Paste, Relevant, and CCM Magazines

Sometimes I receive letters and know right away what I want to say in response.

But sometimes, even if I know what I want to say, I’m more interested in hearing what other people would say in response.

This letter, which raises questions about the differences between magazines like Paste, Relevant, and CCM, is one of those letters.

So, let me put this letter on the table, and see what happens.

Keep it gracious, generous, but bold and true. I don’t want to know if you “like” or are “offended” by it. I want to know what you would say to address this writer’s questions, and what your perspective is on the differences between the three magazines, their methods, their styles, their audiences, and their integrity.

Heck, if you want to include Risen in this round-up… feel free. There’s some interesting stuff happening there as well.

Here we go:

Hope all is well with you.

I really enjoy most of Paste Magazine and I like the fact that they are not afraid to get out of the CCM ghetto to reach the world with good music.

But, I still think I am not fully out of the ghetto.

I still want to support Christians in the media. I come to you and Steven Greydanus because I know you are both guys with Christian values and that influences your movie reviews.

Paste tries too hard to show they are not Christian. They will mention the spiritual lives of artists as long as it is not Christian, except of course U2… they are Christian, but ‘the good kind,’ socially liberal.

What I like about Relevant is that they get out of the ghetto, but are not afraid to say they are Christian. They make a good product.

What do you think of Relevant? Can there be that balance between Paste Magazine and CCM Magazine. A buddy of mine … is doing that over at www.godspy.com: Christian but relevant.

 

Eventually, I’ll come back to this and share a few thoughts, but I thought I’d open up the discussion, and the writer of this letter has granted his permission.

What do you think? Is there a right and proper balance to be struck here, a balance of presenting an openly Christian publication while also providing relevant discussion? Is Paste trying too hard to avoid “looking Christian”? (Or is that what they’re doing at all?) Is Relevant setting the standard for cultural relevance?

As in the thread about our personal spiritual journeys, let’s manifest Christ’s grace in our responses. I have a Delete option, and I will use it if necessary.

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  • Joel K.

    I don’t think it can be overstated: OTR are doing some fantastic things.

    Their Snow Angels is fun (I thought “Trumpet Child” might be included on it) …but the new songs they tried out on us in Santa Fe were, well, fantastic.

    Thanks for the occasional musical updates, Jeffrey.

  • Julio

    New Peter Gabriel Album?! In less than 10 years? Awesome! I hadn’t heard about this.

    If he stays on schedule, that means I have a new U2 and a new Peter Gabriel album all in the same year. Here’s to 2007!

  • jasdye

    too bad too many of those acts have passed their prime. but you never know, byrne or bowie may yet ‘surprise’ us (i’m hoping that dylan and simon convinced some of the other old timers to step-up their game).

    otr’s old stuff is dynamite. heck, that christmas album is one of my favorite for the year.

  • Josh

    Even with a new U2 album on the way (possibly), Joe Henry is absolutely at the top of my list. Over the Rhine is not too far behind… and you and I both know that their new material is dynamite.

    Did you know that Suzanne Vega’s album is on Blue Note? I didn’t until I got an update newsletter from them yesterday.

  • Holy Moly!

    Paste has a great stable of writers, but its big problem that it’s too heavily weighted toward the major labels (not that i blame them, that’s where the ad dollars are), and too focused on the blandly pleasant; very little coverage of anything “weird” or off the radar, very little that truly challenges the listener.

    Relevant I am unimpressed with as a music publication. The near-exclusive coverage on major label and fake-indie acts, the puff pieces. But it seems they’re fundamentally motivated by commerce more than art to begin with.

    I don’t read CCM.

  • sg

    I like Paste. Andy, thanks for the great writing and thoughts.

    I’ve been a subscriber to Paste since the first issue. I can’t remember how I found it, but it struck me at the time as being a sweet relief from CCM, which felt contrived (I was a True Tunes fan for awhile too, until it vanished).

    Before Paste I surfed the net to find music and news that resonated with me and found very few offerings (and those available weren’t very consistent).

    As a believer I’m sure that on a subconscious level, Paste struck a sympathetic chord with me because the people starting it out were also believers.

    I’ve done the “Christian Music” “Secular Music” thing too many times to count…I just want to listen to music that moves me, challenges me, lifts me, and occasionally lets me wallow in sadness. :)

    Paste seemed to highlight artists that met all of these needs.

    Two cents and then some.

    Steve

  • Mo

    I can’t speak about CCM since I haven’t read it in years. (I didn’t realize they were even still around!) But I have been a subscriber to Relevant for several years and a consistent reader of Paste as well.

    I’ll say this. As I read both of these now I put the magazine down wondering, ‘What exactly was that about?’ There seems to be no focus, spiritually speaking. I prefer Paste in that they cover so much music, and that’s what my interest is. Relevant seems to have less focus in general. Both are trying to cover too much, and in the end, are not effective.

    I think both are also trying to please both Christian and non-Christian groups. That is not possible. Biblical Christianity is, by it’s very nature, offensive. It states that there are clear rights and wrongs and that is going to upset people. People might love you because you enjoy a certain style of music, but start pointing out the false worldviews and assumptions inherenet in them and watch how quickly they turn.

  • Andy Whitman

    A few followup comments:

    Chris B., I don’t think it’s possible for Paste to be all things to all people. Most magazines stake our their demographic niche. Paste is no different.

    Paste’s demographic is that segment of the population that followed popular culture in the seventies throught the nineties, grew up, got married, had kids, and now feels abandoned by radio, MTV, Rolling Stone, etc. because of their focuses on youth and image. These folks find musical substance, generally, in singer/songwriters, roots music, and indie rock. And that’s what Paste focuses on.

    I’m sympathetic, by the way. I’d love for Paste to devote more coverage to jazz and blues, two of my favorite musical genres. So I understand your frustration at the lack of classical music coverage. But honestly, it’s unlikely to happen. There isn’t a big enough market to justify it, and Paste, whatever their other motivations, is also in business to sell magazines and make money.

    emmyzdaddy, I can’t disagree with you. I’m not thrilled about the cigarette ads, either.

    Finally, the original letter that prompted this thread stated:

    “Paste tries too hard to show they are not Christian. They will mention the spiritual lives of artists as long as it is not Christian, except of course U2… they are Christian, but ‘the good kind,’ socially liberal.”

    But the good kind *are* socially liberal. :-)

    Oh, okay, politics aside, I don’t think this statement is true. I haven’t scoured the back issues of the magazine looking for Christian content or references to Christianity. I do know that I’ve written several articles where my Christian faith, or the artist’s Christian faith, has been discussed. I don’t randomly drop it in there, and in most cases it’s not relevant to the article or review at hand, but if it fits in with the larger themes, then I’m not reluctant to tie it in. For reference, I’d refer you to my articles on Bruce Cockburn, Sufjan Stevens, Mindy Smith, and Paul Simon.

    Again, though, in most cases it’s not relevant to the music being discussed, and I’m not going to name drop Jesus for evangelistic purposes in the middle of an article about poetry slams.

  • Wasp Jerky

    Ditto what Campbell Andrews said. Sometimes I think Relevant should change its name to Status Quo.

  • todd

    I have to say that maybe I’m an outsider but I didn’t realize Paste, or at least some of its editors, had a connection to Christianity. And here I thought Christians had an easily detectable language. At least those I’ve run across do, which shows what I know! Of course I’ve never heard of the other magazines mentioned here either. I read Paste primarily for the film articles (I’m not sure where they found Robert Davis. I think he’s one of the best film critics in the country right now) but they have also led me to lots of musicians and authors that I don’t hear about anywhere else.

    Whatever drives them … I’m just glad they seem to have a different idea of what constitutes “signs of life”. Putting the word “culture” on the cover seems a little pretentious, but it shows their heart is in the right place. The rest of the magazine doesn’t seem pretentious at all.

    Also, I’m usually more interested in writing that helps me engage with art, not just sell it to me. I find that I often like to read Paste not only to discover new things but also to discover new aspects of movies, albums, and books that I actually have seen, heard, or read. I don’t get that from a lot of other mainstream magazines. It’s why I find the film writing so fascinating. They always see something that never even occurred to me, which increases my enjoyment tremendously.

    What gives them those eyes and ears I don’t know, but I don’t sense any agenda hidden.

  • Joel

    I’d agree with some of the other sentiments voiced here — these magazines all have different aims. CCM and Relevant both cater to Christians, and Paste doesn’t. CCM’s focus (as far as I remember, I haven’t read an issue in about 5 years) is music that is marketed to Christians. Relevant’s focus is ostensibly stuff that matters to young evangelical Christians. They cover a lot less music that is marketed to Christians, and I find that refreshing. I have written for them (I also write for Paste) because I feel like a lot of what I have to say is, um, “relevant” to that audience…most people who read that magazine, I reckon, are a lot like me: raised in a fairly conservative, evangelical environment, now re-evaluating what’s important and how much of that culture we want to hold on to. Paste’s focus is “good music” which is of course vague, but there’s nothing in their approach that tells me they’re marketing to Christians.

    I guess it’s a little cynical to evaluate these magazines based on who I feel their demographic is. I think the reason that I (and others like me) would rather read Paste’s music coverage than Relevant’s or CCM’s is that I don’t feel like I’m being asked to buy in to something based on my faith. More than anything, though, I’m simply not a part of the culture Relevant and CCM are part of — I don’t listen to Christian music, I don’t shop at Christian bookstores, and so son.

  • Campbell Andrews

    Anecdotal & personal experience with Relevant Online has left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s clear to me that the folks in charge are interested in the bottom line first & foremost, not in ideas or in Christian consideration of the arts.

    I subscribed to the print version for a time, and it struck me that there was very little, in the way of the arts, that went further than capsuled puff pieces. I can get more timely, thoughtful commentary, criticism & journalism on the internet.

    I can authoritatively say that the publisher’s hope is to be the hip mag for college-age Christians, and to serve a ghettoized constituency, one which depends on ‘Christian’ media to vet their taste. The irony of that is that their most voracious reader is the high-school age youth-group member. 20somethings don’t need a drag-time publication to validate their choices.

  • RC

    i think all three magazines are valid and OBVIOUSLY have different purposes and functions.

    Christian should try to get their writing into magazines that are not overtly Christian…be salt that perserves life and culture.

    At the same time…some Christians will be called to be Spiritually relevant, and produce sucsessful equivalents OR trailblaze into new territory labeled Christian but accesible to a wider relevant culture…great!!!

    But you won’t catch my grandma reading Paste or Relevant…and, well she probably won’t read CCM either…but maybe “Widows of Indie-Fundie Pastors Magazine.” And you know what, my grandma should have a magazine she can enjoy too.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  • emmyzdaddy

    “You won’t find… glorification of addictive behaviors” “I know for a fact that Paste has turned down advertising that would have generated significant revenue for the magazine because of the questionable content in the ads, and I also know that Paste has taken some flak for that in the entertainment industry”

    In response to these comments, one thing that has troubled me about Paste (as a subscriber and avid reader) is that every issue I open has the same large color ad in the center for American Spirit cigarettes. I would think, in light of your comments, that this would be one of the ads they would turn down. I say this as a lover of Paste – considering how many people are hooked on this addiction that is slowing killing them, it’s just troubling that this appears to be one of their major advertisers.

  • Chris Burgwald

    I think part of the discussion has to be what we mean by “Christian magazine”. To me, being a “Christian magazine” doesn’t mean covering Christians exclusively. Andy refers to Paste’s desire to find signs of life in the culture… to me, that goal is an eminently Christian one: engaging the culture to find what’s best (true, good, and beautiful) in it, because we know what the source of all truth is (Truth Himself).

    At Andy’s blog I’ve mentioned my chief complaint with Paste (that despite their aim to find signs of life in culture generally, they [necessarily?] focus on particular cultural artifacts, excluding certain genres [e.g. classical]). But I find that I can’t stop buying the mag, simply because (my complaint aside) they’re doing an outstanding job of finding signs of life in the culture.

  • DanBuck

    CCM is CHRISTIAN!?!

    ;)

  • Andy Whitman

    I write for Paste, so I’m admittedly biased. Having said that, I’m not an employee of the magazine, and I certainly don’t want to present my views as the “official Paste position.” This is just my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    Paste is not a Christian magazine, nor does it have aspirations to be one. There are other good Christian magazines out there — Relevant and CCM, to name two. But Paste’s avowed goal is to point out “signs of life in music, film, books, and culture.” Sometimes those signs are made by Christians. Sometimes they’re made by non-Christians. Many times I couldn’t tell you the philosophical or religious beliefs of the people who make worthwhile art. But it’s worth writing about the art for its own sake. And that’s what Paste tries to do.

    I don’t think it’s correct to say, though, that the Christian faith of a number of the people who run the magazine, and who write for it, isn’t reflected in the magazine itself. As Jeff B. noted, sometimes it’s evident in what isn’t covered. You won’t find salacious articles on Britney’s latest breast implants or a glorification of addictive behaviors, as you will in some of the other, larger music magazines. I know for a fact that Paste has turned down advertising that would have generated significant revenue for the magazine because of the questionable content in the ads, and I also know that Paste has taken some flak for that in the entertainment industry. But it was the right decision, and I’m glad they made it.

    I’d also like to point out that Paste’s recent 100 Greatest Living Songwriters issue included profiles of Bill Mallonee, David Bazan, Over the Rhine, and Bruce Cockburn. How much coverage do you think Rolling Stone gives to these musicians? For that matter, how much coverage do you think CCM gives to these musicians? The bottom line is that Paste was started by some people who wanted to write about what they loved, and since nobody else was writing about Christian musicians who operated outside the CCM industry, Paste decided to give it a shot. Obviously their scope has expanded since that initial vision. But the original vision still holds true in most ways — there are albums, films, and books that we approach from a variety of motives — one of them being escape — and we emerge from those experiences more alive, more aware of the world we live in, more cognizant of the glory of God’s creation, more in tune with the sorrow and the great burdens that many share from living in a fallen world. These works don’t numb us; they wake us up. Writing about this is its own reward, and requires no further justification.

    That’s what Paste wants to cover. And the fact that non-Christians can both create those experiences and share in those experiences, is part of the dialogue we’d like to maintain.

  • Jeff B

    Well I guess I’ll start.

    From my perspective, Paste doesn’t wear its faith on its sleeve. The most “Christian” thing about the mag is that they don’t have the sex, drug, and porn ads that RS, SPIN, etc. seem to crave. Not that that’s any small thing mind you. But if you didn’t know Christians were running the ‘zine, you wouldn’t know it from reading it. Even in the editorials. But I don’t know if there’s a problem with that. They’re just trying to write a good music/culture mag without all the other crap thrown in there – I can appreciate that, even if they don’t necessarily point out the “Life” that they find in the arts they review.

    Relevant, I like, but I think they try to hard to please everyone sometimes. That said, they do tend to point out the “life” that they find in the arts which is helpful to those trying to escape the ghetto. Sometimes it reads too much like the 20-something entity that it is. That’s probably my biggest gripe.

    Both run into the danger of presenting a “reletavistic” faith which of course is what is in vogue in post-modern society, but I don’t perceive either as promoting that.

    CCM has moments of promise, but it gives off the general feel of being an “industry” promo. Entertainment Tonight for Christians.

    Each magazine has its niche. I don’t know what else to add really…


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