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.