The Consolidation of Christian Music

It really frustrates me that all the best things seem to die. Just when you think you’ve got something good going, you lose it. For those of us into Christian music, such a time is upon us. Let me clarify that, those of us who like good music that also happens to have decent, God-honoring lyrics. I’m not referring to the cheese that is much of contemporary Christian music.

And when I say cheese, I’m talking about much of the stuff that flows out of Nashville, the well-known capital of country music, and the little-known capital of Christian music. Most of this cheese is drivel, void of originality, free of any hint of freshness, and lacking in basic musicianship and decent song writing. As an example, adult contemporary group 4Him. For ordinary people that example would be enough. 4Him? What kind of a name is that? But it gets better. Their new album? Walk On. It just so happens to be the title of a hit U2 song from their newest record, which came out one year ago. Coincidence? Or cheese? You decide.

Squint Entertainment, former home to such respectable–no admirable artists as Sixpence None the Richer, Burlap to Cashmere, and Chevelle. All three bands earned major mainstream accolades, and I won’t even get into Squint’s non-mainstream successes, Waterdeep and PFR. Not to mention the band Squint was toting but had not yet released an album, L.A. Symphony, a highly acclaimed rap group from the West Coast. Well, say goodbye. Squint records unfortunately closed their doors, sending their bands packing. Last word was, Nashville cheese-inspired record company Word was picking up the assets and would continue the tradition of Squint, adding many of their alternative artists to the Squint label. Word’s record for alternative acts is a little weak. Most of them release one album and disappear, perhaps a second and then fade into oblivion.

Although there is hope. I recently heard that PFR had signed with Rocketown Records, the slightly more respectable Nashville label owned by dyed in the wool-CCMer with one time mainstream power, Michael W. Smith. Rocketown is also home to the CCM-adored Chris Rice, the extremely promising Ginny Owens, who played Lilith Fair dates after releasing her debut album, and newcomer Shaun Groves, who has the intelligence and song writing chops to make a real dent in the Nashville cheese.

The other Squint bands are up in the air or on their own. Burlap to Cashmere appears to be with Brooklyn Beat/Squint Entertainment, according to their latest newsletter. Sixpence is shopping around, and I smell major label deal. Chevelle has been awfully quiet lately in the CCM circles, probably because they just signed with Epic Records for an early 2002 release, while Waterdeep will probably languish on a Nashville label that doesn’t understand their indie appeal.

Add to the list of cool labels in question 5 Minute Walk Records, home to the status-quo-crushing Five Iron Frenzy, folk-rocker Justin McRoberts, and former home of the meteoric W’s who are no more. 5 Minute Walk has been the California label, bringing a wave of fresh air to the Nashville crowd. Apparently 5 Minute Walk’s future is uncertain, which is a major blow to those of us who hoped Christian music could actually be cool. Apparently it’s not a financial decision either, which makes the whole thing even stranger.

Unfortunately that doesn’t leave us with much. There’s Essential Records, the young upstart that somehow snagged all the cool bands, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and then keeps throwing out these so-so money bands that are only following the crowd (read: FFH and True Vibe). There’s Forefront Records, the decidedly younger version of every Nashville CCM-label. Everything they release seems to have a CCM-friendliness, with the exception of those who’ve been around to earn the right to say what they want — dc Talk. Of course there’s always the Tooth and Nail conglomerate, which includes the mainstream friendly BEC, the rap/hip-hop Uprok, and the loud SolidState. Of course Tooth and Nail bands are consistently underground favorites that seem to languish around with a few hits here, a few flops there. The BEC bands usually have the most potential lately they haven’t seemed to garner much mainstream attention.

Alas. Sometimes you need to vent and long for days gone by.

3 thoughts on “The Consolidation of Christian Music”

  1. I cannot comment on the other Christian music groups you mentioned, but the group 4Him is not a good example of “cheesy contemporary Christian music”. I became a big fan of theirs because of the God-honoring lyrics in all their songs.

    You can say all you want about the title of their album, their songs, or even them, but the proof is in the pudding. Listen to their songs, take a good look at the lyrics, and you will see that these are men who truly love God and want to use their music to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

    Psalm 100:1

  2. Excellent blog-/article, I know it is very old, but it is a really good insight on what was going on. Unfortunately, things didn’t get better. The only good thing that happenned is that some bands started to go to mainstream labels, which can be good or bad. Word or Warner destroyed Squint, which was my favorite one and I havent heard that much of the tooth and nail ones, at least not as much as in the late nineties.. Oh well…

  3. Yes, most Christian music is cheese. But you must consider Tooth and Nail records as kind over all good Christian music, in my opinion. I mean, seriously, who has made much more impact than them and their outlets (BEC, Solid State, Uprok)? Jeremy Camp, Mae, Kutless (who borders on cheese, actually), Adie, TFK, Joy Electric, Starflyer59… it goes on.

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