The Future of Contemporary Christian Music
While these musicians often sing about matters of truth, ultimate meaning, and religious commitment, they also explore the breadth of the human condition. This, however, is not peculiar to CCM. Evangelical Christianity is changing. In recent years evangelicalism has become more diverse, now including those who have broadened their scope of who can be considered "evangelical." Some have remapped what has historically been considered orthodox. More to the point, various evangelicals have simply redefined what orthodoxy means, thus reclaiming the orthodox position.
Changes in evangelical Christianity and CCM are merely symptoms of a rapidly changing culture. The corporate music industry is now challenged as independent record labels, studios, and bands explore the possibilities of social networking and promotion through the internet, thus reconsidering traditional models of music-making and production. The result of a collapsing corporate music industry has only exacerbated an already ticklish situation within popular Christian music. As CCM groups and soloists have crossed over into the general market, CCM record companies have struck distribution deals with secular labels and, in many cases, now operate as subsidiaries of major corporations such as EMI. As groups signed to subsidiary labels reach mainstream success, the very category of CCM as a valuable niche genre is reexamined, urging up-and-coming musicians to bypass the subsidiaries (seeking contracts with the majors) or to create their own stories as independent artists.
In an online CCM magazine article, veteran Christian music producer Charlie Peacock argues that the current business model of the music industry tends to accept change incrementally, an approach that will become detrimental as culture changes rapidly. Furthermore, he states that since the music industry (as a whole) is managed by Baby Boom gatekeepers whose marketing strategies are based on emphasizing wealth over art, this downward spiral of corporate monoliths will continue. In response, the up-and-coming generation's "indie" model will, ultimately, remap how music is categorized and marketed.
Genres have been redefined, the urgency of "Jesus music" has been reconsidered, and business models are changing. How will CCM fare in the future? "Young Christian baby-boomers and Gen-X once in love with the music abandoned it in adulthood and have not returned," writes Peacock. He continues, comparing the longevity of CCM to classics in the general market:
As a result, legacy artist catalogs (ranging from Larry Norman to Amy Grant to dcTalk and beyond) do not and will not have the staying power of their mainstream counterparts such as The Beatles, The Eagles, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Celine Dion, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and U2. All these artists, and a hundred others, remain popular and economically viable today. Sadly, the pattern does not hold true for what was contemporary Christian music.
Peacock laments not the demise of CCM, but the inability (or unwillingness) of the genre's artists and executives to effectively and efficiently engage the real world. The result of a radically morphing evangelicalism, the bankrupt dualism of categories such as sacred and secular, and a destabilizing music business model, all point to significant changes for CCM. The magazine CCM is now published exclusively online, thus highlighting the fact that the genre's primary marketing tool is not immune to the declining industry of publishing. One wonders whether the magazine would continue successfully in print form if the genre of CCM had its own version of The Beatles.