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Friday, May 09, 2008
On the Future of "Christian" Music

Artist, producer, and music industry sage, Charlie Peacock, takes on the role of futurist in a short essay in CCM Magazine entitled, "On the Future of Christian Music." Here's a sample of his prediction

The music business aspect of Christian music (labels, radio, touring, etc.) will continue to follow the pattern of the world, especially as long as baby-boomers and Gen-X people are in charge. The pattern is an increasingly unsuccessful business model run by people trapped in a system intent on slow, incremental change in the face of monumental cultural shifts.

The music business, Christian and otherwise, has been a wealth-creation mechanism for a small, elite group of executives, songwriters, producers and artists. Those days are over. Still, the old guard won’t go peaceably. They’ll fight for control to the end. When they finally exit, the new music business will be underway.

Nevertheless, the majors (EMI CMG, Provident, Word) are not going out of business anytime soon. They will function as the genre’s archivists and primary copyright holders for music publishing and sound recordings. Unfortunately, the majority of the recordings created over the last 35+ years were “youth targeted” mainstream music knock-offs at their conception and designed to get past a host of gatekeepers with agendas other than the promotion of good music. This will prove to be a significant future problem. All the companies will continue to downsize as the cumulative catalog devalues over time. Ultimately, there may be only one company left to steward the music of the “ccm” era. That company will be Bill Hearn’s to lead if he wants it.

Christian music as a genre has always been a music you move on from. Young Christian baby-boomers and Gen-X once in love with the music abandoned it in adulthood and have not returned. As a result, legacy artist catalogs (ranging from Larry Norman to Amy Grant to dcTalk and beyond) do not and will not have the staying power of their mainstream counterparts such as The Beatles, The Eagles, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Celine Dion, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and U2. All these artists, and a hundred others, remain popular and economically viable today. Sadly, the pattern does not hold true for what was contemporary Christian music.
You can read the entire article here. Comments?
posted by John David Walt | at 5/09/2008 09:16:00 AM



Blogger Kendra said...

Yeah, I read this article last week between classes. It makes me think of the staying power of hymns. Outside of situational relevance, what is it that keeps a song around for more than a partial generation?

When I'm to into myself or into the world, I get sick of it after a while. Gag! I have to constantly find new aspects to keep my attention. But the central things of God, His story, and His person have a staying power, an ability to transcend situational or generational relevance. I do think part of it ties into the direction of your last post. Hymns were excellent in their potency and concentration of theology and remembrance.

The staying power of songs is also in the church...not the business side of the church, but the worshipping and obeying and going to the world side of the church. I don't think our business will ever lead the songs of the church where they need to go, but the people of God will lead the songs into longevity through their obedience and love as the church of Christ.

And besides, we're always saying things that have been said before, just in new ways. That's part of the joy of having one message and One God and a million sisters and brothers. None of us needs to be the icon that outlasts our own time. We should be passing the torch and teaching others to carry it in our stead when we are gone.

6:53 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

well said kendra. good insights.

9:28 PM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

being a Gen-Xer and thinking of ourselves as quite different from boomers, I feel awkward at having been lumped together at the status quo generations.

That said, I think Kendra's thought, "The staying power of songs is also in the church, not the business side of the church, but the worshipping and obeying and going to the world side of the church," is dead on.

As for hymns, a couple of thoughts...

1. We only sing a tiny fraction of those penned by Charles Wesley. Either he was vastly too prolific to produce a pool of songs that was realistic for a congregation to know and use, or some were better than others for congregational worship (though the texts and poetry lives on well without being sung), or something.

Come to think of it, we sing an incredibly small number of the good hymns that have been written over time.

Not wanting to get argumentative, just pointing out that not all the hymns, in fact very few, have had staying power. That's ok. Sing some songs for 10 years, other for hundreds.

2. The best of the hymns, I think, should live on in new musical arrangements and new instrumentation. This keeps us faithful to content and message but not bound to forms. Some will always want "traditional" arrangements and instrumentation. Others will resonate with other styles and forms. That's fine.

Lastly, not only does Christian music tend toward faddishness, but so does dissing Christian music. Though I've never been a big listener to Christian music on the radio (I only know about new worship music if we're singing it in worship--not from new album releases, iTunes, or Christian radio), but I've sometimes wondered... Are these people simply copycating the best stuff in the mainstream? Or is this the sort of music they genuinely like and they are Christians, so that's what they make?

I was in a Christian frat in college. Plenty of those guys were "frat guy" personalities--not all the worldly negative stuff, just that you could see where a frat was what they were looking for. But they were also Christians who wanted to share that brotherhood together in a frat. Might that be the case with many of our Christian artists.

I'm defending the status quo (even though I'm a Gen-Xer and apparently we do now). As someone who listens to very little "Christian" music, I have no flesh in the game of the ccm industry.

But I hope that we'll continue having folks writing and producing worship music that is new and fresh and that takes on new forms (anyone find much of the stuff written in hymn form in the last 30years all that good?) and rearranging the best stuff over time to keep passing it along.

After all of that, I come back to Kendra's excellent point I quoted earlier and say that I wouldn't be surprised to see a tectonic shift in the Christian music and worship music industry that brings incredible change.

2:51 PM EDT  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

I said: "I'm defending the status quo (even though I'm a Gen-Xer and apparently we do now). As someone who listens to very little "Christian" music, I have no flesh in the game of the ccm industry."

I meant, I'm NOT defending the status quo!

2:53 PM EDT  
Blogger T-Craig said...

I may be backing up Charlie's point when I tell you that my first thought was, "Who cares?" If music is good it will be rembered. If it is not, it will be forgotten.

On a bit of a different note I wonder, if pastors made money off their sermons would we be having the same discussion about that? Interesting that two different art forms are approached so differently.

11:40 PM EDT  
Blogger jay wright said...

Hey - read Peacock's blurb. I must say I agree with him but have no evidence to substantiate it. I'm sorry for the people that might make their living in such a fashion, but reality is reality and to me, unless there is a major turn around in QUALITY of music, it probably needs to happen.
I can't divorce how the industry has affected the church's worship and the super-spirituality created by the popular arm of CCM worship industry. I think I have issues I need to deal with. :)

2:53 PM EDT  

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