Christian music copes with its continuing success
Rabey (March 16, 2003)
of musical CDs and tapes down nearly 10 percent, America’s
music industry endured additional losses in 2002,
marking two consecutive years of setbacks. The downturn
was caused by competition from other kinds of entertainment
as well as the growing popularity of Internet sites
where people ignored copyright laws and continued
to download songs for free.
mainstream music moguls were singing the blues, those
involved in Christian music offered hallelujahs.
to the Nashville-based Christian Music Trade Association,
people bought nearly 50 million Christian CDs and
tapes last year.
two Nashville-based genres, country and Christian,
were the only two that did not have losing numbers,”
says John Styll, interim president of the Gospel Music
of Christian music in virtually every imaginable genre
was available in 2002, including popular albums from
artists such as Michael W. Smith, Kirk Franklin, MercyMe,
Yolanda Adams and Third Day, all of whom record for
Christian or gospel labels.
was music with a spiritual theme from mainstream (or
secular) groups including U2, P.O.D. and Creed, as
well as the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where
Art Thou?, which
showcased old-time gospel and folk artists.
truth is God’s truth,” says Sara Groves,
a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter who has deep
roots in the Assemblies of God. “When something
is beautiful, that’s because God makes beauty.”
great-grandmother was part of the Azusa Street revival,
and her great-grandfather was an early Assemblies
superintendent. Her father, Dwight Colbaugh, teaches
at Evangel University.
and her husband/manager, Troy, value their Pentecostal
heritage, but they want Sara’s music to reach
unchurched listeners as well.
passion is communicating,” she says. “That’s
why I was a schoolteacher. I’ve always enjoyed
taking complex ideas and making them understandable.
I love the moment when the light goes on.”
songs don’t preach, but they do enlighten. Tornado,
a song from All Right Here, Groves’
second release for the INO label, is based on conversations
with friends who dealt with a person who brought destruction
and turmoil to their lives. And the song Just
One More Thing deals with the common American
malady: “busy sickness.”
31, grew up listening to Christian artists such as
Amy Grant, Keith Green and Andre Crouch, as well as
a variety of pop artists. Groves isn’t the only
CCM artist with an A/G connection. For example, Natalie
Grant attended Northwest College of the Assemblies
of God before embarking on a solo career in 1999 with
a self-titled debut album. Billboard, a music trade publication, commented positively.
Grant nor Groves had been born when contemporary Christian
music first arose out of the Jesus movement of the
1960s, but Groves recently joined Randy Stonehill,
a pioneering Christian artist, on his 18th album,
The Edge of the World.
first heard Groves at an industry gathering in 2002.
“She was like a breath of fresh air,”
he says. “I was really moved by the beauty and
substance of her work.”
and others express concern about the bottom-line orientation
of today’s industry.
started out in contemporary Christian music in 1970,
when it was little more than just a good idea in Larry
Norman’s living room,” Stonehill says
of the singer known as “the father of Christian
through the years, Christian music has bloomed into
a multi-million dollar industry,” Stonehill
says. “The growth and the changes have, indeed,
is glad Christian music is now reaching a wider public,
but he fears music and ministry take a backseat to
you create a machine this big, it demands to be fed,”
Stonehill says. “These days, the industry is
much more focused on commerce and profit margins than
it is on artistry, ministry or long-term relationships.”
feelings about these changes can be found in his song
We Were All So Young,
an affectionate look back at contemporary Christian
music’s early days that includes guest appearances
from fellow pioneers including Norman, Phil Keaggy,
Barry McGuire and Annie Herring of The 2nd Chapter
of Acts. Herring sings these pointed lines: “We
wanted to stand for what is real — for more
than the money or a record deal.”
Styll can see both benefits and problems in today’s
we were more of a provincial cottage industry and
we didn’t have connections to stores like Wal-Mart,”
says Styll, who founded CCM
magazine in 1978. “Now we’re hard-wired
to Wal-Mart, which is important, because [many] churchgoers
still don’t go to religious bookstores.”
corporate conglomerates such as BMG, EMI and AOL Time
Warner own the three major Christian labels.
people don’t like it because the whole thing
looks too worldly to them,” Styll says. “But
I’ve never heard of a case of a parent company
dictating that the Christian content has to change.”
ago, Christian musicians dreamed of crossing over
into mainstream markets. Today, Christian music is
a significant part of the mainstream industry, with
all the opportunities and challenges that entails.
a case of ‘be careful what you wish for, because
you might get it,’ ” Styll says.