Marshall McLuhan coined that phrase with his book of the same name (published in 1967). I studied communications in college, so being exposed to McLuhan’s ideas is a rite of passage. McLuhan, a Christian, and “well-known to be a technological determinist, argues in The Medium is the Massage that the dominant communication media of our time will shape the way humans think, act, and ultimately perceive the world around them. Technologies—from clothing to the wheel to the book, and beyond—are the messages themselves, not the content of the medium” (from Wikipedia).
I was recently reading a Christian musician’s statement about how they didn’t think they were the greatest musicians, but that they felt compelled to tell their message. Now, I’ve heard this before, and may have even said this before. While I respect the heart behind it, I think McLuhan is on to something. The medium affects the message, and sometimes, the medium IS the message. In this case, all that the musician says and does communicates. What does it communicate, for instance, if the musician isn’t musically good? What does that say about how much they value music? If providing the audience with a good musical performance isn’t important, how important is the audience? Why not just read, if the message is so important? There are a lot of ways to look at this, and I don’t want to oversimplify it, but the point is, that the message goes beyond the words used.
Some of the best performers, are not those who are the most excellent, but those who connect with their audience the best, and that too, content aside, is a message. We communicate to people all the time, whether we want to or not, whether what we convey (or what people interpret), reflects our hearts or not. Really, the lives we live are the message, and those lives speak louder and more powerfully than any words sung from a stage ever will.