Kirk Franklin wrote a mega song once that asked, “Why Do We Sing?
With over 100 gospel albums released since that 1993 Grammy winning song and album, I’m still asking why are gospel artists singing and making CDs when seemingly only 5-10 are really making money to survive on as a person.
In nearly 20 years, I have worked with practically every major gospel artist on the planet in some shape or form, whether promoting a concert featuring them, managing them, administering their publishing or obviously, serving as their legal counsel.
I have noticed one common trend: that while we have some well known names who are doing a lot of damage (i.e., making a ton of money), like Marvin Sapp, John P. Kee, Yolanda Adams, Donald Lawrence, Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans, Fred Hammond and of course, Kirk Franklin, there are 99% that never see an actual royalty check from their record sales and to be frank, are really struggling financially.
We have 99% of the so-called “national gospel artists” or “international gospel artists” (depending on how they describe themselves on the press release) struggling to pay the mortgage, car note or rent.
So I asked why are we (STILL) singing? Specifically, why are we making CDs and then I realized many of the gospel artists probably don’t know why they are struggling or broke.
I gathered 12 Top Reasons for this struggle.
But before I state them, I am aware that gospel artists or “church folk” always like you to give some Biblical or “spiritual” foundation or “exegesis” before you sound off in an article like this.
So before reading the list below (if you need too have a Biblical backdrop), know that in biblical terms, the number 12 is symbolic for perfection. Some say 12 is the product of 3 (the perfectly divine and heavenly number) and 4 (the earthly, i.e., the number of what is material and organic).
There were 12 patriarchs in the Old Testament from Shem (the son of Noah) to Jacob.
In wise leader Solomon’s reign, the number 12 was the predominating factor vs. the number 5 in the tabernacle.
In the New Testament it is no different: 12 Apostles; 12 Foundations in the Heavenly Jerusalem; the 12 Gates; the 12 Pearls; and the 12 angels.
There are 12 months in a year. And, if all of that is not “deep” enough for some reading this article, my grandfather had 12 kids (which is significant enough for me)!
Now that we have laid the foundation and gotten that out of the way for “church folk”, here are the 12 Top Reasons Gospel Artists Go Broke (among many more):
1. They TRUST Jesus & Anyone Who Uses The Name of “Jesus” to Convince Them Not to Read Their Contracts or Hire Good Representation;
2. They PRAY Daily, But Won’t READ Daily;
3. They Sing and Shout Day and Night, But Never Listen Morning or Evening;
4. They Keep Hiring A Choir Member or Deacon From Their Church to “play” Manager;
5. They Like New Shoes More Than New Money;
6. They Overprice Themselves Out of The Market and Don’t Understand the Changes in the Marketplace;
7. They Won’t Read ANY Contracts, Even the Sprint Contract, then Cry “Satan is a Liar”, When The Phone Is Shut Off;
8. They Love a High Profile Nice Big Car, vs. a Nice Low Profile Large Bank Account;
9. They’ll Listen to Their Pastor’s Advice Before They’ll Listen to Their Attorney, Manager or Accountant;
10. They Don’t Realize Jesus Wept Because He Knew A Generation would Sing and Never Get Paid Until They Read Their Contracts Like they Read the Bible and Pray Daily;
11. They Don’t Understand a Point, Publishing or Statutory Rates; and
12. Like All Artists, They Want To Be A “Star” For All The Wrong Reasons! But They Even Wrongly Feel Jesus “Called Them” To Just Sing And Not Worry or Care About Business.
Let me explain a little about some of these reasons that are not obvious.
About 5 years ago, a gospel artists told me don’t “worry about the contract, me and the label president went to church together, he’s a Man of God.”
I wasn’t worried about the “God” in that statement, I was worried about the “Man”, i.e., flesh. Gospel artists often feel because an executive knows Jesus or comes to church with them or has a “come to Jesus” moment with them, that this executive could never send them a one-sided contract.
WRONG! Matter of fact, in those cases of someone “bonding” with you that much, please read the contract even closer and avoid the pitfalls of Top Reason #1 above.
Also, my Grandfather was always a man of prayer, but he also taught me don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. When an artist spends all day praying, but refuses to spend anytime reading (Reason #2 above) books like “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” by Donald Passman or Kashif’s Book, “Everything You Better Know About The Record Industry”, he has done himself no “earthly” good in terms of protecting himself.
I appreciate Donald Lawrence tweeting my book from time-to-time, “This Business of Urban Music” (Random House/Billboard Books), and just pray people or rather gospel artists go buy the book. But, being a former President of the Stellar Awards Board, I often took copies of my books to our annual Stellar Awards and gave them out, but some artists still would not read.
And per Reason #4 above, realize you can’t have Pookie and Ray-Ray managing you. Do not hire your BFF (best friend) from the choir to manage you or the deacon who raised you to be manager. Unless they are trained, it will be very hard for them to advance your career, no matter how “anointed” they are.
The gospel concert marketplace is really different than when promoter Al Walsh took out the Kirk Franklin-Yolanda Adams-Fred Hammond tour and shocked America with a mainstream gospel tour.
Nowadays, people don’t want to pay $30,000 or $15,000 and in some cases $5,000 to a gospel artist. And, consumers are not gonna pay to see a major artist in a commercial venue for $40 dollars when they know T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House will have you for free two weeks later.
So, as Reason #6 eludes to, as an artist, you have to take this into consideration and work with the church or promoter in a reasonable way, in terms of your pricing, hotel, travel demands and even food requests. Otherwise, you will overprice yourself and sit home every weekend, while lesser known artists get work.
Per Top Reasons #7-9 above, listen to your advisors, live conservatively and read all your contracts. I understand your pastor is a very important individual in your life. But your pastor is not your accountant, lawyer or manager and he or she may not know the ins-and-outs of the music industry. Thus, you cannot listen to him on music biz stuff.
Like all artists, gospel artists must learn what a point is on an album, that percentage of their royalties that is paid to the producer, i.e., Top Reason #11 above. They should also understand music publishing, i.e., how a simple song on a Donnie McClurkin platinum album could garner the songwriter in upwards of $100,000 in royalties under the laws of copyright (i.e., what’s known as the Statutory Rate).
And, lastly, even if you feel “called” by God to sing and “that’s the reason why you sing”, please feel just as “called” to study the “business” of music and protect yourself.
John 11:35: Jesus Wept!!!! (and is STILL weeping while we just sing and don’t handle business)!
By: James L. Walker Esq
James L. Walker, Jr., is an attorney and real estate owner based in Atlanta, GA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter @jameslwalkeresq or on his website: www.walkerandassoc.com Attorney Walker is a Professor, Legal Analyst and the Author of “This Business of Urban Music”.