Music and finances (Part 1)

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Someone called me a few months ago and asked me if I knew of any pianists that might be willing to travel with his quartet. I will not name the quartet but if I did, a large percentage of you would recognize the name. They travel 40 weekends a year.

If I was going to talk to pianists about the opportunity, I needed to know what the pay was (yes, I do think that is an appropriate and important question). So during the conversation, I asked him. His answer? $50/weekend IF money was available (after paying for gas, bus loan, etc.).

Can I be brutally honest and a bit judgmental? If you have a family, you almost certainly should not take that “job.” If you are single and you want to travel for $50/weekend, go for it. There was a time in my life where that fit me. But if you have a family (even if no children yet), you need to remind yourself of something:

Ministry starts at home…

You may be in a situation where you don’t need any money. Or maybe your marriage is strengthened because you are out of the house on weekends (don’t ask your wife…).

But the other 99% of us need to count the cost carefully before we do that kind of thing. What is often called ministry is often something very different, something very selfish.

I tread carefully here because many of you are in music ministry situations like this. You are not being paid adequately and as a result, putting intense financial pressure on your families. In some cases, you are gone from your families more than you should be.

The other reason I tread carefully is because of the perception people have about Christian musicians. They get a little uptight if they sense that Christian musicians are trying to earn money through music. They don’t mind if the musician makes a token amount (like $50/weekend) but they start to worry if that musician makes enough to actually provide for his/her family (maybe $1,000/weekend).

This perception is faulty of course. Christian musicians that do music as a profession should earn a decent living from it just as anybody else in full time Christian service should (Deut 25:4, I Tim 5:18). If they can’t, they probably need to do something else. What they should not do is selfishly pursue music as an almost-non-paying job while making their families suffer through neglect or poverty.

I am going to do a series here over the coming weeks about the issue of Christian music and money for several reasons. First, you will note that few Christian musicians are going to talk about it. That is for good reason: it is a risky issue that will alienate some people.

Secondly, it is more clear than ever that the status quo (the way Christian musicians go about trying to earn a living in music) is not working and is going to work even less in the future. Recording CDs, writing music, and 40 weekends of concerts a year don’t work out like they used to.

Again, here is the baseline we are going to be working from: if you want to be a professional musician, you should not do so at the expense of your family (either financial or time). And if you want to be above that baseline, I would suggest that the status quo is not likely to be the answer.

If the status quo is not working now and will not work in the future either, what should musicians do? We will talk about what is changing and how musicians can adjust.