Your Thoughts on Christian Music Today

06.17.09 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[17]

First, thanks for all the great comments on the post from a couple of weeks ago on "What's Missing in Christian Music Today?". As usual, it's taken me longer to follow up than I would prefer but...

Some interesting insights from the posters and some common threads - John Carter expressed a need for music that's labeled as Christian to be, "believeable, organic, passionate, real"; Nathan Boatman, a self-proclaimed "righteous rocker at heart" says that Christian music needs "passion not only in the vocalist of a band, but the guitars and drums and keyboards need to convey the Holy Spirit as well." r.t. blake commented that, "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 rst of the world"; Chuck W. suggests that "weakening spirituality will ulitmately result in reduced power of music...people aren't usually looking for music that makes them uncomfortable, but that discomfort is a means to growth." If you didn't read the original posts you should check them out because they're all constructive and thoughtful.

Some readers commented on the dichotomy between what is popular and commercially-viable (read: not necessarily as spiritually-challenging) and what is more 'real' and 'gritty', music that is usually produced by niche artists and indies who don't benefit from radio exposure and commercial appeal. That's never been more true than now. One of the reasons I think the gulf has widened is that nearly forty years ago when CCM was in its infancy and the 'Jesus music' era was decidedly non-commercial; even in 1974 when Maranatha Music (an offshoot of Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel) released the first Praise album, there was no huge CCM/Christian music industry. A big-selling album was 10,000 copies; southern gospel reigned the first decade or more during the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards (which started in 1969); there were four major Christian record labels (Benson in Nashville, Word in Waco, TX, Light/Lexicon in Sherman Oaks and a little upstart label with a group called Second Chapter of Acts - Sparrow Records, also in Cali). Yes, there were others that focused more on church music (Zondervan, Singcord, Tempo, etc.) but the "industry" was tiny in comparison to what it is today.

These days for an album to be reasonably successful you have to move 150,000 units retail. Sales of over 500,000 are not uncommon. And the revenue that has come into the industry has allowed, as Chuck W. pointed out, more diversity than ever before. But whereas in the 'old days' - yeah, I was there - a label signed an artist, expecting to invest in 2 or 3 records over as many years to help them develop (perhaps less time if they also were viable writers and the label owned their publishing), today's 'development' deals are more like 90 to 120 days. If the artist hits certain benchmarks (radio airplay, retail, website hits, downloads, media exposure, etc.) within prescribed periods, the label will invest more in them. Miss the marks and you'll be back at Starbucks. In fact, that's where Stephanie Smith, IMHO a great, upcoming CHR artist, is these days. Can't pay the bills in CCM so she's pulling lattes at SB. (Learn more about her at http://www.stephanieisagirl.com/).

What I'm getting at is, these days an aspiring artist has so many tools available that artists from 30 years go didn't have, but at the same time the very industry that has brought so much variety and popularity to 'Christian' music conspires against indie artists by creating sound-alike, predictable pop and rock schlock that, while appealing to many, offers little in lyrical conviction, innovation, true musical diversity, etc. Yes, there are some exceptions - songwriters Brandon Heath and Aaron Shust come to mind - but they're pretty slickly-packaged as well and definitely saleable commodities. Not so a Derek Webb, as r.t. blake points out. The size and complexion of the industry has changed but the struggles of aspiring, non-commercial-sounding indie artists has never been greater. (Let alone the economy!)

A couple of commentators mentioned that 'big radio' (like FLN) contributes to the problem by limiting airplay to certain artists and styles. Guilty as charged. As a co-contributor to the general demise of Christian artistry, let me say that I would love to be able to program a radio network that focused on niche artists, passion-filled songs and a wide range of original styles. As some have correctly surmised, that would not be commercially or non-commercially viable. The model that the radio industry is built on (both commercial and non-commercial) doesn't allow for non-conformity. In fact, there are some Christian radio stations (like some of their secular counterparts) that only have 200 songs total in their rotation. (FLN doesn't subscribe to that programming philosophy and we do encourage a lot of indie and lesser-known artists). But just as the music industry is learning that they have to shift to a radical new business model and talent-development paradigm in order to succeed in a new media environment, radio is slowly learning the same lessons. At FLN we're working on bringing new straeming audio in various formats to our website later this year. Will that be enough? No, but it's an honest start. The crux of the issue is that music and how we consume music in a media-driven culture is changing much faster than the industry can adapt - even when it wants to.

So, more food for thought. Where do we go from here? What do you think?

Comments

Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 06.23.09 Jim C commented

There was a time when I was inspired to join choirs, but only to find out that the other voices was grounding mine out. I see you smiling:) But! it didn't matter! What matters is that your with people that wanted you to be a part of Christ in both spirit and praise. My daughter joined in singing at age 10 and just seeing her standing there filled my heart with joy, but she soon dropped out because some one has asked her, why she was lip sinking the words? I told her it didn't matter, because, she was at least listening to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ absorbing life rather then being chased down as a fake singer. She enjoyed being with people as well as I. Music motivates the mood and the words guild the mind. How great thou are! Lord! Thank you! for your station filling our hearts and minds with positive growth. Keep up the good work in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

on 06.08.09 Kirk commented

Great article and topic.

May God continue to bless FLN; I look forward to it daily and would not want to be without it!

I am a local Christian artist, singer/songwriter and would love nothing more than to see local talent across the FLN listening area spot-lighted on this radio station. Main stream artist who have made their way to radio stations are very talented and are creating some of the greatest Christian music for all who believe in, and follow Jesus Christ. However, a lot of writing and musical talent will never reach main stream radio due to the process of the music industry.

on 06.08.09 John C commented

There used to be a time when people had to be really good to become someone who could carry a compelling performance that resonated with people spiritually and musically. The circle was smaller in the music industry as to who made it big and who were left out....(side note) You know the real reason why American Idol is such a hit? Its because there are thousands of people out there that think they are good, but are not. They are all at the beginning of the show. It's entertaining. But then the real interesting part comes, actually weeding out that one "voice" that speaks something to the critics and the audience. Have you noticed that sometimes its a stretch that the people that rose to the top all were "incredible" talent? I've noticed.

Anyway, with that said, I think the industry behaves the way it does for obvious reasons.

For one, if we are talking about industry here (putting more people into recording studios distributing and promoting their songs and messages) they need to be good, and they need to have something to say to our culture that means something. It costs a lot of time and money to write, record, produce and distribute music. I think that its hard to find artists like that.

I think we miss that fact. Especially in a culture where everyone thinks they are a "rock star", or "producer" or "director". Its all to common, everyone's in a band....sheesh.

Secondly, or more accurately, because of what I just mentioned, I suspect that people in the biz may look over real talent because the status quo has fallen short of a high standard (spiritually and musically). People buy stuff, even if it isn't that good.

This is why I liked Jamie Slocum's attitude, when he described writing the song "Dependence". He mentions that it kind of flew in the face of the norm. It has decent arrangements, decent use of instrumentation and a great message, and he said that he did that on purpose! He didn't just push out a hit. He took time on that one.

The consumer needs to expect more from what is being produced. Like Cecil said more albums are being sold than ever, its a part of our culture, but I think we should expect more from the companies that produce them and not just buy anything.

I think letting people in to the music industry to easily can create a void of significant and quality music and ministry. Business has a way of getting in the way of honest art (as Kirk mentioned above) but the artists still have to be really good and real.

I'm raising my kids with culture. I won't let them just inhale anything from the internet or tv, or radio. I would rather they watched Lord of the Rings than watch Narnia. It's better quality and has deeper character development, and in some instances, better spiritual applications that make them think. I would rather they listened to music that is heartfelt and real with decent quality. I think they already can tell the difference between commercial and real art.

on 06.08.09 Jim R commented

I would have to agree somewhat with both of you. However, John C. makes a very good point. But I can understand both points. I think the original thought was not intended to eliminate main stream radio play, but to add a change of pace much like they do with Saturday morning gospel. It would also most likely need to be screened by the radio producer as well. An alternative may be a special page on the radio web site for artist to upload their Christian music to. Then if anyone was interested in listening, they could do so on their own time and not broadcasted over the air.

on 06.08.09 Blanche commented

I have listened to FLN for years and only of late months have found myself switching to another christian station who plays more of the hymns and then back to yours for some of the programs. The Hymns have really deep meaning and a depth that I find lacking in some of the modern songs..I love country gospel along with several people I have spoken to about your music. You may be drawing in more young folks but without the hymns you are cheating them out of the music culture that we older ones still sing and remember and are songs that lift our spirits and calms our souls.. Thank you for giving me a place to share my thoughts.. May God continue to use you to bless others...

on 06.08.09 Julie commented

What I enjoy about FLN is the variety. There are times when I prefer to listen to the comforting traditional hymns and other times when I prefer to hear the more "modern" take on Christian music. I think that FLN is effective in programming so that they play for target audiences at appropriate times. For instance, I find that when I'm driving to work I can listen to the morning show and their antics along with modern music to get my day going. On the way home I appreciate the uplifting, yet modern tunes to bring me home to my family. However, evenings and weekends I like to hear hymns.

I am 33 years old, I work in Ithaca, at Cornell. Everywhere I go, everything is so "liberal", people are so anti-Christian. I love having the radio on, and giving someone a ride and having it take several minutes for them to say, "oh, this is Christian music"...because it sounds so mainstream and modern. People feel more comfortable with it because it has a sound that relates to our times.

Another thing I truly enjoy is being able to "feel" the music, which I can do with many of the moderns songs...the guitar especially...if there is an instrumental portion of the song, it's like my time to speak with the Lord, to ponder what the song is saying and open the lines of communication.

on 06.08.09 Jonathan Hardy commented

Whether we agree with what an artist is saying or not, if they have passion and/or conviction in their music, we'll listen, even if we, as good Christian kids, "shouldn't."

I don't listen to FLN much (except for certain programs I like) because it seems every time I tune in, I hear the same song. It seems repetitious.

No offense, and not to sound like an angstey teen, but your comment shows how people in "Big Christian Radio," are about teens and what we listen too. And I don't really expect you to be, nor do I expect FLN and other BCR stations to play the music I listen to all the time. But even just one night a week would be nice, like an hour of Family Night Favorites on Friday night, anything.

Even hymns, and songs with passion and conviction would get more young people listening. And there is passion in the music of young people, and there are librarys of Christian Rock/Metal/Rap/Pop artists out there.

on 06.09.09 Debra Ackley commented

I enjoy the music on FLN~ I agree that the timing of what you play matches the time of day.
In fact I agree with the other posters on most things (c:

The remakes of the hymns might just be my favorites to sing along with. These songs continue to hold POWER of the WORD and focus on "ALL" instead of "me" or "I".
Toooooo many of todays songs focus on the "me", and not THE body of Christ.
Furthermore~ songs that call us into action for the Lord are far between . But I understand it is due to the vast majority of listeners may be listening for comfort and to build their own strength... and may not yet KNOW that THEY too can serve His kingdom.
Hey, How about "MARCH OUT" by Fort Pastor!!!
Love, deb~

on 06.08.09 Adam S commented

As much as I am connected to this station, I just can't listen to it 90% of the time. Even artists that are supposed to be hip, like TobyMac or Audio Adrenaline, just don't cut it musically when compared to other stuff out there. Personally, I want to hear more than acoustic guitar and singing with a band in the back, I want to hear a band that knows their stuff musically as well as their faith. Artists like Phil Wickham, Switchfoot, and Relient K have all headed in this direction while still maintaining that same passion you hear from worship artists you can hear on Family Life. I find it kind of sad that my mp3 player is lacking in christian artists, but its the truth. My christian collection is dwarfed by my secular music, and I think there is something wrong with that.

on 06.08.09 John C commented

@ Jonathan & Adam thanks for your comments, we are creating a station for the younger generations, and....well frankly (since I am 34) our "young" generation as well. FLN is releasing a radio internet station this fall that will have much of what those groups would like to listen to.

Its a fairly difficult task to play everything on one station, thus the two new internet radio formats in the fall. One will be Alternative / Indie / Rock.

Blanch, thanks for your comment as well, our desire is to serve the body of Christ, for every generation.

on 06.10.09 Dan O commented

Christian radio and Christian music in general is in a tight spot, you can't make music that Glorifies God and expect your audience to be any larger than the true disciples of Christ who crave to hear God's name glorified. If you try and take the edge off the music to expand your audience and sing about "moral" things, well there are plenty of secular artists that don't use profanities, are extremely talented and are now your competition for an audience that can either take or leave you at a whim. The decision that you have to make is what ratio you want of encouraging music to your established base of listeners (which currently support your ministry) vs. evangelistic type music to procure new established listeners. It would be my suggestion to maintain a biblical stance in providing music that glorifies God and trust in the Lord to provide the increase.
God Bless & stay faithful!
Dan

on 06.11.09 Craig D. commented

I am 36 years old and have been a huge fan of FLN for going on 8 years now. This is coming from a man who grew up listening to the likes of AC/DC, Led Zepplin, Motley Crue, etc. In fact, I was listening to them as well as FLN for several years. I have always been rather ecletic in my listening, but my favorite was always classic rock. God has a way of changing your heart. Now , I listen almost exclusively to the music FLN plays. There are times I will throw in Carmen or Kirk Franklin to spice things up a bit, but FLN does give as much variety if not more than your average top 40 cecular station. In most cases, they repeat a song sometimes three times a day if it is a top 10 hit.
I am glad to see that FLN is diversifying, though. There are a lot of people out there that want to hear different genre of music. As long as it glorifies God, then I say Praise the Lord! FLN is quite good at playing music that keeps to their mission statement. Because of this, you will not hear everything that is out there in christian music. This is somehting that I deeply respect this station for. I now live in Pittsburgh, PA and listen to FLN via the internet. The christian radio down here is severely compromised. If someone touts the christian banner, they can get on the air, whether they are truely christian or not. Thank you FLN for sticking to your mission statement and giving God the glory in the way He should be getting it!
As far as my feelings on Christian music today, I feel it has come a long way from when I was a kid (remember the 80's music? Yikes). The music sounds more professionally done and is every bit as good if not significantly better than secular music.

on 07.05.09 Karen Sanders commented

I wanted to also comment on the Jamie Slocum Song " dependence". It is one of the most amazing songs I have heard in a long time. I first heard it on FLN a few months ago..Now that song touched me and I felt the Lord in that song. The video that Jamie did were also very moving. All this to say..I believe CCM music should be the best music where if you did not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. After hearing music on FLN you would in the very least want to get to know who this Jesus is...
I really love FLN and the teachings. Blessings for all you do for the Body of Christ. The verses came to me as I was reading some of the above emails.

Karen

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. -- Proverbs 3:5-6

Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our step




on 08.10.09 Deborah commented

I too love the hymns. But I love the 'new' Christian music too. I've bought lots of CDs from listening to FLN. I love the gospel greats on Saturday morning. It reminds me of my mother, who passed away 3 years ago. The praise music on Sunday morning is wonderful too. Is there a time slot in which FLN could play traditional hymns? Or maybe throw one in once in awhile? I would love to hear more of the hymns.

God bless your ministry. If you don't change a thing, I'll be happy and will still listen faithfully!

on 09.01.09 Brian G. commented

These discussions have been interesting. Without getting into the specifics of the Christian music industry or Christian radio, I tend to see it from a slightly different view.

So often when people are in a crisis, they go off alone or get in their car and drive. They'll turn on the radio for distraction and flip around the dial for something to hear. And by chance, they stumble into a radio preacher, Bible teacher, talk show or a song that makes them stop. And all of a sudden through what they are hearing on the radio, they can then hear God speaking to them personally through that particular broadcast. I know it has happened for me, praise God and I know this has happened for others.


Over the years, various styles of music were labeled as being from the devil: big band music, swing, blues, rock and roll. Well, all good things are from God so let us all claim this back in the name of Jesus.

Funny how styles and popularity of different types of music have changed over the years. Yet the message of Jesus is unchanging. So long as the heart of the message in the music is right, the melody or style is secondary. Besides, God made us all to be unique and different, so why shouldn't music reflect our diversity? It's the message behind the music that is important.

As far as Christian music sounding like secular or mainstream music. Well, what do we need to do to get people to listen? Why should Christian music sound unprofessional or unproduced? You can take a song with a less than noble message, use the same exact arrangements and production and just as easily change the words to praising the Lord. Like I said, it's the heart behind the message. The music, melody, and arrangement are the sugar to help the medicine go down.

As far as the "music industry," here's an interesting story. I heard George Harrison's (of the Beatles) widow say that when George recorded "My Sweet Lord" he was strongly urged by the record company to NOT release that as a single. That "he was putting his throat on the cutting block." Turns out the record company was WRONG and the song was a huge hit. And for all the failings the song might have from a Christian vantage point, the heart of the message was there. Millions around the world were singing along with that song as it got extensive radio play. Seeds were undoubtedly being planted.

Again, all good things come from God. In my mind, rather than worrying about slick packaging, commercial presentation etc., let us stay focused on the core message of Christ. Lots of bands that don't even know Jesus use slick digital recording techniques. Well, God gave that to us too! So let's use that for His benefit. Lots of radio stations are in business for their own glory. Well, God gave us the radio waves too, so let's use that for HIS glory too! Hey, that's part of the philosophy of FLN... for His glory!

Sure, I could nitpick like anyone else as to what I like and what pleases me as far as FLN and Christian music go. But IT'S NOT ABOUT ME! Besides, I loved those Christian albums Bob Dylan did, especially "Saved." To me, Dylan's never been better. But I know many who don't think he can sing at all, and find it painful to listen to him. But beneath his grumbling, rambling, gravel-in-the road style of singing, there was heart and a message on "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved." And I got it, praise God! For someone else, it might be a better singer like Amy Grant that has the same effect. So long as the message of Jesus is proclaimed.

Yeah, a little sugar helps the medicine go down... ask any mother with young children. But so long as the medicine goes down and does what it is suppose to do, the sugar is secondary.

on 09.27.09 Jonathan Moon commented

I believe God can use any style of music to His glory as long as the musician is wrritng and singing from his heart and led by Holy Spirit and the true living God Jesus Christ. God is still inspiring us today . Give us a taste of Heaven in our music LORD! Use it to draw people to You!

on 03.30.11 Don Gauntlett commented

Does FLN look for new Christian musicians/ singers who could use some exposure for their music and CDs?

Name: