it’s easier than the secular market. There’s an international network of venues and promoters established, especially throughout the U.S. I’ve come across my share of secular artists that don’t have the same level of respect for musicians and bands that take the “Christian music” route and it didn’t have anything to do, necessarily, with religious or philosophical differences. Sure, Christ’s church will always be persecuted for sharing the gospel and for simply existing, but I’m not even talking about that. The disrespect I’m talking about stems from a belief that there’s a built-in touring circuit in hopping from church to church catering to the heart-strings of compassionate pocketbooks and lofty-eyed idealist youth pastors. Their objections are considerable due to personal experiences with, or rumored stories about fellow artists that have in fact taken advantage of the situation. I can sympathize with their jealousy even if it is misplaced. There’s no secular counterpart to the musical network with deep pockets like Christ’s church. Keep that in mind as you book shows at churches, talk pastors and youth ministers into booking you or your band, and are deciding whether you want to incorporate things like ‘heart-felt’ worship into your sets. Just be sure to check your motives. That’s all I’m saying. You stop being true to what you say you are and what you’re doing, people will see through it and your odds at success in this industry plummet if you get labeled “insincere,” “disingenuous,” “two-faced,” or “hypocritical”. Phrases like “you’ll never work in this town again” never rang more true. Worse still, you have to live with yourself after. I will attempt to address some of these internal moral dilemmas some of you may face with your decisions to take the various paths, as part of my coverage on this topic throughout the series.
And just remember, years from now when you find yourself on route 66 on your way to headline some hugely sold out show on a fully outfitted tour, and you’re running late because you should’ve turned right at Albuquerque…remember…it’s never the road map’s fault. And it’s OK. Because this, if you’ll pardon the cliché, is just as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Look for subsequent follow-up articles to this posting on www.musesmuse.com.
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