musicnotesWhy Does Christian Music Suck?

November 16, 2012 | By: David Michael

Whether it’s Rock, Metal, Rap, Contemporary or any of their sub-genres, there seems to be a consensus among some people that Christian music finds itself lacking in comparison to their secular counterparts. Therefore, in this article we’ll take a look at why this might be a common view and whether or not it holds true.

Before we begin it’s important to understand that there is no ‘one-single’ point that we can pigeonhole the entire subject into. Nor could we possibly look at every little reason why someone might say that Christian music ‘sucks’. Nevertheless we can certainly look at some of the key reasons that play a big role in this subject, but remember each situation could be different for an artist and/or label. So, with that said, let’s dig in.

Backdrop: Why should the devil have all the good music?

The source of that statement, “Why should the devil have all the good music?”, has been credited to many well-known Christian leaders throughout time, such as William Booth to Martin Luther and many others in between. I suppose if there was one historic figure to credit the origins of that statement it would have to be Reverend Roland Hill (1744-1833) when he said that he, “….did not see any reason why the devil should have all the good tunes.”[Rev. R. Hill Sermons, from E.W. Broome, the Reverend Roland Hill, p.93]

Still, there is no doubt that the true modern popularity of that statement came from Larry Norman (1947– 2008). He was a Christian-rock musician, singer, songwriter, and producer, who wrote and performed a song by the same title: ‘Why should the devil have all the good music?’.

The idea of that song was not about quality but rather it was to make a statement that Christians could play rock-n-roll too, without compromising their Christian beliefs and values. Nevertheless, that statement has been the backdrop behind many discussions on the quality of Christian vs. Secular music.

So, does the ‘devil’ really have all the good music? Does Christian music fall-flat in comparison to its secular counterpart? The answer to this question is Yes!…..I mean, No!….. I mean, well, actually, it’s yes and no. To better understand this; let’s look at some of the key factors that contribute to the issue.

Pick Of The Litter

The Christian music industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 30yrs. It has grown from a very small niche-market to a multi-million dollar global business. Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that Christian music still only accounts for a very small percentage of each genre in comparison to the secular music scene. In other words, the number of Christian rock bands in the world vs. the number Secular rock bands doesn’t even come close to comparison.

What does this mean? It means that secular record labels can have the ‘pick of the litter’ when choosing an artist for a specific genre. It also means that the opposite is true for Christian labels because they have limited options when choosing an artist for most genres.

Having limited options sometimes means settling for less than the best. In other words, there could be some great Christian artists in a specific genre and some that are not so great, but because of having fewer choices; a label might sign both artists. This would certainly contribute to the problem if this process were repeated over and over again in each genre and each label. The market would end up flooded with many artists that weren’t up to par to their secular versions. As a result, it could cause some people to lump all Christian music into one basket even though there are some artists that might be just as good as their secular versions.

Wanted: Recording Production Greatness!

Another big contributing factor is the production budget. Most national secular artists have a major record label backing them with huge budgets and access to top-notch producers, studios and engineers that usually result in ‘recording production greatness’. (Ref: Record Labels: Major vs. Indie) That is not always the case for Christian labels. Budgets can be very limited and therefore, their artists are not always getting the best that money can buy. As a result their recordings may result in lower sound production quality.

This can be a huge disadvantage for Christian music because whether people realize it or not, most are influenced more by production quality than substance. Look at it this way; it’s much the same as selling a house. Meaning, you’re more likely to sell a house if it’s staged properly than if it’s not staged. Even though the rooms and structure of the house are the same either way, people are more influenced to buy if there’s quality visual-presentation. The same is true for audio presentation. An artist can have great music composition and be masters of their craft, but if the recording production quality is poor, most people will not give it much attention. Therefore, low production can lead some to think that Christian music “sucks” even though the foundations might be the same or even better than the secular version.

Having said all that, it’s important that I also mention that the gap between secular and Christian recording production quality is closing-in. I would even say that, due to huge technological advancements in audio recording, the ‘gap’ is non-existent in most cases. Technology has without doubt helped level the playing field; allowing for affordable access to professional recording options that can keep-up with the big-boys.

Save The Whales!

If you want people to rally behind you then hold an event to ‘Save the Whales’. It’s common knowledge that people are more likely to support an event or product if there is a ‘Good Cause’ behind it. Even if the event and/or product is lacking in quality; people will still support it because they want to support the ‘Cause’.

Artist with a ‘cause’ is no exception and believe it or not that’s another reason why some low-quality Christian artists might get exposure. Meaning, most Christians are willing to overlook what’s lacking in quality because they support the artist’s ‘Cause’. The ‘cause’, of course, would be the gospel of Christ and all the Christian morals, values and messages associated with it.

It’s also worth noting that ‘Saving the whales’ might be a good cause and it might rally people together for a fundraising event but those rallies will come and go. Religious causes, on the other hand, easily endure longer because it strikes into the very soul of its supporters. Therefore, if a secular artist that is trying to save the whales but lacks in quality, they will not endure long. On the other hand, if there is a Christian artist that lacks quality, they could last longer because their audience might be more willing to put-up with it for the sake of supporting the religious ‘Cause’.

Now, marketing experts know this is often the case, especially in some specific genres. Therefore, they might be less likely to worry about quality. In other words, it’s easier to lower the standards if they know people will buy the product anyways. As a result they focus more on selling the ‘Cause’ than the quality of the product.

The truth is that the same rule applies to both Secular and Christian. That is, if we’ll buy it then they will sell it. Good, bad or in different, the bottom line is usually Sales. You see; we ‘the buyers’ actually determine what kind of quality they will sell us. If people want the standards raised then they have quit buying low quality product.

At any rate, the overall point here is simply that there might be ‘some’ low quality Christian artists getting exposure because of their ‘Cause’. Now, understand that I strongly believe that artists with a gospel message need our support more than ever these days. However, an artist and label should always strive to give people the best quality they can, perhaps even more so for Christian music because they’re claiming to represent ‘Christ’.

Secular Music Sucks

If you were to attend a few secular Indie-music events/festivals then you would quickly see that there are many secular artists that ‘fall-short’ in quality music.

Secular artists that “sucks” are not likely going to be picked-up by a major record label anytime soon. Rather, the label will simply choose an artist that’s more developed in their respective genre. The point is, unless you attend Indie-music events, you will not see the large amount of secular artists that ‘suck’. Instead, you will only be exposed to the good ones that major record labels have also developed and fine-tuned for your listening pleasure.

Simply put, whether it’s rock, metal, rap or whatever, there are artists that lack quality in both the Christian and Secular market. As I pointed out earlier, the difference is that since the selection of artist are significantly less for the Christian market, there is a higher chance that you will be exposed to some Christian artists that may not be as good as their secular version. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change that fact that whether it’s Christian or secular, there is good and bad quality music to be found.

Keepin’ It Real

For some people, it won’t matter how well the songs are written or how professional the production quality is on an album. The truth is, for some, the term ‘Christian music’ will automatically be a turn-off.

I have seen first hand and heard many stories from people who have played a Christian artist for their non-christian friend(s). At first they will like what they hear until they are told that they are listening to a Christian artist and then almost immediately, they are turned off by it. Their ‘bias’ stops them from hearing the music objectively and that’s very unfortunate in my opinion. I’m not saying that is true for all non-christians, but I am saying that happens more than one might think.

Granted, if someone is strongly opposed to Christianity then I would expect them not to support Christian music. After all, as a Christian there are artists that I will not support simply because of their message. However, let’s be honest about the issue. In those cases the problem is not quality; the problem is content!

Someone cannot discount the quality of musicianship, song structure and production simply because they don’t like the message behind the song. They don’t have to listen to it or support it, but keep the ‘real’ issue on point.

Conclusion and Personal Thoughts

As I said in the beginning, it’s not a cut and dry issue, but, it’s important that we look at the subject objectively if we’re to understand it better. There are some amazing Christian artists out there and it would be a shame for people to miss out on those artists simply because they have a distorted view on Christian music as a whole.

I think it’s also important that I remind you that we’ve been looking at this subject from a big picture. More specifically, we’re looking at Christian music in the scope of large marketing sales, artists and labels. I think we all know that this does not apply to some local indie artist that’s just getting started. No one comes out the gate having top-notch sound and content. It takes time and growth. Although, I should add that by setting higher standards, it will push an indie artist to reach for better quality in their own music.

With that said, I’ll close by saying that, just as there are some secular artists you love and some you don’t, so it will be with Christian artist. Not every artist in every genre is gonna be your favorite, but that’s why there are many artists to choose from in each genre. You have options, so listen to several artists and see what’s out there; you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by what Christian artists are bringing to the table.

~David Michael
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