Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2016

A Movie for All the Ragamuffins

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

Last night we finally got to watch the DVD of Ragamuffin, the story of Christian singer Rich Mullins. For two-hours and 15-minutes, we sat through the ups and downs of his life. The movie was, from beginning to end, saturated in the unique Rich Mullins sound. I said to my wife, “I’ve probably never listened to the sound of the hammered dulcimer this much ever.”

Her reaction to the music was to be totally impressed that the actor playing Rich did his own vocals for the movie, which added some authenticity.

Rather than replay the story line, let me say this instead: This is a movie for

  • Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit; that their history or their calling is simply different from everyone else; that there’s nobody to talk to about what they do because nobody does it, or talk to about how they see the world because nobody else sees the world the same way.
  • Someone who has struggled with their relationship, or lack of relationship with their father; with or without perhaps the added burden of thereby trying to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.
  • A person who is constantly wrestling their own inner demons; be it some particular pain, or addictive behavior.
  • Those who have been let down, disappointed, abandoned, or somehow severed from relationships due to circumstances or even death; whose history seems to be one of people constantly leaving.
  • People who feel the core essence of Christ’s teachings isn’t so much about outward conformity to religious standards, but rather a security in the knowledge that God loves us.
  • Fans of Christian music who want to see the realities of the industry, warts and all, and how God uses people in spite of their brokenness. 
  • Thinkers who want to press further into the idea of grace and how sinners can and do experience the grace of God.

And that is just to name a few things this movie touches.

Rich Mullins’ life intersected with other people you know, from Amy Grant to author Brennan Manning. His music, from “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to “Awesome God” impacted a generation of Christians.

This is a tough movie to watch. Rich’s life is not an ideal; not really a role model we can hold up to today’s Christian youth. It’s a very dark story; not your typical Christian movie. There were also some continuity issues — the conflicting hair length of the actor has confused many reviewers — which interrupted the flow of what was otherwise a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

But for us, last night, it was must-watching. Knowing a little about Rich Mullins’ life ahead of time, the movie did not disappoint.

You can read more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at an article I wrote in 2014 when Rich was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

April 11, 2016

The Downside of Major Music Corporations Owning Christian Labels

This post first appeared in April 2012 at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?


Update: Today (at least) you get to hear the song if you’re in Canada. And for those of you who didn’t know what song I was speaking of; here it is:

August 27, 2015

Wow Series Celebrates 20 Years

Wow Hits 2016Christian bookstore shoppers have made this item a staple for two decades now, and in many of them, it is the top selling CD of the year overall.  The WOW CDs were patterned after the NOW CDs which were sold in the general market. The idea behind the compilations was to present the best available songs, but without the label restrictions usually associated with CD samplers. To accomplish this, The WOW Partnership was created involving the major Christian record companies. Additionally, bonus cuts allowed the participating companies to introduce newer artists.

The CD series has its own page on Wikipedia:

WOW is a series of annual compilation albums featuring contemporary Christian music. The birth of the WOW record project can be traced Grant Cunningham, A&R Director at Sparrow Records. In November of 1994 Grant made a business trip to EMI Limited in London, at the time was the parent company of Sparrow Records where he noticed that several British record labels were issuing an annual CD of top-rated songs, known as the NOW series, containing collections of pop songs. Grant brought the idea back to Sparrow. Sparrow executives suggested a similar project be developed for Christian pop music and Grant was assigned the task of getting the project off the ground. The WOW franchise represents the most successful collections of Christian music ever issued.

Released in late 1995, “WOW 1996” was the first in the WOW series and the first recording put together by the three major Christian record companies of the time: Word Records (now Word Entertainment), Sparrow Records (now part of EMI Christian Music Group), and Reunion Records (now part of Sony’s Provident Label Group). Still today, after each submitting label agrees to a reduced master royalty, the final decision on the tracks to be included is made by committee. Production, marketing, and distribution for the “WOW Hits” series is handled by EMI Christian Music Group.

Wow Worship LimeThe Wikipedia page has two more paragraphs,one of which I added this morning, and deals with the huge popularity of the more recent WOW Worship series. That series began in the fall of 1999 and are named by the color of the cover, possibly in a nod to the timelessness of some worship songs. There have also been hymn collections and Christmas collections, and in the U.S. the WOW Gospel series highlights the best of urban and mass gospel choir-inspired music.

With WOW Hits 2016 due to release mid-September, I found it interesting that one writer has already suggested ten songs that didn’t make the cut. (If you’re looking for some tunes to listen to, he has the videos embedded in that post.) Furthermore, just to show what a coveted prize getting on the Wow complications is, Josh Andre also offers twenty songs that he feels should be considered for WOW 2017. Somebody takes this really seriously!

These albums always make a great gift. For the the recipient, they represent an instant commercial-free playlist, especially for people who live on the fringes of Christian radio reception or are completely foreign to the contemporary Christian music genre. The 2-CD sets are now usually made available in both a regular and deluxe edition, the latter containing more bonus cuts, but the standard minimum is usually 30 songs, making this a great bargain.

Happy Birthday to WOW!

July 17, 2015

Crossover Songs from the Past

In the early days of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artists simply hit the streets with their music, often selling records out of the trunk of a car. As distribution solidified and the concert scene got more sophisticated, Christian solo acts and bands started dreaming of elusive crossover hit; the record that would go viral (though we didn’t have that expression back then) in the secular mainstream.

Often this became an obsession. One speaker at a conference I attended was quick to remind attendees, “If you’re going to crossover, you’ve got to take the cross over.” It was a good lesson and perhaps a bit prophetic, given the number of songs today that could easily pass as boyfriend/girlfriend love songs. When you factor in that the norm today is vertical worship music, it makes the love crush songs seem even more desperate for acceptance.

In the middle of all this however, something more significant was taking place. What I would call reverse crossover songs. To a young Christian, hearing these bands reinforcing their faith would be a huge encouragement. Today I want to highlight three of these songs, and if I get direct messages on Twitter or comments here with other suggestions, we might do more of these again some time. We’ll start with one that was in the link list a few weeks ago.

Given The Osmond Brothers Mormon (LDS) heritage, this song, He’s the Light of the World should come as no surprise. The lyrics have a high percentage of scripture borrowing with some lines you’ll recognize from The Sermon on the Mount.

This next one I was always aware of, but I don’t know if I’d ever listened to it at the time all the way through. (More on that at the end of this article.) This is the Chairmen of the Board, whose biggest hit was Gimme Just a Little More Time. This one is I’m On My Way to a Better Place. The quality isn’t great, but the lyrics are clear. (If anyone wants to send me a better quality mp3 by email, I’ll post it on my own channel.)

The last one we’ve featured here before, but it’s an always timely song. The Chi-Lites There Will Never Be Any Peace was also recorded by Christian band The Imperials.

Finally, the common link in all these is a radio show from that era, called A Joyful Noise with Paul Baker (aka Frank Edmondson). You’ll hear a telescoped version of these and other songs. With this, I have two requests. First, if anyone can tell me where Paul/Frank ended up, I’d appreciate it. Second, I’m trying to get my hands on a similar telescoped music demo of a similar radio show The Rock That Never Rolls with Brother Dale (aka Dale Yancey). I had a reel-to-reel version of it, but now I can’t even find that. I’d love to post that on the Lost Music channel on YouTube, sponsored by the people I work for, Searchlight Books. That show was light years ahead of its time.

July 1, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Pastor Priest Rabbi

Before we begin, as a public service, here is your horoscope for today:

Your Horoscope

Of the things I clicked this week, here’s what I bookmarked to share this Wednesday:

Coke Name Bottles

June 9, 2015

Toward a Post-Industrial Faith

Reading John J. Thompson’s Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World, makes me wish that Zondervan had a sort of outreach imprint like Baker Books has with Brazos or NavPress has with Think, because this is probably the best example of what we once termed a pre-evangelism resource.

Jesus Bread and Chocolate - John J. ThompsonSaid differently, this is the book you always wished existed so you could start the conversation with that friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker who believes that Christians are people who simply don’t [fill in the blank] and one of the the things they don’t enjoy is, for example, a decent glass of wine.

Of course, if you think that beer is of the devil, or that an $8 loaf of bread is simply bad stewardship, this is probably not the book for you.

I was drawn to review this after watching an interview the author did with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani a few weeks earlier. I connected the name with a Christian music store called True Tunes that specialized in all the hard-to-find, out-of-print and imported Jesus Music and CCM that was born in the days of the Jesus People in the 1970s.

However, people do move on to other interests and reinvent themselves, and although the book has a chapter which references those early Christian music days, John Thompson has emerged as a connoisseur of quality beer, wine, coffee, bread and sees in the making and enjoying of these things a number of modern day — or more accurately ancient — parables to everyday life and faith. (If they published in hardcover, and added more pictures, this could be a coffee-table book about coffee!) 

Yes, the above paragraph does say beer and wine; you can almost hear the sound of the demographic narrowing. If your definition of what constitutes a Christian book is, well, more somber, then again, this title is probably not your particular cup of tea, or in this case coffee. So I’m going to let the publisher define it for you:

Farmer’s markets, artisanal dark chocolate, home-made bread, craft-brewed beer,  and independent boutique coffee shops may not immediately call to mind issues of faith, but they should. As the “American Dream” starts to fray at both ends, millions of people are embracing values that seem to hail from a bygone era. They are seeking out the local, the small, the responsible and the nourishing instead of the cheap, the homogenized, the mass-produced and the canned.

Is it possible that this renewed interest in these pre-modern values may actually offer an open door into the hearts and minds of this generation? Is there a way to explore specific, inspiring stories about coffee, bread, chocolate and art that lead people toward a truly Biblical understanding of the person, words and work of Jesus to reveal the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel?

With fascinating stories and a thread of memoir, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate explores the emerging—actually re-emerging—values of this post-industrial age and points out parallels between them and the teaching and ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers. Rather than seeking to tie the faith to trends in the culture, it shows how trends in the culture are already very close to the organic kind of faith that could re-energize the church and bring countless young and middle-aged people into a saving experience of Christ.

I think that last paragraph might leave you feeling the book is less accessible than it is. Let’s just say that Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is equal parts quality food, heartfelt autobiography, and a whole lot of stuff to think about.

 

 

 

April 30, 2015

How to Get Royalties for Songs in the Public Domain

treble clefThe first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

 

February 3, 2015

Introducing I Am They

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

This video was posted back in September, but this band has been generating a lot of interest lately, probably because the album is releasing now.  Enjoy From The Day from the band I Am They.

From the day You saved my soul
‘Til the very moment when I come home
I’ll sing, I’ll dance, my heart will overflow
From the day You saved my soul

July 25, 2014

When Heroes Lose Their Honor

larry norman bw
I do not believe I would be in the place I am today spiritually were it not for the great influence of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and the role I got to play in helping introduce the genre to a nation that was hesitant to accept it.  The people I met, the songs and scriptures they were based on, the communities, the whole movement of it all; each of these contributed to my spiritual nurture in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

In general, Larry Norman is considered to have started the thing — referred to as the “father of Jesus music” or even “grandfather of CCM” — but it would be more accurate to say that he popularized it rather than birthed it.1 Larry passed away in 2008.

fallen-allenWhile I was aware that Fallen Angel, a documentary had been produced showing a darker side of Larry Norman there is a difference between knowing about a film and actually seeing it. Imagine! A popular Christian figure having personal issues. That had never happened before.

I think that too often we want to see the good in people and so we miss the clues that things might be wrong. One of Larry’s songs was Baby Out of Wedlock and it was so easy to see this as a piece of poetry, not a personal confession. That very I Corinthians 13 of us.

As it turns out, I still haven’t seen Fallen Angel, but last week we discovered 28 sections of it have been posted on YouTube; some of them have been there quite awhile. The user’s channel is Corrine M. and the documentary excerpts include a number of names I was aware of back in the day, promoters, managers, record company execs, past wives or girlfriends, and Randy Stonehill. Some of these I met through helping three different concert promoters bring Larry, Randy and Tom Howard to Canada, while others I met on a half-dozen extended holidays in Southern California. Collectively, they paint a rather sad picture of a person I could have easily hero-worshiped.

For his part, Stonehill is rather charitable, considering everything. He simply points out the disconnect between the person who led him to Christ and the personality idiosyncrasies about that person that later surfaced. The whole story is so very sad.

Growing up, my father was part of a music team that was associated with a popular Canadian evangelist and pastor who later lost his faith. Charles Templeton’s move from the Christian limelight to bewildered agnosticism is chronicled in many places, including the opening chapter of Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Faith.

One of the takeaways from my childhood that my father made sure I didn’t miss is that you can’t look to people to sustain your faith. They will inevitably let you down. Or take you down. We must instead look to Christ and Christ alone. He is the rock that never rolls.

larry norman in another land 25th frontElsewhere here at Thinking Out Loud:

1Supporting the idea that the roots of Jesus Music were much broader than what might be traced to a single “alpha person” is the YouTube channel Favorite Jesus Music. Scroll down to reveal some of the oldest posted songs. There is another YT channel like this as well; if someone recalls it I will add the link here.

July 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

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I was looking around for pictures of the 2014 Wild Goose Festival, and found this one from 2013.  Anyone know the backstory on this?

Now that the eye burn-in from weekend fireworks has faded, it’s time to see what people have been reading over the past few days:

Not sure of the origin of the picture below. It was captioned, “What Happened to the Dinosaurs” and the picture file was labeled “Shoo!”

What Happened to the Dinosaurs

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