Posted by: worshipguitarguy | November 3, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Touring as a Christian Artist/Musician Part 1

From time to time, I’ll meet someone that wants to take their talent and heart for worship before audiences all over the world.  For me, conversations like these are always intriguing… and in the process I’ll often ask a couple questions to help me better see the motivation driving their desire.  Sometimes I’ll meet someone with a very clear understanding of the work they want to pursue.  But at other times I’ll hear signals that the person I’m talking to “romanticizes” life in the Christian music industry in a way that doesn’t line up with reality.

Before I go any further let me say that I’ve never played for a major Christian artist, and the extent of my “tours” involve driving an hour or two to help lead worship with various worship leaders I know.  To borrow a line from Bart Millard of MercyMe, my only payment is often “Taco Bell and directions home.”  And I’m perfectly content with that.  But I’m fortunate to have close friends at all levels of the Christian music industry, from the local artist trying to scrape together the cash to record an album to one who’s a band member for a multi-platinum Dove Award winning artist.  Out of discussions with those friends, I’ve learned many things about the joys, struggles and realities of life as a professional musician.  And truthfully, most of them can’t see themselves doing anything but playing music, but at the same time their stories have helped me have a more realistic understanding of what their line of work is like…

Being a touring musician in the Christian industry isn’t a ticket to financial success:  This is a given for someone who lives in a one bedroom apartment trying to get industry professionals to listen to their work, but surprisingly it can also apply to the band member traveling with that artist who’s name we all know.  I know of a guitar player who tours with an “A-list” Christian musician, only to serve lattes in the drive-thru at Starbucks during the week to make ends meet. 

The reality is that most music teachers and many full time worship leaders in the local church are more financially secure than many musicians you’ll see touring on the road.

Being a full time touring worship musician doesn’t mean you’ll be on that “Spiritual High” all the time:  Many of you know what I’m talking about here… you go to a camp or conference where there’s a worship leader that takes you to “a place” you’ve never experienced before in worship.  It might be easy to wonder if that musician lives every day of their lives on that “high with God.” 

The reality of it is that those people are more like you and I than you may think.  They wake up each morning with pressure from record labels and promoters to write great music.  They face issues with family and friends that the rest of us do.  Unfortunately though, they’re often on the road at times when they’d rather be home supporting their loved ones.  And life on the road brings a whole new set of temptations that are harder to deal with when you’re tired, and lacking the support of your local church and the people who love you and hold you accountable.

The Christian Music Industry is a Business:  It’s awesome to have an industry dedicated to sharing the love of God with others, however it’s easy to forget that it’s still a business driven industry.  Artists that sell have more backing than those who do not, regardless of musical talent and creativity.  Most tours are booked based on financial projections and profitability.  Getting a gig with an artist is a business decision, and there are times that musicians on tours don’t get along with each other.  Musicians I know have told me that when moments of conflict come up, they have to accept it’s often just a business or personality issue, and not something to overspiritualize or take personally.

In Part 2, we’ll take a look at a little more of what a life on the road means, as well as some of the challenges songwriters and musicians face.

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Responses

  1. Hey for all of those theory junkies who read on here I need help with the name of a chord! I play it all the time and call it a B2. I’m sure I’m wrong because it doesn’t even contain a F#.
    6th string 7th fret index finger
    5th string muted
    4th string 9th fret ring finger
    3rd string 8th fret middle finger
    1st and 2nd strings open

    Thanks for your help

    • I’d call it B(add11)(no.5)

  2. very good points and a valuable lesson for all aspiring musicians out there.

    but i hope this does not hinder anybody whose heart is really in serving by being a touring musician.

  3. That’s a great point Rhoy… I’ve kind of sat on these posts for the better part of a month or so, trying to work the wording around so they won’t be a discouragement, but at the same time, they’ll give a good inside look at what a professional musician really goes through.

    The final catalyst to put these out came from one of my best friends who is touring right now, and looking at some of the things he’s been facing in the past six months of his journey… and his story is pretty normal of alot of guys and gals in Nashville and LA right now…

  4. Good points.

    At college we do a unit called “Music industry” which could be seen as a big discouragement. I think in some respects it’s good to shatter the myths surrounding fame and success as a musician. I know that if i want to do any work as a “session guitarist” i will have to work hard, and it will not be a secure job, I’ll have to supplement it with teaching, and other things!

  5. Your post brings to mind a touring musician who put his heart and soul into an album and then was told by a member of his management one night before hitting the stage that he should go right back to Nashville and record a happy worship album ASAP so that people would forget his controversial new release. Yes, CCM is a business. Touring is hard, and the fans can be just as deluded and demanding, if not more so, than fans of mainstream music. But I shudder to think of what my life would be like without the challenge, inspiration, and comfort these artists offer. I respect them for all they go through and have seen the deeply human side of these “stars.” If you’re thinking of going into the industry, go with your eyes wide open. But if God has called you there know that you have a powerful ministry opportunity that could make it worth all the struggle.

  6. Once you are getting paid to do something, it loses a certain amount of purity. I’d prefer to play for free and do something else for $. That makes it more difficult for the enemy to cause others to question my motives.

  7. Good blog! Most indies I come in contact with have no idea what they are trying to break into. It’ very hard work, you make hardly any money, and you are away from home and family. You better count the costs before trying to be a full time Christian musician.

  8. Rick, I agree to a point, but at some point, you’ve got to eat. And I think that, when God calls you to something like this, he doesn’t call you to go into it half-way. If it is your calling to be a musician, then you should be a musician as much as you can, even if it means you get a little hungry or become fabulously wealthy, which are equally potentially deadly. And in the end, it doesn’t matter what others think of your motives, as long as you are actively questioning them yourself.

  9. For me, it works best if I play for free. I turn down offers for financial compensation. I’m kind of going with Paul’s tent-making style of service. When Paul was travelling as a missionary, he worked as a tent maker so no one could say he had selfish motives when he asked them to change their way of life. It mattered to Paul what others thought of his motives.

    I have a job as a health care provider that feeds me just fine.

    I think that playing music for a living is great. I also think that making your living leading worship is great. For me, the problem is dealing with all of the temptations that come with it.

    Not taking money for playing has freed me from many temptations and pressures. Like I said in my other post, this is what “I” do. I am not saying this is what everybody needs to do.

    I thought the point of the initial post is that there are many pitfalls in being a “Christian musician” and this is how I avoid them.

  10. devin, the chord is a B(add4). Yes, you are missing the F#, but it is implied, so it is a B major chord (including B, D#, and implied F#) and you are ADDING the 4 (not suspending like with the Bsus).

    I would suggest using the “thumb-wrap-around” technique to grab the B on the 6th string, now freeing up a finger to put the F# in on the 5th string, same chord, much fuller and hipper:

    6th string 7th fret thumb
    5th string 9th fret ring finger
    4th string 9th fret pinkie
    3rd string 8th fret middle finger
    1st and 2nd strings open

  11. and I am a touring Christian musician, and wholeheartedly agree with the post, that the life is not for the faint-hearted, nor those totally committed. The sacrifice is much larger than viewed from the outside.

    but the benefits are cool, too.

    BOTTOM LINE: what are you TRULY called to? do that.

  12. For Austin and Devin:
    I use that shape often but I just let the low E ring, let the bass/keyboard player take care of the bottom. You can also use it at the 5th fret position for an A and sometimes even at the third for a G sound.
    I mentioned in another response, these chords work really good for “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” in the key of E. Its too low for some singers though, so you could use a capo.

  13. Rick is dead wrong. I am a touring musician. I freelance as a sideman for all kinds of projects, including Christian Artists. I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to make a living at it since I was in my early 20′s. No purity loss here… every note I am surely thankful for! Scotty

  14. Scotty, nice. I’m glad to see you’ve embraced everything positive.

    Matt

    http://www.rippingguitar.com/online-guitar-lessons-for-beginners.php

  15. I’m a worship leader and guitar teacher and I occasionally travel with artists here and there. It’s cool, but I really think there’s a lot more need for solid musicians that are committed to their local church. I see so many great musicians who are utterly unreliable because they’ll drop any commitment at the last minute if something more exciting comes along. It’s about obeying God’s voice and not about advancing your career. We think touring is “great”, but in God’s eyes, serving a worship leader at a church is just as great.

  16. [...] Worship Guitar Guy [...]


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