Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Commission

  • 1998 31 Aug
The Commission
by Bob Kilpatrick, courtesy of %%Christian Musician%%

Begin Here
When one sets out to build a tower, the cost must be counted beforehand. Otherwise, the builder may realize during the project that the cost is greater than anticipated and abandon it. This can cause ridicule and certainly creates an eyesore. Unless we want our ministries to be remembered for their unfulfilled potential, we must count the cost and prepare ourselves in advance to follow through once we have committed to it's building.

Two And Three
There are only two commodities anyone has to spend: money and time. Each of these will have a significant effect on your relationship to the other and to people. The costs of time and money are more obvious, but no more important, than the cost to you in the quality of relationships you have with your family, friends, and home church. Some people enter into a full-time, itinerate music ministry having fully accounted for the dollars and hours they will spend, but are blind-sided by the cost to their families and friendships. It is my belief that this lack of preparation has accounted for many a derailed ministry. Let us, therefore, consider all three of these: money, time and personal relationships.

For The Love Of...
Money. The love of it is a root of all kinds of evil. Solomon says that it is the answer to all things. We all know that it is at least a necessary evil and practically impossible to exclude from our "cost counting." The Bible makes it clear that our ability as stewards of our money is a prerequisite to our oversight of spiritual matters. Therefore, it is vitally important that we be keenly aware of the costs that we will face when planning a music ministry of this sort and that we create and keep a budget. There are some costs of doing music that spring readily to mind - purchasing instruments and sound equipment, travel expenses, recording an album - but there are others that are less apparent but no less important.

Talk Is Cheap
You will spend many hours on the telephone talking with pastors, concert promoters and suppliers, taking orders, placing orders, hiring musicians, arranging travel. You'll want a good answering machine to receive messages in your absence. Expect to pay between $60 and $300 for a phone/answering machine or $15-25 each month for a voice mail service.

Show Me The Paper
You'll want some stationery other than notebook paper. You'll also need printed biographies, some sort of printed agreement between you and the pastor/promoter, spec sheets (for sound, lighting, etc.), order forms, business cards, posters, postcards, promotional packet folders - and on and on! Someone has to print these and someone has to pay for them. Even if you design and print these from your computer, you'll still be paying for it. These costs can vary so widely, I'll not make an estimate of them. You should, though. Consider how much of this you'll need to begin with, how you'll do them and what it'll cost you.

Looking Good!
You'll need reproducible photographs or lithographs. So, you start by paying a photographer $50-$200 for a sitting and prints. Then you can have these reproduced lithographically at a fraction of the cost of a photo. A company such as ABC Pictures in Springfield, MO will charge you between $60-$100 for 500 of these, depending on the complexity of the design and how much of it you do yourself.

Hold Everything
You will probably need some sort of equipment to actually present your music publicly - either a musical instrument (novel idea!) or a playback device (CD, DAT, MiniDisc or the lowly cassette tape deck.) You'll want to protect this equipment from abuse, so you'll buy ATA-rated flight cases or build something that even gorillas couldn't open. Either way, you're spending $100-$1,000 on cases.

The $ound Of Music
You may already own the stuff you put in these cases. Or you may be like every other honest musician and be absolutely in NEED of the latest, hippest, hottest gear. If so, pull your credit cards out... and throw them away! You'll be spending a lot of money on gear, but here are two words of wisdom you'd do well to heed (besides avoiding putting anything on credit). First, never pay retail. Shop around. Buy it used, if possible. Get some "professional courtesy" or endorsement, if possible. Remember, you have not because you ask not. Second, never buy the leading edge of technology. The leading edge is breaking the wind (insert your own joke here) and is, therefore, most likely to be riddled with bugs and some out-and-out bad design ideas. Buy the trailing edge. It's been worked over, tested in the furnace of concert affliction, tried and proven. These two pearls of wisdom will save you many dollars and hours of frustration

So You're Going To Have A Sound System
So, add to your cost factors the expense of instruments, amplifiers, cases, cords, stands, strings, power strips, tools and everything else associated with making a joyful noise. Then, consider whether you need a sound system of your own. Most people don't. But if you do, plan to spend $1,000 for a tiny system (don't forget monitors) to $1,000,000 for something a little larger. If you need lighting, add another $500-$5,000 for a simple setup.

Horsepower To Spare
Now, how are you going to get where you're going? Of course, you probably own a vehicle already. Don't forget, however, to add the cost of fuel, mileage and upkeep to the list. If you need to fly (and don't own that vehicle), add travel costs of $125 for regional flights to $750 for cross country travel. Remember to include anyone travelling with you. Buses and semis will come later - and you'll want to lease or rent (not own) them.

Touring 101
If you need someone else to be with you to make music, you'll have to pay them something. Make it fair so they'll want to do it again, and again, and again. However, people are expensive to maintain. If at all possible, start solo. It could be the life and death of your music ministry. As the ministry grows, so will the funds and so can the band. Remember the first rule of economics: The more you make, the more you make. The less you spend, the more you keep.

8 Tracks and Beyond
Once you've performed the concert, what will you leave behind - just a warm feeling or some storage and retrieval device whereby people can call up and hear you music over and over (meaning CDs, tapes and 8-tracks)? Elsewhere in this syllabus, we cover the costs of recording an album. For our purposes here, figure on spending at least $5,000 just to record your music. Add to that $1,300 for replicating 1,000 compact discs (the most cost-effective minimum order) and about a dollar for each cassette tape (minimum order, approx. 250). Tack on the cost of graphic design and printing of J-cards (what goes in the cassette Norelco box), CD booklets and tray cards (tray cards: the ones snapped inside the back of the jewel box). J-cards are about 10 each, booklets and tray cards about 28 each, both with a minimum order of 2,000. There are also one-time plate charges for printing and mastering charges for replication and duplication. There's also on-CD and on-cassette plate charges (approx. $30/side) and design costs. Then there's shrink wrap (2-3)! And shipping (several hundred dollars)! Be prepared to pay half down and half on completion of your order. (See the CD and tape process charts at the back of this syllabus). I'm sure there are other costs I've neglected or intentionally left out (clothes and food, for example). Don't worry, they'll find you. Meanwhile, let's move on to

Time Is Money
Time. It's the one commodity we all get in the same, metered quantity. You can't earn more of it. You can't save it. You really don't even spend it. You can only use it, wisely or not. The best advice is to regard your time as a precious commodity, like gold, and to use it accordingly. I suggest investing in a time planner of some sort. Don't be talked into a particular approach by a zealous friend or relative if it doesn't work for you. Find what works for you and USE IT.

The Right Time
I already mentioned the hours you'll spend on the phone. You'll schmooze, network, interface - whatever euphemism you use for it, you'll be creating and nurturing relationships and that takes time. Plan on it. Generally, pastors are most available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Promoters aren't available 'til after midnight (that's a joke). If you plan to work another job during the day and make calls in the evening, stop right now and sell all your gear. It won't work. The first rule about managing your time is to spend the right time on the right job. Discipline yourself to go to your phone on your desk on Tuesday mornings and start calling pastors, youth pastors, music pastors and concert promoters.

Never On A Sunday
If you are ministering in churches, conferences, retreats or conventions, these usually occur on weekends. You'll probably be away from home and church. You'll probably travel on Friday and Monday. That leaves the afternoons and evenings in the midweek for family, fellowship, songwriting, recording and everything else. Do you see your time becoming more precious?

The Best Of Times
You should be very protective of it! It can be used up very quickly. Most of the time, our time is stolen by the "good," not the "bad." It is a truism that we are often kept from the best by the good. Well meaning people will want your time and because you are ministry minded, you'll want to give it to them. Don't. Be very selective with those to whom you give your time. Keep your focus on the call God has placed on your life and the ministry for which you are best suited. Let me insert a personal note to emphasize this point. I am invited out to innumerable coffee dates by people seeking advice. I enjoy doing this. Most of the time I believe in the musical gift and ministry potential of the person. But if I accepted every invitation, I'd live at Starbucks! And my time would be squandered by the good. I underscore these words with my own failure to say no when my time would have been better spent another way. Learn from me and be wise. Of course, you may offend some people. That's part of the cost. Factor it in.

The Worst Of Times
Even if you never accept a single coffee date, you're still running out of time for your family and fellowship group, not to mention the writing and recording of songs. There have been times when I have left on a trip at the worst possible moment. The kids were crying, the lawn was not mowed, the bills were piling up and my wife was in an overwhelming state of despair. I have missed birthdays, soccer games, recitals, visits to the hospital and many other milestones in my children's lives. I have experienced many important family events after the fact through photos and videotape. If you do this ministry, it will happen to you, too. It's part of the cost.

BK, Phone Home
Early on, I decided to call home every night when I was on this continent (and as many times as our budget would allow when off of it). It makes for large phone bills, but it keeps me in touch. One twelve minute phone call from Calcutta, India ran me $180, but it was worth it. Just hearing the voices of my family (and their hearing mine) strengthened the bond that holds us together. These are costs that must be laid out, assessed and agreed upon by both husband and wife. If the mate at home feels as if it was a one way decision, they will surely be visited by the devil who will encourage feelings of resentment, bitterness, neglect and every other negative thought.

Friends Are Friends Forever
When you're gone on Sundays, you're missing church. When people ask me where I go to church, I say, "all over the world! However, my family goes to _____." While everyone at home is going to the Sunday School classes together and meeting after church for picnic and fellowship, you'll be having lunch with a pastor somewhere and then heading back to your hotel for a little rest. Or perhaps you'll be driving 200 miles to the evening service. Either way, you're not home and, after a while, it will bother you. Your friends will assume that you are out of town even when you're not and they won't call. They will make habits and regular get-togethers that don't include you (naturally, you're mostly gone). But when you're home, it can feel lonely when your friends fall into their routine without you. This also is part of the cost. Don't think that it will be different for you. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head.

Here, There And Everywhere
There will be plenty of times alone on the road when the sheer isolation of what you do will overwhelm you. I have spent plenty a sleepless, teary night wondering why I was "out here" instead of at home. Like most touring musicians, I have a song about that very thing. It gets very lonely sometimes. People will tell you that all the applause and accolades you receive make up for the rigors of travel. It doesn't. It doesn't even come close. People will applaud a pig that does tricks! After a time, your self esteem comes less from others and more from Jesus, your family, peers, mentors and your own heart.

Bad Throw
Some people realize after a relatively short time that they absolutely do not want to be on the road for the rest of their lives. So, they stop traveling and do something else. Others try to keep plodding ahead but are worn down over the years by the aforementioned costs, hazards and pitfalls. I've known many who finally reached their personal nadir, threw up their hands, threw in the towel and threw away their ministry. Others gave in to temptation and thereby shipwrecked their faith and witness. Others became useless and ineffective through cynicism or bitterness. It will do you good to count these costs beforehand and either plunge ahead, build the tower and finish the work or quit right now.

This Or That?
For many, counting the cost is not an either/or decision. It is a matter of degree. You may say to yourself, "I know I am called to music ministry, but I don't want to travel full time, nor do I want to be away from my family and friends that much. So, I will content myself to sing in my area on weekends and keep working in my secular career." That is a perfectly legitimate decision. God's call is unique to each of us. Remember to take all of these considerations to Him in prayer and know for certain to what ministry He has called you.

I read the obituaries every day. Last summer, the listings for the writers of two popular songs were in the same column on the same day. The headlines read "Writer of 'All Of Me' Dies" and "Writer of 'Louie, Louie' Dies". I realized in that moment (a flash of light! my brilliant mind seizing the salient point!) that when I die, my obituary will read "Writer of 'Lord Be Glorified' Dies". My life will be neatly summed up in one brief phrase. Well, so will yours. The world will note with sadness that one of us is no longer among us. Then everything will swing right back into rhythm and move on, and the hole left by our departure will close. It's as simple as that. But AFTER that...

What then?
God keeps a record of every small and particular detail of your life. He will not sum you up and dismiss you in one simple phrase. He will look over every action, listen in on "every idle word" and judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. That is when the construction will be complete, the costs all rung up, the final accounting made. I encourage you to keep this in mind. What we seek is to hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."