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The problem with Christian music – Part III

September 10, 2010

As the final installment of my series on why I believe Christian music is destined to fail as a genre (see part 1 and part 2 for background), I believe we need to address one final issue: plagiarism.

It has become increasingly popular within the Christian genre to forego writing new songs. Many artists have tapped into the popularity of covering praise and worship songs and have devoted entire albums to this cause. While this is not wrong in and of itself, this repetition does lead to a stagnation of sorts with regard to fresh musicality.

So why have Christian artists fallen into the trap of covering someone else’s songs (because that’s exactly what “re-doing a praise and worship” song is)? I believe there are several reasons.

1. Recording a praise and worship song/album is an easy sell. There is a market for praise and worship music. Period. That doesn’t always mean that this music is great, but it does make it sellable. And as I have discussed before in this series of blogs, selling records is really the only thing that keeps these artists afloat in the business.

2. These are easy songs to write. And that is purposeful, because these songs have to be singable. Therefore, complex rhythms and chord progressions are not the status quo. As a result, even an average musician can churn out a praise and worship album of covers in 6 months. It’s that simple.

What does this mean for the industry? The lack of creativity leads to a death spiral of perpetual laziness. Quick quiz: what music genre has sounded exactly the same over the past 20 years? Answer: the one, the only, Christian music. Part of the reason for this is the fear of breaking away from a safe audience. Sure you can write better songs if you don’t copy someone else’s hits, but will people listen to them?

To sum up my thoughts over the past 3 blogs, I hope that the artists who make music in the Christian realm don’t die out. There are hugely talented people in each special niche of Christian music, and each listener is going to have different musical preferences. What needs to die, however, is the thought that if the music does not follow the status quo of Christian music over the past 20 years,  it is unlistenable.

Here’s hoping for a change. For the better.

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From → Music

4 Comments
  1. I read all three of your posts and would like to host a discussion of this on my podcast. Three quick responses to your post:

    1. When you refer to “Christian music,” it seems that you’re referring to music that is produced out of Nashville/GMA. There are other subsets that could be classified as Christian/Gospel throughout the country, but I see Nashville as the hub of the Christian music that you hear on Christian radio stations.

    2. Christian music (and also “praise and worship” as a subcategory) like any other genre has become a consumer product. Consider who the typical buyers/listeners are: white, suburban, moderate to conservative Christians. Nothing wrong with that demographic, but they’re the audience.

    3. Radio is an outdated form of communication. It still has a niche within global communication, but the kind of people who are listening to bands like Switchfoot typically aren’t tuning in. They’re on Pandora, last.fm, iTunes, etc.

    4. Consider location. You won’t hear bands from Tooth & Nail (Seattle) on Christian radio stations in the southeast. You’re getting your music from Nashville.

    5. You’ll continue to see bands struggle over the issue of whether to stay in the “Contemporary Christian” (whatever that means) music scene or whether to break out into the “Mainstream” music culture. Several bands that we used to listen to are now sputtering and haven’t created anything substantial in years, while others are starting to cross over. There will always be that dilemma as long as “Christian Music” is marketed the way it is.

    I’d love to continue this conversation on my podcast. Get in touch with me on facebook or through my email and let me know when you’re free. This is a great topic of conversation that I’d like to continue and maybe bring other voices in.

    Tyler

    • Wow. You ARE still alive.

      I agree that the music that predominates from Nashville is largely to blame. The problem for other Christian genres is that there is not a market share for them outside of Christian radio for them. And like it or not, Christian does still predominate the music scene for most people. The rise of pandora and itunes has indeed leveled the playing field some, but there are some hurdles that these entities will never overcome.

      I will get in touch regarding a podcast.
      Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®

  2. On the whole I agree with what you are saying. I would like to add a few thoughts.

    · As someone who almost exclusively listens to Christian music, it is awesome when a band does crossover because answering the question “who’s your favourite band?” is less awkward.

    · I agree that the distinction between Christian music and music played by Christians is stupid. I believe that Christian music is for everyone and different people take different things from the music, eg. While Skillet is a Christian band, they don’t slap you in the face with Christianity in their songs. They sing about problems that everyone (not only Christians) face in day to day life, and appeal equally in the mainstream market.

    · Most Christian music played on the radio is not a good representation of everyday life, but I think that some radio stations are starting to get it.

    · It would be great to have more youth related stuff on the radio, but remember that youth are quite a low percentage of radio listeners, and stations need to make everyone happy. The station I listen to does a pretty good job mixing youth-oriented songs into the mix for the day. There are times when I think “wow this really sucks!” but I know there are different people listening with different tastes.

    · Covering a song isn’t always bad. I think that in the Christian music scene artists are inspired by other music and want to share it, rather than feeling a “need to be the next big thing”. You can’t just keep covering old songs, but the occasional cover song is awesome because the artist adds their impression of the song and makes it new again.

    · I also agree that change is good.

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