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3 things you need to know about Christian music industry and the economy

CastingCrowns.jpgWhile doing some research about how the current economy is affecting Christian music, I heard from John Styll, President and CEO of the Gospel Music Association, which is an industry organization dedicated to promoting all forms of Christian music and providing professional resources for anyone involved in Christian music. GMA is involved in everything from promoting artists via GMA Week to educating artists with events like Music in the Rockies.
Styll had some great thoughts about Christian music, so I decided to do an entire post and share three things you might not know about Christian music and how the economy affects your favorite artists


1) It’s the economy, but it’s also just the nature of the business.
“In the business sense, Christian music is economically disadvantaged even in the best of times, something that Christian music fans might not realize,” says John Styll, President and CEO of the Gospel Music Association. “Since most [Christian] radio airplay is on non-commercial stations, which pay a fraction of what commercial stations pay in royalties, our songwriters receive far less income than those in other genres.”
Every time a song is played on the radio, the artist gets paid a royalty. Since non-commercial radio pays smaller royalties than commercial, artists are always making less money than their mainstream counterparts, even if they have the same airtime.
And non-commerical radio has less money to work with. If you listen to Christian radio long enough, you’ll hear the phrase “listener-supported radio.” That means your donations are what keeps the station on the air. Where commercial radio stations rely on advertising revenue to keep them on the air, most Christian stations generate their income from you, the listener. Let’s just say that non-commercial radio stations work with much smaller budgets than commercial radio, and when people cut back in their personal giving, Christian radio feels the effects.
2) Christian music needs to look like mainstream music, but do it without the same budgets.
“Artists on tour are expected to deliver a high level of production to an audience that is not willing to pay ticket prices that approximate those for shows in other genres with similar levels of production,” Styll explains.
Madonna’s upcoming show at Madison Square Garden, lists ticket prices from $64.50 to $354.50. Believe it or not, people do pay that much to see mainstream artists.
Tickets for the upcoming Jonas Brothers show at the San Diego Sports Arena are a much more reasonable $40-$80. That’s comparable to tickets for Christian music’s hottest act, Casting Crowns, upcoming show at Christian Heritage Church in Tallahassee, FL, where ticket prices range from $25 to $60.
The difference? The San Diego Sports Arena seats a lot more people than the Christian Heritage Church. More tickets sold means more income generated, which covers more of the bells and whistles needed to put on a first class show.
“The problem,” Styll explains, “is transportation, sound, lights, etc., cost the same. Thus their margins are pinched. Now, with the extremely high cost of fuel, it is even more economically challenging for gospel artists.”
And don’t forget that artists like Casting Crowns also do ministry shows. The band is also playing a show in October in Lucedale, MS, where tickets are just $10-$15. (I can’t remember the last time Madonna played a show where tickets where $10.) Gas costs for Jonas Brothers or Madonna tour bus costs the same amount as a Casting Crowns tour bus. But at the end of the trip, the mainstream artists have more money to cover those costs.
3) Music piracy is like stealing from an artist’s pocket.
“Not only do we feel the effects of the economy and the public’s lack of confidence in it, but we also have continued to struggle with music piracy – people downloading music without paying for it,” says Styll. “And, make no mistake about it…. piracy is ravaging gospel music at a similar level as mainstream music.”
What’s the big deal with downloading music you didn’t pay for, or sharing music with your friends?
First, the artist only makes money once he’s recouped the money the label loaned them for recording, touring, etc. Since an artist gets maybe $1 for each CD sold at a retail outlet (actual store or digital store), it takes a long time to recoup $50,000 or $100,000. And if they don’t recoup those costs from the first album, it’s taken from the next album. The artist only sees money from those sales after they’ve recouped.
Second, an artist’s success is determined by how many units he’s sold at retail – either in store or digital. If you buy a CD (either in store or online) and then give it away illegally to 1,000 of your friends, the artist still only gets credit for selling one CD. And record labels like to keep artists that are selling a lot of CDs, not so much artists who give away a lot of music.
Before you get upset about “greedy record labels,” remember this: the music industry is a business. There are costs associated with recording and touring and promoting. Yes, the artist sometimes gets the shorter end of the stick in the deal, but if the industry isn’t making money, no one is making records. And remember, the whole rich rock star image is just a myth. Very few artists get rich; in fact, the vast majority barely make enough to make ends meet.
What does it all means for Christian music?
“Well, some in our community, who are faced with tightening budgets, may be inclined to back off from their involvement with GMA,” says Styll, “but the truth is, it is more important than ever for us to come together as a community to find the solutions to the challenges that we collectively and individually face.”
“And,” he adds, “the real opportunity in this very difficult season is for gospel music to provide the hope and inspiration our culture so desperately needs.”
To learn more about the Gospel Music Association, visit the GMA website.
My interview with Paul Baloches busts the myth of the millionare musician

Comments read comments(21)
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posted October 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm

5 things this author didn’t know about Christian Music.
1. They have a separate royalty system through churchs that regular bands can never get. So if they have a hit that lingers in the church praise scene, they get paid on it for years and years.
2. People buying Christian music will never notice minute production differences between a 100,000 dollar record and a 15,000 dollar record. Most people in mainstream radio don’t even notice.
3. No one illegally downloads Christian music.
4. They get free promotion from every non-profit christian organization which real bands would kill for but can never get.
5. Christian acts get paid more to play the same size venues and have a built-in audience solely because they recycle dogmatic rhetoric.
Christian “musicians” have an edge in every available aspect of the music industry.

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posted October 3, 2008 at 5:39 pm

WOW. I disagree with the comment above on SO many levels. The 5 points listed above are incredibly uninformed and incorrect:
1. I don’t know a lot of people getting rich off their CCLI checks. And anyway, “regular” (in which you mean mainstream) bands can access this if their songs get used in a public church setting. Churches had to set up CCLI, otherwise their use of worship songs would have been illegal. Poor argument.
2. People MOST DEFINITELY can tell a difference between a 15K record and a 100K record. These differences are NOT minute. There is NO WAY you can afford a great producer on 10 songs with a 15K budget. Not gonna happen…and that’s only one example to start with…
3. ARE YOU KIDDING??? Christians illegally download Christian music all the time!
4. Totally incorrect. Plenty of mainstream artists work with non-profits as well, many of which have a larger reach. And that doesn’t even compare to the sponsorship opportunities mainstream artists have. Third Day’s partnership with Chevy was rare groundbreaking. But I can think of a million mainstream artists with major brands partnering with them.
And seriously…you refer to mainstream artists as “REAL” bands??? as if Christian artist’s weren’t?
5. Again Kyle, I’m sorry but you are misinformed. Christian acts DO NOT get paid more to play the same size venues as mainstream. Not to mention- there is no “built-in audience.”

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Joanne Brokaw

posted October 3, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Kyle, seriously? You’re so far off base:
1. The CCLI licensing system for music used in churches is great, but not every artist’s music is sung in churches. And trust me, no one is getting rich from it.
2. Whether Christian audiences notice a difference or not, when a band records an album, goes out on tour, has the promo for both, etc it can be well into the $100,000. You don’t have to believe it for it to be true. Besides, there is the whole “pay for play” system for tours, where artists pay to tour with other artists. That’s a whole other story – could be $500 a show an artist has to PAY to play on a tour.
3. No one illegally downloads Christian music? You must be joking.
4. Christian artists and nonprofits team up in what is a mutually beneficial situation for both. Mainstream artists can be involved in those, but how many mainstream bands want to team up with a Christian organization? And mainstream has its own “we are the world, let’s jump on the cause du jour” system.
5. Do you know what an artist gets paid to play a venue? Clearly not.
Although it’s clear that you’re not entirely serious about your comments. You could have just wrote “Christian music sucks” and made the point you clearly wanted to make. :)
host of the GS blog

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DODP (Drummer of The DIG Project)

posted October 3, 2008 at 8:59 pm

wow. . . by Kyle’s estimations. . . I should not need a real job when we’re off the road. . . Ok. . . prepare for the long-winded response from the Christian touring drummer
1) Where can we sign up? A majority of our shows are churches. . . and they barely cover gas and travel expenses. . . send me the “Special Royalties From Churches” application so we can start getting paid better
2) yeah. . . that’s completely bogus. . . 90% of Christian recordings have a distinctly underproduced sound. . . because 90% of Christian artists have to use a neighborhood studio that charges $2500 per album, instead of $2500 per hour. . . The DIG Project has been blessed to be associated with an outstanding producer in Armand Petri. . . but we are most definitely the exception. . . as a studio tech myself in real life, I can tell you that the studios and mastering facilities and talent available to small bands is nowhere close to label quality studios. . . the differences in equipment and final product are like night and day
3) That’s ridiculous. . . I found a copy of our EP online for torrent download. . . and had it pulled. . . we are a mid level national touring act that has limited airplay, and we’re being illegally downloaded. . . just do a search for just about any middle/upper level Christian band and you will undoubtedly find innumerable download options
4)yeah. . . again. . . tell me where to sign up for that. . . one of our biggest struggles, whether playing a small church, big church, or huge festival, is to get any real promotion. We have to do the majority of promo, which can be unbelievably tough when we are based in NY and are playing in southern Florida. Venue based promotion is a hard thing to reliably get. We have no non-profits pushing us. We have a partnership with World Vision, but that really doesn’t help on the promo side, which we don’t care about. . . we’re with them for the ways we can help the kids, not for how World Vision can help us. . . again, Kyle. . . swing and a miss
5) yeah. . . that’s DEFINITELY not true. . . We traveled 1200 miles each way to play at Sonshine fest this past summer, a festival that has about 75,000 people in attendance for 3 days. . . what we were payed didn’t cover the trip expenses. . . not that we really care. . .and built in audience? Kyle, bro, you have a lot of applications to send me. . . I want that one too. . . recycled dogmatic rhetoric? can you even coherently explain that? It would be so easy to write songs if we could recycle dogmatic rhetoric. . .I think we should try it
– In reality, Christian musicians have pretty much no edge at all in the music industry
So. . . what’s with the the quotes around “musicians”? I would put many Christian musicians up against most of the mainstream and bet my life savings (which as a Christian musician, isn’t much to speak of) that they’d either be just as good or better. . . I personally have been drumming since I was 4, sat first chair throughout high school, marched with the Reading Buccaneers DCI drum corps (one of 16 – out of 420 who auditioned), Played pit for 3 off-Broadway productions (Grease, Phantom Of The Opera, and Miss Saigon), drummed for 3 “secular” bands, and have played for 5 Christian bands, including 2 touring bands (as presently). I have endorsements with Risen Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, and Evans Drumheads. I have drummed session on 18 albums for solo artists, and 7 albums for bands I was actually in. And I’m nowhere near as good as most Christian drummers.
I feel safely qualified in the request that even if you don’t like Christian music, you must give them the respect to acknowledge that they are indeed musicians. . .
I’m going back to my practice room to recycle dogmatic rhetoric and do whatever a “musician” does. . . since I get payed so amazingly well to do it. . . the check must be in the mail
Well said T.P. and Joanne

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DODP (Drummer of The DIG Project)

posted October 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm

oops. . . correction. . . I meant to say $25000 per album, not $2500

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posted October 4, 2008 at 8:10 am

umm, christian music has went downhill ever since michael w smith, amy grant, jars of clay, and dctalk were in their prime.. everyone started making worship praise albums, and while it did sell well to church goers, it gave very little artistic integrity, so it kinda alienated a big audience.New christian acts today are just like a coverband of the mainstream version, nothing unique, nothing fresh, just relying on lyrics that have been repeated over and over since the beginning of time. At least the artists I mentioned before didn’t sound like anyone else in the mainstream. The reason people pay 10 dollars verses 350 dollars, is because it’s Madonna, an icon, the only one that could ever be compared to her is Amy Grant. If Christian music wants survive, it should develope their talent and not just sign people who can carry a tune and know the hymn book.

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Joanne Brokaw

posted October 4, 2008 at 10:55 am

Chad, I do have to agree that for a long time Christian music was just a safer version of popular mainstream stuff. But now, there are great Christian artists that have blurred the lines and really taken the quality up a ton. Switchfoot paved the way, and artists like Mat Kearney, Jon McLaughlin and Shawn McDonald come to mind right away. Flyleaf is another. Krystal Meyers is a huge pop artist in Japan, even though she’s outspoken about her faith (and she’s good). Shoot, Natasha Bedingfield started with Hillsong London! And you’d be surprised how much music you hear on TV is from Christian artists – even when it’s got a definite faith message.
The tide is changing – and it’s not just Christian music-version of mainstream. It’s great music made by Christians.
Check out some of this info:
You can actually enter to win Jon McLaughlin’s latest album:
All the best!
host of the GS blog

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Mark Weber

posted October 6, 2008 at 6:02 pm

There is very little money in Christian/Gospel music. In secular music, sex and booze combine with music and money and there are lots of people getting rich at the expense of their morals and their souls, while in Christian/Gospel music, it seems like everyone is “poor” and “can’t afford” anything. I overheard a Christian radio DJ say, “Christians are the cheapest people on the planet.” I understand where she’s coming from, unfortunately, because I run a website about Christian/Gospel music and consistently hear “I can’t afford to advertise…” You would think that Christians would be the richest people on the planet, and the most generous, but time after time I hear nothing but, “We’re struggling financially.” So often “Christian media” go out of business because of lack of advertising/advertisers.
-Mark from

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randall stephens

posted October 7, 2008 at 5:29 am

the problem is that you have to call it christian music
exclusion it is music inclusion
god is everything or god is nothing
did you ever listen to frank zappa and the mothers of invention
ther music was spiritual about life – love – god
frank never got $345.00 per ticket then again never complained
he – they just made music
include yourself don’t exclude yourself from life

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Callie Notah

posted October 11, 2008 at 4:15 am

My son is 11 years old and plays a mean guitar blues. It’s really sad, if he knew I know he would probably go secular. He loves Stevie Ray, Eric, and others. He’s at his age sees the condemnation of Christian Music. I really believe these are the last days.
We tell him as long as the Lord is for us who could be against us. His dad has played the bar seen and has made more money than I could In One Night.Hopefully things will change.
hang in there
Luv in Christ \cn

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Family that Loves God

posted October 18, 2008 at 10:23 pm

I think there is a problem with the commercialized “Christian” Music. It seems to be at the same level vanity as the secular music world, just without the superficial ugliness. It is subtle, but when you take the glory of the Lord for yourself, there is a word for it. If you doubt that, then you think that you can trust the heart? the word says that you can’t. You put a man and his livlihood on the shoulders of being producing music and you put him on a stage and use his photo for the cover of a CD and make his name great, and expect Him to not become an idol to some? To not rob God of some of the Glory? He tours the country, leaving his kids and wife alone for the “ministry”, but in reality he is just selling cans of the Holy Spirit. Selling an experience with God. All this stuff about them not being rich, that is a distraction. some are, some aren’t. Might Jesus have been talking about them Matt 7:20-24? I think there are many “Pastors” , “Prophets” and “Teachers” in there too. God gives us talents and gifts to use for the Glory of His Son, not so that we can become idols. Comments?

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Your Name

posted January 29, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Randall, I agree with you wholeheartedly on that!! Who are we trying to reach? Our commission is to reconcile others to Christ. If we seperate ourselves from them, how can we do that? Jesus ate with them and was criticized and condemned for it. “Family that loves God” you sound like you have been hurt on a personal level. If so, I pray God will heal that hurt. I disagree with you that people are making them idols b/c they appreciate their music and are inspired. I would call is admiration. When a musician sings he/she gives greatly of themselves. It is art being expressed and takes a lot of work and determination. Of course, you have some that want the glory for themselves but do not confuse the two. When God calls you to go and do his will…you have to pick up and do it. I personally went to a gospel artist concert and was touched by the spirit of God. I had herd the same song plenty of times before but this one time of her ministering it in person changed my life! There is something about seeing with your own eyes in addition to hearing with your ears. These are senses the Lord gave to us to help us get the most out of life. Family is most important, can’t be left out, and should be included in the ministry whenever possible.

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posted February 9, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Thank you for your great comments! This is my first time in this website and after reading these discussions I can add that the one of the best way to be successful in the christian music industry is to do it to glorify God. If you are singing or organizing a concert, pray to God so he can give you the strenghts to organize the best concert ever! Hire the best musicians and the best sound system. You can not be motivated by how much money you make,or by how many people attend the concert but rather by your desire to glorify God. Only God knows your heart and he will bail you out in time of Need. I know this from experience. God is the creator music and he created each us of us to be the light of World, especially these moments of darkness and desperation.
Good Bless you and your music ministry.

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posted January 21, 2010 at 9:33 am

Jesus said you cannot serve God and money. My problem with CCM is that it is such a money-needing stuff. Why we cannot read in our Acts that Christians organized cultural events? Because they preached another gospel. They preached hell, repentance, judgment, AND THEN the love of God. You see, they proclaimed Jesus, the crucified, and the resurrection. But they also said: save yourself from this wicked generation. Whenever I read Acts, I got zeal why todays church lack of the power of God? And I think the answer is money. The apostles were poor. They left everything for Christ. The disciples shared their things. Nobody said something to be his own. There was a healthy FEAR of the Lord. And even, people feared the apostles too. Today we have theology and apologetics. They had no time for these things. Their apologetic was only cursing the false prophets and miracle doers. AND IT WORKED! What about Simon Magus, whom Peter cursed because of his money-centeredness? What about Ananias? What about Barjesus? Today you would invite them to a concert… But Peter and Paul were so rude and legalistic…
What I would say to CCMers: REPENT, humble yourself, and save yourself from this wicked american money-centered generation. THE GOSPEL IS FREE!!! And if you do not have money for music, STOP doing that, and start BEING SIMPLE. Without rod, backpack, … organizations. Go back to the biblical cell church model written in 1Corinthians 12-14 with heart-piercing prophecies from the man-pleasing good feeling flesh music.
Do you WORSHIP God, or you just only ACT LIKE WORSHIPING before man? You know, without the preaching of judgment and recognizing we are worthy of eternal punishment, there is no need of the CROSS, and there is no GOSPEL.
Your gospel is psychological: feel good with God and accept the love of God you lonely soul. But the true Gospel to wake up people they are in rebellion against God. You do not preach Jesus as LORD. Why do you call him Lord Lord, when you do not obey his Word?
The problem is always the same: WE WANT TO BE LIKE THE WORLD. WE WANT A KING. Why? Because Jesus and the pilgrimage is not enough. Come on, you did not reject Samuel, you rejected God.
Love of this world is emnity with God. I am tired of this American Money-Christianity.

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posted January 10, 2011 at 8:46 pm

SO in reference to the downloading should the fans be blaimed or the companies who created to program for such use? The problem is the source.
God Bless

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former drummer

posted April 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

DODP, ok, first problem we have is sonshine festival and 75,000 people? that’s one of the problems with Christian’s in general, poor math skills, I think it harkens back to the whole 70 times 7 and 1 day is like a 1,000 stuff;) “how many came forward for you alter call today man? I’m guessing like 500 (followed by the holy high 5, but it was actually 27…tho still worthy of a holy high five in the end) sorry back to the point.
At the best Sonshine has had 35,000 people attend, sorry but you doubled it there. I’ve also played main stage festivals and unless you are one of the Dozen or so bands of the moment who are making $80,000 a festival, you make about $5,000 and hope to sell alot of t-shirts so you can make it to the next one. (the owners of the band made the 5 grand and the hired guns made $50 – $75)
I think Kyle is maybe put off by the skillets of the Christian scene, who are doing really well and can’t get close to claiming poverty. but there are a couple hundred struggling Christian Bands out there for every Skillet.

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posted July 8, 2011 at 10:53 am

Interesting posts, and all make good sense for the most part. A couple things since I’ve worked in music christian and otherwise nationally and local for years.

The writer noting christian music for years has bowed down to a certain sound that replicates secular sound in most ways is right on. The typical top 25 christiam music songs all have the same production and stylistic value. We all know why, thats what people are buying, The music is mostly written and produced by a few producers and company’s with more studio musicians and a great vocalist, and a well written sont that is carfully crafet to sound like what everyone in the young 15 to 30 age group is listening too. Their are excepetions but only a few. Agian, it works, this is where the sales are. Top forty christian radio is programmed to the “soccer moms” and middle class church goers who love certian artists, otherwise, they would be listing to a secular top forty station.

I’m not saying the artist don’t want to minister, i’m just saying its a full blown business now. Also, the commentor who gave credit to many artists who are christian is right. But, these artists are not “christian music” aritists. And they would never get airplay becuase their songs don’t fit the formula. I respect “christian artists” who produce great music and are not ‘formulaic”. Their out there but you won’t see em on the top ten christian charts. BTW, everybody knows that “the edge” from U2 created the guitar sound that is mostly used in all christian contemporary music and commercial as well right?

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Stephen Willis

posted September 11, 2011 at 4:00 am

This is an interesting article. I do agree that the music industry is a business. But Music Rights Organizations are billionaires. I realize that the record companies pay the Music Rights Organizations to monitor an artist’s royalties. Basically to keep radio stations from playing artists music without paying the artists. But why should the performing artist get the short stick. Well, I think the answer is basically if the performing artist did not write the songs, then they only get a small cut. It is the songwriters out there that make twice the royalties or more, more than the artist. But doesn’t Casting Crowns perform and write their own music. Hmmm! Guess the record companies are milking them dry. I say go independent. Look how the Black Eyed Peas first made a success without a record label. Look at the talent noticed on youtube today. I think the record companies are realizing that their control is slowly fading away.

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posted January 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

The above article was written in 2008. What a great & informative article it is. Sad to say that still even today in January of 2012, that along with the rest of the american and world economy, the Christian music industry is still in decline. Things continue to get tougher and tougher for the christian music business.

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