5 Reasons Why I Disagree With Relevant’s Assessment of Music In 2011

Relevant magazine’s Dan Gibson recently wrote an article talking about 2011’s “musical landscape“.  I don’t care to discuss the top part of the article where he talks about secular music exclusively, as I don’t think of Blake and Radiohead as my particular area of expertise.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel that Christian music seems to be Gibson’s particular area of expertise and here is why.

1) Mercy Me’s album sales has nothing to do with the decline of the industry:  First of all, the reason why the album didn’t sell all that well is because it wasn’t that good.  In retrospect I gave them a pretty soft review grade, when in reality it had a few decent songs at the beginning and trailed pretty far off at the end.  First week album sales may be based mostly off of reputation, but after that word of mouth either does or doesn’t get around.  The Generous Mr. Lovewell didn’t get very much buzz because it wasn’t that good compared to some of their other work.  It’s the same reason that Third Day’s Revelation still sells better than the newer “Move”, because people think it’s better.

2) Tooth & Nail is not the youth movement in itself: Yes, it is probably the most popular and busiest of the youth labels, but there are a ton of labels out there today, including many artists going independent via kickstarter programs, including the new movement of Come & Live Records.  Not to mention Gotee Records having a solid group of artists, despite their size.  Bigger labels have signed groups that are for the kids too, like Provident/Sony having Red and Fireflight, Atlantic/INO having Skillet and Stellar Kart and Universal having Owl City for starters.  Tooth & Nail still has plenty of bands that reach the youth market and very few of their artists aren’t featured on our site, especially when you consider their imprints BEC and Solid State.

3) Radio stations such as Air 1 play music from more than 5 bands: The following quote takes place in the Relevant article:

“Half the popular acts on a Christian station like Air1 aren’t even exclusively “ours” anymore, if they ever were. Anberlin, the Fray, Lifehouse, NeedToBreathe and Switchfoot have equal footing in the mainstream.”

Yes, those bands are probably played on Air 1, but this is an exaggeration beyond my imagination.  As someone who has actually listened to Air 1 quite a bit in my car over the last couple of months, this is just incorrect.  Yes, there are bands played on Air 1 that have gotten some play on secular stations, but for every Anberlin there are ten or twenty artists that wouldn’t get a sniff anywhere else.  Just look at the artists behind the current top 10 songs on Air 1:  Tobymac, Shawn McDonald, Red, Jamie Grace, Abandon, Disciple, Anthem Lights, Building 429 and Manafest.  Which of those artists are even close to as big mainstream as they are on Christian radio?

I actually think it is great when Christians play music that is accepted by secular music fans because that means they have an opportunity to minister to the lost sheep, but I also enjoy music that is targeted toward building up the body.  Both are a part of Christianity, so both kinds of music are great.  There are pastors and there are preachers.  Both are awesome.  But the idea that the Christian music industry is dying because we don’t have our “own” music anymore as we did five or ten years ago is off chart.

4) Statements of fact are better made with evidence:  Gibson’s argument that there aren’t as many people listening exclusively to Christian music has dwindled lacks any proof via either scientific statistical analysis or even by anecdote.  The truth is that “Christian” music hasn’t been around all that long in how we present it today and it is an ever evolving format and I simply doubt that people have changed that much recently.  There are always going to be people that listen to both Christian and secular music and those who listen to one or the other exclusively.  I have no data to say if the listening audience to Christian music in exclusivity has gone up or down but Dan Gibson probably shouldn’t declare that it has gone down without providing any evidence.  We can all give our opinions, we do so with words such as “I think”, “I believe” or “I would guess”.

5) Billboard disagrees: Gibson closes by saying that worship music, especially by those by Hillsong and Jesus Culture, is taking over pop music in Christian music.  There’s just one problem with that: The Billboard Christian Albums chart.  I’ll simply take the top 5 as my main proof: Newsboys, Building 429, Skillet, Mandisa, Francesa Battistelli.  You have to get to number 8, Chris Tomlin’s “And If Our God Is For Us…” to get to a worship album.  You have to get to #17 Hillsong United’s “Aftermath” to get to a church band worship album.  The Christian music charts don’t change very much from week to week, other than new releases coming and going quickly for smaller bands that sell well the first week.  I do believe that worship music is growing, but it isn’t overcoming pop or contemporary music by any means.

The musical landscape isn’t changing all that much in Christian music.  It is the same old hat.  The only thing changing is that the music industry itself has been gasping for air in a sea of economic downturn and illegal downloading for years and it has to figure that out.

What do you think is really happening with Christian music in 2011?


7 responses to “5 Reasons Why I Disagree With Relevant’s Assessment of Music In 2011

  1. Jeff Q May 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I think the Christian market has it’s select group of people who will listen to it. It may rise and fall here and there, but overall, I think it’s stabilized. Any other issues in the Christian music world are probably simiilar to the general overall decline of the music business as a whole.

    If the discussion is about creativity, originality, and other things of that nature, then that would fall into the same old tired arguments about Christian music attempting to copy it’s secular counterparts (and also into the same, old tired RELEVANT template.) Sounds like Mr. Gibson isn’t fond of pop-Christian music and was wanting to drive some nails in the coffin.

  2. Tyler Hess May 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I hate the “Christian music is five years behind the secular music industry” idea…if anyone watched the guest appearances of pop stars on American Idol this year they would know that secular music isn’t necessarily more creative. Creative bands are creative, no matter the faith.

  3. Dan Gibson May 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Not that it matters all that much (the version on Relevant’s website was a largely hacked up version of the article that ran in the magazine), but I thought I’d respond to your points. First of all, you’re sort of missing the point of the piece in general. They asked me to preview what I think will happen in music in 2011, and based on what I know about music (and as someone who has worked in the music businessI think you make some assumptions about my qualifications or knowledge that aren’t true, but I get it. It’s a blog. Dramatic language is kind of the gig.

    1. MercyMe – I think it’s a little naive to believe that the quality of an album has all that much to do with whether an album is successful or not, especially with a band like MercyMe, who are essentially review-proof. Is MercyMe the only Christian band that matters? Of course not, but they’re definitely such an important band as far as mainstream CCM goes, so when a heavily promoted album (and their label definitely gave promotion of Lovewell their all) is a significant sales disappointment, it’s worth thinking about. This is sort of the nature of the music business in general: when one of the tentpole bands in a market underperforms, the industry as a whole examines where its at.

    2. Tooth & Nail – I never said T&N was the entirety of the youth market, just that they’re still the biggest player for the money of kids buying Christian music, which should scare the crap out of people who make their living from selling the stuff. Looking at the history of T&N, they’ve always been a Christian lifestyle label more than the traditional Christian label model of Word or Forefront. Yeah, they sell more records to Christians than anyone else (and they can always count on coverage from Christian music sites, obviously), but you get far more “Christians in a band” than “Christian bands”.

    3. Air 1 – It’s called hyperbole. Obviously, I didn’t literally mean 50% of the bands. I think anyone with much sense would realize that. Sigh. Yes, there are a number of Christian bands that exist only inside the bubble, but when your average adult contemporary station plays a bunch of bands that used to be exclusively part of the Christian market, it diminishes the need for an exclusively Christian market. It’s interesting to you mention Owl City, which is a group thought of as Christian and with Christian ties, but existing entirely outside the Christian music industry itself. Anyhow, when as the mainstream accepts “our” bands, why would new acts that would have certainly signed with a Christian label a decade ago have any incentive to stick to the smaller market?

    4. Opinion – It’s funny that your comment decrying opinions is full of non-qualified opinions.

    5. Billboard – First of all, the charts change quite a bit. That you say that new releases enter the chart means that there’s change. Take a second and think about it. Also, I wasn’t arguing that worship had eclipsed pop sales-wise already or that even that it will, just that the ability to make money from it is disappearing (as it is for nearly any sort of pop music). I’ve heard just as much or more Christian music as anyone and spend quite a bit of time talking about the genre with people, so when I say that worship is becoming more important than its pop counterpart, I have so idea of what I’m talking about. People who wouldn’t get caught dead listening to Stellar Kart eagerly buy David Crowder discs. Also, what are people hearing? Head to nearly any church any Sunday and the service is essentially an ad for worship music. You know who is selling out arenas? Worship acts like Hillsong United. You know who is playing smaller theaters and churches? Pop acts. The tide is turning, whether you like it or not. You might just not have the perspective to see it happening, especially when you say that things are the same today as they always have been (that’s patently false…things aren’t the same as they were five years ago, much less ten or twenty). Will it always stay that way? Who knows, but when you’re citing the Newsboys as an act that matters in 2011, that can’t be a good sign.

    Thanks for the comment and for reading (well, at least what Relevant put online).

  4. Tyler Hess May 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm


    First, thank you for taking the time to respond with your side of things. I can only respond to what Relevant posted online, though it is odd that they would find less room to post something online than in a print article. I’ll respond to your responses briefly as to not carry this out too long. I will say first though that your response was handled well and many people probably would have reacted less professionally. I may have called your expertise into question at a time where I could have just said I disagreed with your analysis, I think that would have been more fair.

    1) Marketing tends to only work initially. If a movie has great marketing, it may work for Friday night, but fail by Saturday or Sunday night. Word gets around.

    2) Tooth & Nail is the only one you mentioned, making it seem like it was the only one that mattered.

    3) Yes, anyone can see that when something is probably 5 or 10% is obviously hyperbole when it is stated as half. Even a decade ago it wasn’t that odd for a band, like MxPx to leave a Christian label for a major label.

    4) That was kind of the point. My opinion was stated as an opinion, while yours appeared to me to be stated as facts. I suppose you could have just assumed that because at the top of the article you claim it as an opinion, that people will follow the whole way down as if it is all opinion, but when you’re considered an expert, people take what you say as fact, so data wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    5) If you look at Billboard from week to week, you’ll see the same names in the top ten stay there for a long time, with new releases only popping in for a week for much of the time. Lately it has been a whole bunch of Casting Crowns and Francesca at the top, with Newsboys only coming in because of their re-release of Born Again via the Miracles Edition. Hillsong does sell out arenas, possibly because they play a dozen times in the states per year. Skillet and Switchfoot and the like don’t generally play the smaller venues. There are smaller pop acts like Stellar Kart just like there are smaller worship acts like The Museum or what is becoming of Esterlyn.

    Anyway, this is a good discussion. I suppose a better discussion might be how to save the music industry as a whole, but if that was a simple answer I suppose industry execs might have found an answer by now.

  5. Bryan Patton June 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

    I think the fact that Christian bands like Anberlin, Switchfoot, Emery, Underoath, the Chariot, Skillet, Norma Jean, As I Lay Dying, Firefly, and countless others all have strong mainstream followings and aren’t looked on as Christian bands (said like a dirty word) is good for Christian music. Impending Doom just signed with E1 (Hatebreed, In Flames) another solid signing. You have Close Your Eyes on Victory (a label that’s never been afraid of signing Christian acts).

    While the numbers might be down, I don’t think that’s the most important thing to look at. Christian music (especially in the metal/hardcore genre) has gained a lot of ground and respect in the mainstream and outside of strict Christian circles and that’s good. Solid creative bands with talent like Relient K and Underoath have all been looked at for writing good songs and being good bands and their religious affliation has not been a negative thing is huge for Christian music. The early 2000’s scene was band’s copying secular bands and t just created an awful landscape for Christian music.

    But P.O.D breaking big really helped push Christian music just being a cheap religious version of the mainstream. Underoath took off, As I Lay Dying has been pretty huge, the Facedown Records roster gets a lot of publicity and respect in the hardcore scene. I know Tooth and Nail and Solid State don’t have a lot that’s big right now (minus ABR) but both labels have had bands move on to big things).

    The good thing about th Christian (underground) scene is that it’s spread out in the mainstream and is probably bigger then it’s ever been. And that’s a good thing. Numbers are down for all music. But that’s not what’s most important here.

  6. Tyler Hess June 3, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Good post, Bryan…you bring up an interesting point…Christian metalcore bands are very well respected in that scene…I mean Underoath basically invented the genre of scream/clean vocals metalcore that everyone tries to copy and ABR and the devil wears prada are huge in the scene, its hard to go into hot topic without seeing multiple shirts from those three bands

  7. Micah June 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Worship music is what’s wrong with “Christian music” in general. Yuck.

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