Thinking Out Loud

August 28, 2020

Do Christian Musicians Carry the Same Influence As They Once Did?

Tonight is a pretty big deal. Compassion, World Vision and Food for the Hungry are combining to present “Unite to Fight Poverty,” a two-hour music saturated fundraiser streaming live on YouTube, Facebook, PureFlix, and Daystar, with the audio portion also heard on The Message channel on Sirius Radio. It starts at 8:30 PM Eastern, 7:30 Central.

I love that these organizations are joining forces for the event, and that so many musicians are cooperating. I hope they do well financially. And I hope that Contemporary Christian Music fans are excited to see their favorite artists, especially in light of the lack of concert activity over the past six months.

But I’m wondering if those same artists carry the same weight, or influence as they did in days of yore? The barometer of Christian music’s popularity was always sales charts based on the number of physical product units sold. With the single now replacing the album as the quantifier of popularity — as things were in the early 1960s — and downloading available from multiple platforms, it’s really hard to tell if the impact of a given artist or group is the same. People may be downloading millions of copies of a single, but with a much higher financial outlay, one’s commitment to an artist when measured in sales of the full album was perhaps more meaningful.

Anecdotally, I spend two days a week working at a Christian bookstore. And Compact Disc sales right now are dead. Really dead. I don’t see us ordering new releases beyond September 1st. Even the elderly “Gaither” customers have abandoned the CD. They all spent their retirement money on new cars, and those vehicles didn’t come CD-player equipped.

So I hope the concert does well tonight, but I think that, moving forward, those Christian relief and development agencies might have to tweak the model and develop a new paradigm beyond reliance on CCM artists.

August 18, 2020

Worship Composes Who Piggyback on Classic Hymns Create Copyright Confusion

My wife uploaded a church service video which included her congregation singing, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Although the song wasn’t annotated, the YouTube bots scanned the video and recognize the lyrics and tune and immediately informed her that the entire video would be banned in one European country, which raises the specter of more blocking to follow.

While she was staring at her screen in disbelief, I went to Wikipedia on my screen; a source I find offering increased reliability at a time when general search results can be misleading.

True enough, the song pretty much has to be in public domain, considering it is listed as first published in 1876.

But the page also noted a 2011 edition “with a new added bridge composed by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.” I am willing to bet that is part of the problem. The new bridge would qualify them to claim a copyright, even though my wife has never heard it and didn’t use it at all.

You and I and she understand that. YouTube does not. When she went to file a ‘dispute’ on the blocking, the dispute itself was blocked by YouTube. The company acts as sheriff, judge and jury…

…Piggybacking on existing hymns is nothing new. I wrote about this in April, 2017:

The 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…

…But I was reminded of this in a new way on the weekend, when I encountered a song with a very unique title — No One Every Cared for Me Like Jesus — a title I would have considered hands-off, since the original is so iconic, but had none the less been assumed by former Bethel Worship leader Steffany Gretzinger. I can’t be convinced that this title similarity is a coincidence.

You’re allowed to be skeptical of my conclusion, but truly the title is somewhat unique. Clearly, the composers had this in the back of their minds. It’s the question of how much of this was intentional where we’re allowed to disagree.

I found myself experiencing an emotional response to this title borrowing that I was not expecting. These guys are creative types; couldn’t they have found something else to act as their motif? No, I think they wanted to catch a ride with the original hymn.

For that reason I hesitated to include it here, but for those of you who want to do an After-and-Before comparison here it is. The similarity of the mood and tone of this and the original.

For those with a sacred music memory longer than the last 12 months, I want to leave you with the original, in a tasteful arrangement by Sandy Patti. In my view, this version will always have the last word.


Postscript: In searching for a hymnbook image of “No One Ever Cared…” I found one which indicated the song as public domain, and one that indicated it as ©1932 by The Rodeheaver Company; the same company that filed a copyright claim against another song my wife uploaded, In The Garden. That hymn was well past its sell-by date in terms of legalities, but Rodeheaver apparently renewed the copyright. Why not? There’s gold in them there hills.

 

July 22, 2020

New Music

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am

It’s been many months since we did Wednesday Connect, and I would like to think that a few of you miss the ♫ New Music ♫ featured links.  Since we don’t have a column of news we can embed the videos today. (Let me know how this works on various devices, and if any songs are blocked in your region.)

This is primarily contemporary and or modern worship. Suggestions from Spiritual Sounding Board Sunday Gathering, Life 100.3 in Canada, Praise Charts, CCLI UK, New Release Today. Songs available wherever you buy music.













Still here at the bottom of the list? Looking for more new tunes? Check out the Fresh channel at 96Five in Australia.

December 19, 2019

♫ New Christmas Music ♫

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:12 am

I had so many of these on file I decided to make a special extension of Wednesday Connect. We could call it Thursday Tunes. But we won’t.

I decided to embed the videos instead of just linking them. Not sure how this works out on your various mobile devices, but let me know. Also, there are a couple of names here you might not have heard in a long time.

Rachel Lampa is back:

J. J. Heller:

How could it be that a stable so small
Could somehow contain enough room for us all?
It’s a story that turned the whole world upside-down.
Giving birth to a kingdom where lost hopes are found.

Hollyn:

Plumb:

I mentioned the next ones in previous editions of Wednesday Connect, but wanted to include them here…

Amanda Opelt (read the story why the sister of Rachel Held Evans chose this song):

Switch (that’s the name of the band) with the same song, entirely different tempo

Nicole Nordeman: The one that’s been on repeat most at my house.

Hope that didn’t tax your bandwidth! Enjoy!

The management of Thinking Out Loud wishes to acknowledge the help received from the website NewReleaseToday.com

 

August 5, 2018

The K•LOVE We Never Knew

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

If this graphic image doesn’t look familiar, click the links at the bottom of this piece for two recent rants about Christian music on radio, and modern worship in churches.

All this weekend, K-LOVE has been offering an online feed called “K-LOVE Classis: 80s, 90s and Early 2000s.” You can catch it at this link.

It’s in some respects, the K-LOVE that never was, though the station’s beginnings trace back to 1980.

There were a lot of people doing a lot of creative things in the earlier days of what we call CCM, but like K-LOVE itself, this is a rather safe, sanitized version of another generation’s Christian music. Perhaps what I’m longing to hear would be more of an Air1 classics station (Air1 is a sister station network to K-LOVE.) The first hour was interesting, but then everything started sounding the same.

Some of the trip down memory lane contained a few familiar songs — we played “Guess the Artist” while waiting for the ten second delay of the song ID onscreen — there were only a couple that really resonated where I turned the volume up high, and remember I was making my living full time from sales of this music in the 80s. (My wife handily won the artist guessing contest, however.)

We’ve discussed Christian music a few times here, so I don’t want to belabor this, you can read those articles at the following links.

Also, if you missed this 14-minute video,

 

March 20, 2018

What’s Wrong With Christian Radio is Purely Intentional

For those of you who don’t know her, meet Becky. Becky is the fictional target audience for Christian radio stations. Christianity Today helped define her back in 2007:

Her name is Becky.

You probably know her. She’s recently turned 40, but is not quick to admit it. She’s a Christian and a devoted wife and mother. She drives a mini-van. Half-melted crayons roll around on the floor as she stops at a light en route to her daughter’s Tuesday night soccer practice. She laughs sometimes, chagrined that she is the very “Soccer Mom” they talk about come election time. Becky lives in the suburbs, likes to read, enjoys the women’s retreats at church, is struggling to remember algebra so she can help her son with his homework, and is a regular volunteer at the food pantry.

One more thing about Becky, a very important fact for this discussion: she listens to the local Christian music station almost exclusively…

We’ll get back to her in a moment.

On the weekend my wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the following diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

I owe a lot of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, but I’m not a fan of what it has become. A year ago 20 The Countdown Magazine did a special show on the Best of Christian Worship. It could have been called Chris Tomlin’s Greatest Hits. There was a song which we knew by Robin Mark where they chose to play a Chris Tomlin version, again either because it matched the sound of that show, or because… well we won’t go there. Any possibility for musical diversity was eliminated. (Listening to how many times the host said “Chris Tomlin” during that two hour show became a bit of a drinking game.)

Not everybody likes Becky. In a January, 2012 article in CCM Magazine, Matt Papa, not sparing the use of Caps Lock, wrote:

I love Becky. I really do. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this. Becky needs to be ministered to just like I do and just like everyone else does. But Christian radio/industry people: please MINISTER TO HER!! Stop giving her what she WANTS….GIVE HER WHAT SHE NEEDS and that is the GOSPEL….or stop calling yourself “christian”. There is NOTHING “christian” about telling someone who has cancer that they are OK. Stop tickling her ears. Becky is a human being who needs to hear the truth of Christ, not an object to use for your financial gain. Woe to you. And here’s a novel idea: Why not target other people besides Becky?!?! The gospel has no demographics! Christ shed His blood for all people everywhere and you have misrepresented Him. I pray with all my heart that the money tables in your temple would soon be overturned.

Pastor Gabe Hughes, who apparently has some insider knowledge wrote this in the summer of 2016:

Like most radio and television programming, Christian radio caters to a specific demographic, and that demographic is women between the ages of 20 and 50 (give or take). Whether or not Christian radio is doing it on purpose, that demographic is also mostly white.

It gets way more specific than that: this target woman lives in suburbia in a house with a mortgage, drives a mini-van, has three kids, a dog and a cat, a husband who works full-time, she also works but it’s probably part-time, has a household income between $55 and $70K, vacations in July, doesn’t have enough time to read her Bible but she has enough time to journal, loves Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and goes to church about 3 times a month. This woman even has a name — Becky.

Some radio stations will put up a mock picture of this woman in the studio, and the DJs are told to look at it and know that’s who they’re talking to. I’ve attended seminars where this was the whole focus of each session: Becky, Becky, Becky. The entire radio station is programmed for her — not her husband and not her kids. Giving glory to God is incidental, or it’s presented like this: “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

This is unofficially referred to as Becky Programming or the Becky Mentality. The gospel-minded might recognize this as exactly how not to evangelize. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ, right (Galatians 3:28)? But rather than giving an audience what they need to hear, Christian radio sections out a particular audience and gives her what the research says she wants to hear…

Why do so many of the songs sound alike?
Because radio is about producing the least number of negatives. Technically a radio station is not actually trying to give you something that you like. They’re trying to give you something you don’t dislike. As long as they can remain as even as possible without too much variation or fluctuation, they’re more likely to keep you on their radio station and not flipping to something else.

When the radio station maintains a continuous blend of sound, it just kind of melts into the background and you become oblivious that you’re still listening to it. You know how when you drive the same route to work every day, sometimes entire stretches of the trip will go by, and you’ll wonder where those miles went? Listening to the radio is kind of like that…

Even when it comes to production quality, songs have been equalized to be at the exact same volume level. Put on your headphones, find a song from the late 80s or early 90s, and give it a listen. Then pick a song from within the past decade and listen at the same volume. Notice the difference? The older song has more dynamics, highs and lows, crescendo and decrescendo, and the more current song is a lot louder and dynamically consistent throughout.

The reason why every single Christian recording artist sounds like they’re recording the exact same song is because they know K-Love won’t play it unless it sounds like every other song. Yes, Christian radio is the very reason every Christian artist sounds the same. It’s not necessarily the artist’s fault. They just have to play along (pun implied).

(There’s a lot more; I’ll be honest, I just wanted to copy and paste Gabe’s entire article, so click here to read more.

The early Christian music radio hosts were typical of FM radio guys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was no single off the album, they just picked a song they liked. They exposed and celebrated the things creative Christian songwriters and performers were doing across North America, and if you got lucky, some of the things from the UK (which even today we rarely get to hear, everything being so Nashville-centric.)

There are still some great songs being written and great albums being recorded, but I must say I feel sorry for the kids today who only know Christian music’s after and missed out on Christian music’s before. Fortunately for them, broadcasting is not the primary means of transmission in their generation. Indie artists survive and even flourish on alternative media, such as Fresh Life Radio which itself provides balance by playing some of the CCM fare, or the notable broadcast exception, Project 88.7 in Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho. 

Full disclosure: The business I own also sells Christian music. Sales are down. I am increasingly convinced that downloading or online sales of physical product are not blame. Many in the next generation are not hearing anything that captivates them. Groups are recognizable, but it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate one male solo artist from another.

The push for homogeneity is killing Christian radio.

Blogger and Pastor Gabriel Hughes posted this Becky collage in the article linked above. Maybe you know her.

 


Related? This was posted yesterday in conjunction with a new book release. The headline says it all: The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become.

February 17, 2018

The Sin of Marketing Offers

Early in the week, I was contacted to see if I knew how someone could get their hands on a song by Casting Crowns titled Listen to Our Hearts. They believed it was on the album Come to the Well, but they couldn’t locate it there.

A little research later, I determined that the song was a bonus track which was only sold to people who pre-ordered the album on iTunes.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened.

In the past few years there have been entire albums by Christian artists which were only available at LifeWay stores. Here, I need to point out that there are no LifeWay stores in Canada or the UK, so fans of the artists in questions simply could not obtain the product, no matter how hard they tried.

There’s something about this that just strikes me as wrong.

I saw an article the other day about “The Sin of Partiality.” Not surprisingly it began in the book of James (2:1-4):

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

My brain connected the article with the song request.

I know Casting Crowns needs to make money, and I’m not saying they should give their songs away for free — the influence of Keith Green notwithstanding — but somewhere between open source and restricted access there should be a balance.

I posted a fan-posted YouTube edition the song on Twitter as a type of protest. That way some people got to hear it that day. I added that a year, or two years later, “the song never surfaced in any form.” That brought this reader response:

To which I responded,

I realize that Christian retail is fraught with moral and ethical perils. The one I hear the most is, “The Bible should be free.” (I always have free copies to meet that objection.) I don’t expect the people at iTunes to live by Christian standards, but surely the people at LifeWay must know, in the back of their minds, that at the same time they’re doing something for their customers, they are denying others, right? (In a future article, we’ll look at the related idea of giving greater discounts to people buying in quantity, which is always an ethical dilemma.)

I just think anytime you say “exclusive offer” you’re letting some people in and shutting some people out.

At that point, the connection to what James says about favoritism is valid.


Note: The song was a collaboration between three artists. The versions by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore have proved equally elusive in 2018.

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The 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. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

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.

September 24, 2016

The Newsboys Shut Out of Canada for the Second Time

Newsboys

Back in April, we reported on the cancellation of The Newsboys concert in Toronto, Canada.

This week, lightning struck twice in the same place, despite the due diligence done by the band. Should Christian bands simply forget about trying to get into Canada? I don’t want to be sensationalist, but it makes you wonder what the backlash from this might be as the word spreads. Here’s the announcement this time around; this time sharing the full text of what the band wrote, posted at the promoter’s website:

September 21, 2016

Dear Toronto Newsboys fans,

It is with our deepest regrets that we have been forced to announce the cancellation of our Toronto concert tomorrow, Thursday Sept. 22nd.  This cancellation is a direct result of the Canadian Border authorities blatant disregard for the policies and procedures of legally crossing the border, and we feel an explanation to our fans is in order.

As you may know, in April we attempted to cross the border to perform for you at Church on the Queensway.  This crossing was just like the 5 other times we have crossed since 2009.  We worked for weeks in advance of our arrival to provide all the necessary paperwork to make the crossing as smooth as possible.  As we attempted our initial entry, Michael was told that he had a 9-year old traffic violation on his record and because of it, they were not going to allow him entry.  We were told that he would need to take the appropriate steps to fix this issue, and as such, we were forced to postpone the show a few months while we sorted it out.

This shocked us, as we have been to Canada to perform for you several times prior, and not once was this issue raised.  Regardless, as we are instructed Biblically, we respected the authorities’ decision and immediately hired attorney’s in the US and Canada to work to resolve this issue, and we rescheduled the concert for our fall tour.  After 3 months and hundreds of hours, and an extensive financial investment, the lawyers were confident that Michael had done all he was asked and so yesterday, Michael flew to Toronto to attempt re-entry, this time with an 80-page document supporting his request for clearance.  Michael even went 48 hours earlier so he would have plenty of time to present his case.  Unfortunately, the border agents refused to accept his explanations, and once again denied him entrance, this time without even an adequate explanation of the denial.

To say we are shocked beyond belief is an understatement, and we are extremely disappointed in the agent’s decision.  Obviously the agents have the serious task of protecting your nation, and we respect that, but the decisions of these two agents was made unilaterally and without merit, going against the stated laws and regulations that our attorneys were instructed to follow.  It is extremely disheartening to spend all the time and resources we did, only to have it come down to how the agent “feels” and decides.

Ultimately, we are most disappointed that we will not be allowed to come share our songs and our ministry with our fans, but as we are reminded in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We may never know the true reasons behind this decision, but we do know God has a plan for all of us, and we rest assured in the love He has for His children.  We will continue to vigorously work to clear this issue so that one day we can return and celebrate with you, but we feel until this is 100% cleared up, it is only right to refund your ticket purchases.

Thank you for your understanding and may God be with each and every one of you!

Sincerely,

Michael, Duncan, Jeff and Jody
NEWSBOYS

This time around, there is no mention of a future concert. The promoter, Premiere Productions had nothing about the cancellation on their blog. 

As a Canadian, this totally infuriates me. All over, “a 9-year old traffic violation.” This band is an international Christian ministry with a solid reputation. Were other forces at work here? What does this say to Christian kids in Canada about their government?

 

September 4, 2016

CCM: Where it All Began

Next time you’re in the music department of a Christian bookstore, or listening to 20 The Countdown Magazine, realize you’re seeing/hearing the after effects of a movement which goes back a couple of generations. Today’s featured videos are all from the same YouTube user channel, Donald Gordon, Jr.











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