Current challenges and opportunities for Christian music artists


And how the industry is shifting!

While doing some industry research, I (Liz) came across a 2014 HUFFPOST BLOG ON CHRISTIANS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. It was a fascinating insight into the challenges Christian artists face when expressing themselves creatively both in CCM and mainstream arenas. I reached out to the author, Patrick Hess, Founder and Director of DAY 6 MANAGEMENT and he was kind to answer some questions around the issues he touched on, and the opportunities that exist for Christian artists now.

It’s been just over 4 years since that blog was written. Have you noticed any change in the industry over that time?

Overall, it’s not really any different, but artists are becoming wiser on how to get distribution and get more traction.

Many Christian artists are tending to disconnect from their Christian labels when their contracts are over because of creative restrictions and the fact there's just not a lot of money to be made under a major label due to the progression of digital streaming becoming the primary platform for all consumer consumption.

Chance The Rapper opened the eyes of a lot of major labels by winning so many Grammys as an indie artist. That trend is the same in the Christian industry.

Building 429 is now independent and just made the biggest radio debut as an indie versus whenever they were signed because they creatively changed their sound to match the market that is influenced heavily by secular music trends. My son's girlfriend is on their #1 song that came out about three months ago and they are said to be experiencing more consumer acceptance than any time in their past.

How are labels responding to this shift?

Change in the Christian music industry is happening (finally) where labels are realizing they need to stay in business and are allowing traditionally Christian only artists to creatively express their artistry in crossover music styles.

Some labels are cross promoting the same artist on two different labels they own... one for Christian, one for secular. The band Skillet has had this model for years and it works for them and their mothership label.

Warner (Word Records) started a Hip Hop label after witnessing success by Lecrae. Sony resurrected the label RCA and formed a new entity called RCA Inspiration to address the need for their Christian label group which was formerly focused solely on CCM type artists which included the now dying trend of hard rock Christian music. As such, they now are able to offer more urban sounding Christian music because the traditional gospel sound has evolved into more of a West Coast R&B flavor… which also finds its consumer base in secular music.

So the Christian industry is adapting to market demands and realizing that what worked 5-10 years ago doesn’t work anymore.

Indie artists can too easily release new creative projects direct to consumer and quickly adapt to consumer tastes before the Titanic size big labels can even turn their ship.

What are your views around the stigma against Christians in the secular music industry?

I am of the belief that Jesus called disciples from different walks of life and knew they would remain in their trade (so to speak). He knew Peter would keep fishing, Luke would keep doctoring, Matthew would keep tax collecting, etc. They all held a career in some field... BUT, they used their conversion to Christianity as a platform to live out a life that spoke a living testimony about their following Jesus.

I believe Christians tend to want anyone who is gifted with talents in music to keep it to the church and in the church world. It’s like as if Jesus said to Peter, quit fishing, become a church goer and share your good news with those who already know the good news. I think many Christians are lost in traditional dogma about the purpose of music as being exclusively for worship and praise of God. There is an abundance of scripture to support how music was used in the old testament as a method of praising and worshiping, but to limit it’s spiritual power to move on the heart of a broken and lost human is to try to place a limit on God’s ability to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime, by any means. Even Paul stated that he became all things to all people so that he might reach some. The sad dilemma is that some Christian artists lose sight of their witness to the world and that’s what triggers this debate about Christians refraining from crossing over.

It is my conviction that as an accountant, mechanic, teacher, programmer, or whatever person lives their life to earn money for supporting themselves and their family, they can do those careers while still being a Christian example and be ready to respond to anyone having a question about their peculiar lifestyle (as the Word calls us a peculiar people).

Like any industry that earns income, there are certain marketing strategies and branding philosophies that are supposed to help the company earn money. The Christian industry happens to use the secular industry as their primary competition and has considered any artist that dabbles in both sides to be not truly dedicated to their faith walk. Yet artists like Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, P.O.D., TobyMac, and more have crossed over on radio play and had a lot of commercial success outside the Christian industry and are still revered as Christian Artists.

Conversely, artists like Tori Kelly (signed to Sony) and Carrie Underwood (Country artist) sing about their faith and even use Jesus' name in their lyrics but are not labeled as Christian artists. Those are a rare few secular artists who can ride that line and still be esteemed by Christians.

Bottom line is that if there is a distinction of the heart of an artist by listening to a full instrumental (without words in the song) why is there a secular or Christian artist anyway. There are artists who are Christians and not Christians. Not the other way around.

What is your advice to an artist deciding whether to take the CCM or secular route?

The way I see it is... if you want to be adored by existing Christians, play in that industry (CCM). If you want to reach people who need Jesus "AND" want to create positive music while maintaining your unique sound... stay independent and just release what you want.

As the industry evolves, what are the opportunities Christian indie artists can tap into?

It’s a great question. Watching my own son’s journey in the Nashville area and his full time status as an artist who is a Christian, learning how to “earn” money from your talent has been the biggest deficit I think indie artists who are Christians are missing. So much emphasis is placed on Christian artists is that their talent is a gift from God and should be dedicated to His kingdom. Many start in the church and then move along to an evangelical vision for their music (playing camps, rallies, etc.). They are affirmed by their spiritual mentors and others that push them into believing unless they see their music as a “MINISTRY”, they’re somehow missing God or sinning. Back to my metaphor of a Christian Accountant, or Christian Teacher, or Christian Mechanic, or Christian Nurse… sticking the word Christian in front of their talent or gifting doesn’t mean they are somehow in a formal MINISTRY.

Now my perspective is that no matter what lot in life you live (as Paul said, whether slave or free, etc.) you should live a life pleasing to God and as a witness of what Jesus did in your life. That… THAT… is the ministry we are called to live. Western Christianity and traditions have convinced the creatively talented people that their talents must be used exclusively for the church mission or they are missing God or missing their calling. I wish that when a person breaks through and is saved by Jesus… I just wish the Church would tell that person they are now in full time ministry… it just takes place in their everyday world at their school or job. Stop making some “special category” for musicians that are exclusive to church related vision for their talent. I’m not at all disregarding that some are called to serve the body in a position of leading and that is 100% ordained by Paul’s instruction on how to operate a gathering of believers. But it’s absolutely not the ONLY path.

The reality is that when a person who is gifted with artistry and they use that to be fruitful (not wasting their talent) it will be evident in the fruit that they are doing what God wants them to do. Crossover or secular music is not sinful by default just like a fire poker is not a deadly weapon unless it is used to kill. Music can be used for illicit reasons and it, of course, will not be pleasing to God. But even the film “I Can Only Imagine” released in 2018 revealed the truth of how a single song can reach the heart of Christians and non-Christians alike because the artist simply expressed their gift in sincerity. God anoints sincerity and honesty. He will multiply His children’s talents when they simply let it be a representation of God’s character through music and words.

Christian indie artists are no different than secular artists in a free market society. Make money with your music. Find ways to earn from it. It’s not sinful. It’s honoring to God. My son writes music for TV and Film. He uses his performing talents to do TV commercials. There isn’t a lid on how he chooses to multiply his gifts and talents. He observes God’s opening and closing doors for opportunities and either steps in or watches doors close and waits for the next one. God is honoring his wisdom in discerning how to remain a Christian yet use the talents God gave him.

I believe Christian Indie artists need to lay aside the weights of tradition and pleasing people and pursue ways to multiply their talent. Money isn’t the prime motivator. Sometimes we need to realize money is a tool God gives us to reach more people for a purpose. Sometimes money provides a means to sponsor a displaced family who lost their home in a disaster. Sometimes money is a medium God uses to help someone He puts in your path.

Being pure before God will result in reflecting Him when you’re aligned right. Music is a very emotional and spiritual tool God uses to connect to people. Christian Indie artists need to shed the handcuffs and follow their creative heart and watch God multiply their sowing with a pleasant fruit that is sweet tasting to all who sample it.

About Patrick Hess

Music Artist & Entertainment Manager / Marketing Professional / Author

Raised in the R.V. Capital of America (Elkhart, Indiana) and spending his early adult to mid-thirties traveling to 27 countries conducting business with auto importers and distributors, Patrick Hess experienced the highs and lows of corporate America on his sojourn to success in business. Resigning in 1999 as Vice President of International Sales and Marketing for the now defunct $100mm automotive converter, Mark III (Ocala, Florida), he started his own import and export consulting company. The business evolved into a traditional U.S. marketing consulting firm, and now is known as DAY 6 MANAGEMENT, LLC. Father to son, SPENCER KANE, a Billboard charting artist and TV/Film actor and member of the band ANTHEM LIGHTS, he continues as a full time Entertainment Manager for some of the music industry's leading indie artists. Working to help build his son’s music and acting career since 2010, Patrick has acquired a unique perspective into the entertainment industry from a parent­/manager’s point­ of view. All these experiences, including being a bi­vocational pastor for several years, have been a great foundation for a colorful entrepreneur storyteller who blogs and shares the semi­business/semi­personal perspective of life raising a pop R&B artist trying to make it big in the entertainment industry.

CONTACT PATRICK HESS

Over to you

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