Musician or Mercenary

As I think through this whole thing of making a portion of my living from creative pursuits, a question has come to mind. It was prompted by an evening playing at a coffeehouse, when the place was decently busy – not SRO, but a good steady flow of humanity. Three or so groups were gathered around tables, one of these (at least – didn’t check out the other two) was a Bible study. Groups of friends, gathering for good conversation, fellowship and enjoying some pleasant music as an accompaniment.

Sounds like a fine evening, right? That’s what I was thinking.

Now, allow me to digress a tad… When a musician plays someplace like a coffeehouse, it’s not like a club or a bar where you get a certain percentage of the door or some other arrangement. You’re playing for tips, and for the chance to sell CDs or other merch you might have with you. So you play for two or three hours, hoping to sell some CDs, maybe have some brochures or business cards taken which might produce some future gigs (maybe even some paying ones – what a concept!), but mostly hoping for enough coin to get dropped in your bucket to fuel the van and keep rolling to the next gig.

(Depending on your era, it would be appropriate to be humming Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” or Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” right now. Or, if you really want to go back a ways, go for Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” Any of these are a fine counterpoint to the discussion thus far.)

So, back to our evening of music and such… At the end of the night, when things had cleared out and we were packing up the dollies and dishies, we checked the buckets…

And found $2.00. Two. One…two. Duo. One more than one, but one less than three. (“five is right out!”) Had it been a dead night, I’d accept that. But there was a good stream of folks through that night, with a major lack of coin in the buckets.

And I was not amused. Not angry, ticked, or anywhere near postal. Just frustrated and disappointed.

Which leads me to the question that came as a result of that night: Are you a Musician, or a Mercenary?

Where does one cross over from playing for fun, to bring others joy and to give God glory, and arrive at play for pay? No pay, no play. And does that change things – your attitude, your behavior, your worldview?

For most of my life, music has been something that is done for fun, but not to make a living. I’ve often said that nobody in their right mind goes into doing this as their occupation – “never quit your day job!” is the credo we live by.

But, in this time and in this place, creative pursuits are what I do. They have to be more than just recreation – they have to contribute to our household. At the very least, they need to pay for themselves so that they don’t leech resources from what is needed to keep us solvent.

And that changes a lot. Joy gets trumped by dollar signs. The first consideration moves away from “cool – a chance to go play!” and heads toward “can I really afford to do this?” Childhood innocence and wonder meet cold hard reality at 70 mph. Ouch.

So, this would be a good place to refocus, eh wot?

God is the giver of gifts, the author of creativity. A lot of how I view the world is wrapped up in that. I believe that, although people are capable of producing amazing creative works, the pinnacle of those works are achieved when the art / music / etc. produced is offered to the Creator’s glory. Creativity for its own sake is a downward spiral, concerned only with the inward human condition and not with its impact on the world. Think of some extreme examples of modern art, of 20th century music, or of the bizarre things done as “performance art.” Creativity for its own sake.

Since God gives the gifts, and my goal is to reflect Him with those gifts, it follows that He will also provide the opportunities and the resources necessary to exercise those gifts. If I proclaim one part of His truth, I have to accept ALL of it, right? He gives gifts. He supplies needs. He cares for it all.

Two bucks in the bucket? Well, that’s two bucks more than I had 3 hours ago. And who knows what impact a song I played might have had during a serious conversation or a Bible study? What impact might the music have had on the person so ripped up by a stressful life, that a little bit of musical peace seemed like the eye of the hurricane?

The music is His. The words are His. The abilities are His. And what is necessary to use them is also His to give.

Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by;
Trusting Him whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

“Trusting Jesus” – words by Edgar Page Stites

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