Worship, Art And Business, Part 1

Worship, Art And Business, Part 1

When I typically write a commentary article, it is just about one subject, but the inspiration for this article has been brewing since yesterday from different sources.

Worship, Art and Business may seem like three random subjects to throw at you at the same time, but here’s what they have in common: all three are great motivators for people who decide to get involved in Christian music as a full-time job. Sometimes it’s just one element that inspires someone to go for it. Sometimes it’s all three.

For this first article, I’m simply going to share the various incidents that are prompting me to draw some parallels between these three seemingly unrelated subjects.

Yesterday, Scott Dente, formerly with contemporary Christian group Out Of The Grey, got the ball rolling when he posted the following comment on Facebook.

I think that maybe some of the folks writing these modern worship songs are using those word magnets that a lot of us had on the fridge a few years back. Move ’em around in a different order and whammo! A new ( or not so new ) version of the same thing! Even with the same chords! Worship Magnets™. Look for them soon at Lifeway or wherever the same ol’ thing is sold.

Dente’s post sparked responses from a number of ordinary folks, but also from some names you might recognize.

Another inspiration for these articles is a conversation I had yesterday on a topic most of us in Southern Gospel circles have discussed at one time or another. Some churches expect professional singers to volunteer their time and effort even when traveling from great distances and at a great expense, and will question the faith of a full-time singer if they ask for anything in the way of compensation beyond an offering. Luke 14:28 and Deuteronomy 25:4 entered into our conversation.

I’ve been thinking about a couple of philosophical questions since yesterday as well. How would we measure the success of someone involved in Christian music if we limited our view to just the business side of the equation? Then, once we arrive at some answer, how should plugging the various factors of eternal consequence back into the equation alter that answer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts before I add my own. It’s pretty open-ended at this point.

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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5 Comments

  1. Dave. F.
    Reply July 07, 02:18 #1 Dave. F.

    Never understood why folks can’t cross over to the realization “professional” singers are paid. They have many of the same expenses we do with family etc. They are earning a living!!

  2. Kyle Boreing
    Reply July 07, 10:27 #2 Kyle Boreing

    Consider this….until the mid-60’s, gospel music wasn’t considered an evangelical ministry so much as it was a money maker. The first professional all-male gospel quartet put together by James Vaughn was not assembled as a ministry; it was to sell songbooks. A BUSINESS DECISION!!

    All throughout the 1940’s and into the 1950’s, quartet music was hot. The more innovative the sound and arrangements, the more crowds loved it.

    Not only that, but there was much more acceptance of Christianity in the mainstream – radio and TV stations aired blocks of “sacred” programming each Sunday. That didn’t stop them from singing the jingles for their sponsors to keep the money coming in (such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPpXdyjIYFA).

    In the 1960’s and 1970’s, however, the social and political climate changed. The quartets, gospel music, and Christianity in general, was changing as well. The “Jesus Movement” saw the arrival of contemporary artists and music aimed at the younger generation. In order to stay in business, the older gospel artists went to the churches and became “ministries.” And since churches tend to be much more conservative, the sound also had to be adapted. There was less innovation, lest they alienate the church crowd.

    With the exception of Bill Gaither, the gospel artists have pretty much stayed in the churches ever since. It’s been going on for so long that it’s just assumed that gospel music (as a genre and industry) has ALWAYS been about ministry, when in reality, it became a ministry in order to survive.

  3. drlovable
    Reply July 07, 17:15 #3 drlovable

    Just like anything, you have to define success for yourself. To some groups, success might be getting one gig. To someone else, making less than 100K a year might be failure. In the world of southern gospel in 2015, I’d say if you want to make a living at it, and you’re able to do that, then you’re successful. If you’re part time and able to nail down 3-5 paid gigs a month and cover your costs, you’re doing very well.

    To Kyle, I would say that gospel music started CALLING ITSELF a ministry in order to survive. Some people are truly doing the work of the Lord, but if it was just plain entertainment, there’s too much competition for anyone to try to survive. No church is going to book a group to come in and take over the morning service unless it’s under the auspices of being a “ministry.”

    • Kyle Boreing
      Reply July 08, 08:30 Kyle Boreing

      I probably should’ve been more clear, but yes, they started calling themselves ministires. The groups who refused to make that designation either went home or made a different shift (which is why The Oak Ridge Boys are going into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year….).

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