I was seventeen when I told my Dad I wanted to be a musician. His down-to-earth West Texas response to me was, “Okay. But how are you gonna make a living?” Four decades later, I’m still figuring out the answer.
The music business is changing daily. The Christian music business, a tiny subset of the worldwide music business, is not immune to these changes. Twenty years ago, a fledgling Christian recording artist could sell 100,000 records. The Big Name Christian Artist could sell a million. In the cloistered world of evangelical church print music in the late 1990s, a successful choral anthem might sell 50,000, even 100,000 copies in its first year of release. A talented, diligent Christian songwriter could conceivably earn a livable income from the fruits of her labors without having to hold down two other jobs. It was a great time to be a professional Christian songwriter and arranger, and I thought it could only get better. I was wrong.
Today, the Big Name Christian Artist might sell 30,000 CDs. Choirs are disappearing from the church landscape at an alarming rate. Any choral anthem that moves 10,000 copies is considered a run-away success. Many of the most creative Christian songwriters of the last twenty years have left the field because they could no longer make a living writing. Behind all this upheaval lie changes in popular taste and changes in technology.
Changing tastes have always caused disruption in the music world. To hear my parent’s generation, when the Beatles pushed aside the 50s crooners, one would have thought the world was coming to an end. Today is no exception. For good or for ill, in the church, Praise & Worship music displaced a lot of good music and the talented musicians that created it. Eighty-voice choirs were replaced by small vocal groups. Thirty-piece orchestras were replaced by four-piece bands. And hymnals were replaced by projected lyrics on luminescent screens.
Changes in technology also played a part. The creative landscape was flattened, making large music companies less relevant, and empowering individual artists. Technology made music production more affordable than ever. Anybody with an iMac and garage band can make a record. And anyone with an Internet connection can steal thousands of songs anonymously. To borrow from Charles Dickens, it is the best of times and the worst of times.
Just as I was foolish to think the heady days of the 1990s would never come to an end, so is any musician today being foolish if he thinks for a moment that today’s trends will not also come to an end. Nobody knows how things will shake out over the next twenty years, but one thing is certain: This, too, will change. As the great soul band Tower of Power sings, “What’s hip today might become passé.”
The working musician either adapts or becomes a non-working musician. I am doing what I can to adapt. Okay, so I haven’t signed up for Facebook, but gimme a break. I’ve been busy developing new music without the help of a publishing company. More important, this website and the changes that are coming here are part of that change process. In the very near future, I will be offering new music here that I’ve been working on over the past year or so. The offerings will include new orchestral arrangements, some not-so-typical new songs for soloists and small vocal groups, and hopefully, some musical theater works.
I haven’t got a Grand Plan. I never have, truthfully. I’m not sure I even have a clue where this will all lead. But things change, and I am trying to change with them. Stay tuned. More to come.