This is dangerous. Writing about what constitutes Christian music is tricky enough. But when you start talking about the Christian Music Industry, things get a bit more awkward. Good people have devoted their lives to the success of this venture. In general, people tend to feel strongly one way or the other about Christian music as an industry.
I vacillate between thinking the Christian Music Industry is a good thing and thinking it’s a bad thing. So I’m going to share some pros and cons here. I will by no means settle the debate or lay out a course for the future. But I think it’s helpful for all of us to consider its high points and the ways in which we might improve this approach to making and marketing music.
Let me emphasize that while today I will share the negative side, tomorrow I will share the positive side. So don’t get too critical, there are good things to say as well!
On the Negative Side
The Christian Music Industry has made a lot of people suspicious. One critique I commonly hear is that Christian music is inherently uncreative. I haven’t seen them out in a while, but there was a time when you could walk into a Christian “book”store and find signs indicating “If you like [insert secular band here], you’ll like [insert Christian band here].” That’s not all bad, but I think it betrays an attempt to find what the world is doing well, then Christianize it—the music isn’t as good, and we’re not being creative, but the lyrics are uplifting.
To be honest, a lot of what I hear on Christian radio shows blind adherence to a musical formula rather than a commitment to use the creativity that God has given us and expects us to use to his glory. But I also see that changing. Our tastes differ, and I don’t want to get unnecessarily controversial by pointing to specific bands, but most of us can think of at least a few Christian bands that are truly breaking out of the Contemporary Christian mold and writing creatively.
The other negative thing I want to point out is that having a separate Industry for Christian music tends to isolate us from the larger culture. Daniell Siedell explains the unfortunate consequences of this:
“This strategy [of creating a separate industry for Christian art] resulted in developing an alternative institution of art, with its own role for the artist, work of art, and audience, and underwritten by its own history and theory of art as well as its own publications and criteria for success. There are two potential problems with this approach. First, it tends to marginalize Christianity, reducing it to merely another theory or ‘ism’ or identity, like Marxism or feminism; and second, it tends to reduce these communities merely to consumer brands, a form of niche marketing. The result is isolation. Artists find their own niche, and their practices are intended to have meaning only within the narrow confines of this community…Christianity is thus reduced to yet another worldview and, although it has a seat at the table, it is unable—or unwilling—to engage other participants in meaningful conversation and speak to the table at large, as it develops its own exhibiting and publishing venues. Christianity thus loses its relevance to the secular contemporary art world even while Christian art and the Christian artist thrive in their own institutional domain.”
What kind of music do you like: country, rock, or Christian?
When Christianity becomes a genre, we can be sure that something has gone wrong somewhere. If our best, brightest, and most creative live within a marketing bubble, then they are not having much of an impact on our society as a whole. This is a mistake. I deeply appreciate those musicians who are remaining faithful to their Christian worldview and who are doing so from within the “secular” music industry. That can’t be easy, but I think it’s important.
Okay, that’s all the negative for now. Feel free to share your thoughts, but remember to keep things tempered until the positive side has been heard (see tomorrow’s post). This isn’t about bashing anyone or anything, it’s about finding the best way to effectively witness to Christ.
 Daniel A. Siedell, God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008) 159.