Friday, October 26, 2007

My Rocky Relationship with Christian Music

So, prior to starting college, my knowledge of Christian music consisted of Sandi Patti, Twilla Paris and Amy Grant. At the time, I was into Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Tori Amos. Thus, my assessment of Christian music was... G.A.Y. A lot of things changed in my life that first semester of college... I quit smoking and drinking and got a bit more serious about my then stagnant relationship with God. I have to give a big shout out to Kate, Shannon, Megan, and my roommates at the time for a lot of this transformation. Thanks guys! That aside, I CLUNG to my music. I went to see Smashing Pumpkins and Tori Amos that semester. Both totally rockin' amazing shows. Loved it. But as I eased into a new life, I started to hear some Christian music that wasn't so G.A.Y. First, enter Over the Rhine. I played basketball that year and missed the concert, but my roommate came back with the CD, "Good Dog, Bad Dog," which she proceeded to play on repeat for several weeks straight. Which, believe it or not, did not become annoying. It's THAT GOOD. But you don't necessarily categorize OTR as "Christian." They are Christians, but their music is good music without the evangelism or worship bent. At least most songs. But it was a start in that direction. I can't really recall the order that came after that, but I was shortly thereafter enjoying Third Day, Caedmon's Call, DC Talk, the Waiting, Sixpence None the Richer, among others... and let's not exclude a little band called Opus Dei.
At any rate, while I invited a whole new genre of music into my life, I never really lost my love of the old stuff, the "secular" stuff. And I never really felt a "conviction" that it was wrong. I didn't break any CD's or take them all into to a used CD store. They sat somewhat dormat for a little while, but they didn't die. And as I left college, many of them found their way back into my repetoire. At some point, I went on a Christian music funk again. Everything just started sounding the same. I've never been a big fan of listening to "worship" music for fun. To me, it rather cheapens it. I only stayed in touch with OTR and Third Day. I breathe OTR and Third Day satisfies the Eddie Vedder lover in me. I wonder if Mac cares? And that's were I've been since 2000.
Recently, my husband insisted we get Sirius for his old car, since it didn't have a CD player. But then he got a new car. The new car isn't equipped to handle the Sirius situation, so guess what? I am the not so proud new owner of a Sirius radio thingy. Sirius 66 is the Christian music channel that I've spent some time listening to lately. It has piqued my interest back into Christian music. There are some new (to me) artists that I like... Casting Crowns, for one.
They're kind of rocky and the guy has a nice deep raspy kind of voice. And there's lots of the old favorites. Surprisingly, though, they play A LOT of songs from when I was in college. Lots of songs that were new then and are, apparently, still popular? They play lots from DC Talk's "Jesus Freak," lots of familiar Caedmon's Call, Third Day, etc. And I'm just curious... has Christian music been stagnant for the last 7 years? Why? Has the trend been to go the "worship" music route? It's sort of like when I turn on the local "alternative" rock station in Pittsburgh and all they play is mid '90's Pearl Jam, Nirvana, STP and Smashing Pumpkins... I'm right at home. Same here. Aside from occasional new songs, frequently from the same artists, it's so much stuff that I'm familiar with from 8 years ago... What gives?


Blogger Kerri said...

well, i can't comment too well on the Christian music scene either. i gave it up after college. the other day someone asked me if i was going to do "christian" music in some of the studio work i'm going (i'm recording now, by the way!) my immediate response was "i hope not!" ouch. how did i get so jaded? i'm cool with the worship-genre, though, and that's what God seems to have me on for the past 8 years, but i'm with you.

and an Opus Dei shout-out! memory lane...

7:31 PM  
Blogger greg. said...

wow. great post. this is right down my alley.

here's the deal:
"christian music" as a genre has not been stagnant. it has been a huge slice of overall general market record sales over the past few years. it has cooled off some, but a few years ago it was the fastest expanding market. in terms of sales, and i'm only talking about sales here, christian music has been quite successful. and there have basically been three major trends:
1. the worship trend, which you mentioned. everyone and their mother put out a worship album (including three {i think} by your beloved third day). while this is fine, christian radio has a hard time with it because (a) the very thing you said, it cheapens it for some people and (b) how many times in one day can you listen to 'god of wonders?'

2. the other trend was for labels to sign trendy, edgier acts. christian music, which used to be the champion of the 'adult' label (singer songwriter stuff, i.e., steven curtis chapman, rich mullins, michael w. smith, amy grant, and even, to a certain extent, caedmon's call and jars of clay, etc.) began to move to more and more rock and hip hop acts. one of the most successful christian record labels is tooth-n-nail, which signs bands that range from scream-o to emo to industrial. you will not find anything nearly as pop or tame as caedmon's call there. and christian radio had a problem with this, too, since christian radio needs to palatable to older adults in order for it to really be profitable. so you don't hear this music. (that being said, you might want to look into this - i thought sirius or xm had an edgier christian station in addition to their 'christian pop' station. i could be wrong).

3. the third trend is that large-selling acts like switchfoot, or bands that labels felt had a great deal of potential stopped being marketed only as christian bands. because there is a bigger market for selling cds at wal-mart than at your local christian bookstore, labels have tended towards 'general market' releases. this pisses off most christian radio, so they don't play it. for an amazing case study in this, check out the band mutemath. they are an awesome band with a fascinating story about this.

that's a long answer to your question, isn't it? basically, christian music has not been asleep, it has just been moving in different directions.

and now for my own two cents. there is some really good christian music out there. but most of what the 'christian music machine' puts out there is, to me, absolute rubbage. almost all of the christian music labels are now divisions of general labels, so christian acts are managed and promoted by non-christians. just like in the rest of the world, sex sells. candy-pop sells. and, exclusively in the christian market, cheap spiritual answers and trite, overused christian platitudes sell. alot.

i have a long relationship with christian music. but, for the most part, i am not a fan. i am a fan of music and musical gifts and those who share them with us. when those people happen to be christians, it really sweetens the deal for me. but i don't like most music that preaches or provides easy answers. or judgment. and i don't like music (christian or otherwise) that is clearly designed not as art, but as a product to sell. that makes me sick.

here is some sweet christian music that is quality:
over the rhine
derek webb
sufjan stevens
denison witmer
the myriad
the innocence mission
mars ill

there are lots more, but that's enough for now. the point, for me is that it needs to be quality music with honest and interesting lyrics.

and i love the opus/cantus dei reference. now that was some sweet music...


12:19 PM  
Blogger mego said...

matt and I have talked about what's going on with Christian music as well. sometimes it amazes me that Newsboys are still around and still so popular - they were big when I was in high school. Then there are other bands that seem hot for a bit and then disappear.
I think it's interesting because it seems like there are more mainstream groups on regular labels who are Christians - like Lifehouse and The Fray and I'm sure more. I really like Shane and Shane - they are a mix of worship and just regular stuff but I love their sound. Caedmons has a new CD out and Derek Webb was a part of it - haven't listened yet but I hope it's good.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

i gotta admit i was sort of baiting you on that post. i KNEW you'd have a lot to say about it. great stuff. i'll have to check out those other bands. sirius apparently plays "edgier" christian music in the middle of the night. but as far as regular time, there's only a "praise" channel, which should really be called the "gospel" channel and "spirit" which is the channel i've been listening to.
thanks for you input!

10:03 AM  

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