Your Survival: Making It as an Indie Christian Artist. (Part 3)

Before you go any further, you need to define what “making it” is. Even with the technology leveling out the playing field between the major labels and the indie artists, you would be amazed at the number of indie Christian music artists that come to me asking to be pitched to the major labels. Why is that? Let’s think about this for a moment.

Option 1: The major label fronts you (the artist) a big advance to have the album recorded. You (the artist) sign a contract for an 85/15 deal. Then, the advance must be paid back out of your 15% before you ever see another dime. Option 2: The independent artist raises the funds necessary to record, distributes it online through their website and through iTunes, works hard to promote the new album, then starts gigging. The artist gets 100% of their sales with this option, not 15%. With either option, the artist is going to pay to have their music recorded, so why would you want to give away 85% of the sales to the major labels?

Now that you have that knowledge, do you still want to sign with a major label? If your reason to sign a major label deal is simply because it is the “easy way” to accomplish your goals, you are mistaken. Whether you go the major label route or go at it independently, it is going to take a lot of hard work. If you are not willing to work hard, then you might as well reconsider your dream. God does not honor a lazy artist.

Check out this formula for success. Knowledge from Man + Smart Written Goals + Wisdom from God + Sweat Equity = Success. Now, let’s go back to defining what “making it” or “success” is. Obviously, most Christian artists and bands have a mission to uplift the body of Christ and to draw those who do not know Christ to a saving knowledge of Christ. Usually, their ultimate goal is to reach a larger platform with a national or international audience so they can accomplish their mission on a larger scale. If that is truly your desire and you have the God-given talent to do so, you can do so independently. So, what does it take?

Knowledge from Man

You may have an incredible singing voice. You may have great songs. But, if you don’t have them produced and recorded properly, you will have a hard time making it on a national or international scale. With the shift in the industry, the major producers have decided that it is in their best interest to help really talented independent artists if they are to continue making their mortgage payment. Most have rates now that are much more affordable. It is imperative that you have recordings that are well-produced and commercial or you will not get radio airplay or bookings on a larger scale. If funds are an issue and you can not do a full CD, just consider doing an EP of 3 to 5 songs. It is much better to have a 3-song CD that is well-produced and recorded than to have a 10-song CD that sounds … not so well-produced and recorded.

“Once the CD is complete, how do I get major airplay? Didn’t you already say it is impossible to get airplay?” No. I only said that it is almost impossible to get airplay on the major Christian AC stations. However, out of the 1000 and some odd Christian radio stations across the country, there are only around 100 that are Christian AC. The other formats in Christian radio (CHR, Rock, and INSPO) will consider independent singles. Even with all four formats in Christian radio, there are still only around 200 stations out of 1000 that are major reporting stations last I heard. So, don’t get bent out of shape when K _ _ _ _ in your town won’t play your single. Switch ponds if the fish aren’t biting! There are plenty of fish and plenty of ponds. It is possible for a Christian music artist to release a single and get well over 100 radio stations to play your song. Check out our news page to see how many radio stations are playing our artists.

“How do I know which producer to use, which radio promoter to use, which stations to pitch to, who to use for booking, and how to sell my CD?” This is where a good manager comes in. If you are talented enough to go national and it is God’s calling for your life, you are going to need a good manager whether you are major or independent. A good manager will know who to hire to produce your CD, promote your songs, and book you. A good manager will have the knowledge, experience, and connections necessary to oversee your ministry and ensure that you are moving forward in your goals.

“What do I look for in a good manager?” When you get signed by a manager, you will be in it for the long haul, so get one you know you will get along with. Look at their credentials, reputation, and track record. That speaks volume. If you are a Christian artist, it helps to have a manager that aligns with your ministry goals. The manager will likely want to interview you prior to signing you. Don’t be afraid to interview the manager. Also, don’t sign the contract unless you feel 100% sure that it is God’s will for your life. Having the right manager can make the difference in your success.

Smart Written Goals

Once you find a good manager, he/she will likely ask you to sit down with him/her and write down your goals as well as a target date for each goal. It is very important to write down your short term and long term goals and keep them where you will see them daily. If you live in Arkansas and want to travel to the sunny beaches of Florida, you will need a map. You have that vision of Florida. That’s why you want to go. But, you need the road map so you can reach your final destination. Your written goals are your road map to your God-given dreams and visions.

Wisdom from God

Pray daily. Read your Bible daily. Open your heart to Him and share with Him what you are feeling. You will have up days. Share those with Him. You will have down days. Share those with Him. If you do this, He will guide you and give you the wisdom to make the right choices. Praise Him for the accomplishments in your life. Surround yourself with Godly uplifting friends. Seek Godly council from your Pastor. Put together a team of prayer warriors who will commit to pray for your ministry and those you reach.

Sweat Equity

When I interview someone for consideration to be included on the roster of artists I manage, I always tell them that I work as hard for my artists as I expect them to work for themselves. A person that never does any more than they get paid for never gets paid for more than they do. It’s just as important to work smart as it is to work hard. If you only work hard without working smart, you will get nowhere. It takes the right combination of working hard and working smart to succeed. After all, isn’t that what sweat equity is? Sweat is formed when you work hard and equity is the effort made to increase the value of something.

It is important to invest into your ministry. If you are truly doing your music ministry for the right reason, you should have no problem investing. After all, is it not the Lord’s work that you are investing in? Most creative types I know simply don’t have the extra cash laying around to invest into their ministry. This is where the hard and smart work comes in. You must work at raising funds just like a Missionary would when he is raising funds to go into the mission field. There is no difference between that Missionary and you. You are a Missionary and music is a tool. Sweat equity can help you raise the fund necessary to invest into your mission.

Final Thoughts

“Let me guess. This is where you will tell me to approach you about managing my music ministry.” Nope. Honestly, we already get somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand submission requests per year. I don’t mind that, but when we do have a spot available for a new artist, we do a lot of sorting to get to just the right artist that fits our roster and mission. However, I am open to consult artists even if they don’t fit into our roster for management. I can still provide ideas of where to record, where to get radio airplay, where to get your CD’s manufactured, how to get your songs on iTunes, and how to get bookings. Feel free to e-mail me any time! The best way to reach me is by e-mailing mclaughlinmusicgroup@gmail.com.

I hope this series of blog posts has been beneficial. I would love to see your comments.

Blessings,
Jeff McLaughlin



6 Responses to “Your Survival: Making It as an Indie Christian Artist. (Part 3)”

  1. Jason Watson says:

    Very good stuff, Jeff. Simply put . . . YOU ROCK!!!

    As a former indie record label owner, so many artists would submit to us wanting the “dream”. They had talent. They had wonderful hearts. Some had that “it” factor above and beyond the norm.

    Unfortunately, very few were really ready to work hard to accomplish their goals and dreams. They just waited for us to do it for them. I’d put it more time on each individual artist than they did for themselves. We had a few that worked hard and those artists are still working with that record company and doing well.

    Breaking off to focus on my music was a little scary for me after spending so much time focusing on other artists. Luckily, I found a great manager who feels the same as me. Jeff works hard, but expects me to work just as hard along side him. He hooked me up with great producers, booking, and advice I wasn’t getting before.

    So, no matter who you get, find a manager that fits your needs and believes in you, establish your goals, and be prepared to work while having a blast praising God with the gifts He has given you.

    I’m rambling again. Anyway, God bless your ministries.

  2. Keith Prater says:

    I was with you until you said that “it is imperative that you have recordings that are well-produced and commercial.” If you’re going to subvert the established order in the music industry, you have to go all the way. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that music only exists in well-produced, commercial CDs. Music existed a long time before they started making records. People even made money in music before they started making records. I, for one, am kind of tired of commercial music. I have come to the point that I would rather listen to live music from second-level talent, making music that really comes from their own hearts, than first-rate talent on recordings, that are only cookie-cutter, assembly line music. And you know that those producers you were talking about will only make music that sounds just like the same-ol, same-ol music we decried in your forst article. Maybe the truly independent thing to do is to stop doing the recording, get rid of all the commercialism, put away all the electronics and lights, and just make music that comes from God.

  3. Shawn Weston says:

    Rock on, Jeff! While I see Keith’s point, I’d like to point out a couple of things, if I may…

    First, “commercial” and “cookie-cutter” are two different things. When I read what Jeff has said, it’s my understanding that he’s speaking about the amount of control that the major label has over the sound of music (and the freedom of the artist). The main goal is to get the quality of sound and resource without relinquishing the artistic expression to someone else (and paying them 85% of the profits).

    In my view, cookie-cutter is often commercial, but commercial does NOT have to be cookie-cutter.

    As somewhat of an audiophile, I love checking out new music on a regular basis, but there’s a clear difference between Indies which are unsigned because it’s the smart thing to do, and Indies which are unsigned because they sound bad.

    This series was a great view into the world of major label vs. indie, Jeff. Keep it coming!

  4. Moni Lutz says:

    Jeff,
    What you say about making it is good. I agree with you on most everything you said but there is still a lot I need to learn. I am mostly interested in writing for other groups and solo artists. I am primarily a writer and sing only locally to demo my songs and to get them out where someone else might hear them. I just want to write and have others record my songs. Is there still a place in the industry for someone like me?

    Thanks for all the advise.

    Moni Lutz

  5. Hi, cool post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for writing.

  6. andy irons says:

    Very good stuff, Jeff. Simply put . . . YOU ROCK!!!

    As a former indie record label owner, so many artists would submit to us wanting the “dream”. They had talent. They had wonderful hearts. Some had that “it” factor above and beyond the norm.

    Unfortunately, very few were really ready to work hard to accomplish their goals and dreams. They just waited for us to do it for them. I’d put it more time on each individual artist than they did for themselves. We had a few that worked hard and those artists are still working with that record company and doing well.

    Breaking off to focus on my music was a little scary for me after spending so much time focusing on other artists. Luckily, I found a great manager who feels the same as me. Jeff works hard, but expects me to work just as hard along side him. He hooked me up with great producers, booking, and advice I wasn’t getting before.

    So, no matter who you get, find a manager that fits your needs and believes in you, establish your goals, and be prepared to work while having a blast praising God with the gifts He has given you.

    I’m rambling again. Anyway, God bless your ministries.

Leave a Reply