Recently Collide Magazine published an article that considered the question, “Is Christian music dying.” It addressed what some perceive to be a growing irrelevance to the mainstream culture, as well as an increasing tendency among Christian musicians to buck the title of “Christian.” One industry insider went so far as to predict that the industry would eventually collapse altogether.
This article is not surprising. Christian music has been judged and scrutinized by Christians and non-Christians alike for many years. In high school my brother wouldn’t allow me to listen to the Christian radio station when he was in the car because he thought the quality was so unbearable.
So it’s actually become quite trendy to dislike Christian music. Some Christians wear their distaste as a mark of superior theology. It’s too cheesy and superficial for us “sophisticated” Christians to condone.
Yet as much as I would like to join in with this chorus (and I have in the past), something stops me. Yes, a lot of Christian music is cheesy and annoying and pales in comparison to the musical talent we see in the mainstream. But to judge Christian music purely on that basis is to miss the point.
The Christian music industry, and Christian musicians in the secular music industry, serve two very different functions. One reaches the Church, and the other reaches the world. Both are equally important roles, and both are equally Scriptural.
In response to this point, some of you may object, “But Christian music doesn’t minister to me. I’m too distracted by the bad music to hear the message.” Maybe that’s true for you, but it’s certainly not true for everyone. Many Christians enjoy the music intensely–it speaks to them. Just because it doesn’t fit your personal preference doesn’t invalidate the genre, or its mission, altogether.
What’s more, Christian music frequently contains lyrics taken straight from Scripture–I don’t care who you are or how musically brilliant you might be–truth is truth and Scripture is Scripture. It’s going to shape you in a positive way no matter the quality of music.
And that’s what I appreciate about Christian music. When I need a break from the cynical news on talk radio or the self-centered message of secular music, Christian music is a refreshing change. Whatever you listen to most will shape you, and I would prefer that that influence be Christ-centered.
I also happen to like some of the music. I admit it!
Granted, this is no excuse for Christian musicians to become sloppy or uncreative in their work–if anything, God deserves the very best of our innovation. There are certainly ways in which the industry can and must grow. But what I do mean is that we as Christians should have a little more respect for a valid ministry, a ministry that has inspired and encouraged the hearts and souls of countless believers. Not to mention my own.
In closing, I want to offer the final conclusion of the article itself. It’s a prescription for a better music industry, and I find it to be helpful since it challenges the Christian music industry to grow rather than dismiss the industry altogether:
Artists—Innovate, don’t imitate. Yes, every musician is influenced by those who came before, but don’t wear your influences so prominently on your sleeve. Make music that refuses to be pigeonholed as “the Christian White Stripes” or whatever the case may be. Dream about creating music so extraordinary that a mainstream act is known as “the secular you.” View your lyrics as poetry; don’t be content with rhyming clichés and scripture passages. Don’t turn your hooks into platforms for bumper sticker theology. Great artists, regardless of their chosen medium, see the world in unique ways and create art that tells the rest of us about what they see. See the world. Create art.
Labels—Refuse to function as holiness gatekeepers with Jesus-per-minute quotas to meet. Don’t play it safe; take some risks. Don’t be afraid of edgy or outspoken artists; pursue them. Reject formulas; embrace creativity. Don’t produce what you think we want to hear. Develop a vision for the future of Christian expression through music and share it with us. If your function as an industry is to minister, feed, and disciple, why is your product marketed as safe and family-friendly? Find the disconnect and fix it. Don’t rely on promoting an ethos and the nice people who make music for you. Promote good music.
Fans—This is perhaps the simplest of all—support great art. In doing so, you reward the risks taken on the part of artists and labels; furthermore, you are explicitly clear in what you’re looking for from the industry. Then, it’s up to them to respond.
To read the whole article click here.
I like your balanced understanding of the need for Christian artists in both the Christian and secular music industry.
Though, I would challenge the understanding that Christian music (explicitly Christian) is in any sort of decline — not with extremely talented artists like David Crowder Band, Charlie Hall, and Chris Tomlin making, essentially, hymns for the Church that are very popular, especially among young adults. At the same time, we have extremely talented artists like Anberlin who make “secular” rock which is nonetheless clearly influenced by their faith. We need both sorts of bands, and a well-balanced Christian will incorporate both into their musical consumption.
This is really hard for me, because I can’t stand listening to K-LOVE. It seems like it is only good for worship music, and a lot of it is used for that at our church. But just good ole’ chill out and listen to fun music doesn’t really exist within the Christian genre. I would only listen to it for an emotional pick me up, not to just enjoy music–so i’m more inclined to listen to a sermon on podcast than Christian music. But, I would love to be proven wrong one day by the overwhelming amount of awesome Christian music…as opposed to modern-day hymnals. And how much of a better witness could we have if Christian music was so musically awesome that just as many non-Christians listen to it as Christians? However, until then I will continue to avoid it like swarming locusts 🙂
I remember a time when there was tons of great new Christian music coming out on radio – I guess around the late 90’s, when artists like Guardian, Seven Day Jesus, DC Talk, Jennifer Knapp, Saah Masen, Holy Soldier, Phil Keaggy, Newsboys and so many others where putting out quality music that was creative and inspiring, with thought provoking lyrics, and pretty much everyone had their own unique sounds that were easily the equal of anything that the secular music industry could produce.
Back in those days I’d be listening to Air 1 and CCR Pirate Radio streaming over the net all day and never be bored of it. But nowadays it’s different – yes, there are some great new talents as Kevin pointed out, but the occasional great songs are outnumbered by an awful lot of “filler” material that’s just so ordinary, and so many groups sound so alike. It’s a mistake to think that this is limited to Christian music though – this has also happened to some degree in secular music as well, but since the secular music industry is so much larger the effect is not as pronounced.
Why is it happening? My personal belief is that it’s the inevitable consequence of the development of Christian Music as an industry. ‘Industry’ is about producing, packaging, marketing and selling a product to make profits, regardless of whether the product is soda pop, toilet paper, secular music or Christian music. With an ‘industry’ approach, once you come up with a winning formula you try to milk it for all it’s worth, because it’s much more profitable to add some flavoring and come up with cherry coke, lemon coke, raspberry coke etc. than to risk sinking millions of dollars into trying to develop a totally new drink that might not become a big hit.
So what happens? Well, when the A&R reps go out looking for new artists, they are looking for the next David Crowder, or the next Chris Tomlin, the next POD, the next incarnation of whatever is selling big at the moment. Then they sign them up for a recording contract, and get them working with the SAME managers, songwriters, producers, and recording engineers that are working with the David Crowders and Chris Tomlins and PODs. Then they choose what songs will actually be put on the album to make it sell well, and which are the most ‘marketable’ songs that can be released as radio singles and in what order. And then they spend money to promote those chosen singles with heavy rotation on key radio stations. And then we turn on the radio and complain wonder why it all sounds the same!
The way I deal with it is by not just sticking to stuff out of the US – one station I love to listen to as a refreshing alternative is from the UK – The Word is Music: http://www.myspace.com/thewordismusicdotcom
There’s a lot of great Christian music from other countries that will never make it to US stores and radio, some of it from unlikely places. One of my current favorites is a worship band from Indonesia (yes, the same muslim Indonesia where Christians are often persecuted). Check out these 2 songs.
Shine Like Stars
Hatiku Percaya (My heart trusts in You) This isn’t in english, but a great song nonetheless