College of Integrity

Commitment, Pride, Ego, Entitlement

books-1012088__180Last week I was out on a college tour with two of our artists. The tour is making stops at a number of Christian universities over the next couple of months. During the week I experienced two contrasting scenarios.

Scenario 1

One of the universities has a very strict conservative policy about what they allow on stage for concerts during their convocation services. They require their students to dress up, cover any tattoos and remove all nose rings etc. In order to be consistent, they ask any musician entering their stage to do the same. The Dean of Students noticed one of our musicians had a tiny diamond stud nose ring and another was wearing an earring at the top of his ear lobe. The Dean asked me if I could have them removed before our band took the stage. A brief conversation with our artist resulted in instant compliance. I was so proud of our team for acting quickly to acquiesce to the Dean’s wishes without hesitation. I think the Monster (ego, pride) was successfully starved that evening.

Scenario 2

At another university stop, we had asked for a local acoustic opener in order to create an opportunity for a student musician. We had limited inputs, limited soundcheck time and our desire was to create an experience that transitioned from acoustic to a fully plugged in band. Discovering they had picked a student band, I had a phone conversation with the leader of the band about the acoustic nature of performance we were looking for. The student didn’t like the acoustic nature as they normally play fully plugged in but he committed to figuring it out. Unfortunately, the student band showed up at soundcheck as a fully plugged in band. While the student was blatantly ignoring our wishes, we let it slide and didn’t address the situation. After sound check, the student approached me to ask if we were all good with his defiance. I explained why we had asked for acoustic and asked him why he didn’t comply. With no real answer, he then committed that they would stay within their 10 minute set time we had agreed on. His band then preceded to go 14 minutes instead of the 10 minutes he had just committed to. While it may seem trivial, this artist broke his commitment twice in an effort to grab what he thought was a better presentation and stage time for his band. After leaving the university, I emailed the student to share our disappointment in his broken commitment and to encourage him to re-think his actions with future music opportunities. The student apparently didn’t appreciate the encouragement and forwarded the email to some of the University staff. Instead of addressing the student’s integrity issue, the university staff, choosing to protect the student’s ego feeding behavior, was upset with me for sending the email. What an incredible teaching opportunity the University staff missed. The Monster (ego, pride, entitlement) was well fed at this university stop.

While it is impossible to get it perfect, our Christian universities certainly have major influence on the Monster that so badly wants to control the next generation of adults. Would you join me in praying for protection and wisdom over our Christian universities as they mold the next generation?

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Olympic Faith

Olympians for Jesus

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If you are like many Americans, you found yourself glued to your TV over the last couple weeks watching the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. While Americans picked up 121 medals, it was interesting to see winners from multiple countries giving glory to God. Olympic winners are given an incredible platform as every media outlet in the world wants to grab a interview with the winners. We have seen American gold medal gymnast, Gabby Douglas, speak about her faith in Jesus over the last four years and it was nice to see so many others join her in sharing their faith at this year’s Olympic games.

Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman swimmer to win gold – “All Glory to God. Isn’t he awesome!” 

American gold medalist Maya Dirado“I don’t think God really cares about my swimming much. I think God cares about my soul and whether I’m bringing his love and mercy into the world”

Ethiopian gold medalist Almaz Ayana“I pray to the Lord. The Lord has given me everything. My doping is in Jesus”

American women’s triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgenson“I really think you just have to keep God as your focal point and know that he is always number one. When you do that it will help you gain perspective on everything in life-not just endurance sports”

“We both know our identity is in Christ” – Mens diving silver medalist David Boudia says about he and fellow American diver Steele Johnson

How are you using your platform to make Jesus famous outside the church?

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chapter nineteen: TURN ON THE LIGHTS

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chapter nineteen:

TURN ON THE LIGHTS

 

As a child, I remember having a fear that a monster lived under my bed or in my bedroom closet. My dad had a solution for squelching my fear, and it proved to work brilliantly every time. Dad would simply turn on the lights and have me look under the bed and in the closet to show me nothing was there.

Walking through life, I sometimes fear the scariest monster of all resides in me. So what do I do with the fear? Using the technique I learned from my dad, I simply turn on the lights. The quickest way I know to turn the lights on is to diligently study God’s Word, spend time in prayer with Him and surround myself with true Jesus followers who hold me accountable. With the lights turned on, God will certainly reveal any sign of a monster. As long as the lights are on, there is no way for the monster to control my mind or actions; but the minute I allow the lights to dim, the monster will begin to surface.

For me, turning the lights on often reveals Dr. Frankenstein at work. While I feel called to work as an artist manager, I struggle with how to walk out the manager role without creating monsters. Despite my best efforts, some monster-driven hearts have slipped through on my watch. Even though it seems like those were mistakes on my part, I can’t help but think God put me in those artists’ lives for a reason. If only for a short season, God can use us to mentor them. While it may be frustrating to see an artist feeding the monster, I continually remind myself that my role is to plant seeds and lead them to the light switch. God is the only one who can illuminate, and ultimately defeat, the monster.

 

MY PRAYER

God, thank You for loving me and calling me into the role You designed specifically for me. I pray You would give me wisdom as I help manage the ministries and careers of artists You have called for Your purpose. Please help us recognize the monsters present in our flesh as a result of the fall. We ask for Your help. Thank You for giving us a way to overcome the monsters. I pray You would use us to help spread the news of Your son, Jesus, as He is the only one we are called to make famous. Please kill the monsters in all of us and let Your glory shine!

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows
to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

(Galatians 6:7-8, ESV)

 

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chapter eighteen: KILLING THE MONSTER

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chapter eighteen:

KILLING THE MONSTER

 

So we know the monster lives. Now what? A well-fed monster can gain enormous influence over the person it dwells within—an influence so strong that outside voices of reason, and even the voice of God, can often go unheard. Feeling responsible for feeding and creating the monster, we become determined to find a way to break through. We must find a way to kill the monster!

I have found the task of dismantling the monster an extremely difficult and seemingly impossible undertaking. As egos grow, the monster raises a massive defense shield to protect his or her ego from outside intruders. The defense shield repels even the closest friends and loved ones as it perceives them as enemies. The monster surrounds itself with “yes” men and women who are plentiful and standing in line just to get the opportunity to hang out with the monster. Monsters like to hang out with other monsters, and anyone who speaks truth and wisdom quickly becomes the enemy.

When I married my wife over a decade ago, I entered into a celebrity family. My step-daughter is a multi-Platinum selling, GRAMMY®- nominated artist who was mentored by some of the best Dr. Frankensteins in the music industry. She found herself worshipped by millions of fans at a very young age. In her case, becoming a celebrity at fifteen years old wasn’t planned. She simply wanted to sing. I think it’s impossible for anyone under twenty- five to even begin to comprehend the implications of becoming famous. A quick look at the lives of most childhood stars shows the negative effects being worshipped often leaves behind. Their adult life is filled with trouble as they attempt to fill the emptiness the childhood stardom leaves within them. None of us were designed by God to be worshipped, so it would be ridiculous to expect a young person to walk through a celebrity experience perfectly unscathed.

Watching my step-daughter struggle with an ego that was planted and fertilized by the music industry helped me understand some of the difficulty artists encounter. Thankfully, Diana was by her side to help protect her from some of the craziness. Even so, the struggle to maturity was enormous. When one is surrounded by people willing to attend to one’s every need, basic survival skills become skewed. As with any human, if someone serves our every need, then it’s impossible to realize our true dependence on God. What happens when the “yes” people disappear? Complete emptiness is inevitable. In the case of my step-daughter, she was abandoned by many of her “yes” people the minute she encountered a difficult time in her life. Many in the Christian music industry abandoned and shunned her at a time when she needed their love the most. Thankfully, she had a mom and grandmother who cared for her way beyond any success she had achieved. Many prayers were lifted to God on her behalf; and as He promises, God was there to fill her emptiness. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a childhood celebrity who doesn’t know God or who doesn’t have friends and family who lead them in His direction and intercede with prayer. Interestingly, today if you asked Diana if she could travel back in time, would she have allowed her fifteen- year-old daughter to enter the music industry at such a young age, her reply would be a resounding “no.”

God gives us great examples in nature. One of the greatest is watching a mother bird with her babies. She feeds them and attends their every need while they are younglings. Once they begin to show signs of strength, she pushes them out of the nest in order to teach them to fly, which is similar to our role as artist managers. I not only want to see artists fly, I want to see see them fly with the integrity and the purpose God created them for. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an artist live their lives according to God’s plan.

My struggle with helping artists build platforms is similar to that of parenting. No matter how intentional we are with mentoring, it is impossible to control the outcome. I’m often reminded of the old saying, “You can buy them books and send them to school, but you can’t make them learn.” As much as I would like to tame every monster I encounter, the only one I can directly control is the one that desires to reside in me. Maybe my personal experience in battling the flesh can be used to help artists realize and understand the existence of the monster that fights to control their minds and actions. While it may be a daunting task, it’s one I feel called by God to take on. Exposing the monster early on and encouraging artists to allow God’s Word to be their manual for living life will significantly impact the monster survival rate. After all, God is the ultimate monster slayer.

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chapter seventeen: MONSTER MUSIC

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chapter seventeen:

MONSTER MUSIC

 

Music is an incredibly powerful force. Amazingly, it helps us through both good and bad times in life. I’ve experienced music’s power in some of life’s most joyous celebrations, and yet, music has also helped me process some of the darkest times in life. Contrary to what some may believe, I think God uses both Christian and mainstream music to stir and change human emotion. God may have actually used some of those secular records my youth leader encouraged me to burn to help me on my journey to finding Him. On the other hand, Satan recognizes the power in music, too, so it’s very likely he used music as well to make my journey to finding God a little more difficult.

One of the most well-known mentions of music in the Bible was when David was summoned to play his harp to soothe King Saul’s troubled soul. In an interesting twist, God brings torment to Saul’s soul but then uses David’s harp playing to assuage the torment.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.”Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well,and the harmful spirit departed from him.

(1 Samuel 16:14-23, ESV)

God also used music to give Elisha powerful words to speak.

And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah,
I would neither look at you nor see you. But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him. And he said, “ Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’

(2 Kings 3:14-16, ESV)

While music plays a significant role throughout the Bible, those two examples show God using music for specific purposes. Clearly, the ability to create music is a powerful tool He gifts to some. Even when artists with rock star attitudes and lifestyles make it to the top of the Christian radio charts, God can still use the music to draw the lost to Jesus. A good friend of mine, Pete Orta, has an incredible story of how God used his music before he was actually saved. Pete was a member of the Christian rock group Petra. He played for large audiences around the world impacting thousands of lives. Pete didn’t have a relationship with Jesus during that time, but God still used him to spread the Gospel through music. Thankfully, Pete eventually found Jesus and is now being used by God in huge kingdom-building ways. A few years back, Pete founded In Triumph, a ministry that rescues and disciples troubled young men.

While God can and will use music made by non-believers for His purposes, it doesn’t mean the non-believers He uses will spend eternity with Him in heaven. Pete’s story of redemption is glorious, but sadly, not all will end in a similar way. The Bible tells us in Luke 12:48 that God expects much from those who are given much. Clearly, large platforms fall on the side of much. If Luke 12 is indeed true, then celebrity status comes with giant responsibility and eternal ramifications. I can’t imagine standing before God after living the monster-controlled life of a rock star and answering His question, “So, how did you use the platform I gave you?”

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chapter sixteen: MONSTERS OF COMMITMENT

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chapter sixteen:

MONSTERS OF COMMITMENT

Growing up in a God-centered family a afforded me great teaching through the example my parents lived. One of my biggest takeaways from childhood was learning the meaning of integrity. Dad taught me that aside from following God, integrity is a person’s biggest asset. Integrity is also apparently a big deal to God as there is quite a bit of real estate dedicated to it in the Bible. A few verses that I keep close by to remind me of the importance of integrity include:

But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.

(Psalm 41:12, ESV)

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
(Proverbs 11:3, ESV)

The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!
(Proverbs 20:7, ESV)

When I see a person exuding integrity, I can usually trace it back to their parents. Even many I worked with in the mainstream music industry hold integrity with high regard. Commitment plays an important role in most business relationships, and it exposes one’s level of integrity to the world. During my years of working at both mainstream and Christian record companies, I generally experienced a high level of integrity. Of course, there are normally contracts in place to help folks keep their integrity in tact, but there is also a high level of respect and pride in honoring commitments.

Surprisingly, when I entered artist management I began to experience something a bit different. First of all, I noticed many artists were leery of making commitments as their minds had been filled with horror stories of bad deals and contracts. While I have heard many of the same stories, I also understand that the music business has evolved and much of the “music business swindling artists out of money” of the past has been forced out. Technology has made much of the business that was once hidden very transparent. In the past, artists with large platforms who felt mistreated used their voice to broadcast to the world how they were wronged. Their voices were often heard louder than those they accused as most business entities quietly default to litigation to settle disputes. While I understand an artist’s hesitancy to enter into a contract, they certainly have an opportunity to carry out due diligence when considering partnering with a business. In Christian music, I would hope that process includes prayer. Prayer and due diligence should help make a wise decision as the Christian music business is quite small.

As we launched our artist management company, we expected a high level of integrity from artists. After all, we would be working with Christians right? We were advised by trusted veterans in the business to use contracts. While we followed the advice, we were also willing to begin working with artists before contracts were finalized. Big mistake! We had several experiences where we worked for artists for a year, only to find them avoiding making the commitment official. When it came time to pay us, they would lean on the fact that a contract hadn’t been signed. As a result, contracts became a much bigger priority for us. However, thinking contracts would solve commitment issues was our second biggest mistake.

One of the artists we worked with joyously allowed us to help build their platform. After years of hard work developing them as an artist and songwriter, we secured them a record label. The day they signed the record deal, something in their demeanor changed. Diana picked up on it immediately, while I was a little slower to recognize the change; and I probably chose to ignore it. The day following the record deal signing, the artist hit us with “here’s why we don’t think we should pay you commission on a large part of our advance.” I was extremely shocked and disappointed that the thought of not paying us would even enter their mind. We had invested a great deal of our lives over a few years making little to no money while preparing them to get a record deal, and this was how they were saying thank you? It was their parent who delivered the message, making the artist’s trail to the absence of integrity obvious. Eventually, the same artist would walk away from our contract as if it never existed, once again being encouraged to do so by parents who proudly wave the Christian banner. Was this really happening in the Christian music industry? I pray the artist eventually realizes the mistake they made in taking their parents’ poor advice and being dishonorable. Hearing stories from other managers, I’ve realized we weren’t the first or only ones to experience an absence of integrity from artists in Christian music. While there are plenty of artists who operate with a high level of integrity, it’s sad to see even one Christian who doesn’t.

Clearly, the monster desires to control our commitments. Stripping integrity and honor from a believer is a crafty way the monster prevents one from reaching God’s purpose for their life and ministry. Should we expect a non-believer to be receptive to a message from someone with a reputation of not honoring commitments? As I stated earlier, even many operating in the mainstream music industry regard integrity with a high level of importance. As believers, shouldn’t we desire to show the world how to live with integrity? Honoring commitments is one of the most visible opportunities we have to do so. God can give us the power to resist the monster.

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chapter fifteen: MONSTERS OF FINANCE

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chapter fifteen:

MONSTERS OF FINANCE

 

Financial responsibility is an area where I see a large number of artists struggle. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise as the struggle is rampant throughout society, even with non-artists. Unfortunately, most receive little to no financial training in the early school years. I remember hearing sermons on tithing during my adolescent years, but I don’t recall one sermon on managing finances with excellence. Thankfully, Dave Ramsey showed up on the scene to offer some wise teaching on finances. I really wish Dave would launch a program specifically designed for artists. For some unknown reason, many artists eschew financial responsibility in the name of art. Some believe their art gives them a free pass to use other people’s money along their journey to success with no obligation to repay their financial debt. Many creatives are focused on the dream of their art exploding in popularity and an abundance of wealth. During the process, they fail to recognize those who invest in their career. Surprisingly, this attitude is quite rampant in Christian music.When we launched our artist management company, I would have never guessed some of the financial craziness we would encounter from artists carrying the Christian banner. Most newbie artists are filled with fear of the “evil” record labels and managers due to the many stories circulated by other artists who were taken advantage of in some way. My experience has been quite the opposite and has proven to show many of the artists are the ones to be feared.

We signed one of our first artists with such excitement—artist and manager on a journey of Christian music bliss! As the first few commission checks rolled in, we were thankful because we had been living on savings through the early launch of our management company. We were finally seeing the possibility of making a living as artist managers. Just as quickly as the first commission checks began to arrive, they ceased showing up in the mailbox. The artist was playing shows but somehow found a way to justify not paying us our commission for the shows. They apparently had bills to pay and made the decision to use our commission to pay them. Our work on their behalf was easily dismissed in their thought process. Maybe the artist received a word from God giving them exemption from paying those working for them? If so, I apparently missed God’s voice on my end. I tried to help them understand that our commission was not their money to play with, and their actions could easily be viewed as embezzlement. While embezzlement may sound like a harsh word to use, it perfectly describes how it feels to be on the non-receiving side of a commission commitment. I often ask artists the question, “What if you showed up to a church, played a show, and afterwards the pastor of the church decided to pay his mortgage with the money they had committed to you?”

Shortly thereafter, we began working with another artist, and we secured a songwriting placement for him on a compilation record guaranteed to sell a minimum of seventy-five thousand units. We agreed to begin working on his behalf while we were still working through the official formalities of the contract. Down south, that’s known as a “gentlemen’s agreement.” God’s Word calls it “honoring your promise.” Unfortunately for us, the artist viewed things in a much different light. He informed us he was exempt from compensating us for the song placement since our contract hadn’t actually been signed. A pass from God, I’m guessing?

Another Christian artist we worked with bought T-shirts from a vendor with whom we connected him. The artist sold the shirts, stiffed the vendor and even became irritated when the vendor would call looking for their money. I found the situation tough to understand as the non-believing T-shirt vendor actually asked me, “Is that how Christians operate?” How in the world could anyone ever have a conversation with this vendor about Jesus after that experience? While I understand anyone can encounter difficult financial times, I don’t think God calls us to walk away from debt and never look back. Those actions are an absolute mockery of how God tells us to handle debt. Had I been that artist, I would have set up some kind of payment plan, offered to mow the vendor’s lawn or offered some other way of sweat equity to make good on my debt. Walking away from debt is not an accepted practice taught in the Bible, and it is one of the lamest non-Christian things an artist can do on their journey of representing Jesus.

In speaking with other artist managers over the years, I have come to realize my experiences aren’t unique. You would be surprised if I listed the well- known Christian artists and worship leaders who have stiffed their managers or others. Why do so many Christian artists feel exempt from God’s instruction on honoring financial commitments? The Bible gives us undeniable instruction on paying what is owed.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

(Romans 13:5-7, ESV)

In Psalms, we are given a fairly direct description of someone who borrows and doesn’t pay back.

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.

(Psalm 37:21, ESV)

For myself, I never wish to be lumped in with the wicked. Paying debts and honoring commitments have always been huge priorities. A real tension arose as we noticed the careless abandonment that some artists have toward paying what is owed. More than just concern over me being paid is worry over where their hearts are for following God’s instruction on finances and paying debt. As believers, when we make commitments, we are making a promise before God and representing Him to others. God gives us instruction in Ecclesiastes in regards to making vows.

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
(Ecclesiastes 5:4-7, ESV)

So how do we deal with financial monsters? Just like the other monsters we have discussed, if we don’t feed them, they can’t survive. Over the years, I have become pretty savvy at recognizing early signs of the financial monster. Exposing the signs, praying for the artists and mentoring is what God calls us to do. It can be unpopular with artists at times, but I refuse to ignore poor financial responsibility. Many attempt to play the “I’m a poor, struggling missionary just spreading God’s Word” card. In the past, I have allowed those words to play with my emotions, and therefore, let poor financial responsibility slide. Now, I address it firmly with any early signs of poor financial responsibility. Finances and commitment are apparently important to God as He addresses both quite frequently throughout the Bible. God can and will give artists the ability to starve the financial monster.

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chapter fourteen: THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN

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chapter fourteen:

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN

 

Most of us have read the story in Genesis. Adam and Eve give into temptation by taking a bite of the apple, and the snowball of sin in the world begins to roll.

We are all faced with temptation on a regular basis. What we do with temptation determines our path in life. The temptation of doing something to become popular or famous is one of the most effective and dangerous tools the enemy uses. As an artist manager, I try to help artists anticipate and recognize temptation early on. If they learn to avoid temptation, their careers will bear much fruit; but the pursuit of fame will most certainly yield a harvest of rotten fruit. Jesus was very frank about the dangers of temptation.

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

(Matthew 18:7-9, ESV)

Jesus Himself experienced temptation from Satan while He was in the wilderness to fast and pray. Knowing the power and danger of temptation, Jesus made praying for deliverance from temptation a key element in His instructions on how we should pray.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

(Matthew 6:13, ESV)

One artist we worked with wanted to be famous so badly that they were willing to do just about anything for fame. While the artist was in the studio working on a Christian record, they were having a diffcult time hitting notes and capturing a great vocal pass. There was a deadline approaching to finish the record, and the artist was feeling pressured. A young producer convinced the artist to drink whiskey in order to sing the notes. This particular artist had never drunk alcohol and had made a decision earlier in life not to drink. The young producer knew about those convictions, yet still encouraged the action. I am certainly not the alcohol police, as the Bible tells me that Jesus turned water into the finest wine; but there is importance in standing strong in your convictions whatever they may be. God puts those convictions in place for a reason. I was saddened and disturbed by how quickly the artist set his convictions aside in order to do whatever it takes to “make it.” Diana and I had spent hours preparing this artist for these very scenarios he would encounter in the industry and encouraged him to prepare an escape plan for those situations. Sadly, temptation and pressure from the producer trumped any escape plan he may have laid out in advance. Assuming my role of mentor and protector, I confronted the young producer and tried to help him understand how detrimental his actions could be for the young artist’s life and career. He had created the perfect catalyst for addiction: “Drink this and you will sing well.” I’ve been around enough addiction in my life to recognize the time bomb. If the alcohol trick works, the artist could quickly become dependent on the crutch every time they sing. What about alternatives like tea with lemon and honey or recording the song in a key more comfortable for the artist’s voice? The young producer was offended when I confronted him with the issue, and the artist sided with the producer. Not only did the artist carelessly set his convictions aside, but he embraced the violator and was angry at me for looking out for his convictions. What a perfect meal the enemy cooked up to feed the monster. Unfortunately, the incident drove a wedge in the relationship between me and the artist.

When the artist’s first single didn’t perform well at radio, the artist was devastated. While I was disappointed with the lack of radio success, I wasn’t surprised. Is God really going to fully bless a Christian song recorded under those conditions? While I don’t have God’s answer to that question, it is one to ponder. The artist’s bad decision shouldn’t have been surprising as I recall an earlier conversation with his parents about their son becoming a sex symbol, and their exact words were “whatever it takes.” The “whatever it takes to be successful” attitude was used often by the artist’s parents. Unfortunately, “whatever it takes” mixed with “alcohol” and “sex symbol” creates the perfect cocktail for disaster. Billy Ray Cyrus, the father of Miley Cyrus, might have some words of wisdom regarding the “whatever it takes” approach. I can only pray God will cause the advice we shared to linger in the artist’s mind and give him something to draw from when encountering future temptations.

When an artist gives into the celebrity temptation, the snowball effect takes place. It’s like pouring Miracle Grow on the monster gene. The snowball gains momentum and becomes so big it morphs into the abominable snowman. The abominable snowman listens to no one and convinces themselves they are the biggest and baddest while daring anyone to challenge them. I’ve seen a few of those monsters walking around, and honestly, no one wants to be around them.

When I see a successful Christian headliner refuse to allow the opening artist access to the full stage and lights, it’s a sure sign that the monster is present. The God I serve calls us to serve one another.

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

(Matthew 23:11-12, ESV)

When I read Matthew 23 I don’t see any mentions of exceptions for celebrity Christian artists. Yes, denying opening artists access to full production is a normal practice in mainstream music, but doesn’t God call believers to be different? What if denying the opening act full access to sound and lights prevented one person from being impacted enough to find Jesus? Obviously, the headliner has worked hard to earn that status on the music success pyramid, but does that exalt them in the eyes of God or earn them special privileges? Jesus had some powerful words for two of His disciples who thought they were pretty special.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “ The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

(Mark 10:35-40, ESV)

Shining above some of the disappointing examples, there are some Christian headliners who manage the monster well and model great examples for others. TobyMac is one I have witnessed in action. His incredibly successful music career could very well have created the biggest monster of all. Instead, he goes out of his way to make other artists feel equal. Unlike some headliners, Toby allows opening artists access to all parts of his stage. It’s apparent Toby understands the production he travels with is owned by God, and he treats it as such. He serves as a great mentor for young artists. I have worked with several of Toby’s band members, and they are all stand-up Jesus followers. Toby has taken great care in surrounding himself with a godly team in an effort to foster a monster-free environment. MercyMe is another act I’ve seen show extreme kindness to new artists. While I haven’t had the opportunity to work around Casting Crowns, their reputation of kindness and humility reverberates throughout the industry.

God knew, without Him in our lives, we would find it diffcult to resist being tempted by desires for pleasure, fame and other things that being a celebrity promises. Jesus tells us:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the esh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world.
(1 John 2:15-16, ESV)

He is calling Christians to live differently from those of the world. Through Jesus, we can find the power to resist worldly desires that feed the monster. Walking in God’s light will melt the snow, making it impossible for the abominable snowman to exist.

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chapter thirteen: SOCIAL NETWORK MONSTERS

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chapter thirteen:

SOCIAL NETWORK MONSTERS

 

How many followers do you have? It’s a question artists must be prepared to answer with a significant number in order to be validated by the current music industry. The number of “followers,” “friends” and “likes” one has on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now determines one’s net worth to industry gatekeepers.

I must admit I am guilty of being at the forefront of the social network movement, which perpetuated social network monsters. Social networking began to grow about the time we were launching our management company. I was an early adopter of blogging, Twitter and Facebook. Learning the art of building massive followings was an interesting challenge I took on with fervor. At the time, there was a service called Twitter Grader where one could see stats and one’s ranking as an influential Twitterer in their city, state, country and the world. I quickly became obsessed with becoming the number one Twitterer in my area. The Nashville area is full of celebrities and influencers making my quest quite the challenge. I was so obsessed with becoming number one in Brentwood, Tennessee, I reached out to the top five ranking Twitterers to connect and size up my competition. I found the top four fairly easy to pass up, but there was a very savvy marketer holding down the number one position. The number one Twitterer had been using Twitter a year prior to my start, making him difficult to pass. I eventually claimed the number one spot and held on to it until Twitter Grader ceased to exist. Ironically, my nephew interviewed for a job at the former number one Twitterer’s marketing firm. During the interview, the man made the statement to my nephew: “Your uncle sure is obsessed with being number one!” Although I am embarrassed to admit it, those words confirmed that I had become a social network monster.

When I pitch artists to record labels, one of the first things most label A&R reps do is check out the artist’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to determine their “social net worth.” At times, an artist’s “social net worth” seems more important than the music they create. The crazy thing is anyone can build a facade following through a number of different methods. Someone can have ten thousand Twitter followers—none of whom ever see or care about their Tweets, thanks to follower-building software. It really takes hit radio songs and heavy touring to build a genuine large following, and that normally takes place after an artist is signed to a record label. Sure, there will be a few who go viral on the Internet without radio and touring, but those are anomalies. Unfortunately, the priority placed on the number of followers encourages new artists to become social network monsters.

While social networking is fun, it can quickly usher in a dark element. Many users post things to draw attention to themselves so they appear to be living the dream. If an artist focuses too much on what other artists post, the artist can experience feelings of depression and jealousy. I don’t think God intends for us to live in such a dark place. My advice to anyone is to keep things in check. Use social networks as a tool to engage those who are interested in one’s music and ministry, but don’t allow the obsession of getting more followers to overtake one’s daily life in an attempt to increase self-worth. A word of caution should also be said regarding spending too much time reading what others are posting. While I do recommend supporting others with retweets and shares, it’s easy to become obsessed with comparing oneself to others and allowing envy to creep in. Envy for what others are doing is food for the monster.

It’s also important to remember that social networking creates a permanent record on the Internet of what we post. I can personally say there are a few Twitter rants I posted over the years I wish would disappear. Frustration with airlines, hotels and restaurants have presented a weak spot for me. When I’m wronged, why not turn to Twitter and broadcast it to the world? Unfortunately, one can now be sued for such comments as they have the potential to hurt the reputation of a person or business. Moreover, most Twitter rants normally don’t reflect the love of Jesus, which presents an even bigger issue for Christians. Celebrities, artists and other public figures have influence over their followers and can taint someone’s reputation quickly. Recently, a top Christian artist with a massive Twitter following had a bad experience with an airline and quickly turned to Twitter to let the world know about it. The rant about the airlines reminded me of similar rants I have posted. A lawsuit was filed against the artist by an airline employee. I’m sure the artist now regrets the Tweet, as the lawsuit was broadcast across local media. Someone who makes a living singing about Jesus now has their negative rant permanently on the Internet. That particular artist has done a lot of good toward spreading the Gospel, and it would be a shame for one little incident of human error to overshadow the goodness. Thankfully, God uses my wife, Diana, to remind me to be kind when I am wronged and feel the need to Tweet. God tells us, in the book of James, slander isn’t such a good practice.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

(James 4:10-11, ESV)

I have a sneaky suspicion James 4:10-11 applies to what we say about hotels, airlines and restaurants who don’t give us good service.

Just as ill will can be spread through social networks, the love of God can also be spread. I’m often encouraged by those who post regular positive messages. A good friend of mine posts the most encouraging things on Facebook. Every morning, I know I will wake up to an encouraging word from Dusty on Facebook. I’m sure he encounters not so great days just like the rest of the world, but his consistent positive encouragement on Facebook gives thousands of followers hope and perspective.

One artist we work with also balances social networking especially well. The artist gives followers insight into their daily life. At times, the posts expose vulnerability regarding things the artist is struggling with, and at other times, the artist offers encouraging words. When the artist posts Scripture, it appears heartfelt and many pay attention.

Social networking has glorified the word “following.” The core of the word “following” feels a bit disturbing to me when used to describe anyone who subscribes to my Twitter feed. “Following” has historically been associated with religious and cult leaders. Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Gandhi, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones (remember him?) and David Koresh all had or still have followers. The word “follower” normally describes someone’s dedicated belief in an individual or an individual’s set of beliefs. I think, at times, social network celebrities begin to feel like religious leaders as their following grows. The power of getting others to act on things one posts is exhilarating! I know my ego explodes with joy when others retweet or share my posts. Did I just say my EGO (as in “Easing God Out”) explodes with joy when someone retweets me? I am so thankful my God is forgiving, as the joy in Him is so much greater than the false and temporal joy created by ego and any social network.

Putting accountability in place is a good idea for anyone who uses social networks. Having a trusted person who lets one know when one’s social network actions appear unhealthy will help users avoid much grief. When any sign of the social network monster creeps in, knowing God is bigger should help us stuff the monster in the closet and refuse to feed it.

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chapter twelve: PLATFORM VS. STAGE

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chapter twelve:

PLATFORM VS. STAGE

 

A platform is a tool God gives us humans to use for making Him famous. The size, shape and nature of the platform varies based on our individual calling. A fast food drive-thru window, a corporate board room, a meal wagon serving the homeless, a major league sports field, or an arena concert for twenty thousand people can all serve the same purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. What we do with the platform is a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, the monster recognizes the power of the platform and desires to control it. The larger the platform, the harder the monster will fight to own it.

I recently ran into a former pastor, mentor and friend of mine. Dave served as an accountability pastor for several artists and musicians over the years. As we were talking, he mentioned a successful Christian artist recently came to him concerned she had become a diva as a result of her music success. She was seeking advice on how to change. He, of course, told her she needed to ask forgiveness from anyone she had wronged, but then he gave her a huge nugget of wisdom every artist should hear. Dave explained to this artist how a platform becomes a stage the second an artist allows the focus to be on themselves. If an artist finds themselves overly concerned about how well they controlled the audience, how cool or beautiful they looked on stage or how many screaming fans they have, it might be a good time to pause and examine their purpose. When the platform becomes a stage for a Christian, they have most likely stepped out of God’s purpose for their life. Wow! That’s simple truth for anyone, no matter what platform they have been given, but so appropriate for those in the entertainment field. There is an intentional art to striving for excellence while maintaining God’s purpose. Staying connected to God through prayer and studying His Word is a great way to maintain that purpose.

While the sound equipment, lights and backdrop may look like a stage, they are merely tools God provides some to use for their platform. Artists, musicians and worship leaders can use the tools to draw in an audience, but where they take the audience once they draw them in is key. Therein lies the tension for an artist manager—how to balance helping the artist strive for excellence without helping them turn the platform into a self-gratifying stage. Platforms come in all shapes and sizes, and God does provide bigger platforms for some. No matter the size of the platform, an artist must create an environment that draws an audience in to listen. In order to maximize larger platforms, artists must operate at a high level of excellence on par with the top entertainers in the world.

As we develop artists and help them create a “drawing people in” environment, I often find myself using words like performance, stage presence and production quality. Those words can be extremely dangerous when used or taken in the wrong context. For me, praying for wisdom in coaching artists is vital. It is also important to be equally yoked with artists who are spiritually likeminded. Discerning whether an artist is seeking platform or stage in their heart can be tricky, as most learn to articulate with “Christianese” early in their career. I have found that actions reveal the true desire of the heart. When I hear an artist complain about having the opening slot or not having as much time for their set as other artists are given, I take their words as a good indicator that they are focused primarily on the stage. We are all human, so it would be silly to expect artists to never have thoughts of stage in their mind, which is the very reason artists should surround themselves with accountability and stay in God’s Word.

Over the years, I have heard artists say they are a “Christian entertainer,” not a minister. While I partly understand what they are trying to say, the distinction doesn’t exist within God’s Word. They may not be great speakers, but they can still minister as entertainers. Jesus calls all of us, not some of us, to be ministers who carry out the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(Matthew 28:19, ESV)

If those are Jesus’ instructions, doesn’t it make sense that He would want us to use the platform He gives us to carry out the Great Commission? When it’s misused to promote “me,” the platform, instead, transforms into an obstacle for leading others to Christ.

Another interesting observation are those artists who are so adamant about not being labeled a “Christian artist.” When interviewed by media, they say everything possible to get the interviewer off the subject of Christianity. In my opinion, that’s monster talk at its best! I can certainly understand not wanting to be quarantined to the small Christian music genre section in mainstream retail stores, but why would any Christian ever avoid being associated with Jesus? Haven’t they read how Peter felt when he heard the rooster crow a third time? I have heard the argument that it’s the association with the sub-par produced Christian music they wish to avoid. Others avoid talking about their Christian faith in an effort to have world appeal, allowing them to reach a larger audience. Imagine a loud buzzer sound as I throw the penalty flag here! I don’t recall Jesus cloaking His Messiah-ness in order to attract the attention of a crowd. Masses were drawn to His heavenly aroma and amazing teaching.

What does Jesus say about denying Him?

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.

(Luke 12:8-9, ESV)

Those words read pretty clear to me. I know I don’t want to be denied by God.

Over the years, I have heard many Christian artists cite U2 as the artist they wish to emulate. U2 has indeed made great music and impacted the world immensely. The band didn’t use the Christian music industry as a back door to mainstream success, as I see so many artists attempt to do. Instead, they went about playing music, and God gave them a large platform, which they choose to use to spread His message of love. Bono has been quite wise in the way he uses the platform to share the Gospel. Yes, he dropped the F-bomb on national TV, which I’m not endorsing, but the fruit he bears in everyday life with humanitarian efforts speaks volumes to the world. His love for God and other humans appears to be genuine and is obviously a major priority in his life. He also uses his songwriting gift to craft a Christian message throughout many of his lyrics. Unfortunately, many young artists who wish to emulate U2, lock in on the F-bombs but overlook the God-loving, humanitarian story. We then end up with a bunch of self-professed “cool” Christian musicians in search of the stage, running around dropping F-bombs and claiming it’s their clandestine way of sharing Jesus with the world. The platforms of artists who are lost in that way crumble as their stage is erected.

Imagine the possibilities when one focuses on the platform God gives them instead of the platform He gives someone else. While God does call us to excellence in whatever we do, attempting to deliver huge worldly audiences is taking over God’s role. When He desires an artist to have a massive audience, He will deliver the massive audience. Ask Bart Millard from MercyMe what God did with his blatant song about Jesus a few years back. Through God’s orchestration, “I Can Only Imagine” found its way into heavy rotation on mainstream radio stations around the country. The Texas mainstream radio station’s decision to play the song for the first time wasn’t planned by any record company. A listener called in and requested the song during a request show. Listener response was great and grabbed the radio station’s attention. God then gave MercyMe’s record company the vision, wisdom and tools to work His plan from there. The success of “I Can Only Imagine” was so far outside the normal lanes of working a Christian single that it can’t be classified as anything other than God’s divine plan.

We are currently working with an artist who has the ability to craft lyrics with a biblical message in a way that doesn’t offend most mainstream audiences. This particular artist is signed to a record label who chose to work him to mainstream radio before working his music to Christian radio. Unlike many Christian artists with mainstream stars in their eyes, this artist’s primary goal is to honor God through music. We have worked carefully to help him craft a message for the media that allows him to speak to the world in a way that encourages them to open their hearts and minds to the message of Jesus. The task comes with a huge responsibility, and if done wrong, could easily alienate believers and non-believers. Although his mainstream publicist gets a bit nervous when he refers to God, I’m thankful the artist isn’t willing to deny his faith in order to deliver the message. Ironically, his music is being played on mainstream stations in major markets across the U.S. allowing him to share his faith on worldly platforms. It’s amazing how right that feels and how honored I am to be a part of his team.

When I see artists avoiding association with Jesus or seeking the spotlight on stage, it is apparent the monster is alive and well. Pursuit of fame, success and money is not of God. His purpose for all believers is that we use whatever platform He gives us to make Him famous.

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