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The Future of Contemporary Christian Music

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.

Many young Christian musicians now avoid being pigeonholed by the CCM category. As inheritors of the culture war, these are skeptical persons of faith (if even evangelical) who hope to offer their own voice in the midst of millions -- though not confined by what are viewed as the trappings of an industry built on false dualism and money.

CCM was once needed as young Jesus freaks set out to change the world -- one that would not offer them record contracts. The result was a parallel universe that has outlived its reason for being. In the end, the future of CCM is linked to the future of two monoliths: the music industry and evangelicalism. What we see developing are nascent models of artistic expression (inspired by faith) that may very well be classified by style and not worldview.

 

Shawn David Young is a socio-cultural historian. Having taught in the contemporary Christian music program at Greenville College, Illinois, he developed an interest in the connections between music, religious belief, politics, and the music industry. Selected publications include two forthcoming chapters in Cult Pop Culture with Praeger, one forthcoming chapter in Culture/Counter-culture: Festivals and Faires in America with Edwin Mellen Press, a chapter in September 11 in Popular Culture with Greenwood Press, a forthcoming article in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and entries on dystopian communities, Christian rock, and the history of rock ‘n' roll in ABC-CLIO's World History Encyclopedia. Young is the area chair for subculture with the Midwest Popular Culture Association, is a contributing news editor for Religion Compass Exchanges, an online journal from Wiley-Blackwell, and is working with David W. Stowe and Jim Jabara on a documentary film that explores the connections between early Christian rock music and the Religious Right. Young is currently finishing his Ph.D. at Michigan State University.

8/13/2010 4:00:00 AM