I’m A Frayed Knot
I was just bumming around online today and I came across this article , “Is Christian Music Dying?”, in Collide magazine. I looked at the first couple of paragraphs in print last month, but never got around to reading the whole thing.
The article is a discussion of CCM – Contemporary Christian Music – and whether or not it has a viable future. There are some great lines, a couple of which I’ll look at here, but you should take some time and read it through. McClellan does a good and fair job, in my opinion, of looking critically at Christian music and the Christian music industry.
I’ve never really been a fan of CCM. I’ve tried it a few times, but I always felt like I was expected to like it just because it was Christian…without worrying about whether or not it was good. I think there are a couple of fundamental things wrong with the industry that are, in the very near future, going to drain what life is left.
First is creativity. With the exception of a few very good (some of whom are completely unknown) artists, I seem to keep hearing the same songs over and over by different artists. Sometimes it is literally the same song (“Agnus Dei”, anyone?), but usually it’s just the same recycled lyrics and chord progressions. There is very little lyrical and musical creativity out there. Off the top of my head – other than mainstream acts that I’ll mention later – I can think of: Brandon Heath, Riley Armstrong, and Lost and Found.
The other problem is mediocrity. The industry has become so ghettoized that it doesn’t feel the need to compete on a level of quality with mainstream acts, and it’s led to a low level of quality in the genre. This is probably one of the reasons the Fray avoided signing with a CCM label: “I feel [God] would be disappointed with us if we limited ourselves.”
I was once given a Christian mix CD by a friend who was trying to convert me, and the next day she asked me about it. I told her that kind of I liked one of the songs. “One!?” was her breathless reply. She was amazed. I became even more disappointed. Apparently this was the best Christian music she had available to her. And she had a lot.
I think I should be just as picky about Christian music as I am about mainstream music. And I’m pretty picky. I’ve only bought 5 CD’s in the last year. The surprising thing? Four of them were from Christian bands. They’re just not CCM: Relient K – The Apathetic EP, and MMHMM; Switchfoot – Nothing is Sound, and, The Beautiful Letdown (yes, I was a bit late to that party, but it’s okay); and Incubus, Light Grenades. Before that I bought A Crow Left of the Murder and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb back in ’05, and The Longing in January of last year. That’s it! 8 CD’s in 3 1/2 years. I’m not going to separate my music collection into “Good” and “Christian”. I want to be able to assume it’s all good.
What’s the difference between Hawk Nelson and Relient K? I’ve see Hawk Nelson in concert twice. I can’t remember one of their songs. I do remember that the lead singer wore a coat and tie with shorts. In San Antonio. In July. What all this probably means is that the music was just the same ol’ same ol’ with a higher tempo…not interesting or unique.
I’ve also seen Relient K in concert twice. I know at least 5 of their songs from memory. At one point I learned to play two of them on my guitar. There’s one in particular that helped me see the Gospel from a whole new angle (no, it wasn’t “Sadie Hawkins Dance”…oh! oh! oh!).
That’s in no way a definitive statement about mainstream vs. CCM bands. Riley Armstrong is on a Christian label, and he’s my second favorite act, after Incubus.
Well, I’ve decided not to analyze the article from Collide, so you’re on your own, but I’ll leave you with these thoughts:
Artists—Innovate, don’t imitate. Yes, every musician is influenced by those who came before, but don’t wear your influences so prominently on your sleeve. Make music that refuses to be pigeonholed as “the Christian White Stripes” or whatever the case may be. Dream about creating music so extraordinary that a mainstream act is known as “the secular you.” View your lyrics as poetry; don’t be content with rhyming clichés and scripture passages. Don’t turn your hooks into platforms for bumper sticker theology. Great artists, regardless of their chosen medium, see the world in unique ways and create art that tells the rest of us about what they see. See the world. Create art.
Scott McClellan, Collide Magazine
“If you’re a painter, paint, but you don’t have to have Jesus in every picture. Paint well, and if you paint well enough, they might ask you why you do that.”
Isaac Slade, The Fray, Christianity Today