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How To Become A Christian Recording Artist

Some of my friends asked me to put together a list of things you need to do to make a living from Christian music. So below you will find my personal opinion on what you need to do to be successful. I warn you that this is my opinion and not the only way to succeed. There are always exceptions to the rule. However, these things have worked for me, so I’ll share what I know. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, so if you’re easily offended, I apologize in advance. Before I begin, let me dispel some myths.

Myth 1 If there was a record label to support me, I could work full time

So, so, so bad. I have a better idea, use up all your credit cards, take out a huge loan, borrow money from your family and live off of it while building your music career. What? No receivers? Why not? In fact, that’s exactly what the tag does. You are living off money that is not yours. When you’re touring to support your new CD, guess where the proceeds are going? You have to pay back the money they gave you to live on. I’m going to say this once: STOP USING THE APP! I did it for years. When I finally stopped and focused on making my music my business, the record deal found me. What they would offer as a nameless/momentless band is going to be crap anyway. Go and sell 10,000 copies of the self-produced demo and then we can discuss record deals and if it makes sense. Until then, shut up and play.

Myth 2 I can only play at churches/Christian events and survive

How can I ask this? Christians are cheap! For the most part, Christians will not give you the financial support you need to survive. This may vary by region, but people think ministry = free. Be careful how you present yourself so you don’t get pigeonholed here. You can be a Christian and a Christian artist. Let the music speak for itself and share what’s in your heart when you get the chance. If you try to call yourself just a Christian artist, you won’t be able to play enough to survive.

The fact is, I can play 3 hours of covers in a bar and make more money than 200 people’s love offerings. Shocked? Do not be. Sad but true. Be open to playing where you are needed, where your message is needed. If churches can’t support themselves financially, how can they support you? According to research, 2% of churchgoers pay tithes (10% of the total). I don’t want to bet on these odds for my family’s well-being.

Continue to the Top 5 list:

1) Be knowledgeable

I once heard Billy Joel say that he was successful for so long because he was competent. Most musicians aren’t as competent as they could be and wear out faster. If singing is your thing, take lessons, improve, learn, practice! The same can be said about the given instrument. If you’re just into gaming, OK isn’t good enough for full time. Lots of mediocre musicians give concerts for free, which makes it difficult to make a living. So be better! Be much better. The back half of this is acceptance of the Truth. If your parents tell you you’re great, get a second opinion. If strangers come up to you after hearing you play and rave over your music, now you’re talking!

2) Be unique

There are many good performers out there. What separates you from the pack? Is this your singing style? Do you play the guitar? There has to be something that makes you, you! Whether it’s loops, different tuning, a certain look or whatever; watch people and see what he will do next. Tom Jackson’s seminars are a great resource for creating memorable moments. I have had Tom’s home course for 4 years and refer to it often. I build my setlists around his formulas. Guess what, it works! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just research and learn wisely. Find yourself before others find you.

3) Good recording

So you’ve practiced hard, put on a good show, and made memories, now what? If you do these things well enough, others will remember you. You need a recording of yourself. This is the first real key to full-time employment. A good recording gets you gigs, a bad recording doesn’t. Record in your home studio or go to a bigger studio? Good question. My experience is that most of us don’t have the talent to make a good recording at home. Please note that good equipment does not equal good recording. You can have all the bells and whistles, but if you don’t know how to use them, you’re wasting money.

I used to have great equipment at home but didn’t know how to use it to its full potential. I sold it all and used the money to get it professionally recorded. The results were fantastic and allowed me to get a quality product that was a true reflection of how I sounded. I used this CD to send to venues and book gigs. It definitely helped me to go full time. A quick word on recording budget: if you can fix $1000 as your budget, make fewer songs with better production. A great 3-song demo is much more valuable than an average 12-song LP. You’ll sell a lot more at $5 each if they’re high quality. The excellent quality also attracts the attention of those working in the industry. Any prayer with radio play, etc. it will only happen if the quality is excellent!

4) Be a publicity dog

You should take every opportunity to promote yourself. Even the smallest opportunities can lead to bigger and better gaming opportunities. I started playing wherever I could, parties, churches, youth groups, restaurants, charity events, business events, bars, prisons and I was there. Give people a pleasant information. Places like Club Flyers have thousands of postcards and posters printed for very cheap. Use these to give out to everyone at concerts. If there’s another band playing in the area with the same style as you, go to the concert and pass out your material as soon as people leave the venue. What?! Commando style? Yes, a full frontal assault on your prospective audience. Don’t be an ass. Use your head, be enthusiastic and invite people to your next gig. Visit your local radio station and offer to play at events that are coming up. Many times they have a charity event that they would like to have fun at. You have to find it. If you can afford it, hire someone like Ariel Hyatt at Ariel Publicity. He does an absolutely incredible job on a 3 month ad campaign for about a thousand dollars. In the world of advertising, that’s dirt cheap. You can get press, reviews, radio play, and lots of knowledge to help promote yourself. Heck, he got us to play live on Sirius Satellite Radio! One thing’s for sure, if you’re going to wait for opportunities to flood in, you’re not full-time material. I’m sorry.

5) Think outside the box

This phrase is overused, but it’s true. I have done several things that many people would never have thought they would survive. For example, I used to play once a month at a Holiday Inn in their restaurant/bar. I played over 40 covers in 3 hours. I decided to pay in priority points. These insider points are funny money for hotels. Giving them 20-30,000 points is nothing. However, this is 2-3 free nights at any Holiday Inn for you. This is very valuable when you are touring. Limiting expenses is the key to success. For the hotel, this is free entertainment. This is free accommodation for you.

It’s a win-win situation. I also played in many coffee houses in the United States. One of the cafes I also played at was a roaster, meaning they roast their own beans and make their own brands. I offered to take samples of their coffee to all the houses I play at and drop them off. If the venue orders coffee, the roaster pays for my lodging and meals for the trip. Very sweet isn’t it? Necessity is the mother of ingenuity.

If you really want to make a living from performance, all of the above will help. However, if you are not willing to risk everything, don’t worry. I don’t want to rain on the parade and I understand that we all have responsibilities. But if God has placed a true calling in your life, nothing can stand in your way. It’s too easy to find excuses. I did it for years. And I was miserable playing part-time and had little success. Every second I didn’t do what God put on my heart, I felt disobedient. If you don’t feel the same way, then you have the same indescribable pain in your heart, the pain that affects everything in your life, work, marriage, relationships, etc.

Full time is not for you. And you know what, that’s okay. Accept the truth when God calls you to part-time ministry. Make the most of it. You cannot force God’s will. But for those who know it’s all or nothing. I thank you and pray that God gives you the courage to answer the call and leave all reason behind. See you on the road!

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