School of The Rock

 

What I Won’t Tell You


Written by Paul D. Race for SchoolOfTheRock.comô

 

These days, hundreds of readers are looking to our scant, but growing resources for help with issues about musicianship, attitudes, performance, promotion, maintaining a spiritual balance, etc.  Many of those resources will help you whether you are pursuing a career in music, or if you just want to reach more people with the music you are writing and performing in your "spare time."  But our resources will never advise you on whether or not you personally are "called of God" to a full-time career in any kind of music, "Christian" or otherwise.  Before I explain why, let me fill in some background. 

To say that music is an integral part of my life, even my Christian life, would be an understatement.  Music was my "lifeblood" before I was saved.  Music was also instrumental in my salvation, as my Christian friends dragged me to one "Jesus music" concert after another.  I even got saved at a Christian concert. When I gave my life to Christ, I laid my dreams of a music career on the altar along with everything else.  But several weeks later, I honestly believed that I heard God telling me to continue writing and playing, but to do it for His glory now.

That said, if God wanted me to work toward a career in Christian music, He seemed to be the only one.  Over the next eleven years, I wrote songs and sang at Christian coffeehouses, festivals, and church camps. And I saw people being touched, and - to God's glory - decisions being made and lives being changed.  But I always got a LOT more grief than encouragement from my home church.  And a lot of bad advice, even from well-meaning people. 

I also devoured books and articles by “successful” Christian musicians, hoping to glean any advice.  But their core message was often along the lines of "God called me to this ministry, but I really doubt He has called you."  Maybe they had seen so many untalented wannabes spinning their wheels trying to achieve something they never would that they thought that discouraging EVERYBODY was the safe choice.

Why was it so important to have people I respected ratify what I believed about my life choices?  I did appreciate what the Bible said about “in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom.”  And as a young Christian, I sensed I need guidance about such big decisions.  But I was also saved into a fellowship that gave the "elders" the kind of undue control over life decisions of congregational members that, frankly, encouraged them to make arbitrary and uninformed pronouncements about God’s will for other people’s lives.  (Unfortunately I don't have to explain the kind of damage these unscripturally authoritarian models can do, because they still exist, and I’ve written articles like “Is it a Sin to Change Churches?” and “Do You Have a Spirit of Rebellion?” to address some of their common harmful practices.) 

Years later, now that I've seen some spectacularly talented Christian musicians chewed up by the "Christian music industry," I realize that those men's "guidance" may have saved me from hardships none of us could have imagined at the time. And I'm sure I've had a far better life than I probably would have had if I'd accomplished my "dreams" way back then.

But I am not convinced that trying to make life-changing decisions under the guidance of people who didn't even "understand the question" really accomplished God's will in my life. 

The More Things Change . . .

Today, I often see young people today facing the questions I faced all those year ago, and sometimes getting the same kinds of bad advice.  On the other hand, I also see talentless wannabes spinning their wheels trying to achieve something they never will. 

What's a brother to do?  Discourage everybody? Encourage everybody?  Pronounce "God's will" in the lives of people I don't even know based on a few e-mails or one song or performance?  Hardly.

Today's young musicians of all stripes have resources and opportunities I never had back in the days of vinyl and three - count them, three - "Contemporary Christian" record labels.  Home recording technology, the ability to connect with thousands of fans over the Internet, multiple distribution channels for DIY artists, etc. mean that anyone with talent and a work ethic can make a good attempt to build an international following in spite of limited local resources and opportunities.

But make no mistake, the work is hard.  If you think you're going to coast to success on the basis of a good voice and a pretty face, you're probably in for a huge disappointment. 

These days it's still possible to get signed to a recording contract with someone who will take at least some of the burden off your hands.  But most people getting signed today have already proven they don't need a record company to reach tens of thousands of people, tour nationally, or sell thousands of CDs a year.  And quite a few who are signed are dropped within a few years, often through no fault of their own.  The ones who survive that experience tend to be the ones who have already proven that they didn’t need the label in the first place.

Telling You Whether You’re “Good Enough” is Not My Job.

I once had a friend in the Country music industry who never said anything bad about any of the demo tapes people used to force on him.  Most were a waste of mylar and many were dreadful.  But he would always find SOMETHING nice to say, like, "I like your chord changes in the bridge."  He told me "never piss on another man's candle."  What he meant was something along the lines of "This guy has probably had doors slammed in his face all his life.  For all I know his crazy dream of somebody somewhere liking his music may be the only thing keeping him from driving off the next bridge. God hasn’t called me to be one more ‘slap in the face.’  It's not my responsibility to 'set him straight.'  Life will sort that out for him all by itself."

In other words, your music may suck.  But I won't tell you it does unless you pay me in advance for my advice and agree not to come to my house with a gun if you don’t like it. 

Conversely, your music may blow me away, but I won't tell you that you are destined for success.  In part because I have no way of knowing that for sure. Life can take hard turns even if you do everything "right." 

I might tell you’re a better singer, songwriter, guitar player, or banjo player than me.  But that doesn’t set the bar all that high.  :-)

Success Won’t Happen Without Commitment and Hard Work.

Whatever role music will eventually play in your life, you have the ability to become a better musician, a better performer, and even a better promoter.  Statistically speaking, only a tiny fraction of the people who put in the kind of effort demanded by the resources we share or link to will become full-time musicians of any kind.  But almost anyone with a modicum of talent who is willing to work hard hard can find enough folks who like his or her music and enough places to play to stay as busy with music as life allows.

On the other hand, if you're allergic to hard work, or you think you're as good as you need to be, or if you think you're so good that "people will come" without promotional efforts, you have zero chance of career success.

The Ball is in YOUR Court.

"Gee, thanks," you might say. "Way to put the ball back into my court." But the ball was ALWAYS in your court, and anyone who said it wasn't was lying to you.  Make your choices as thoughtfully and as prayerfully as you can, and be sure to maintain your walk with Christ no matter how things turn out.

That's the journey that really counts, after all.

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.

God bless,

Paul Race

SchoolOfTheRock.com

 


Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.A Note from Paul: Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you enjoy your music and figure out how to make enjoyable music for those around you as well.

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