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The Incubator Newsletter
...hatching good stuff.

The professional artist development newsletter for the
progressive thinking Christian music ministry

How To Get Discovered As
A Christian Artist

3 Secrets To Success...


picture of Nate Sakany

hwant to talk about a phrase that is used to describe a common idea about breaking into the music business. That phrase is 'getting discovered'. I wish I could say that this term and all the emotions and elements of it were something relegated to just the 'secular' side of music. But, sadly, that's not the case. Christian music deals with it just the same.

I hate the term 'getting discovered'. It conjures up the image of a starry-eyed amateur being catapulted into fame and fortune by the "suits" at a record Company. The term panders to that part of the Christian musician that wants to serve God with his or her talents but is both distracted and lured by the flash of Nashville's neon lights. Perhaps what is more disturbing is the reality that this term does indeed get an emotional rise in an artist. It appears that right next to each other in the human heart lies the humility of a servant and the haughtiness of an ego. It's always shocking for me to discover this kind of partnership inside of myself. But, fully accepting the stark reality of that contradiction is a large part of what being a grown-up Christian is all about. Then again, I hate this growing up thing. But that's another seminar altogether.

A third reason I'm uncomfortable with the term "getting discovered" is that as the president of a music ministry incubator company and small record label (Incubator Creative Group), we have a very unconventional paradigm of operation that is often contrapuntal (a fancy word for going opposite directions, you might remember it from any music theory classes you've taken) to our peers in the music industry. Incubator's strategic focus is on the emerging artist who must make his or her ministry work in the context of the local church marketplace. As I am fond of saying, getting discovered is something larger, more respectable record labels are more qualified to offer -- you know, the ones without chickens on their logos.

when I reflect on what it means to get discovered, my mind predictably starts into its own 'contrapuntal' mode. Maybe that's just the way I think. My brain seems to be "wired" this way (an "NT" for you Jung fans out there). I often discover a fresh angle on truth by thinking in ironies or opposites. For example, here are a couple to ponder: "Instead of studying the Bible, let the Bible study you," or "Instead of seeking God's will, let His will seek you out." Wow. Those can keep me going for hours.

So, when I apply this kind of thinking to the idea of getting discovered, a few interesting twists develop. Based upon my learnings from over 30 years in the Christian music field, I've developed three "brain-shifts" that can give you a preliminary action plan for getting discovered. We'll discuss two of them in this article and get to the third in the next article.

#1. Discover yourself before someone else gets there. A sad legacy in common with the history of all discovered continents is the abuse they suffer at the hands of the discoverers (and their sponsors). Think of yourself, your talents, and ministry potential as an undiscovered territory. It becomes really important that you discover it yourself before the big boats arrive. The richness, beauty, and God ordained purpose of the land may never be maximized if the 'natives' don't have a chance to explore and fully inhabit it. Who would tell the record company execs with those big pilgrim hats what the land is really like (a reference to the discovery of American for our friends out there on the rest of the planet)?

Those who excel in any field, music included, usually do so by proceeding career "discovery" with self-discovery. The greatest fulfillment and happiness come from understanding yourself first - both the good and the bad. It's not hard to find teaching on how to succeed by focusing on your strengths. But discovering and accounting for your weaknesses and brokenness is the other half of success seldom talked about-particularly in a Christian subculture fixated on the impossible concept of perfection in a fallen world. In a ministry context, our brokenness (i.e. the stuff that's wrong with us) is usually more important than all our great giftings and strengths. The apostle Paul said it simply in explaining how God's strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. The power of the resurrection only has merit when it's connected to something dead.

Success comes from intimately knowing how you naturally excel and how you very naturally fail. Wisdom in accounting for both of those elements in your plan is crucial. Planning only around your talents and positive potential is only 50% of a plan.

A self-discovered person stands out in a crowd. Art and music created by them makes its own way and attracts its own audience. Even if it doesn't attract a large audience, it's always a loyal one. Successful ministry (and marketing) in the 21st century western world will be determined more by the strength of your grip than the length of your reach (for both your effectiveness as a minister and your success as a marketer of your ministry). Self-discovery leads to vulnerability. Vulnerability drives you to God. God and vulnerability makes for great art. Great art connects with people at a deep level. It can all be a scary process, one you may not have the courage for. That's why you need God. He's not afraid. He's seen it all before - when he was contemplating that whole Jesus on the cross thing.

#2. Become the discoverer, not the discovered. Let's face it. The music business is confusing. The complexity of it leads to all kinds of weird presuppositions for how to get discovered, depending on whom you last talked to.

Instead of passively awaiting discovery, become a discoverer. Search out for yourself as to just how the music business actually works. History is filled with stories of inventors, discoverers, and adventurers who ended up finding something they weren't looking for. Like all discoverers, you may do the same - perhaps discovering something of even greater value.

To be a successful discoverer you need to learn to shift paradigms - see contrapuntal opportunities. This will often give you a new framework on which to hang your thinking that can change the outcome of your situation. In a course like this, learning to think differently is foundational to making a significant change in your success level as an artist.

It's much like John showing up at Ellen's house to help her move into a new apartment unit right next door to her old one. John arrives to find Ellen struggling with a large couch stuck in the middle of the entry door. He quickly runs up and starts helping. After several minutes of mutual groanings and strained muscles, it's obvious the couch is hopelessly jammed in the doorway. "We'll never get this thing inside," says John. "Inside? Whaddaya mean inside?" says Ellen. "We're trying to get it OUTSIDE!"

That's called a paradigm shift. None of the facts have changed, but a whole new opportunity exists through that simple discovery!

Because of the way each of us is uniquely "brain-wired" and "sin-broken", and with the surprising nature of the discovery process, here's an idea for structuring your own personal discovery plan: If your heart pulls you toward a ministry orientation for your music, study the music business. If your heart pulls you more toward a business orientation, study the ministry. In either case, you might be surprised at what you discover.

When you decide to be a discoverer instead of the discovered, you adopt an active (verses passive) approach to your future. You've got stuff to do when you're a discoverer. If you are 'America' waiting to be discovered, you could be sitting around for 1492 years (another America reference, for my international readers).

In the next article, I'll give you the third tip that will really turn your thinking on its head.


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