The Issues with Christian Music – Part Four

By Benjamin Denen
Contributor
June 23, 2020

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Industry Part Two

A brief overview of the series taken from my second post:

In this blog series my goal is to explore some of the issues that many people in American Christendom seem to have with Christian music these days. It is in no way meant to be a fully exhaustive commentary on the recording industry or state of corporate worship in American churches. My goal is simply to use my experiences in both the Nashville recording industry and church world to shed some light on a few of the more common topics. Since this is a series, I strongly encourage you to start with the first post in the series and catch up as each post builds on the arguments of those that precede it. As always, my prayer is that in discussing our differing opinions we can be brought to a deeper place of unity as described in John 17:23.

What about the ministry?

Good question. Here is where it is critical for you to understand the difference between the CCM recording industry and the musicians making the music that you hear. I have tremendous respect for many of the artists that headline the industry. I believe that many, such as TobyMac and Matthew West, have a very genuine and passionate heart for reaching the lost. There are many other Christian recording artists (both in and out of CCM) that I know personally who are using the talents God has given them to further His Kingdom. These artists are not synonymous with the industry that is backing their product (i.e. music/albums). Just as I made an argument for the fact that songs are a vessels that we use for worship, I would make the same case that for these artists, the recording industry is the vessel that they use as a launching pad for their ministries.

Now, I am not naive. On the flip side, there are numerous artists in the “Christian” recording industry that are using their God-given talents to further their own ambitions such as fame, financial riches, and the like. I know some personally. “Look,” some of the “ranters” might say, “this is what is wrong with Christian music today!” Sure, and the same can be said of the plumbing industry, the banking industry, politics, and yes, even professional “church industry.” As long as sin exists in the world, there will always be Christians who forget that everything we have been given is to be used for the glory of God. I slip into that category quite often. So does every Christian I have ever met. I believe it is part of the human condition. We are all broken, everyone. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has died and risen again for just that kind of person. It is okay. Thank God for grace! We need not fill up the blogosphere every time a Christian makes a mistake, musician or not, nor do we need to burn down the entire music industry because a few of the Christian artists are using their gifts for the wrong reasons.

All Christian Music sounds the same

Does it? Tell me how Matthew West and All Sons and Daughters sound identical. How about Steven Curtis Chapmen and RED? What about Gungor and TobyMac? There is plenty of diversity in Christian music. Perhaps the problem is, whatever radio station you tend to tune into only plays a specific range of artists, or maybe you have very eclectic tastes. Let me draw attention back to the CCM industry. It suffers from the same plight as instrumental music in America. I use this reference because it is in this world that I am endeavoring to forge a career.

If you are a composer that creates instrumental recordings and desire to make money from them, you had better fall into one of four very clear (and overly broad) categories: classical, jazz, dance, or soundtrack. If you happen to be like me and create something apart from American understanding of those very generalized categories, then you get lumped into New Age music (which is a religion, by the way. That makes things very awkward for a proclaimed Christian). This is an American problem. In Europe, there are numerous genres under the “instrumental” category that makes it much easier for musicians to be discovered and get their music “out there.” CCM is the super broad genre that is supposed to encapsulate every kind of music made by Christians. How can you link a singer/songwriter with a pop artist with a hard rock band? You can’t, hence why most radio stations take the safe route and play only the middle of the musical spectrum. That spectrum features such artists as Matthew West, Steven Curtis Chapman, and the like. It is not these artists fault that they are the “middle” nor dose it make them “sell outs.” Their particular skills and art-form connects extremely well with a certain demographic. Good for them! That demographic is in need of their ministries!

What about the rest of the spectrum? What do you do if that “middle zone” doesn’t appeal to you? Take joy, my friends, the age of musical freedom is upon us! Let me introduce you to iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and the list goes on and on and on and on! I am an oddball in that I actually quite enjoy that “middle zone”, but I also have eclectic taste buds that need satisfied every once in a while. Even five years ago it was very difficult for me to find the kind of music I craved. Today, all I have to do is open one of a dozen apps on my phone/tablet/computer and I have a world of music at my fingertips. And the best part is it is LEGAL!!!

The modern era of music technology has had a profound impact on the industry. For those of us musicians who are trying to make a go of it sans record label support there are avenues of distribution available to us that were unheard of a few years ago. The Christmas album that I recently released is selling decently well here in the States, but believe it or not, I have a surprising following building overseas. Here I am, some random guy that lives in small town, Indiana, and my album is being played in over one hundred and eighty-seven countries as I type this post. I do not write this to boast because it is only by the grace of God that I even have the ability to record this music let alone share it with others, but I do it to illustrate the point that every musician has the means at their disposal to minister to others regardless of what the primary radio stations here in America might be playing (or not playing).

On the flip side of this musical revolution, the traditional recording industry is scrambling to keep up. Many labels are dying quicker than albums are being created. Christian recording artists, contrary to popular belief, have never earned large sums of money compared to their “secular” or “mainstream” counterparts, but making a living in the industry is more difficult than ever. That fact, however, is not stopping musicians from sharing their ministry with others. As the old proverbial saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. In the case of a Christian, God’s will always creates a way regardless of who may be “bankrolling” a particular industry, recording or otherwise.

Closing

I close this series with this thought. God has given each and every person a gift that can do amazing things in His Kingdom. We all have a mission. For those who have been given a gift of music, He has also prepared a way for that gift to be reach those who need it. At the center of any Christian’s reason for existence is a mandate to point all others to Christ. Arguing over what should be labeled “Christian” and which songs should be sung on Sunday morning is pointless. Are we pointing others to Christ? Are we edifying His Body? Are we simply consumers or are we vessels? These are the questions that have the answers that our nation and world need right now.










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