Money, mediocrity, and the myth of 'making it' (part 7)

Tom Chevis 14 Feb 21
This final instalment concludes this series of blog posts on what it means to ‘make it’ as a musician by focussing on the unavoidable and practical necessity of making money, and how that fits into everything discussed thus far (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6!)

Money matters

I probably won’t be the first, nor last, person to inform you that of all the topics Jesus discussed and taught on, there are few so frequently mentioned as money. He spoke about it a lot.

Necessarily that means that this blog post won’t even come close to saying everything that there is to say on this subject, nor will I even try to, but hopefully this will be helpful to those wanting a career in music.

The first thing to state is the blindingly obvious, which is that money matters. The reason this is necessary to say, however, is because we can like to think that it doesn’t. We can like to think that we are 'above' such base and ignoble concerns, as though money were a dirty thing.[1] As musicians and artists, we can like to think that we are concerned with the deeper, spiritual, moral, ethical issues of life, and personal finances can seem petty compared with such matters. But the fact that so many of us spend so much of our time thinking and worrying about our financial situation show this to be a nonsense and a farce!

To survive we must eat. To eat we must have food. To have food, if we are not a landowner with agricultural capabilities and resources, we must buy food. To buy food we must have money. Life is of course about much more than survival. Music is a wonderful exemplar of this fact. God could have made the world with only the barest of natural resources needed for survival, but in fact He has given us an unnecessarily lavish creation full of riches and abundance and beauty – of which music is surely not an insignificant part – that testifies to life being far more than survival. And yet life must always include survival at its most basic level. And so we need money.

Why do I say this? Well because therefore it is imperative that we factor in making money to the musical decisions we make in life. And more specifically, we must factor in making enough money. This is a matter of wisdom. This is a matter of common sense. Especially if we have financial obligations, which all but the very super-richest of us do. As in, even if you don’t have a spouse and children to support (and the majority of you will, one day), you’ll still have other financial obligations, not least to your landlord, or mortgage lender (if somehow you’ve achieved the seemingly impossible and scrabbled onto the property ladder). Even more pointedly, it’s clear both from Old and New Testament teaching that believers will contribute money to the worship assembly, i.e. your local church, so that will be another financial responsibility, even though it’s a voluntary one.

And therefore, whenever we are offered musical employment, we will need to factor in making enough money to be able to keep up with our financial responsibilities. That doesn’t mean that you will absolutely never do something free of charge, especially if, for example, it’s for a good cause. But it will normally mean that you can advocate for and insist on good remuneration for services rendered. You are not obliged to take a job that’s considerably underpaid. Indeed, you do the entire industry a disservice in doing this, making it harder for all musicians (especially those not at ‘the top’) to make a living from music.

Be realistic

The second thing to say is that we should be realistic about the music industry’s monetary aspects, and what that means for your career choices. That is to say, for most people, the money side of a music career is not a straightforward one. It involves invoicing, bookkeeping, and self-assessment tax returns. It means you might say yes to a job only to find another one offered at the same time which pays better. It sometimes means saying yes to some work in faith, hoping and praying that something else will also come along that month to fill the coffers up to their usual level. And for most people, especially those in ‘mediocre’ jobs (see parts 3 and 4), it means not having a whole lot of money compared to other folk our age, which may hamper our ability to get onto the property ladder, all of which becomes more important if and/or when you start a family. The fact that most music work is in cities, not least London, where the cost of living generally, and property particularly, is (often way) above average also makes this relevant.

So, you may need to weigh up your various desires and decide what you are prepared to sacrifice. If you want to be a freelance musician, but you also want a house in the countryside, you may have to choose one or the other (depending on lots of other factors as well).

Or, if your personality is such that stability is really important, then for the sake of your own wellbeing, you may need to focus your musical energies into getting a job with a stable salary, whether that’s in performing or teaching or something else.

Don’t worry; seek first the Kingdom

The third and final thing to say is that money doesn’t matter as much as your relationship with Jesus. That is, for all that we must be wise with our financial matters, both in terms of how we earn it and how we use it, what’s most important is that we trust in our Heavenly Father to provide for us. Hopefully all I’ve said so far demonstrates that I do not say this to advocate for a super-spiritualised, unrealistic, unwise ‘dependence’ on God for money which amounts to little more than considering God a magic genie who will just pop it into our bank account regardless of what we do. Rather I say this to emphasise that amidst all the uncertainties, and particularly financial uncertainties, that a music career can bring, we should nevertheless remember that our Good Father in Heaven will provide for us all that we need, heeding Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:31-33 when He said:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

What matters most in your Christian walk is not how you make your money from music, but that you seek first the Kingdom of God. If you do that, everything else will follow.

For some, that will mean, in God’s providence, that He sovereignly provides more music work that helps to pay the bills and to be given away. For others, seeking first the Kingdom may mean that a realism about current career opportunities versus financial responsibilities means switching from a musical career with little financial stability to another musical career with a more regular salary. For others in that situation it may mean switching to a completely non-musical-related career.

But in all cases, the key is to seek God’s Kingdom first, to pursue holiness and godliness, to commit to a local church where you can grow and serve, and to trust God to provide all you need. In doing so, you will then be able to grow ever more mature as a disciple of Jesus, and so be able to use your (hopefully ever-increasing) wisdom to discern, however high-profile or ‘mediocre’ your musical job is, and however much or little you may have felt ‘called’ to your current role, what you need to do in order to love God and love others through fulfilling your current financial responsibilities.

Let me finish by once again pointing you to 1 Timothy 6. This is verses 6-8, in the New Living Translation –

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

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[1] As God says in 1 Timothy 6:10 (highlighted in part 6), it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil, not money in and of itself.

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