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.