Finding My Way 2: Is Music a Business or Ministry? Is it My Hobby or Career?
When I began my journey as an artist, I wrote and delivered my lyrics like the artists I was most impacted by. The more I began to develop artistically, I found unique cadences, breathing patterns, melodies, & tendencies to express myself. The challenge came when I got to the crossroads of “Hobby vs. Career” & I had to make a decision. Each came with different benefits and responsibilities, but most importantly I had to follow my prayer-born convictions.
This led me down the path of my career. This was cool. I felt like I was following the will of God for my life and I’d start earning money & notoriety for it eventually. The only problem was, there was another crossroads: was this a Business or a Ministry?
I sat down with my good friend & big brother Scott Free (founder of City Takers and Pastor of Crossover ATL) and he told me how I answered this question would determine the avenues I needed to focus on to make a living doing music full time. If it was a ministry, the music is a tool for outreach and you should not expect to make income from listeners. There’s income here but from those who support your cause (whatever the mission is for you). If it was a business, the music is your product and the plan is to market and sell it. My heart says ministry, but the vision God gave me requires it to be a business, thus “Red Slash Culture” was in motion.
When you start to think about business, there are three areas you have to give attention to have a viable business: The Product, Branding/Marketing, & Sales. I had been working on the product for over 10 years and Billboard charted my first solo project. I had a branding/marketing deficiency and hadn’t a clue how to resolve it.
I’m in Atlanta, so naturally, my perspectives & opportunities are different than most artists in different markets. There are tons of stages, open mics, & listeners in my city, but if you’re not intentional NONE of them will aid you in your quest to impact the world. It wasn’t until after an online music review with DJ Calvin (Russ’s DJ), that I realized I had a problem. It was the hardest most critical compliment I’d ever gotten. I’d sent him some new music I was working on, and he reviewed it on his live. Surprisingly, he stopped mid-song to tell me he didn’t want to hear anything else from me outside the “version of me” on my song, “Lion or Lamb” (which Billboard charted). This bothered me deeply because I was sure that my growth from that song was in the right direction.
Was he saying I was trash? Was he trying to pigeon hole me to a more church friendly presentation? What made that song “the bar”? After getting more council I learned what he was saying was that “I didn’t have a brand.” This has little to nothing to do with the music, but everything to do with the sound. What I mean by that is when you think of your favorite artist, they’re your favorite because they meet your expectations. You can anticipate their approach, delivery, and even what cadence they will use. In some cases, you’ll even know the artist by an adlib or the vibe it creates. I didn’t have that. What he meant was that the sound (lyrics, delivery, cadence, etc.) from my biggest song to date should be my standard means of expression, because it worked. This epiphany revolutionized my art and I had to thank him for it.
When you think of your favorite companies, the first thing you remember is the brand and impact of their product. For any business to be successful (especially music), you should establish your brand. This way your consumers know how to find you amidst the hundreds of thousands of your competitors.
This is part two o the Finding My Way series by artist 2.0. Every week he takes a dive into how he’s survived in the industry. Read part one here.