Rock Star • noun – A performer behaving in an arrogant, rude, or obnoxious manner.
The stage manager was panicked. The festival was more than an hour behind schedule. Because of a city curfew, power to the stage would be shut off at 10. Road managers were asked to have their artists cut some songs so that every artist would get a chance to play.
When one road manager refused, he left the promoter in a tough spot. A not was penned and passed directly to the artist on stage between songs. We’re running behind by more than an hour. Can you please cut a few songs? Thank you for understanding.
“Get the **** off the stage!”
“I’ve worked all kinds of concerts,” one crew guy later told me. “I’ve been treated bad before. I just didn’t expect this from a Christian artist.”
How do singers become rock stars? How does this happen to the best-selling author, successful entrepreneur, widely read blogger, or mega church pastor?
The Christian music industry’s structure is identical to that of the mainstream music industry: Labels, booking agencies, promoters, managers, road managers, business managers, publishers. Every piece of the machine works together toward two shared goals: make famous, make money.
This model has successfully created rock stars since the 1950’s. It’s naive to think that Christians churned through this same system will come out the other end any differently. The same is true when Christians are processed through any machine primarily designed to produce stars and wealth. The machine will work more often than not.
Real friends tell us to take our sunglasses off indoors. They point out that buying $200 jeans makes it hard for anyone to take our child sponsorship pitch seriously. They remind us to be grateful and to act like it. When our life is out of balance they tell us to stay home, play with our kids, date our wife. They let us know when we’ve hurt someone and they push us to make it right. They ask when we attended church last and remind us that singing about Jesus isn’t the same as having a relationship with Him and His people.
But touring artists (and many other successful people) often don’t have enough real friends. Instead, many of us are surrounded most of the time by those who benefit from our success and happiness. There’s no accountability when every relationship is on the payroll.
A successful artist (or anything else) is constantly affirmed by fans; with radio play, applause, royalty checks. Constant affirmation skews perspective. This happened to me.
My first record did very well entirely because radio stations played my music…a lot. I was constantly told in myriad ways that I was amazing. Slowly, I must have started believing it.
When my second album released, radio stations didn’t play it. And the people who’d told me how great I was no longer booked me, came to my shows, asked for my autograph, or returned my phone calls. I felt personally slighted. I must have thought I was owed attention, that radio stations needed me, that fans loved me. I became bitter, complained publicly, and burned many bridges.
Constant affirmation warps perspective, makes us believe we are more important than we are.
A Better Way
I’ve overreacted to these three bogeymen. Like an alcoholic avoiding drink, I’ve chosen to live far outside of Nashville, not even socializing with people in the music industry. I avoid affirmation like the plague too. Applause and compliments make me very uncomfortable – I’m terrified of what they might do me. I often don’t sell merchandise at my concerts, choosing instead to focus solely on asking my audiences to sponsor children instead – I’m afraid of feeding my materialistic motivations.
It’s an unhealthy extreme I live in today. That’s not the solution to all this.
But we need a solution don’t we? Not misappropriated scripture references and well-intentioned platitudes but practical actionable changes.
And not just for the Christian music industry. Anywhere fame and wealth are highly prized, constant praise abounds for the successful and authentic corrective relationships are in short supply.
Maybe the way forward begins with honest uncomfortable conversation about all this. So let’s talk.