The Independent Christian Musician
Note: This is a new section we are just starting, as of February, 2016. We will probably grow slowly, but we wanted to get started early so folks would know what we’re working on, and so readers would be able to ask questions about bits we haven’t got to yet. In the meantime, please use the Contact page to ask about anything related to the subject matter of this section. Chances are pretty good we know the answer, or know someone who does, but we just haven’t had time to post it yet.
Are you a Christian who believes that God wants you to use your musical talents for the Lord? Are you a student of the Bible and taking the opportunities you see before you to serve Christ and others? Have you disciplined yourself to continuously improving your musicianship and broadening your range of skills? Are you willing to learn about all the critical business aspects of a musical career or avocation, and to perform them yourself when necessary?
Then it’s time to start thinking of yourself as an “independent artist.” The fact is that, since the earliest days of the “Jesus Movement,” more “Contemporary Christian Musicians” have been independent than not, a flurry of artist signings and subsequent abandonments between 1992 and 2001 notwithstanding. And the truth is that most of today’s “Christian” labels don’t have the resources to make up for an act that isn’t willing to keep working as hard after they are signed as they did before. So you might as well get used to hard work early.
Get used to terms like “Independent Artist” and “Indie Band.” Yes, those terms may have connotations that scare you, and there are a lot of “Indie” artists that you wouldn’t want in your house. But in many ways you’re “in the same boat” with unsigned musicians of every stripe. The upside of that is that a lot of folks have already figured out what works and doesn’t work in the “independent music industry.” And many of them are glad to share what they’ve learned with others.
What is an Independent Artist?
To most people, the term “independent” technically means that you currently have no record label support. This includes folks who have never been signed to a label as well as a surprising number of folks who were signed and aren’t now. In most cases it also means that you have no manager, booking agent, or publicist, so you have to do everything yourself or get friends and family to help.
The good news is that it is possible for independent Christian artists to play concerts and sell CDs while acting as their own record label, manager, booking agent and publicist. Some even tour. A few even make a living.
How “Independent” is “Independent,” Really?
The bad news is that the vast majority of “independent artists” of all stripes are dependent - on day jobs or seasonal employment, on supportive family members, on guitar lesson income, or on anyone or anything else that fills the gap between what they make from their music and what they need to live.
Even those who achieve some sort of full-time performing career don’t necessarily keep it forever. I know that your parents’ insistence that you have a college degree to “fall back on” sounds like they don’t believe in you. I think they believe in you just fine. They just want to redo your room into a home office without worrying that you’ll need it again in five years. Proving them and folks like them wrong will likely be the hardest, if the most rewarding, thing you ever do in your life.
Note: I’m not telling you what everybody else is - that you need a “real job.” But you need to know going in that music is the most demanding “real job” imaginable.
What About Music as an Avocation?
That said, there is nothing at all to keep you from going as far as you can while holding a day job - especially if you have a good one. The tools are basically the same whether you’re a full-time touring musician, or an every-other-weekend local coffeehouse player. So if you want to “dabble” or “test the waters” or some such without completely abandoning your “safety net” job or whatever, that works too. Frankly, that is what I have done most of my adult life.
There are also advantages to being able to afford equipment you need, healthcare insurance, and so on. One artist I know who was supporting herself through her art went back to a “day job” because she felt that having to produce was stressing her out too much and reducing her creativity. So there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
That said, some day jobs are more conducive to a music semi-career than others. I’ve been able to make more progress with my music when I was working as a consultant from home and setting my own hours. And I know at least one high school teacher whose band toured every summer until they started selling enough product and getting enough good gigs to justify quitting the day job for good. It might be worth pointing out that both of those vocations were only possible because we had college degrees. So maybe our parents were right. :-)
Obviously, it is not my place to tell you how to achieve the balance you need in your life. I will certainly not berate you for “failing” to do everything on the lists that will appear in our followup articles. Your mileage will vary.
So please feel free to use our resources and links, work at your comfort level, invest the time and resources that make sense for you, and do your best to bless the people God brings to hear what you have to offer.
What’s the Point of This Resource?
If 90% of the things you do to succeed as a independent Christian artist are the same as what every other kind of independent artist needs to do, why do you need SchoolOfTheRock.com? Technically you don’t. In fact, many of the resources we’ll be pointing to as we “flesh out” this part of the site are already published on the CreekDontRise.com Careers and Songwrangling pages or available direct from their original sources if you have time to subscribe to them all.
That said, you may be here because you sense that this stuff will be safer to navigate if you have the help of someone who shares your spiritual concerns.
In addition, the resource forums described above have grown willy-nilly, as new articles and blogs came our way. For this resource, we’d like to be more organized, so you can stay on top of things better yourself.
Even if you’re not a Christian or interested in the spiritual aspects of what we do here, you are welcome to get what you can out of our pages.
What Does an Independent Christian Artist Do?
In a word: Everything.
- Improving your musical abilities - Constantly growing as a musician, including instrumental, songwriting, and singing skills. We have started some articles and lists to resources here.
- Developing your performance skills - So when you get in front of people, you “own the room” instead of the room “owning” you. Some tips and links to tips are listed here.
- Expand your Reach - Playing more and better gigs, as you develop the rest of the skills in this list. Some tips and links to tips are listed here.
- Learning the music business - Yes, you’ll need a lawyer and manager if you ever hit the “big time,” but you need to know the basics, like, who pays how much for what? You’ll also better avoid some common ripoffs.
- Developing your promotions - Including how you present yourself and your music, and how your reach out to decisionmakers.
- Developing your product, including making good recordings of good songs, and making them available digitally and in physical format (CDs at the moment).
- Developing your fan base, including growing a mailing list, social networking contacts, etc.
- Maintaining a spiritual focus throughout all of these activities and processes.
All of these areas of responsibility are important to getting any kind of momentum as a independent musician. Obviously, if you are independently wealthy, or you have a friend who’s, say, a great web programmer, you can offload some of this stuff. And other bits, like starting a web site are more work up front than they are ongoing. Other bits, like the press kits, can be done for a time and revisited every so often.
But nothing on this list can be neglected indefinitely without affecting your success or lack thereof. Again, if this is going to be a sort of hobby for you, feel free to pick and choose which bits you focus on (as long as you don’t blame us if you never get as far as you wanted to).
In our follow-up articles we’ll break down each of the topics above into more detail, including specific tasks you should perform, or at least consider. And hopefully, once you get going, you’ll meet other musicians working at or near your “level” who will be willing to trade hints, tips, and experiences.
Talking About These Topics
We have also started a discussion forum page to host interactive discussion on related topics here.
Articles So Far
Though we have more articles, and more specific articles on the way, these are a few that may help you get some perspective in the meantime.
- Developing Your Musicianship: Learning as much as you can early on - it gets harder to retain new stuff the older you get, so don’t assume this stuff will always come as easily as it does now. Resources we are developing underneath this header include:
- Improving Your Performance: Using your concerts to build connections that last takes work but is so worth it.
- Promotion Tips: Links to articles to help you get your name and your music “out there,” including:
- Your Online Presence: A brief overview of the minimum online resources your fans and any prospective venues will expect you to have operating.
- Expanding Your Reach: Working towards getting more and better opportunities to put your music in front of people. One resource we’ve linked to under that one is:
- When Should You Play for Free? Both sides of a choice that faces many independent artists, especially as they’re starting out. Every opportunity is different, but you can choose wisely.
- If you’re considering a career in Gospel, Worship Leading, or Contemporary Christian Music, A Brief History of Contemporary Christian Music will give you background information you need to know, especially when you’re interacting with folks who have been around a while.
- What the Bible DOESN’T Say About Gifts and Talents explains the Biblical meaning behind certain scriptures that seem to be misused every time they come up in the context of Christian music.
- If you are in a church that still considers every backbeat Satanic, the article Did God Really Give Rock and Roll to You? will give you some context for how those West African rhythms some folks are still afraid of have affected all kinds of American music, including - and perhaps especially - Gospel.
- As we mentioned earlier, many of the useful resources we hope to link to in follow-up articles are already posted in the CreekDontRise.com Careers and Songwrangling pages.
Keep in Touch
As always, please contact me with corrections, complaints, clarifications, etc. If your response is responsible, I'll try to include it in the "reader response" section below the affected articles or on the appropriate page of the CreekDontRise or SchoolOfTheRock forums.
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