Monday, June 04, 2012

How Excellence Conquers the Industry vs. Ministry Debate

What debate you ask?

Every week, someone asks me how to get a record deal, thinking that MUST be the way they start down the path in Christian music ministry. (By the way, asking for one is one of the ways you probably WON’T get a record deal…)

So the debate is, if I want to have a worldwide ministry, won’t I need to be signed to some big company in the music industry? Otherwise I will wither and die, playing my guitar to old folks in assisted living centers, and for my mom who loves my stuff. Oh yeah, and on Youtube (watch me stare into the camera uncomfortably).

Tell you what, let’s leave the industry aside for a moment and talk about something else that’s much more likely to become part of your music and ministry than a record deal, and that’s excellence.

Yes, it used to be that unless you were signed to a major label, you had no chance of getting an amazing record made and promoting it to the world. But the fact is, as you know, you can now make a sparkling, well-produced, full, 10-song album for less than buying a new car. And with the amazing tools on the Internet from social marketing to online radio to distribution, you can get your music to thousands if not millions with a little hard work.

But, just like the days of old, for your music and talent to rise to the top, it has to be amazing. It has to shine, be original, be commercial, and be VERY good. There is SO much out there that it had better be excellent and smokin’.

So how do you do that with your music? Well, you find the very best folks on the planet you can find and hire them. Easy enough right?

Yes, it requires investment, but so does a record deal. If you were given one, you’d have to pay back whatever the label spent, and likely never own anything. Yes it requires work. In a record deal, just like without one, you will need to work every day (and twice on Sunday) very hard to build your audience.

The funny thing is that this debate is becoming a moot issue. More and more artists are deciding to make their own luck, find a producer, and own everything as they build their music ministry. And a whole music (ministry) industry has built up around them from Reverbnation, to Bandcamp, to CDBaby, to Discmakers. All these companies have grown to monstrous capacity to serve the new music business.

Still, to be heard and noticed by fans, you must be excellent to be heard above the fray. Oh yeah, and you’ll need to work harder than anyone out there to do it.

Ready to run the other way? Or, are you ready for what it takes to achieve excellence?

Only you can answer that debate.

Have a great week!

Eric Copeland is a music producer, and works every day with dozens of artists, musicians, engineers, and others giving everything they have to be excellent in music ministry. Care to join? See what they are doing at and their artist development site


Ed Kee said...

Great post, Eric. A quick story. Years ago, as A&R Director for Brentwood Records - in the days before the internet and social media - I was hearing buzz about an unsigned artist in Atlanta who was packing out the Atlanta Civic Center with everyone from age 14 to 80. When a label hears of someone whose work (and the evidence of it) speaks of excellence, it gets their attention, so I flew down to see a concert. I was amazed. It was just as reported. The place was packed and the crowd was rabid for this guy. His show was well produced, his songs were good and he knew how to "handle" an audience. Everything clicked. It didn't take us long to offer the guy a recording contract. You're probably expecting me to tell you that is was someone like Steven Curtis Chapman, but it wasn't. You've never heard of this guy because, due to personal circumstances, he never signed the deal. My point, however, is that regardless of the fact that he never became a label artist, he had a great offer by a strong Nashville label, so it was his for the taking. I guess the timing wasn't right for him. It came to him though, because of the excellence he poured into his work - on every level. It's the same thing with songs. Writers complain that you can't get songs cut these days because the artists write their own or label writers write with the producer or artist, etc. You know the excuses. The truth is (and I've seen this several times) a truly GREAT song (there's the excellence part again) has people lined up to record it. I personally saw that happen. A song comes in the door and everyone who hears it is speechless. It becomes a matter of "How fast can we get this to our artist? They're in the studio this week, but this song HAS to be on their CD. We'll drop one if we have to." That's what excellence does. It takes work to get there, but the payoff is worth it. Finding people who can help you build excellence into your art is a must. Few people can do that on their own. The "iron sharpens iron" principle applies well here.

Personally, I think in many cases, a recod label can be so busy juggling many artists, that excellence isn't as much of a priority as meeting the release date is. THey've got to get this one out and move on to the next one. An unsigned artist who is responsible for his own career can take the time to make sure the excellence factor is priority #1. That's a great advantage.

I'll stop there, but I think your point is well stated. Excellence trumps all.

Ed Kee

Eric Copeland said...

Great stuff Ed! Love this story. But you are right, it's all about excellence in artist or song. Thanks for your wisdom!