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