Pay up, but not too much

An interesting thread over sogospelnews is developing about the pay, or lack thereof, for average sg groups. Tony Rush entered the fray and, as per usual, brought clarifying good sense to the conversation. What’s more, his remarks inadvertently exposed the kind of naiveté and up-is-downism (some might just say denial of reality) among fans that helps keep sg a low-overhead industry when it comes to personnel and labor costs (fans are also implicated in this swampy mess when they clamor and carry on about “high” ticket prices and sentimentalize love-offering concerts as somehow more biblical or Christian than flat-fee gigs when in reality they’re often a way to make cheapskates feel better about dropping a few measly bucks in the plate at a concert that easily ought to have brought $8 or $10 bucks a head; I realize love-offerings do allow people of less affluent means to enjoy sg, but it’s just wrong to emphasize the plight of poor fans while downplaying the cost of love offerings to sg performers). After Rush persuasively sketched out the depressingly depressed wages for most sg types, a well-meaning but thoroughly naïve poster responded with a mixture of shock and indignation (”How can this be right to pay fulltimers in music ministry an amount that doesn’t even provide for the families they hardly ever see?”) that was understandable but also disappointing insofar as anyone would think most groups are making a livable wage on the road. Rush’s response gets right to the point:

It’s not about being “right”. Anyone who doesn’t like the pay doesn’t have to take the job. Besides, the group can’t pay out what isn’t taken in. If SGM groups had to operate like normal businesses (according to the law of supply and demand) most groups would have to come off the road. They don’t earn enough money to stay on the road and the vast majority of money they DO take in comes from charity dates (love offerings). There’s only a small handful of groups that can survive on the road based on the demand for their music. They’re easy to recognize because they’re the ones that are consistently drawing the largest crowds. But, from an employer/employee standpoint, it’s simply a matter of what you’re willing to live with. Plenty of young men/women are willing to take a job for $300 a week just to be able to sing the music they love. Whether they will be able to afford to do it for long will depend on their ability to get out of the farm team groups and into a group that will actually pay them a salary that they’re able to help support a family with. But, it IS up to the artist. No one is forcing them to stay in a job where they can’t pay their bills. If they don’t like what they’re earning, they can do what I did: quit and go make money somewhere else.

This triple-edged sword is vitally important to understand in its full implications. If there weren’t people willing to work for these wages, owners and managers willing to pay these wages, and fans willing to gobble up the music created at these wages, wages wouldn’t be this low. And what Rush doesn’t say and what shouldn’t go without being said is that the stark and miserable salaries most performers make are probably at the heart of most personnel changes one way or another. Just as God often calls young or middle-aged pastors with growing families from small churches to larger, better-paying ones, talk of performers wanting to spend more time with their families (while doubtless true in some sense and many cases) is often a useful euphemism for the inescapable fact that unless you’ve got a widow’s barrel and cruse of oil on your back porch or have a generous patron offsetting your expenses or possess a supplemental income of some kind, a typical sg wage is not going to cut it. This fiscal reality is also why you see more and more solo acts taking off, more duos and trios cropping up, and the wider and wider use of tracks (and it’s also why Jay Parrack and Kirk Talley are in all likelihood NEVER going to go back to quartet work, at least not any time soon). I’m not saying that you can’t complain about tracks (or poor use of them) fouling up a concert. What I am saying is that until “the industry” and its self-appointed spokespeople (that means you, Roy Pauley and Jerry Kirskey and the like) are willing to talk about the abysmal slave’s wage paid to more than a few sg performers, and until fans are willing to come to terms with the consequences of love-offering concerts and preposterously low ticket prices, it’s just a titch disingenuous to bellow and blather about the decline of the traditional, all-live and uncanned four-part sg performance.

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