Is there such a thing as Christian music? – Part 2: The Music Industry

Did you know that ‘Christian’ music is the only modern music categorized by lyrical content rather than style? Did you know that most Christian music currently produced comes out of a business industry where most of the formerly independent Christian music companies have been acquired by large mainstream companies like Universal, Sony BMG, and others? Did you know that worship labels like Integrity Hosanna have sent cease and desist letters in the past to websites who published chords to worship songs?

Regarding the latter, they have the right, it’s copyrighted material, but it also underscores the fact it’s a business. CCM and Worship music are now on the music industry radar because they sell. In the early days of contemporary Christian music, many people, like Larry Norman, sang songs about Jesus because they wanted to, even if it meant no one listened. Soon after, many churches got on board with the idea of ‘doing something for the youth.’ Christian ‘rock’ and ‘Jesus’ music also gained favor under the notion that they were tools for evangelism. The reality is that most Christian music is consumed by Christians, and while there are certainly non-Christians who have been affected by Christian music, it is largely ineffective for evangelism.

The very nature of the industry is that it has a target market, Christians, and therefore must, as a whole, sell to that market. As such, there are certain limitations of image and content that go along with it. I once heard a Christian musician ask whether there were any unattractive musicians in the industry. Also, like the mainstream industry, it is a youth-dominated industry, mostly following trends of the mainstream industry. In terms of content, I once heard Charlie Peacock say that if he put Jesus in to song to please someone, he’s being unfaithful, and equally unfaithful if he doesn’t include Jesus to please someone. Part of the disconnect with contemporary Christian music is that it’s content is rather limited in scope, and this is partially because the Christian music industry is market-driven. That’s great for those musicians who genuinely want to write music on those themes, but it’s tragic that so many themes about life are missed in the industry as a whole. Based on that reason alone, it’s not surprising most non-Christians aren’t interested in ‘Christian’ music.

These trends have been changing the last few years because of drastic changes in music promotion and delivery because of the Internet. More musicians choose to go independent so they have more creative control of their music and careers, and that’s a good thing.

So, what is it that makes Christian music, well, Christian? Is it still Christian if the studio musicians or producer aren’t Christian? Odds are someone in the process of production, promotion, or delivery isn’t a Christian. What if a Christian sings a song written by a non-Christian? Or vice-versa? If a Christian writes songs without obvious Christian themes, is it Christian? Is there certain content that must exist for the lyrics to be Christian?