Monday, April 11, 2011

Hope for P&W Music

                 Ever since about the mid-70’s contemporary or modern Praise and Worship music (p&w) has been constantly streaming forth like a river trying to cover the mountain of secular music already in existence while at the same time complementing the hymns that were already in place in the worship setting at churches in Western society. Over time the p&w brand begin not only to complement hymns in worship but complete replace them in some new church plants this trend although it was noticed, was not really fought too strongly for fear of not being seeker-friendly. As with most every trend Christians have adopted as their own such as the “make a t-shirt for everything trend”(as demonstrated by the emergence of corny Christian tees and brands such as NOTW or Truth, Soul, Armor) or the “make a wristband for everything trend” (WWJD, Witness Bands) the music festival trend (Creation Fest) or even websites (YouTube became GodTube, Stuff White People Like became a book and blog called Stuff Christians Like) and recently pole dancing for Jesus (search for that on YouTube maybe even GodTube); while all of this is interesting (and disturbing) and somewhat trivial the same mimicry of the secular music industry has taken place. This takes place mostly because there is not a single mainstream Christian artist that is not in some way employed by one of these secular record companies like Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Mandisa, and Matt Redman who works for Sparrow Records which is owned by EMI the same company responsible for “artists” such as: Joss Stone, The Sex Pistols, Twista, The Rolling Stones (until 2008), and my favorite band Radiohead. EMI is also the distributor of sixstepsrecords music the company owned by Louie Giglio  that distributes all of the Passion conference’s music and the David Crowder Band’s record label. Gospel music is employed by the same employers of the rappers the gospel artists criticize for promoting violence; Christian artist praise God while taking a paycheck from the same company that pays the secular artist singing about everything Christians are known for turning their noses up at. I wonder why Christians view this as acceptable.
                Before I continue my digression on the greed of Christian businesses; my point is that as the secular music industry has settled for mediocrity, the Christian music industry followed suit. Instead of hiring talented songwriters like Rich Mullen, it began to settle for pretty faces or great gimmicks instead of real God honoring talent that actually does exist out there; I have seen it all over. There are Christians out there with real talent, with real creativity ready to take the Christian music industry beyond its lackluster current state and into a state of actual goodness. Shane Claiborne wrote on his blog on “As a friend of mine quipped: “All these Christian artists say, ‘God gave me this song,’ and then you listen to it and know why God gave it away.” I later learned that Christian art doesn’t have to be a mediocre counterfeit of the original.”(Taken from The Christian Industrial Complex) His point is that Christians should not be slowly following the trends society creates, but be so enveloped in God that His creativity becomes our own. “Music is supposed to inspire…” Lauryn Hill said in 1998 “…how come we ain’t getting no higher?” Her point being if it’s real music we wouldn’t remain the way we are. True music is creative and with it reveals an intimate moment with the creator and eventually the Creator. Where are this musical innovators like Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill, and Arcade Fire? Well they are actually all on tour at the moment; the real question is when are Christians going to start innovating I suppose. The answer is easy.
                The innovators of Christian music are here, among us. They aren’t hiding anywhere, they just aren’t as financially beneficial as mediocre artists are, therefore they will not get the media attention and must be searched for. Typically the mediocre is promoted and thus it is easier for us to find. Yet, last night I was at a concert in a Church of Christ of all places and I was amazed by the sheer artistry this band displayed. From the jazz guitar solo, to the cello solo, or the cellist putting down her cello to pick up her keytar, or the music hiding in the silence just before the singers voice broke through to begin the chorus all over again. I was greatly impressed. I was shocked first-of-all because this was a group that was sold at a Christian bookstore, so I was expected corny love songs for Jesus, you have heard the kind I am describing the ones that take Song of Songs to the extreme and make one uncomfortable as if you are flirting with your Lord and Savior because He save you the damsel in distress.  Yet instead I was invited into a worship experience that used almost liturgical lyrics that described real tangible pain and suffering and death, yet glorified God for the healing and restoration and resurrection that only He can bring. The band – Gungor. The album – “Beautiful Things”. I was amazed and wondered why there weren’t more groups like this, but there are innovators in Christian music as much as I doubt him Steven Curtis Chapman’s last album “Beauty Will Rise” was actually pretty amazing, taken from dark circumstances it was so brilliantly written at points I was on the verge of tears listening to the agonizing conversation he was having with his Father. The David Crowder Band is amazing (even if they are distributed by EMI). Sufjan Stevens is an indie artist that happens to be a Christian making real music on his own making his own rules as he goes. Phil Wickham, Jon Foreman, John Mark McMillan, Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Will Reagan, JJ Heller, Jenny & Tyler, Jesus Culture, the list goes on(I know it is short on women but that isn’t because women aren’t talented musicians but because Christians as a whole are less likely to support Christian female artists and thus they are few and far between). The new trend Christian music is beginning to follow is the indie music trend, becoming independent of major labels has been great for real artists that are Christians. Such as NoiseTrade a website founded by Derek Webb that offers music for as cheap as free.
                The real problem here is not musicians and singers selling out, but with Christians who support them because “I’d rather give my money to ____ than those rappers encouraging mindless violence.” Sure, supporting ____ is better than supporting Twista, but by buying a ____ album you are indirectly supporting Twista anyway. And supporting mediocrity only encourages it to continue. Parents know that cheering for their toddler when he/she pees on the floor won’t make them want to use the toilet. Dog owners know that giving a dog a treat for biting them will only encourage the dog to keep on biting them. We as consumers need to either retrain the Christian music industry with the way we spend or just give up all hope on it and just turn to the secular community to provide us entertainment and hope God will edit it for us.  Or I suppose we could pray they all go Indie. While we are at it we should pray the Church goes Indie too, independent from the lobbying it does for politicians and businesses that truly have no interest in Jesus or advancing His Kingdom.
                There is hope for Praise and Worship music, we are that hope. Our Christian brethren or sister-en with musical gifts that aren’t afraid to make good music that glorifies God, even if that means still having a day job. That hope is the DCBand, Gungor, Sara Groves. That hope is Jesus the ultimate Creator. So let’s make some real music?