Uh oh. Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well I want you to listen. The quality, integrity and potency of gospel music is not affected by the top pop artist or the state of hip hop. It is entirely based on the people that make up the gospel music industry itself. We aren’t tainted by things external, only by things internal–not by what comes in, but what is put back out (Matthew 15). There are 6 billion reasons to be a gospel artist and I am certainly not complaining about this amazing life and career God gave me, but I write this, because these ten things will discourage you, expose you, waste your energy and money if you are not called to this! I don’t want to dissuade anyone from the Church. We need God! We need each other! There is a purpose for your life that has God and His Kingdom in mind. However, everyone does not need to gather producers, studio time and a booking manager to embark on a journey to gospel stardom and influence. Chances are, if that’s what you seek, you’re not off on a good foot. Here we go! Ten reasons not to quit your day job nor continue those guitar lessons…
1. It is small:
Yes, maybe gospel music is number one to you. Maybe it has been your life’s soundtrack. It might be hard for everyone to truly imagine how small this genre is in the grand scheme of things but it is. The amount of embraced, going-to-be-on-TV-soon artists is probably something like 30 and since a gospel artist’s success can last 30+ years, that number stays low, with only 1 or 2 new artists introduced (in a big way) every year. The audience is also incredibly small. We are talking like 5% of the country that truly consumes this music even though most music is influenced by it. If you are looking for incredibly large audiences, gospel is not the surest way to do it.
2. It is not unified:
Sure, everyone has their own tastes but America, the engine of gospel music, has an extra reason to divide. Sunday morning is known as the most segregated time in America, because stylistic preferences and racial tensions filter everyone to churches that look and sound like them. The music industry reflects that. There are two distinct sides–at least two. And to be played on one type of radio station almost immediately disqualifies you from being played on the other. It may hurt you to find that there are very few opportunities (and very few plans to make more opportunities) to bring the Church and it’s artists together. And this is coming from someone who has been embraced, to an extent, by both sides, several races and cultures! It is rare! I just want you to know that.
3. You will be copied:
Like any genre, people pay attention to what seems to “work” and what seems to sell. So if you are successful, prepare to have many copy elements of your artistry and approach. This is not specific to gospel at all, though the phenomenon of imitation is often Christianized. “This is the sound that God wants to hear!” Heartwise? That is correct. Instrumentation, style, and artistic approach? No. He never detailed that. And if he has, we are far off. Either way it’s an excuse to copy, so prepare for that. Your sound may become “THE sound.”
4. You’ll be pressured to copy:
So that means, upcoming artists will be expected to replicate that “sound” too! I was not interested in (just) that “sound,” God made a way and the crowds’ responses spoke up for me, but trust, I was pressured to copy. And you will be too. God’s hand has to be on you life for this to work and you MUST BE GOOD! If neither heaven nor earth is responding to your sound, the pressure will come for you to copy someone else’s.
5. You now really, really represent the Kingdom:
Everything is a stage! You’re not just a singer, you represent something that people look up to and some people look down on. There have been a few singers I’ve befriended in the gospel world that hoped to be strictly singers and wow the world with their incredible gift only. They were shooting stars. There are several others that have turned out to be guiding lights. They have lasted longer, they have become more useful by God on this stage, because they took up the responsibility of representing Him. Everything from fashion, to on-stage presentation, to social media, to walking around airports is subject to the fact that people expect and, honestly, NEED you to represent Christ. Don’t get confused by society’s pressure to “be real” which tends to mean to flaunt every dirty streak on your underwear to avoid being known as a hypocrite. YOUR PUBLIC GOAL is to lead others to Christ honestly, not to express yourself for expression’s sake. And I believe there are soooo many untapped ways to point folks to God while using every weird, lame, cool, cute, smart part of you. You just have to want that. Jesus did not plead with God to “take this cup from [Him]” among the disciples He was leading. He took his personal time. He had his private struggle. I believe that part of the story is included to show us the personal sacrifice and wisdom in knowing what you mean to the people you influence. I thought to write this because I have an amazing friend that loves to sing and singing gospel music is especially fulfilling for her. She, however, has an entire “R&B” persona and hundreds of thousands of fans, and she gets to operate by different rules when it comes to fashion, language and content. I know, she knows, that there would have to be some wholesale alterations to her image to be effective as a gospel artist. I know that it’s against millennial nature to ever concede that you may have to change your presentation for the sake of the gospel but it’s the truth! Sorry! Even if God has given you peace on the way you live your life, the game changes when your actions will be magnified, duplicated and misunderstood. Gospel artists MUST rehearse and SHOULD operate with 1 Corinthians 8 in mind.
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”
Too much right? Yeah, we are living for everyone else (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)! We don’t always want to accept that. The good news is you don’t have to lose authenticity to glorify God if your authentic self glorifies God (and not like ten other things at the same time). In my opinion, it is better to edit yourself rather than simply edit your image.
6. Not a lot of money in it:
Simple as that. It is a small market. Very few are wealthy and most smart artists supplement their income with regular jobs, church gigs (or churches they found and pastor) and other investments.
7. Traveling is not fun:
OMG! You have no idea. If you could teleport to Oslo or take a magic carpet ride to Los Angeles, travel would be a complete perk. We all love seeing new places, new people and watching our passports get stamped to death. Unfortunately, there are often two miles of walking, irritable TSA agents, guitar carrying and defending, lost bags, connecting flights and ridiculously early lobby calls in between. As I write this, I’m heading home from a beautiful trip in Norway. I’m also excited about the destination: home. But first we must endure…well, all that I just mentioned. Be prepared to have your body go crazy from your bird-like lifestyle too. I never knew how hard to come by and all consuming sleep can be until I started travelling like this.
8. It is slow to change and embrace new things:
As much as I love the gospel industry, it is not full of creative risk takers. While the original apostles were quite rugged and adventurous, our understanding of the faith compels us to be resistant to change, risk-averse and doubtful of most things new. Even further, our grim business outlook has labels even more concerned about prudence and frugality. The best way, to many executives, is to give a slightly new spin, face or voice to something already done. And church folk feel the same way. When I was first signed, my weird music, led by “No Gray” was not understood and valued by many people in high places. They just wanted a younger spin on worship music, not this “life music.” Ask Kirk, Deitrick, Mary Mary, and Richard Smallwood. Yes, even Richard Smallwood. They all felt some resistance to the now legendary music they have made. If that will discourage you to the point of quitting, I have saved you. If you are willing to take your time and learn to PRESENT your music in a way that can ease the stubborn expectations of a gospel music fan, stick to it. It is all about presentation. You can’t pull a person toward you without first reaching for them. Blessed is the artist that can shift a room without people noticing. Let me also warn you, people who are NOT gospel music lovers, not believers, or not avid church goers ALSO have particular, often antiquated expectations of Jesus music.
9. Many people you encounter will show little sign of the Faith:
Yeah, you know it. God has a lot of children and some of them are…well…slow learners. Some are weirdos. Some are downright rebellious. And more precisely, some of the adults you meet in this Christian journey are…children. I have made it my mission to make room for artists, particularly ones who don’t see much of their style and approach represented in the genre. But I wrote this article to help ensure we don’t keep filling our stages and pulpits with people who were not ready for it. This job will shine light and magnify all that is right with you and all that is wrong with you. The best way to be a mature, strong Christian artist, is to be a mature, strong Christian. Unfortunately, you will get a bad taste in your mouth upon meeting some of us. You cannot be discouraged. You cannot take it personally. At best, it’s a dope person having a bad or stressful day. Travel, pressure, nerves, demands, musicians and managers can certainly seize our smiles and willingness to be social. But at worst, some of us just really don’t walk with the love of Christ. Gospel music is just as much a culture club as it is an expression of faith. You can certainly be impressively gifted with the culture and not have much faith or fruit! But we now know the lasting effects of bad models, so don’t be one. You must take on the mantle of representing Christ, knowing what the Bible ACTUALLY says, dodging rumors, gossip, and the land mines of self-interested people and be the change you want to see. It’s quite tough though.
10. The world won’t be a fan:
Lastly, what you carry is huge. It’s beautiful, respectable, inclusive and divine. Its also convicting, EXclusive, and increasingly contrary to the modern zeit geist. The mention of who you are and further expression of your beliefs will alienate you from many. I have been unfriended by several high school classmates and, while I hope they’d be proud of me, there are several that hate my guts now. “God” is kind of endearing, but “Jesus” will start a fight. Please know some media opportunities will not come to you and some press outlets will not let you in. They may not hate you but will simply be uninterested in your existence. One of the worst things a gospel artist can do is expect to be known–in different churches, but especially by the world at large. Both humble yourself and brace yourself for arrows of both hate and indifference.
See, I’m not trying to keep you from following your dreams. I’m just trying to answer all my DMs at once. I’m proud that so many pursue the call to public ministry and I’m honored that I might be inspiring some of that. This will be a great generation for the Kingdom and it’s artists. But you must know that it’s not easy, it’s not always fun, and no greatness comes without a great cost. New levels, new devils. Regardless of what you do, get really acquainted with your “why.” You’re going to need it.
Written by: Jonathan McReynolds