Before we go any further…
- It is a fact I am no lover of what is commonly called Praise & Worship Music.
- I acknowledge an enormous amount of new music is being written for worship, but contend that relatively little can be considered quality choral music.
- I believe sacred choral music is both an important component of worship and a musical art form worthy of attention.
The past decade has witnessed the shriveling, even the demise, of several well-respected choral music publishers and distributors. Long-time music creators like myself have been pushed toward self-publishing. Others have left the craft to teach, or to minister in the local church. All of us creating church choral music do so with reduced resources and for a diminishing marketplace. So, it is worth considering: What does it take to release new choral music for the church?
Though I hate to think of the music I write as a “product,” it does have to be delivered to an end-user in a form that can be put into people’s hands and performed. In that regard, like any product, it takes a lot to get a new piece to those who would ultimately sing it.
It takes time.Sifting through all the possibilities to select the few titles takes time. Creating the written arrangement takes time. Editing, recording, printing, marketing… More time.
It takes skilled people.Songwriters, arrangers, orchestrators, editors, musicians, engineers, typesetters, graphic artists, marketers… Even for the self-publisher, who fills multiple roles, the jobs are distinct and must be done separately.
It takes passion.You really gotta want to create choral music these days to be willing to clear the myriad financial and legal hurdles that stand in your way of the finish line. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the effort.
It takes money. Money to print the music. Money to record the demos*. Money to market. Money to pay the composers and arrangers. Lots of money.
* Granted, technology has managed to contain the costs of recording somewhat. Still, a well-produced anthem demo sung by a medium-sized choral group with piano accompaniment costs $1,000-$1,200. (And you need to do at least three or four to fill a session.) If the accompaniment calls for a rhythm section, the price doubles. An orchestra? Triple it. In my own case, instrumental accompaniments are mostly programmed using high-quality orchestral sample libraries, but those libraries and the computers needed to run them are pricey.
To sum up, sales are down and costs remain high. I’m no business guru, but I know that’s not an ideal business model. Barring a significant resurgence in choral music (A fellow can hope), can anything be done? Who could step into the gap to ensure the survival of quality church choral music?
In particular, local churches, Christian universities, and individual Believers with the resources and passion for Church Music can all play a part. Whether it is through commissioned works, artist-in-residence programs, or financial grants, the Church can take a more direct path to birthing new choral music.
For the last decade, my contributions to church music have been funded in no small part by individuals and local churches that commissioned work for their specific use. The result: several new anthems and orchestral hymn arrangements, as well as three dramatic musicals. I am grateful to churches like First Baptist Church, Dallas, and Brightmoor Christian Church in Novi, Michigan; to Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, and First Baptist, Nashville; to the Soul Factor Gospel Choir in Adelaide, Australia, and the Jubal Choirs of Georgia; to Youth CUE in San Antonio, and to Howard Payne University. Each of these organizations commissioned music from me, at considerable expense, and with no expectation of financial return.Without these folks, and others like them, I would have almost certainly had to hang it up and find another line of work.
I think this is the future of church choral music. The business model that sustained church music from 1950-2010 is broken and can no longer be counted on as the sole source of new music. I am increasingly convinced that if choral music is to survive and grow in the church, then local churches, Christian universities, and individual Believers, need to be proactively involved in the creation of new church choral music.
But that’s just my opinion.