A Rant About the Christian Music Industry by a Christian
One Christian said that he knew transformation by the Holy Spirit was taking place when he started liking Christian music and typically “Christian” activities such as wearing loafers and going to church. On the other hand, the more I examined my faith, the more I came to hate the Christian music genre and industry. Some songs even seemed more like an insult to God than a form of praise. If God could give us the concept of music, why can’t Christian music seem to go beyond being an alternative to pop music?
It all sounds the same.
I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s Christian music is generated by an algorithm rather than a human songwriter. It features very similar, if not the same, instruments, vocals (technically instruments), chord progression, key, structure, lyrical content, and overall texture. If you have a piano or a guitar, a basic pop beat, a mention of overcoming a vague struggle, and a reference to water, you have a Christian song. The formula works for worship settings so that no one will pull a vocal chord trying to hit a high note, but it makes for a Christian radio that might as play the same song all the time.
In the Christian music industry, several artists will remake the same song or recycle old hymns. While I’m all for the use of old hymns and metaphors, they get old very quickly. It’s like the anti-technology side of science fiction: an overused message that doesn’t really apply to anyone but sells because it appeals to old conservatives who are afraid of change. That is exactly what the Christian music industry is: afraid of change. Anyone who rocks the boat or disagrees with a widely-held opinion in this industry is essentially excommunicated from Christian music. The lack of risk-taking is also reflected in Christian music’s worship song style. Some songs by different artists that aren’t rehashings of old hymns even have the same overall melody, which indicates an utter absence of originality in Christian music.
It’s too safe.
Maybe this is just me because I have a taste for the subversive and controversial, but I think Christian music is absolutely devoid of risk, at least within the Christian music industry standard. These risks can come in the form of singing about current events, embracing uncommon vocal types, and totally abandoning traditional song structures. I see none of that in Christian music. The greatest songs always have some risk, but the risk-averse Christian music industry does not allow greatness but wants to create a safe space. I do know that some people’s lives have been transformed by hearing a Christian song, but the same can be said of many secular songs as well. If Peter could be crucified upside down and Martin Luther could call the early Catholic church out on essentially selling forgiveness, why can’t Christian artists take more risks with Christian music?
Christian music can essentially be broken down into various rehashings of popular Bible passages and old hymns, “Jesus is my boyfriend" songs, declarations of faith, and encouragement songs. There’s not much else beyond that. The prevalence of vaguely erotic lyrics in the ever-common “Jesus is my boyfriend song" creates an interesting contrast when the same people who like these songs have various hangups with the concept of non-procreative sexuality. Some declaration of faith songs can really be about faith in anything. Worst of all, the encouragement segment of Christian music fails to acknowledge the impact a struggle can have. Not everything can--or should--be shaken off.
It’s not about real Christians.
This one is counterintuitive, but it’s true. Christian music relies on a certain type of Christianity where no one disagrees on anything too significant and where people tend to rehash or dilute the trends around them for their own comfort. Any or all struggles are either trivial or socially acceptable. Struggles that present any sort of meaningful questioning of this culture, such as those that have to do with sexual orientation or gender identity, are either dismissed or are used against the person to question their faith. Even worse, some songs that attempt to paint a more nuanced picture of the Christian’s relationship with pain and suffering end up making God out to be plain sadistic.
The Christian music industry does not paint an honest picture of Christianity but is a conglomeration of everything wrong with today’s Christianity. Rather than being at the forefront of challenging the readily apparent, today’s Christianity calls certain social norms God’s design for humanity. Take Vicky Beeching for instance. Not long ago, was essentially excommunicated from the Christian music industry for coming out as lesbian herself and affirming openly LGBT people. Some of her opposers called themselves a persecuted class or heroes in a world that obfuscates the simplest of facrs. Others try to compromise with a “love the sinner, hate the sin" approach, but it remains apparent that the Christian music industry is one of many institutions that profits off of peoples' fear of change.
If that’s how a celebrated Christian artist got treated for coming out about her sexual orientation and theology differences, imagine the uproar if someone wrote a song about being a gay Christian and tried to get it played on Christian radio. It wouldn’t happen because no one with common sense would pitch something so risky. Such a song would contain an emotional journey that threatens the one-noteness of Christian music. Moreover, in Christian Music-dom, no one seems to have any genuine doubts about God’s existence or, even more important, morality. It’s not that these artists have never questioned whether God was a sadistic sky tyrant or if He ever existed in the first place, but that laying bare one’s genuine doubts goes overlooked in favor of the “I’m not enough" song. Not enough for what? Heaven? The church? Getting paid on Medium? Some people take criticisms of the Christian music industry as an attack on Christ Himself. However, as with many criticisms of Christian institutions, the problem is with Christians rather than Christ.