Jonny Shepherd: The Future Death Of Worship Music

Wednesday 13th August 2014

Rugby-based worship leader and independent recording artist JONNY SHEPHERD examines the worrying trends in today's music industry

Jonny Shepherd
Jonny Shepherd

Sales of Christian music are down between 16-19 per cent in the first quarter of 2014. This is a reflection of the whole music industry, where almost every genre of music in both physical and digital formats is decreasing in sales. There is a massive shift towards streaming music sites like Spotify. But did you know that the average payout per listen on Spotify is $0.00521? Think about how many times you need to listen to one of my songs for me to buy a can of Coke, let alone provide for my family. The point is this - there is a time in the near future when decreasing sales, illegal downloads and scandalously small streaming payouts will cripple the artistic output of thousands of musicians.

Making music is an exciting adventure that takes hundreds of hours, sleepless nights, nail biting deadlines, fruitful collaborations, visionary ideas. . .and money. A lot of money. I love doing it, and know that my passions are honouring to God, but there has to be a better way than to pour resources into a black hole that only returns Facebook high-fives. Music in past decades was a precious commodity. I remember saving my money for weeks to buy a CD, play it nonstop, and pour over the liner notes until I could afford the next one. Now music has become a throw away, disposable item - it's free on Spotify, it's free on Youtube, it's free on the TV, it's free on the radio, so why would you pay for it?

This isn't simply a whinge and a whine, but a stark reality we're facing, that unless the Christian community supports the output of their creatives, many of these fruitful branches will wither and die. I would implore you to look for the writers, the musicians, the painters and the poets and cheer them on, not just with a retweet or a Facebook like, but something more concrete that invests back into them. A few pounds/dollars is all it takes to sustain the creative output of an army of people who serve the Church in worship, music, video, script writing, story writing, poetry and painting. What a sad Church we would belong to if it was no longer filled with the colours and vibrancy of these artists! This isn't some clever, cynical blog to just get you to buy some music, as awesome as that would be. This is a call to not "follow the world" in the broken model they call the music industry, but make a conscious choice to value, honour and invest in our creative people.

Here's some honesty for you: Around a month after releasing my newest EP, 'Wake Up', I'm only 25 per cent of the way towards breaking even on all the costs incurred for making the EP. It would be considerably less than this if it wasn't for one or two very generous investors/donations. Seeing as the biggest spike in sales is usually on or around launch date, I would foresee that the remaining 75 per cent of sales required to break even will roll in slowly over the next year or more. Surely, God doesn't want me to just "break even", but for me to prosper in my efforts? The shear effort in time and money required to complete these projects is large, but I've noticed that the volume of sales I receive is getting smaller and smaller with each release. This is no longer reading statistics in some industry report, it is reality for me. And it holds real consequences - that of no longer producing any creative output.

The simple fact is that making music costs money. And if everybody stops buying music, and expects it for free, then it breaks the whole system. Music will always survive, because it's in the DNA of humankind, but it will be suffocated to within an inch of its life if things don't change. So if you love music, and believe in someone out there, stick your hand in your pocket and invest in them today! CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

Reader Comments

Posted by Alan Mills in Rochdale @ 17:11 on Aug 25 2014

Thanks Amy for your comments on my post. I think that I may not have explained myself properly in the sentences that you disagreed with. Please, let me clarify

I am not advocating stealing. My point is that if people cannot afford to buy the music then the supported and accountable music minister should be mandated to cheerfully give it away. Kingdom musicians and singers are, after all, prophesying about a generous God who expects all of His children imitate Him.

If music ministers are provided for by the worshippers then the production of music media should also be paid for out of these funds. All money from sales should be returned to the fund, not the artist, in order to assist in the continuation of funding for further media projects. This is not business, it is simply good stewardship. “Break even” is a business term and should not exist in ministry.

I’m glad we agree on who should be supporting/providing for anointed musicians. I strongly believe that consumerism is not the way it should happen. That is the way of the world. I know many worship leaders in the USA who are salaried by their churches. What is interesting to me is that they all, without exception, minister in churches that appear to have abundant finances. I wonder if that is because these churches recognise and value their musicians and singers, as God does, and are blessed accordingly.

Bear in mind also that music ministry is not just for temple celebration. It also plays a crucial part in spiritual warfare. We have a command to be witnesses to the end of the earth. Tragically, we continue to invest untold billions in the music industry, choosing to buy only the music we like, thus empowering the prince of the power of the air to defame our God, when we should be investing our time, talent and treasure into restoring our God’s reputation in the world by filling the airwaves with music that prophesies of a good God.

Posted by Alan Mills in Rochdale @ 17:42 on Aug 13 2014

Hi Jonny. I don’t believe that it was ever God’s intention that the Christian community should support the output of it's musicians (Levites). The biblical model was for the community to support the musicians themselves. They were set apart and provided for by the community. Music in the Bible is only ever mentioned in relation to celebration, ministry and warfare. What God intended to be used both for the celebration of His Glory and for the building and strengthening of His Kingdom has been perverted by our enemy into an industry whose rules are dictated by Mammon and, because of our ignorance, has us following those dictates because it’s all we know. I have no problem with Christians buying albums. It’s right that we should pay for them if we can afford to. However, if artists have to “break even” before they can cheerfully give them away to those who can’t afford them then the community has got it wrong. The Christian community should be seeking for those anointed by God to play and sing skillfully, setting them apart and providing for them just as we do with our pastors (priests).

Reply by Amy in Reading, PA USA @ 14:16 on Aug 21 2014

I must respectfully disagree with this. Not in its entirety, but specifically the last three sentences.

"It's right that we should pay for them if we can afford to."
- No. It's right to pay because it's right to do and stealing otherwise. If you're at a shop and see something you like, you wouldn't take it if you couldn't afford it. Just because music may be readily available online, doesn't mean you can just take it because you can't afford to buy it. It's deceitful and thievery.

"However, if artists have to “break even” before they can cheerfully give them away to those who can’t afford them then the community has got it wrong."
- What a jaded statement! If an artist doesn't at least break even, and gives away all of their product, they wouldn't be able to continue making new records would they? Every person called to ministry has to think about their own survival. Most musicians have to make a living as well as making music. Otherwise, how are they to have food/clothing/shelter? Just because God calls someone into ministry, doesn't mean He is calling them to be starving and homeless.

"The Christian community should be seeking for those anointed by God to play and sing skillfully, setting them apart and providing for them just as we do with our pastors (priests)."
- I fully agree that Christians should be supporting/providing for anointed musicians. How’s it supposed to happen? Through CD and MP3 sales. A pastor or priest receives a salary (at least they do in the bulk of churches here). It's set by the church heads in individual churches. Who pays the Christian musician’s salary? The purchasing consumer. To say that it's ok not to pay for an album solely because you can't afford it is analogous to robbing the artist of their livelihood. The last thing I would want to do would be to cause a family to go hungry just because I didn't feel like paying for a cd.

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