The American entertainment industry is one in which minority representation is overflowing, and Christian music is no exception. However, the fact that many express their faith and ministry through music makes the gospel and Christian entertainment field heavily saturated, making it difficult to stand out and become financially successful. While most religious artists would agree that the primary focus should be ministering to the souls of people, the reality is that one must be able to afford to minister, so most artists have a need to make their income through their ministry in order to be able to perform it full-time. Gospel jazz musician Merlon Devine shares some words of wisdom and experience with ONE Magazine that serve to encourage and educate others who want to break into the music industry.
ONE Mag: When did you start playing your instrument?
Devine: I started to play the saxophone at the age of 12. I started in the 7th grade band. I was inspired to play at the age of 6. My mom took me to a gospel concert for a saxophonist named Vernard Johnson.
ONE Mag: When did you realize that you wanted to play professionally?
Devine: I realized I wanted to play professionally around my junior year of high school. I was really excelling with my gift. During this time I was being asked to play at so many weddings and Sunday afternoon church programs. I was getting a little revenue from it as well.
ONE Mag: Did you have a strong support system when you first started your music ministry?
Devine: Yes I did. My wife was and is still very supportive of my music ministry. Also my church at the time was very supportive in the form of encouragement.
ONE Mag: What were your funding sources?
Devine: We used income from our jobs to fund our ministry, along with a lot of creativity to help our dollars stretch further. We also had people that were willing to donate their time and skills to help us get off the ground.
ONE Mag: Roughly, how much did it cost to start your business?
Devine: It evolved over time, so I never had a certain amount of dollars I had to come up with to start. It was something I had been doing all along as a hobby. Once it began to generate enough income as a hobby, I switched to doing it on a full time basis.
ONE Mag: What were some of the hardest lessons you learned about the music industry?
Devine: The hardest lesson I learned about the music industry is that exposure is vital! People desire those they are exposed to, so it is important to be as visible as possible.
ONE Mag: How do you manage your non-performance business operations?
Devine: I have a home office, which I use a lot. I clock in just like someone going to an office job. In fact, I probably put in more office hours than I ever did when I worked an office job (for other companies). My wife assists me also with this. We outsource various jobs to help with our efficiency. At times it’s a lot of hats to wear, but they have to be worn in order to have a productive ministry.
ONE Mag: What were the greatest obstacles when starting your business?
Devine: Learning how to work it! There was more to this than just playing my sax real good and people calling me. Learning that I had to network with different entities, understanding that I had to be involved in more than just the events I was booked for. I learned about the need to volunteer more. Recognizing I was not on a bi-weekly pay anymore and that what ever I received was because I went out and gathered.
ONE Mag: Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for aspiring artists who wish to achieve success?
Devine: 3 things-
- Do what you do well- goes without say, practice your craft.
- Value Relationships, they are vital. Try your hardest to make sure whomever you do your business for, at the end, They Like YOU! Others may do what you do, but if someone likes you and you are doing #1, your chances of retaining their business just got bigger.
- Be Cost effective- Basic math! Make sure your income is bigger than your outgoing.
To hear and purchase the music of Merlon Devine, visit