*This is the first in a series of blogs I will be doing throughout the summer to dispel common myths about the Christian music industry as experienced through my eyes*
Artists get a bad rap.
There are the horror stories. "We only eat green m&m's" or "We do not want any volunteers or crew members asking us for autographs" or "We need pink furniture, a green room with shag carpet, twelve lava lamps, and an ample supply of weed" or "We need organic laki-laki root from the base of the Himalayan Mountains brought in by a native, riding a yak, on a plate made from the bones of the cousin of the laki-laki."
I don't know what a Laki-Laki is. I just made it up. But you get my point.
We actually did an interview at XM Sirius Radio in New York city where staff members told us about a huge mainstream, multi-platinum band who recently visited for a live show. Their manager wrote ahead of time to inform the employees at the sprawling high-rise studio that "If anyone made direct eye contact with band members, they would immediately leave," so please, "Instruct employees to look at the ground as they pass band members. No one is to engage in conversation or direct eye contact with any of the artists."
I'm not making that up. And no, I will not tell you what band it was!
It's understandable then, that when the average person hears about an artist's "demands" they cringe and right the artist off as greedy, rich, petty, and way too demanding.
The sad truth is, there is always someone who ruins it for everyone! So yes, some artists- both in the mainstream market and in the Christian market- can be quite difficult to work with.
This acknowledgement aside, I believe the general population has quite a few misconceptions about artists, record labels, radio, contracts, and those little things called "riders" that present our terrible demands!
Over the summer- I'd like to create some space to dis-spell some of those myths based on my own experience within the industry. So, if you have questions, I welcome them! Otherwise, I will dis-spell the common misconceptions that I overhear the average-non industry- person talking about.
When we first signed our record deal, five years ago, my dad was completely confused. Being the supportive dad that he is, he wanted to know every single detail. Every person, every contract, every percentage, every rider, every radio station... he wanted to know it all. Who did what, where did money come from, how contracts were formed and how they were enforced. I spent weeks drawing diagrams out on paper explaining the complex web of managers, booking agents, lawyers, publicists, publishers, distribution companies, a&r reps, label reps, radio team reps, radio station programmers, radio station managers, radio d.j.'s, billboard charts, ac format, chr format, producers, album sales, co-writes, and royalties. Well- and a few other things.
We both learned early on why the phrase "starving musician" existed: because there are so many people who get a piece of you! Sometimes it's hard to keep it all straight. But let's just say, that even with a song like Hope Now on the radio, after paying small percentages to the record label, the publisher, the distributor, the managers, and the individual writer of the song... there is very little left over.
With that being said, the industry is tricky and complicated. And both mainstream markets and christian markets are financially suffering right now.
When I say "mainstream" I refer to pop, rock, oldies, country, r&b, classical, and other genres of mainstream music. Christian music is just another genre. Music inspired by faith. There are "Christian" record labels, concerts, radio stations, etc. The industry- artistically- has grown leaps and bounds over the past decade. But financially, it has nearly crashed and burned.
In my five years on a label, I have sold 100,000 records (that's a combination of two different albums).
Taylor Swift's album, Speak Now, sold 1,004,700 million in the first week.
So perhaps the first myth to tackle is the fact that most Christian artists- barring the likes of TobyMac, Jeremy Camp, Natalie Grant, etc. do not make a lot of money. Even the artist's listed do not make millions like mainstream artists do, I am only saying they do not struggle to pay their bills each month- whereas many Christian artist's do. We do not possess the equity that the mainstream market does- nor do we appeal to the "mainstream"- this is most noticeably on display when you compare the number of cd's sold and paychecks earned between the artist's in the two different markets.
We go in with eyes wide open. We have not been duped and in no way feel sorry for ourselves. We work hard, play hard, and love what we have chosen to do with our lives. For me, nothing is better that pouring love and hope into people. Nothing is more fulfilling than writing songs, creating music, and leading people to a place where they can worship or relax or just find peace in the midst of all the chaos. I willingly live in an itty bitty apartment and drive my old clunker to do what I do. I love it. I could do nothing else.
I know many Christian artists. Some of us make more money than others. Some of us squek by. Others live comfortably. Still, others live very comfortably. Some sell a million albums, but most just hope to hit 75,000 these days.
But we all do it because we love it. We feel called to it. No one forces us and for the average Christian artist- though money is sparse- we continue to live this crazy type of life because we can do no other. We love art. We love music. We love God. We love people. And that has all collided into this industry known as "Christian music."
On the Road Again
So how do you "make money"? If you are the writer of a song, you get a small amount of money every time your song is played on the radio. When an album sells on itunes or amazon the money goes to the record label. They function like a bank. They upfront the money for your albums, your radio budget, your producer, etc. But everything a label pays for is "re-coupable" which means you have to pay it all back!!!! So when albums sell, the money goes to the record label. When the record label has been completely paid back, then, any money that comes in is split between the label and the artist. And it's not a 50/50 split! The label has the upper hand- that's just the business of it- they have to make money too.
The label- at least the Christian labels I am familiar with- does not give the artist money to live off of. They simply pay for the album and the promotion of the album.
The artist lives off of concerts. We hit the road over 150 days a year to perform. We count on contracts from promoters and merchandise sales. The more shows you do, the more money you bring in. Conversely, the better your record label does promoting you to radio stations and convincing stations to play your music- the more shows you can book- because the more people know your music and want to see you in concert.
So we count on shows. We rent a bus or a van or jump in an airplane and hope that the money we make covers the cost of travel, food, lodging, AND that we make enough money in merch to pay a small salary to each band member after all of that is said and done.
Imagine then- why a rider is important. It's the artist's way of saying to the promoter- "Hey, we live off of a bus! We have been traveling for over 100 days with our two year old! When we get to your city we really need some grilled chicken instead of another fast food meal or pizza! We really need a nice hotel because we've been sleeping in bunk beds! We really need a green room with privacy because we are a bit exhausted! We really want to give our best on stage and to every person we meet... so help us by making us feel at home. And serve people in the audience by making sure the gear, sound, lights, etc. are adequate, safe, and fully functioning."
While a contract is legal- as Christian artists- it's more than a contract to us... it's an agreement to minister together and for both parties to be integritous and excellent.
Imagine then, how frustrating it was to arrive at a show this weekend where the festival owners told me an hour before the show that the $4500 which they legally agreed to pay us did not exist. Neither did the money exist for any of the other bands.
The volunteers kept saying, "God will provide," and "This is what God planned." They looked at me as if to say, "You're on the radio. You're a Christian with a lot of money. You understand. You can shoulder the blow. You should do the right thing for "God" and take it quietly. The festival owners meant well. And that should be enough for you big time, famous artists with money to spare." One lady even prayed over us that we would be "blessed in other ways" and would "be brought to understand the predicament and trust God to take care of it all."
Problem is, that doesn't pay my bills this morning. And quite honestly, I'm not sure how I will pay them.
The festival said they had a "dream" and they were just doing what "God told them to do" by creating and legally signing numerous contracts, in the $75,000 range, which they never intended to pay, because the money never existed in the first place.
I believe God to be faithful, I have seen his faithfulness in my life over and over. And if you read my blog and know anything about me, you know I am abundant in grace and deeply in love with Jesus. I believe we have a creator who is faithful.
But I would never rely on God's faithfulness at the expense of deceiving people into believing there was funding- when there never was. That's not faith. That is illegal.
Thing is, we paid $4,000 to buy five plane tickets from Nasvhille and Dallas to Northern California. We used some of that to pay very small salaries to the musicians who played- and as I usually do- I didn't take a salary- because I wait until after the show and see what's left over.
So the assumption that artists have money just because they are on the radio is the first misconception I want to tackle. Some of them do, to be sure, some Christian artists make a really great living- and they use much of their money to bless other people through amazing organizations they have created- like Stephen and Mary Beth Chapman with orphans. Jars of Clay with clean water in Africa. Natalie Grant and safe houses for abused girls. Audio Adrenaline and supporting a particular orphanage. These people do amazing things with the money they earn in the industry.
But the rest of us are just everyday people, balancing bills and trying to make wise financial decisions.
We have heart. We have passion. We have calling. And we make it work- show by show.
To think otherwise makes us bigger than we actually are. Larger than life. Glamorous and other than. And- it hurts us as artists. Because people do what they did to us this weekend and think that it's ok, because, we can take the blow. We're on the radio.
Well, we can't take the blow.
It's a sad testament to the world that one would use the name of "God" to support their misguided dreams and in turn believe the misconception that a band can get back on their feet easily after being cheated out of $4,500.
Misconception # One:
The majority of Christian artists live in modest homes. Drive modest cars. Make a modest income. And rely on the integrity of concert promoters and the contracts that they sign in order to pay our bills.
Being on the radio does not equal being rich.
Do you have questions about how things work in the "industry"?
I'd love to answer your burning questions and maybe help dispel a few myths along the way!