The world of itinerant ministry is a multi-faceted entity. The possibility of traveling around the world leading worship and (hopefully) getting paid for it is appealing to most musicians and singers. While this seems glamorous, it can actually involve a lot of work and can be stressful. For those of you that currently do traveling ministry or for those hoping to do so in the future, we’ve put together a list of things that will hopefully make your traveling life easier and more fulfilling.
THE RIDER: SETTING EXPECTATIONS
First things first, create a rider. This all-important document is a huge part of the traveling music industry and can save you hours and hours of phone calls and last-minute emergencies. What a rider does is list out all of the things you need from the venue or church to have a successful event. This can include everything from the type of gear you need to sleeping arrangements. The rider is sent to the hosts in advance to make sure they are able to accommodate your needs.
The main thing to cover in your rider is the type of gear you need. This is something that you’ll likely have to refine over time as you travel more but start by figuring out what equipment you will bring with you and what equipment the hosts should provide. Some things are easy to bring along, like your instruments and, if you’re driving, amps and drum kits. Other things are clearly more difficult, like sound systems.
To give you somewhere to start, here’s what is considered “normal” by most traveling musicians. Typically, the hosting church or venue will provide the backline (which usually consists of the drum kit, bass and guitar amps and keyboards) and the sound system. The rider should therefore confirm these things and should also include any specifics on preferred amps, cymbals, microphones, etc.
Monitors are probably the most important thing to include in your rider. You have permission to be picky. Bad monitor setups are probably the highest cause of stress when traveling. Every sound guy has a different idea of what the phrase “good monitors” means. Having clear parameters established for the event will save you from pulling your hair out. Know what works and what doesn’t for you and make sure it’s in your rider.
At first, it might be uncomfortable for you to make these requests of your hosts, but setting yourself up for success is the key to longevity. Preserving your energy, your hearing, and your voice is all part of stewarding your gifting well.
It is worth pushing past discomfort to take care of yourself.
If you are having a hard time with this, you can always find someone to act as a liaison between you and event teams. As a third party, they are able to work out all of the details in advance and remove the pressure of asking for these things yourself. This is actually not a bad idea in general since it reduces your workload so you can focus on the rest of the event.
Remember that some places may not be able to meet all of your requests. Staying flexible and working out any concerns or financial limitations they might have is important. Instead of automatically turning down a trip that can’t meet your requirements, see if there’s a way to make it work. There are always ways to get creative and find solutions in these situations. For example, if you have an “in-ear monitors only” policy and the venue can’t meet it, look into the possibility of doing an acoustic set. The reduced volume of stripped sets makes using floor wedges much easier and reduces the strain on your voice and ears.
As you grow in favor and relationship with churches, it will open the door to be able to ask for better gear and newer sound systems.
Other things to consider in your rider: stage layout, food preferences and allergies, overhead operators, and volunteers to sell merchandise.
So, here’s the question almost everyone struggles with: do I ask to be paid? It is an excellent question and an understandably difficult one. Doing events for free is never a bad thing, but there comes a point where you will likely start missing work or maybe even not being able to keep a steady job because of your travel schedule. It’s then that you start actually needing compensation to continue your ministry.
When you travel, you incur expenses. Things like plane tickets, gas, hotels, upkeep of instruments and gear, even loss of wages from missing work all add up. When you are requested to travel, you are being asked to walk away from your normal routine, your family and your job to give of yourself. Your time is important and Jesus made that clear in Luke 10:7 when He encourages His disciples to accept whatever is given to them from their hosts saying that “a worker is worth his wages.” At the least, any travel expenses incurred should be covered. This is very typical in the world of itinerary ministry as a whole. Again, if this is uncomfortable for you, having a liaison or “booking agent” handle these details will make your life easier.
With this being said, the goal of ministry should never be the paycheck.
Once the object of our affection has become money instead of the presence of God, we have lost sight of why we started ministry in the first place.
MUSICIANS: USING YOUR OWN BAND VS. USING LOCAL MUSICIANS
While everyone prefers to play with musicians they have a history with, that may not always be possible. The added costs of additional people add up very quickly, and some churches may not be able to afford that. This means that you may need to use musicians local to the event.
This scenario can be daunting because musicianship does vary greatly from church to church. However, there are a few things you can do to prepare for playing with unfamiliar musicians.
First off, if you are able to hear them play in advance, it will give you an idea of what to expect. This can be accomplished in a few different ways, but the easiest way is to get a recording of the band playing live. This could be done by obtaining a recording from the soundboard, watching a stream of their service (if available) or asking them to use some sort of recording device (camera, cell phone, audio recorder, etc.) to capture their playing in progress. Hearing their level of musicianship in advance will help you tailor a setlist that matches their skill.
The next thing you should do is get the band a setlist. If in doubt, stick with familiar songs. The fewer songs the band has to learn, the better it will be in the long run. Make sure you are detailed in your setlists and provide the right keys, tempos (if you’re using a click) and arrangements you want to do. Sending MP3s or links to YouTube videos are also helpful ways to help the band prepare.
Last but certainly not least, stay connected to the Lord while you’re on the road. You can only go so far on talent alone. Having the Lord’s heart for a church, city or country will not only help you be more effective as a worship leader, but it is the key to releasing what you’re there to release. Take time to pray for the event before your sets and even before you leave home. Ask the Lord what the people need and how you can help in their journey.
It’s pretty normal to get distracted by details or to get caught up in the excitement of road life. Sound problems will arise. Flights will be delayed. Vans will break down. It’s all just part of traveling. Focusing on the Lord and maintaining your peace will get you through all of these things.
Finally, never forget that you are there to serve and not to be served. It can be easy to start expecting special treatment as you travel to larger and more exciting events so keeping a heart to serve and being willing to be inconvenienced when necessary will keep you in a healthy place.
The Lord always brings promotion for the purpose of impacting others, not for the sake of the spotlight.
Traveling ministry is very exciting, but it can also be extremely taxing. The more you’re able to prepare in advance, the easier your trips will be. Granted, some things you cannot prepare for, but leaning on the Lord in those moments will carry you through the toughest sound checks and most difficult trips.