Music. Christian music. Mainstream music.
To what extent do these words segregate? Where do they merge? Why is there such a distinct separation between them and yet a new movement to dissipate their differences? The new wave of Christian influence on popular music has been increasing. To some people this is reassuring and to some it is frightening. Where do Christian artists, executives, and listeners stand on the current surge of spirituality in mainstream music?
There are two questions being raised by the Christian community regarding the merger of Christian themes and secular music: “Is questionable theology in so-called religious music acceptable?” and “Is the seeming surplus of Christian influence in modern music becoming a cliché, turning off potential converts?” In an interview with CM Central, Mark Joseph, author of Faith, God, and Rock & Roll: How People of Faith Are Transforming American Popular Music, said that as the musical barriers fall, “we’re all just going to have to be less lazy in the future, and check out artists, and check out lyrics. When an artist embraces the term ‘Christian Music’ they’re marginalizing themselves.” Lyrics will always be controversial, whatever side of the spiritual spectrum they come from. But isn’t it better if those lyrics are impacted by a Christian standpoint? Furthermore, shouldn’t quality music force people to question their faith and show the faithless what they’re missing?
Musicians have long considered the “pigeon-hole” a rancid thing. Artists have always been cautious of being labeled as a “rip-off” of this band or that songwriter. Yet, since the earliest days of what has now become the Christian music industry, artists and management alike have embraced the label “Christian music.” What has this self-inflicted label said about the music itself? This categorization has told listeners, “We market music by Christians for Christians.” Just as you, being the good Christian that you are, wouldn’t regularly buy Alice Cooper albums, so the average non-Christian American wouldn’t run to the Christian” section of the CD store. Yet, the debate remains. If you can’t say that you are supporting a genre called “Christian Music” then what are you supporting?
This is where the debate is getting heated. What makes a song or album “Christian?” The integration of religious values in mainstream Country and Southern R&B has long been accepted, whereas Rock, Rap, and Pop are just now feeling the influence. In Rock, Rap, and Pop, positive moral lyrics have been difficult to push due to these genres’ propensity toward emotional out lashings, materialism, and mainstream sexuality. But this is the music that sells, and generations of listeners have been brought up under the influence (good or bad) of these messages. As Rock and Pop artists such as Chevelle, Lifehouse, and Stacie Orrico set new standards they have had to fight flack from the church as well as the secular audiences who expect something different.
If there’s one obstacle that the industry has to overcome in order to reach broader secular audiences, it’s niche marketing. This happens when a record label notices that, for instance, middle-aged women heavily support Mercy Me. Before you know it, this label has five new formula-made praise and worship bands modeled after Mercy Me, aimed at the hearts of middle-aged women. It’s a terrific marketing scheme, but it usually ends up taking a quality group such as Mercy Me and belittling it. But more importantly, marketing music like this ends up pushing things that are simply popular instead of pushing things that are fully true, a direct contradiction to the Great Commission given by Christ. Mark Joseph says, “Niche marketing is about finding people who agree with you, and marketing products to those people. The Great Commission is about finding people who disagree with you, and trying to market – not products – but market ideas, or reach those people in some way.”
So, what does the future hold for “Christian” music? The answer is uncertain. What is certain is an answer will come, and artists as well as listeners will determine it. The music industry releases what people demand; therefore people have a hand in what is being released. If we steadily demand quality, creative, moral music, and if we have hard-working artists to supply it, industry executives will have to respond. So, regardless of whether Christian influence is frowned upon or labeled a cliché, there is hope that the focus of the message will not change and hope that it will be impossible to be ignored.