Thinking Out Loud

November 7, 2014

Media Musing: Who Owns Christian Publishers, Deline of Music Sales

Filed under: books, media, music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Two stories today that have a common link

Christian Publishing: Who owns what?

First, Christianity Today ran this chart a few days ago which helps put the various Christian publishers that are part of huge multi-nationals in perspective. Each stream begins with the corporate name of the parent company, and then you see divisions and individual book imprints (if it were music, we’d call them labels) color-coded as to the type of audience they primarily target.

Christian Publishing Imprints of Major CompaniesClick the image to read the article. A similar analysis can be found at this link.


Putting music sales in perspective

Each one of the following statements can be supported by a quick online search, but I chose not to clutter this with the links. Basically, the point is that country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift had great success in the past week with the album 1989 which left everything else that’s happened lately in the dust…

  • In just 7 days, Taylor Swift sold more copies of 1989 than the combined sales of albums at # 2 to # 107 on Billboard.
  • 22% of all albums sold in the U.S. last week were Taylor Swift.
  • Just 3 weeks ago people were saying “2014 is expected to become the first year in modern history where no artist has sold more than 1m albums in the US.” *
  • With only about seven weeks left in the year, she is the first platinum album for 2014, and possibly the last platinum album ever.
  • In a broader perspective, the new album is the fastest selling record in the past twelve years.

*studio albums, since the Frozen soundtrack achieved this

July 7, 2014

The Happy Rant Podcast

Church Clothes 2.5 John Piper LecraeOkay…I’m staying loyal to the Phil Vischer Podcast (and they’ve got video) but I now have new audio podcast favorite.

The Happy Rant is Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck

Self-described as “talking about things that don’t matter,” the latest, Episode 5, looks at alternative study Bibles we’d like to see. (Didn’t Mad Magazine do this premise?)

The Andre the Giant Study Bible
The Zangief from Street Fighter Study Bible
The Tootie from Facts of Life Study Bible
The Other Girl from Facts of Life, The One Who Is a Christian Speaker Study Bible
The Crease from Karate Kid Study Bible
The Dwight Schrute Study Bible
The “The Situation” Study Bible
The Chaz Marriot Study Bible
The “Platform” Study Bible
The Pete Rose Should Be in the Hall of Fame Study Bible
The Lloyd Dobler Study Bible
The U2 Lyrics Study Bible
The Mike Seaver Study Bible
The Super Bowl Shuffle Study Bible feat. William “The Refrigerator” Perry
The Twitter Every Word Is Hashtagged and Every Name is Squigglied Study Bible
The 1986 Mets Featuring Daryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson Study Bible
The Joyce Meyer Study Bible

or this suggestion, “I want a Minnesota Sports Fan Study Bible which basically consists of Job, Ecclesiastes and Revelation.”

They also discuss John Piper’s upcoming gig with Lecrae, hence today’s graphic.

To listen to the podcast, click this link.

June 24, 2014

Radio is No Longer About the Music

When I was in the 6th grade, I had pretty well solidified my career goal: To work in the television industry. Not in front of the camera, or even operating a camera, but in the control room or behind the scenes. Later on, this objective widened to include radio; an industry where you were both host and producer of what people heard. I’ve been told many times I have a great face for radio.

I realize that in 2014 radio is not the primary delivery method by which people are exposed to new music. There is always someone who has heard of a new music channel available for phone or laptop. But I miss those old days, and I especially miss listening to the announcers talk — what was called patter — between songs. I still go on YouTube and look up airchecks some of the original rock stations that were part of my growing up, WLS-Chicago, WNBC-New York, WOWO-Fort Wayne, WLW-Charlotte, CKLW-Detroit/Windsor, WKBW-Buffalo, WCFL-Chicago, WABC-New York, WXYZ-Detroit and some of the stations in Miami and greater Los Angeles I got to know later on.

radio-towerI love listening to the DJs talk. The cadence, the rhythm, the emphasis, the seemingly endless passion. “Be the sixth caller when you hear the secret sound and you win one-hundred dollars.” My goodness. A hundred bucks. Just for calling in. (Later, I would be such a lucky caller, and won a small sailboat, but that’s another story.)

Back then, the deejays talked about the songs. The singers. The album the song was from. The studio it was recorded in. The fact they were touring and doing shows in Dayton and Cincinnati and Lansing and Bowling Green, Kentucky. I got out the atlas to find those cities. There was a song about Bowling Green and I loved the name and wanted to go there. My friends said I was a walking encyclopedia when it came to music, and much of what I knew, I knew from listening to the guys — and it was always guys back then — on the radio. Some announcers picked all their own music, too — it was the days before everything was formatted in a highrise in Nashville — and it helped that they had a love for what they were playing.

What sparked all these memories was something that happened a few days ago as we were driving home and had the radio on in the car. I realized that the DJ wasn’t talking about the albums, the songs, the music at all. One singer just got married. Another was divorcing. Two of the guys in this band were gay. Two of the girls in that band were living with two actors who were starring in a current film. Another singer is suing his neighbor. Yet another is involved in a custody suit with his ex-partner for custody of their child.

I recognize that people want their radio announcers to seem close to the stars; they want to feel that the guy playing the music is just two or three degrees of separation away from the artists he or she is playing; or that they actually met backstage at a concert or at an in-studio appearance at the station. People want to think they have a sense of intimacy to their music heroes, and today opportunities exist whereby you can, in fact, send a note to a celebrity and get an actual, personal reply. Not often but it happens.

As we kept driving, I tried to find some common interest in all the marriages and breakups and shacking up, but failed to see how this was anymore relevant to the music than the relationship status of the guy who had just changed the oil on the car, or the woman who had rung in our groceries. Just as sure as water seeks its lowest level, radio had succumbed and now could only reflect the shallowness of the broader culture. Studios? Songwriters? You’d have to read the credits, but they are buried in one-point type in the booklet that comes with the CD, if you ever actually see a physical disc for that artist at all.

Decades ago Time Magazine did a piece when “rock ‘n roll” was emerging and observed that while outwardly this was music that highlighted drums and guitars, it was more than that; it was about the clothing and the hairstyles and the attitudes. Rock culture was born. Teens put pictures of their idols on their bedroom walls. I realize that is a fact of life where music is concerned, but it strikes me that today’s kids are missing out if they listen to radio at all, or whatever is the modern equivalent for the distribution of information about the songs and the artists. It’s all about who is having sex with who.

In my younger days, I would watch Entertainment Tonight. The show was all about the movie, TV, music and publishing industries. They showed how the stunts happen, how the songs get recorded, how the contestants get on the game shows. Today, ET has morphed into a celebrity gossip show and spawned a host of imitators. Talent has been replaced by looking good.

Some parents point their kids toward Christian radio as an alternative. It’s supposed to be safe. But even there, many times the DJ patter is borrowed from Facebook and gets preoccupied with the relationships between the band members, or the number of awards that singer has received, or the fact she gets her clothing from the same designer who does more famous people. How about, “This song is based on a phrase that occurs in Psalms;” or “This group takes there name from a verse in Jeremiah;” or “This song is about a woman who was a faith hero from back in the middle ages.” Maybe those songs don’t exist anymore, either.

I have no conclusion here. Tag me under #lament. I just wish things were different both for Christian radio and the broader market, because last time I checked, radio is still out there, cars still come equipped with them, and satellite providers still include a cross-section of radio stations in their basic packages.

 

 

June 13, 2014

Southern Baptists Condemn All “Heaven” Books

Heaven is for Real books

If you haven’t heard, this week’s Southern Baptist Convention convention (redundancy intended) included a resolution that basically said, ‘To hell with heaven books.’ Blogger Kristine McGuire summarizes the story accurately in this introduction,

There is an article on Charisma News which is reporting that the Southern Baptist convention has issued a resolution stating books (and now presumably movies) such as Heaven is for Real and others like it (such as My Journey to Heaven by Marvin Besteman, To Heaven and Back by Dr. Mary Neal, and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper) are not in line with “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and are determining to remove Heaven is for Real from Lifeway Christian Stores.

And it’s taken them how many years to come to this decision? Heaven is for Real has been in stores since 2010…

continue reading here

Christian Retailing reported the same story:

…The parent body of LifeWay Christian Stores stopped short of calling for such products to be pulled from the retail chain, however.

Delegates—known as messengers—to the Baptist body’s assembly focused on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” cautioning against putting books about personal heaven experiences on the same level as the Bible’s description of the hereafter…

continue reading here

But certainly the rule here should be caveat lector, let the reader beware. By extension, isn’t any Christian book in danger of being elevated to the same status of the Bible? And doesn’t this already happen in certain circles, where the words of both Charismatic and Reformed superstars are given an almost divine authority.

Black Christian News reported:

In another cultural pushback, Baptists affirmed “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” and criticized best-selling movies and books that have focused on heaven and suggested descriptions of it.

“Many of these books and movies have sought to describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” they said.

In the same session where the resolution was passed, a messenger asked that Heaven Is for Real be removed “for theological reasons” from LifeWay Christian Stores, which are affiliated with the SBC. The request was ruled out of order.

continue reading here

J.D. Hall at the blog Pulpit and Pen notes:

What’s forgotten is that Burpo’s book (and Wallace’s movie by the same name, Heaven is for Real) is nothing new, novelty, or unique. Phil Johnson gives a good list of books with similar testimonies that have become so prominent in the evangelical marketplace that Tim Challies has come to call the genre “Heaven Tourism.” Johnson gives the list including My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese.

continue reading here

Heaven is for RealHis article is titled “Heaven is for Real: Is Discernment Dead?” and makes the point that in the final analysis, “the details of the book ought to strictly and immediately raise the red flag of discernment for even the most elementary of Christians – let alone those serving as provost of Southern Baptist seminaries.” But he seems to disagree that giving so much stock to the child’s story as to render it worthy of condemnation is the wisest move. Good, personal discernment is all that’s needed.

Many articles noted that LifeWay did not actually end up having to remove the book from sales. There’s too much money to be lost, and LifeWay is a cash cow for the denomination. In various places here we’ve reported on instances where the company puts profit over principles, such as Southern Baptists’ wholesale condemnation of women in ministry, while at the same time publishing and promoting the ministry of Beth Moore. 

By falling just shy of condemning the book outright at LifeWay, the company leaves itself open to carrying the DVD, certain to be both popular and profitable. The film has earned $89,007,517 in the U.S. so far according to Box Office Mojo, and ranks 15th for 2014. The movie is scheduled to release on July 22nd from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, with an initial MSRP of $30.99 for DVD and $40.99 for Blu-Ray.

Related:

May 10, 2014

Everybody’s Famous in a Small Town

Mr and Mrs Mugs

It probably started in California.
Most cultural things do.
People getting married and the woman keeps her maiden name.

It probably started with the film industry.
People who had careers.
Movie stars with name recognition wanting to keep their identity.

But then it spread to the broader society.
“I’m keeping my name;” she would say.
And we all got accustomed to that.

And then it came to church.
We have some friends who went on a one-year overseas mission.
The computer used to generate their support letters had to be reprogrammed.

The trend then moved away from urban centers to rural areas.
Because in the local village everybody has an identity.
Everybody’s famous in a small town.

The Bible talks about leaving and cleaving.
Nothing about changing your driver’s license after the wedding.
They had a different system of surnames back then.

So this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
It shouldn’t be a thing that creates walls and divides.
But people like an excuse to judge, don’t they?

border

Image: Mr. and Mrs. Mugs from Dayspring

…and no, today’s post wasn’t triggered by anything in particular.

May 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: AHA by Kyle Idleman

AHA Church Kit - Kyle Idleman - City on a Hill ProductionsAfter veering off into a more documentary style with the small group curriculum for Kyle Idleman‘s Gods at War, City on a Hill Productions returns to the cinematic type of production it does best: an integrating of multiple dramatic story lines with direct teaching. AHA: Awakening.Honesty.Action takes a modern look at the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel and has the courage to suggest that not every wayward son who has a moment of clarity while feeding the pigs actually makes it back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all six episodes. The video clips run about a half hour each. The acting is superb to the point where I wondered, with all the Christian movies releasing lately, if City on a Hill ought to be reaching for an even wider audience.

There are various applications to this curriculum. So far, Idleman, the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has released three books and three videos, plus the H20 video series (see the review linked below) which landed him on our radar. So that leaves you with several choices, and these are just my suggestions:

  • If I were working with new Christians or even seekers for whom the story of The Lost Son in Luke is foreign, I would probably use the video.
  • If I were working with people who have been Christians for awhile, I might do the book study.
  • If I were working with people who have been in small groups for a fair amount of time, and like to think and like to discuss, I would do the video.

The video really provoked some thought when we watched it as a family in ways that the book didn’t. And like the parable, not everybody lives happily ever after. But the book is excellent by itself as I stated earlier this year.  And the curriculum possibilities get even more complex:

  • The church kit comes with a leader’s guide and a journal. You could simply watch the videos, have a weekly discussion, and a small homework assignment for the following week.
  • You can also get a journal for each group member, for which a sample is included. It provides a day-by-day writing assignment between group meetings, so the teaching content remains fresh when the group reconvenes and there is opportunity for personal transformation.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might argue there’s nothing new here. In many respects, Idleman’s Gods at War covered material also found in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods or Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and AHA is reminiscent of Keller’s Prodigal God which Idleman quotes at one stage in both the book and the video.

But Jesus’ parable in Luke offers limitless applications; it’s the story that keeps on giving.

[Note: This is a review of the Small Group Kit; AHA is also available for a teaching series in your local church in a Pastor’s Kit, which is an entirely different product containing only short video clips at a much lower price.]

At the end of the last episode, we watched a couple of the features which clearly reveal the hearts of the director and cast. They are truly committed to excellence. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where City on a Hill Productions goes next. I leave you with their corporate tagline:

Story is the language of our Hearts
Media is the language of our times
We use both to share Jesus with the world

May 8, 2014

Yet Another Faith-Centered Movie Coming in August

Filed under: media, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Calvary_movieposterI’ve got to say this one intrigues me.

Calvary opened in the UK in a respectable 7th place and held on to that place during its second week. As I write this, the movie is still holding on in the top ten, in 9th place.

After reading a little about the movie online, it seems to combine intrigue with enough quirky characters to keep you engaged, and the questions of faith it raises seem to be front and center. The beautiful scenery in Ireland can’t hurt this either. Here’s the succinct “elevator pitch” from IMDb:

After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.

A review in The Irish Post provides the movie’s opening line, a reminder that if you’re a conservative Evangelical perhaps this is not the film for you. The Catholic Herald provides some context for that scene, “While the opening scene raises the disturbing topic of the sex abuse scandal, the film is not an assault on the Church.” The reviews headline offers that this film is, “a jet black comedy with serious things to say about faith.” In case you missed that, let me repeat that from all indications this is a very dark comedy, but the Catholic publication goes on to give it four stars. The Telegraph’s review seems to see the opening lines as a microcosm of the film as a whole.

The one-hour, forty-minute film is schedule to open in the US (and presumably Canada) in August. It will be interesting to see the reaction of North American critics.

 

May 6, 2014

Mom’s Night Out: A Faith-Friendly Comedy

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 am

If you’re like most North American Christians, your media obligations have shifted from the Christian bookstore to the local cinema, and this Friday your family gets another opportunity to visit what has become for many, the sanctuary of choice in 2014.

Moms’ Night Out opens May 9th and contains a broad enough script that there’s something here for women, men and children. Alex Kendrick is in this movie, and one of the problems that female film-goers had with other movies connected to him such as Courageous, Fireproof, Flywheel, and Facing the Giants is that the scripts were far too male; there were firemen, car dealers, football players and policemen, but not so much for feminine tastes. (Count the words beginning with the letter f in that sentence!) October Baby filled the void more recently, but it was a rather subdued, cerebral script that offered little for a male audience.

In Moms’ Night Out that balance has been struck, but a little at the expense of a strong faith message that some might prefer. For that reason, I’m calling this faith-friendly instead of faith-focused, though there are a few scenes which touch on what it’s like to be a pastor’s wife (or a pastor’s daughter) and another scene where some moral teaching arises from an unlikely source.

Moms’ Night Out gives that pastor’s wife role to Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle) who, with her husband David Hunt co-produced the movie with a release date timing out perfectly for Mother’s Day weekend in the U.S. and Canada. Other cast members include Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings), and platinum-selling country recording artist Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer).

When the preview showing ended two weeks ago on Wednesday night, we walked out into Dundas Square in Toronto (a knockoff of Times Square in NYC) and there was that week’s episode of The Middle playing live on one of the jumbo screens. Patrica Heaton was everywhere that night!

The trailer (below) outlines the plot sufficiently; the core of the movie is the stress of being a mother and how men understand so little of what that role entails. It’s about friendship, the image we try to maintain, and how when things go wrong, sometimes they go crazy wrong. The plot does indeed get a little complex near the end, but the whole thing is building like a British comedy, ever-ready to explode.

For all the movie tries to do, it succeeds. I wish the film’s producers the best in what is certainly a budget-stretching time for Christian families who have found themselves buying a lot of movie tickets lately. I expect however this film will find its biggest response among a broader, general audience who are looking for some good clean fun and something they can take the kids to, or something the kids can treat mom to for her special day.

May 3, 2014

Phil Vischer Podcast Celebrates 100 Webisodes

Filed under: media — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

The Phil Vischer podcast people, Phil, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor recorded episode 100 yesterday, which will release online Tuesday at PhilVischer.com.  I have never missed one of these. Do I need to get a life? No, it’s actually been an enjoyable experience. Here’s a composite of some recent shows courtesy of YouTube:

Phil Vischer podcast composite

April 26, 2014

Faith Movies in Perspective

I’d never heard of the website Grantland until Sarah Pulliam-Bailey mentioned it yesterday, but there’s some great stats on the faith-based films from the past few years. The article is titled, God’s Not Dead (He’s Playing Now in Movie Theaters). There’s a chart showing some of the current movies in perspective alongside their ‘secular’ counterparts, a chart showing how some of the religious reels fared on opening weekend,

Opening Week Gross Movies Classified as Christian

and a chart showing the total domestic gross for each of those pictures you’ll have to click through to see.

The article is long and raises some good questions:

…But that’s not the entire story. Because there’s the less-glamorous, more uncomfortable side of the story. The how and the why. How are these movies doing well? And why now? It’s near impossible to dive into these questions with a number set, a brief synopsis, a cast list, or even a handful of trailers. Beginning to scratch that surface involves actually seeing these films. Seeing all of them. On the same day. You know, on Easter Sunday.

Which is exactly what Grantland writer Rembert Browne did. Reviews of the four films follow, with the subjectivity that can only be achieved by watching them all at once!

And there’s more to come. On May 9th, Mom’s Night Out opens, and on Wednesday night, we got to attend the first preview showing in Canada. I’ll have more to say about that film in a few days.

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