What's Missing In Christian Music Today?

05.18.09 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[13]

So what's your beef with Christian music?  What are you wanting to hear that you're not hearing?  I don't mean on Family Life Network.  We have a chosen music format, which is basically a mix of adult contemporary and inspirational music - that's our niche in the radio market.

But I'm talking about whatever your personal taste is in Christian music - whether rock or acoustic or praise & worship or alternative or country - what are you not hearing that you'd like to hear?  Let's face it - even with record sales down nearly 20% year-to-date from 2008 (and no, downloads, legal or illegal, aren't making up the difference), Christian music is a multi-million dollar a year industry and it caters to trends and market forces just like any part of the music business.  That often leads to a lack of creativity and innovation - a lack of willingness to take chances - after all, it's much easier to repeat last quarter's success with a new band or female artist than it is to be truly groundbreaking artistically - especially if there's no guarantee of commercial viability. 

So is that a problem?  If the industry is based on sales and radio airplay and concert revenues, should we just accept it?  Or should we - should you as a consumer of Christian music - expect something more?  And if you think so, what is it you'd like to hear that you're not hearing?  More challenging, heartfelt lyrics?  Something that's more raw and authentic than the predigested pap that passes for many lyrics of Christian songs these days?  Something that cuts through the redundant rhetoric of 'Christiandom' and really communicates the message of the gospel in a culturally-relevant way?

Or are you satisfied?  Do you think Christian music is pretty much ok?  Do you have no complaints or suggestions?  I'm just curious to know what your thoughts are - unvarnished, real responses.  One of the reasons the big players in the industy are unresponsive and indie and boutique labels are doing so well these days is because they don't hear from fans in large enough numbers demanding something better.  And as a result we get another uninspired, so-so effort from bands that keep grinding out the same thing over and over.  OK, what band just came to your mind?  (I won't tell you what band I was thinking of) 

People often criticize Christian music as being just a copycat of the world's music - from styles to production techniques to vocal stylings.  Is it?  Are we, as Franky Schaeffer suggested nearly 30 years ago, "addicted to mediocrity"? 

What do you think?


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 05.19.09 Nathan Boatman commented

maybe i'm way off my rocker, because i haven't been in the Christian music scene lately, except for the content on FLN, but what i think Christian music lacks nowadays is a beat you can bang your head and mosh to. i grew up listening to pre and mid-90's Petra, Bride, young Audio A, Whitecross, Grammatrain, pre-Supernatural DC Talk, the Supertones and the Insyderz. That's the stuff that really helped me get fired up for Jesus in high school. i am truly a righteous rocker at heart, but i don't know what's out there anymore for headbanger and ska addicts. truly, what Christian music needs is passion not only in the vocalist of a band, but the guitars and drums and keyboards need to convey the Holy Spirit as well. i mean, i just got Mortifications greatest hits over Christmas and that is about the most excited about Christian Rock/Metal since the Insyderz rocked out "Joy" on Skallalluya. what i do find refreshing lately is Brandon Heath's honesty and point of view, Francesca Batistelli's originallity and poetic imagery, and 33 Miles upbeat almost country style. i couldn't believe it the first time i heard "i will not be moved." i don't remember who sings it, but there is an anthem right there. passion, hardnosed and hard-riffed, it makes you confidant in standing up for your beliefs. i guess i'm just used to music that says, "i'm not just a Christian, i'm a warrior poet for Christ."

on 05.19.09 John Carter commented

For me, I need to be inspired. But what makes for inspiration? It takes more than just music. It can be just music, or cinematic that is enhanced by the music behind it. But really what music or art ( I think really that's what we are talking about here, art) needs to be something ....genuine. It needs to be believable, organic, passionate, real. When I see genuineness in an actor and it makes me emote with him or her, or hear it in a song that means something, that's what I need, what I am looking for. That's what I always look for in expressive art. But alas, the need to make a livelihood seems to suck the arts dry of genuineness. It seems to spoil the waters, even if the production is technically amazing. It takes the "soul" from it. And becomes fabricated.

on 05.19.09 John Carter commented

Nathan, that's awesome....lol. Rock on...

on 05.19.09 Christina Inman commented

I think we need more encouraging and moving music; not necessarily a certain style just a certain message.

on 05.20.09 r.t. blake commented

Interesting post. Perhaps a question we should be asking more is, "Is there a need for a Christian music genre?" What makes "Christian music" Christian? Is it the beat? The melody? The lyrical content? If it's the lyrical content, then what is in, what is out? Artists like U2, MuteMath, Cobalt Season, Switchfoot, Lovedrug, M. Ward, The Fray and others make spiritual references in their music (and many even claim to be followers of Jesus), yet not many would call them "Christian artists."

And what do you do with a guy like Derek Webb? As an outspoken Christian and an amazing artist, he speaks in raw, honest terms with truth that the Christian community needs to hear, yet "Christian" radio stations won't seem to touch him because he offends some and isn't as easily accessible.

I believe true "Christian music" is any musical style that includes lyrics that directly point to Jesus and seek to honor and worship Him. Basically, it's what we today define as "worship music." Pretty much the only Christian music I listen to is stuff from artists like Hillsong United, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, Phil Wickham, Matt Redman, Jason Upton, etc....

See, anybody can write a positive and encouraging song. I can get encouraged when I listen to the band Muse, yet their lead singer is an atheist. John Mayer and Jason Mraz write feel good pop songs that could fit on most adult contemporary "Christian" radio stations, but of course that's not going to happen.

If we're really trying to impact people and make a difference in our culture, perhaps losing the "Christian" label could help tear down some stereotypes and open up the door for stronger music, more innovative lyrics, and better conversations with the rest of the world. What are we so afraid of? So what if we're not always "safe for the little ears."

I'm afraid we're scared to admit that Jesus is much like the character Aslan in C.S. Lewis' Narnia: "He isn't safe, but He is good!"

And Cecil, to answer your question about what bands are grinding out the same old stuff, here's a few that instantly came to mind: Third Day, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Michael W Smith. Boring!

Anyways, really good post. I'm anxious to read more!

on 05.21.09 Greg Burlingame commented

Cecil I love your progam and station, so much better than the one i used to listen to. No more ball games and advertisments. You have advertisements but they are more like announcements of places and events. If nothing changes I still will have your station on.
O.K. I miss the "Oldie Goldies" of Christian Rock, You know the "King" of Christian Rock - Larry Norman. Yeah, i know he was a little radical but he had some good songs with excellent messages. How 'bout the group caled The Way? Good Harmony, good beat great message.
Yes, I'm dating myself (double nickles), but it seems that alot of the new groups are trying to yell the songs, do you know what i mean?
O.K. that's my only complaint. If you want to use my L.P.s, you're welcome (hint, hint, hint0. Ha!ha!ha!
Hey! Cecil! love ya Man!
sincerely greg

on 05.21.09 Danielle Henery commented

I enjoy most of the fln music. I rather hear more Twlia Paris, but it's ok.

on 06.03.09 Chuck W commented

I think Christian and contemporary music have a similar issue: a perceived dilution of quality in music due to diversifying genres and accessibility. There's a lot of good stuff, but greatness is rare. A lot of factors are playing into it. Airplay of artists used to be more selective, but technology and growth in the music industry have allowed more than just those who stand out from the crowd to make a name for themselves. Cnsumers (us) have grown accustomed to broadening genres and music types, (think how many popular genres there were before the 90's) as well as accessibility to artists. This creates a perceived dilution of good music in general, as we've become spoiled with music tailored to our taste instead of just going along with what's close enough (think mp3 playlists versus 3 radio stations in a region). That's why everyone agrees music isn't what it should be, but there's zero agreement on what needs to change specifically.

There are the typical arguments as well, and all valid to a degree. Concern by the consumers and artists of music over message, delivery over content (also an issue in church services). The mucic industry has grown to the wealth it's made, and in an effort to maintain its status focuses on the artists that are liked by many but not always loved; but the blame also falls on the consumers because they determine which groups are pushed every time they make a purchase. Radio stations like FLN are driven in exactly same manner, the search to please as many as possible instead of thrilling the few. Furthermore, the strengthening in buying power by younger, more casual listeners (my generation). Also, an increasingly casual language of the populace resulting in weaker lyrics. The logical result of previous music generations' creativity diminishing creative opportunities today. All of these factors hinder what we perceive as originality.

Then there's issues specific to Christian music. Weakening spirituality will ultimately result in reduced power of music. The artists who are willing to attack the edgy topics are compelled internally and externally to pull back; people aren't usually looking for music that makes them uncomfortable, but that discomfort is a means to growth. We all know there are topics openly discussed in our Bibles that would be shunned in music by producers, overly-sensitive listerners, and political correctness advocates. As a result, artists and producers stick to what is accepted and in the end echo other artists.

Yeah my post is long and rambles, but basically we all are looking for something a little different and the current music industry allows individual tastes like never before; but a song that floors me and drives me as a Christian will likely only be well-liked by a select few. That kind of music would be unhealthy financially for radio stations and big concert venues, so I'm forced to dig underground often. As we don't live in Nashville, the Christian undergound is a little difficult to find. Others would similarly find great artists on the small stage, but finding them is difficult, and the music powerhouses (you included, FLN) can't afford to connect everyone.

Think of it this way - there will always be diamonds in the rough, but nowadays the rough is piled much higher, and one man's gravel is another man's diamond. For every classic hymn we have, dozens have been forgotten, so the rough has always been aroudn. The power and originality in Christian music today face hurdles in many directions, and they are difficult to find, but it still exists. The real issue is how to find it.

on 06.04.09 Tony C. commented

Having attended the first Woodstock Festival in 1969, I go back quite a ways with rock music. I also grew up in a denominational church that advocated 'old school' hymns. Here is the criteria I use when listening to Christian music now:
First of all, is there an anointing on the music from the first note to the last? Praise and worship generate the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Second, how often do you hear the name of Jesus? Christian should always mean 'Christ-centered'.
Third, is the song in the prayer mode of the second person pronoun 'You' or is it in the narrative third person of 'He' and 'Him'. It may not seem like such a big deal to some, but how would you like someone to be singing you a love song and acting as if you weren't even in the room?
Where two or more are gathered in Your name, we know You are in our midst, and one plus the Holy Spirit always makes two.Thank You, Lord, for giving us discernment to differentiate entertaining You from entertaining ourselves.

on 06.05.09 Bro. Melray commented

Whatver happened to music being driven by the Bible? For example, one of the first things that comes to mind is Col. 3: 16 in which the Word is to dwell in us richly faciliated by singing in the church. Does the music we sing in church contain rich biblical content or is the singing more about having it dwell repetively than richly?

on 07.27.09 Kelly commented

Have you heard the new song by Michael Robert "At the Cross" ?? He took an old hymn and made it relevant to today! It has rich content and a current spin... one of my favorites!!

on 10.25.09 E commented

Wow!! What a great question and great opportunity to 'make a difference'.

My kids and I actually often have discussions about what would make Christian music better. They lean toward the sound, but it is the words that make Christian music Holy and give it power. Even so, we out not to be duplicating sound; we out to be leading the world of music.

Personally, I think Christian music should be more original, more challenging and less noisy, like Addison Road's great song questioning what she knows about holy. Haven't we all thought this at one time or another? And if not, shouldn't we be asking ourselves the same question. I can relate; so can my children.

I also think the lyrics should be more transparent and real, and have a message. Somehow we Christians think we have the corner market on Jesus when in reality God's truth is written on everyone's heart (since the time of Moses) and His witness is in everything on earth. Praise is great; rock is great; but when it gets repetitive it becomes noise. I think God wants us to have conversation and relationship with Him every day, and sometimes it is intimate. If radio is where the public goes to 'eavesdrop' and develop virtual friendship, and music is the universal language, then publishers have an obligation to not only seek out those artists OF ALL AGES who have an inspired musical message but to help them develop their gift. All sports have scouts to find the best talent; why not Christian broadcast companies? And to help them, why not have a spot on Christian radio to 'air' even the most ordinary and unknown of artists?? I have no doubt God is behind every famous entertainer, and am equally convinced He is behind all the ones who are not yet famous, too. Maybe we are trusting our abilities to market Christian music rather than seeking God's input, perhaps because the noise is drowning out His voice.

on 07.15.10 Joyce commented

I think some of the Christian music is great. I believe it is truly inspiring music if it does the following:
1. Make you reflect on your life and let you know you need Jesus.
2. Brings your heart into sync with God.
3. Is uplifting to the spirit (Holy Spirit within us)
4.Has us think more about Jesus
I think some of the new songs I have heard are truly inspiring to people. A few that have touched my life are "Jesus is Life" that song helped me go through my bout with cancer as did "Live Like Your Dyin'" by Tim McGraw.
Toby Mac's song " Made To Love" makes me realize I was created for Gods' pleasure and not my own. That's not to say I don't enjoy things in life , but it is important to a keep perspective with all things in my life. That song makes me realize that I was made to love God as well as Him loving me. Those are just two songs that cut deep within my soul and Nicloe C. Mullens song," My Redeemer Lives" is also a heart and life changing song. It makes one think about our existance and who gives us that breath of life everyday.
My all time favorite song is "Amazing Grace" and that will always be number one with me because it cuts deep into your soul and leads you to Jesus.
Yep, I think the importance of the song cutting into your soul is the most important aspect of it all.