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8/15/2005

SWELLING REBELLION

From my seat near the bottom of the Christian Music food chain, I'm witnessing what I can only describe as a swelling rebellion by those in the Christina Music industry against one another - especially against radio and retail. Artists, being inherently self-absorbed and whiny, lacking self-control and a volume knob, and the hardest hit financially when things don't go their way, are the loudest and most venomous voices of the rebellion at the moment. I have not talked with an artist in the last year who is pleased with the current state of affairs in the industry and who doesn't in some way blame radio for its woes. The artists are culled from all the major labels and a couple independents and their opinions range from livid or disinterested to saddened and leaving.

But radio isn't the only face on the dart board. Artists, both successful and not, are increasingly engaged in the bashing of other artists seen as less than their ideal, of labels and radio stations seen as out to make money first and represent their Jesus second, and of retailers for screening CDs for the word "whore" while not applying the same this-might-offend filter to t-shirts and books because those products, unlike CDs, are sold with a return policy.

But artists aren't the only one's raising their voices and shaking their fists. Labels are angry at radio stations for not helping them sell records, and lots of them, better than they do. Radio stations, wielding most of the industry's power at the moment, are pissed off at ungrateful labels and artists for complaining at all while station ratings and revenues continue to increase. Retailers are pissed off at artists for selling their wares on-line and at labels for selling them on iTunes and at radio stations for not playing more artists, which would help them sell more CDs.

Can't we just get along?

Not right now. There seems to be some good coming from this tension. And so this fighting may be a necessary evil used to move us towards understanding and a better representation of Christ together. The animosity has gone on long enough in some of us that it has fizzled and turned into self-examination and a craving for peace.

The hold up to peace at the moment, in my opinion, might not be our differences, but instead what we have in common: a desire to be successful that at times outweighs our desire to be faithful. And the inability to pursue faithfulness at the possible expense of personal financial success.

So for my part in making in peace I'll begin by confessing. I was mad at everyone, all of you, fans included, for more than a year - a wasted year I can't get back. And my hostility made me say and do things I deeply regret today.

And I'm moving to step two of peace-making by entertaining all points of view, asking all parties what they want, what they're mad about, why they do what they do and why they think the rest of us should do what we do. That's a good place to start: listening, believing no side is all good or all bad (especially my own), believing everyone can teach me something. And they are.

There are many voices to hear in the rebellion at the moment. Many confident and brave people daring to say publicly what they are feeling and thinking about the strange mixing of commerce and faith. I'll post links to them when I find them. Let's listen together with a teachable mind, willing to appraise all points of view and judge ourselves first in light of them. Maybe with enough listening and self-examination we can stop being pissed and start getting better.

Here's the first of many voices I hope to bring to SHLOG.COM's many industry ears. This is not an endorsement of any point of view. If you work in the industry and have a different viewpoint, feel free to blog it or e-mail it for the rest of to hear. I promise to listen.



Peace,
Shaun

54 Comments:

Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

I find it highly hard to believe that you could ever be mad at me Shaun. :D

8/15/2005  
Anonymous WAY Employee said...

Thanks for sharing Andrew Osenga's post. I'm always amazed by how many artists are still having problems with record labels saying their music is not Christian enough. While I'm not intimately involved with all the music decisions at WAY-FM, I have had an ear here and there, and I have to say, I've never heard anyone say they wouldn't play a song because it isn't Christian enough. If the song sounded right for our listeners, I would think we'd add it - I'm highly skeptical that WAY-FM would not add the song because of the word sad (as posted in the other days discussion, we are playing a song that says the artist curses God!). But, I guess when it comes down to it, that is us. I'm not as familiar with what many of the other Christian radio stations and such play nowadays, but from what I can see, I don't think as many stations are concerned with songs being Christian enough any more (although I hear many of the labels are concerned because of it).
What most Christian radio stations I am familiar with are most interested in are songs that fit their format and test well sound wise with their listeners. Yeah, maybe they don't want to hear the more complex music (I personally love some music that would never test well, and it doesn't test well because it's not the sound people go for).
I don't think basing it on the sound people like to hear is a bad thing - it's not about the money (at least, I don't ever think of it as being that) but it's about reaching as many listeners as possible.

Any way, just my 2 cents on this one =0)

8/15/2005  
Anonymous Tomcat said...

Wow! Thats alot to chew on and think about. While I don't disagree with what was said, don't know how to react just yet. Thanx for sharing.

8/15/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Way Employee, I think WAY-FM is the exception and not the rule. I'm very grateful for WAY-FM and hope more stations follow your example. You're not perfect but you're the best and getting better.

If I ever grow you know whats large enough I might post the comments from PDs at various stations to my current single. I have a document with a comment from every PD at every reporting station concerning my current single. Many would embarrass the radio industry if made public. I don't see how doing that is peace making so I've not done it. But that list and the many other things we artists see that no one else does, tends to create burs under under our saddles. ANd being the tender hearted and very vocal folks we are we often react improperly to those irritants. I'm trying not to do that but tis' hard armed with the info and experience I have.

I'm sure it's hard you radio guys sometimes too. Divas and radio promoters have surely darkened more than one radio guy's day.

You can't play everybody. Someone's gonna get mad right?

Thanks for doing what you do and helping me better understand just what that is.

SG

8/15/2005  
Blogger Dave Haupert said...

Really enjoying your recent trend at pointing us to other sites that offer challenging content as well. If only there were more hours in the day ;)

Seriously, this is a great topic, and I will be reading future articles with great interest!

8/15/2005  
Blogger Lane said...

As an artist who formerly tried to "break into" the Christian music scene, my biggest disappointment was the lack of variety coming out of the industry.

There seems to be a sense in the industry, and in the church as a whole, that a homogenized faith is good enough. If everybody sounds the same, looks the same, and feels the same, then its good and everybody makes money or gets members or whatever.

Here's what I think needs to happen: Christian artists need to stop being afraid to be poor. If the artists make up their mind to not let money be their motivation, if they decide to write the songs, or books or paint the pictures that God has blessed them with rather than what they think will sell, than we'll start seeing some really interesting stuff pop up instead of still having to hear a song from DC Talk's "JesusFreak" album played every ten minutes (ouch...a little joke, WAY-FM..don't be mad).

The artists that write the good pop songs will still get played a lot on WAY-FM, and they'll make some money, but if enough people got on the same page, decided to start making music regardless of whether it would sell, somehow I believe that music would get out to the world. It's happened a thousand times in the indie-rock world. At the same time, it would encourage other budding Christian artists that they don't have to sound just like so-and-so hottest band right now. They can be themselves. They can be interesting.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic or naive. Maybe its just that I can afford to be.

8/15/2005  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i don't know who Andrew Osenga is. . but he seems like a man who is torn. I'm not gonna put down any industry i don't understand. This whole debate to me is no different than 'employer-employee' conflicts in the working world. The one side doesn't understand the other, the one side feels underappreciated by the other, union and management comes to mind especially. . i'm in a union, i don't like being in it, but it was mandatory as condition of employment. They say they've got all our backs, but none of us feels that way - they let our contracts lapse for years. . they keep things in limbo forever, we can't strike, so we get ripped off semi-regularly. They say they exist for our protection, but we don't feel protected. They take our dues. . we don't volunteer them and we don't even know what they do with them besides pay their own salaries? They say that they run interference for us when management tries to claw things back. . raises, benefits, GAH!!! I hate this stuff. lack of communication, lack of trust. .cynicism, resentment - losing sight of the common good is never a good thing in business or in relationships.

Getting back to the Christian industry, the twisted part of the whole "Christian music and products marketing scene" is Jesus being turned into a 'commodity'. there seems to be a fine line between this and between the music and other products being helps to people. I think we all have to watch ourselves, not just 'industry people' or 'artists' or businesses. . .but everyone. . all those who say they belong to God have to be so careful to not use God, not misrepresent him, not misquote him, not blacken his name or steal what's due him. . huge people group problems always break down to problems with individuals and their relationship with God.

I love the last line of Mr. Osenga's post. . i don't remember exactly what it said. . but the gist of it was the church's purpose, and Christian purpose is to save the lost. Its great when you can reduce something down to its essence, and that last line did that for me when i read it. thanx for the link, i would never have read that otherwise.

8/15/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool post!

Reading Andrew Osenga's blog, the thought occurs again:

When one singer-songwriter-guitar-pop-guy looks at some other band, and says, effectively, "I'm better than that" -- does it occur to him that he, himself, may not be all that great?

This really isn't directed at him -- I like his stuff. I know it sounds insulting, but it's given me some perspective as someone who can look down on "lesser talents" who are in Nashville, for instance.

I was reading a piece by Michael Linton, writing about other "Christian musicians", like..."Douglas Yeo (bass trombonist with the Boston Symphony), Phil Smith (principal trumpet with the New York Philharmonic), Wendy White (mezzo–soprano with the Metropolitan Opera), Jerry Blackstone (co–director of the country’s leading conducting program at the University of Michigan), Michael Kurick (award–winning composer on Vanderbilt’s faculty)..."

...and where are their record deals and CD sales and and big ASCAP payouts? If we're offended on artistic grounds, let's be consistent: Why doesn't "Christian radio" honor them? Why only pop stuff?

If we fault radio listeners/programmers/consumers and labels for their lack of respect for the true artists, why stop with pop? I think Andrew Osenga's great, but does he really want us all to mature in our tastes?

Or just mature a bit...and stop there?

Brant

8/15/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Lane said...

"If the artists make up their mind to not let money be their motivation, if they decide to write the songs, or books or paint the pictures that God has blessed them with rather than what they think will sell, than we'll start seeing some really interesting stuff pop up..."

Lane, you said you might be a little naive and I'd agree. Maybe not naive as much as unaware. There are hundreds of artists who have decided to make music/art/books that are non-commercial at the moment. (Maybe not "decided" even but just unable to make something that sell right now) But you and I dont' SEE them and won't see them no matter how large their number grows.

To do what you're suggesting (make music that doesn't sell) means for most such artists a life of anonymity. So, no, you won't "SEE some really interesting stuff pop up". You won't SEE them at all.

We AREN'T seeing them at all. It IS happening and always has happened. We SEE the commercial artist only because being commercial or famous is by definition to be known or seen by more people than the average citizen is. But don't let that discourage (putting words in your mouth, sorry.) For every great selling artist who, in your estimation cares about money, there are ten who aren't selling but are still currently making music they and less than the masses enjoy. It's happening. It's just invisible. And that's OK. I think you'd agree.

But if what you want, and I'm just stirring the pot here, is for commercial music to cease to exist. Dream on. And it needn't do so.

It does if all commercial music is inherently evil and only rooted in a love of money. But that is a poor assumption I hope no one here is making. True, many artists/labels/radio types are more interested in money at times than more noble pursuits. But probably not most. I'm not. So definitely not all.

SG

8/15/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I agree with you, Brant. You guys may not know my background but I'm a "legit" composer by training. "legit", short for legitimate, is what we educated in 15th Century counterpoint, composition forms and techniques of the ages, and history from Pathagyrus to now, call ourselves.

Legit. What a snobby word.

So, I sat in a classroom for four years shoving all this "legit" knowledge into my brain and then royally ticked off my dean when I shunned a "career" as an orchestrator or composer for writing pop songs. His attitude toward me was really no different from Andrew's toward other CCM artists. And yes, I AM judging him for that. I think he's judged himself for that in his post. And judge myself for having done that in the past as well.

And I have to remember that to Philip Glass or Shoenberg my best pop song is the whaling and banging of a half-retarded troglodite.

But in your mind, brant, is there room to dissect the WORK of another artist without being prideful or judging the ARTIST or their motivations. I've heard you do as much. When is that OK and how is it to be done?

Because Casting Crowns and Jeremy Camp have some hits that in my opinion suck as songs. And then there's Barlow Girl's rip-offs of Evanescence and Todd Agnew's Creed v2.0. Oops. Guess I should've waited for your answer before just jumping in there like that huh? Probably shouldn't be done publicly like that. But it's the comments section on a tiny little blog no one's heard of. Is that OK?

SG

8/15/2005  
Blogger Lane said...

Shaun, I'm sure you are probably right, there are probably many artists out there making a lot of good stuff that I will never see or hear. I was one of those folks for a while (not assuming my stuff was good). I don't dislike commercial music. I have a very soft spot in my heart for many mainstream commercial endeavors.

Here's my dream, and dream I'm sure it is. That if enough artists stopped believing in the "getting signed" dream, there would be distribution outlets that would pop up, necessarily, because of the influx of new music that would flood the independent marketplace.

There seems to be a big problem with independent channels that can provide decent livings for Christian artists. If you know of one, please let me know! I would love to listen to some new music! Grassroots Music was 'it' for a long time, but they sold out to a bigger conglomerate. Even Paste started out with a few independent Christian artists on their samplers (a long time ago, before the magazine), but they've moved on to bigger and better. Good for them. Is it because there just isn't a market? Well, if that's the case, then my dream is shot and I give up in defeat.

I don't say all this to be a 'better than you' independent music snob, because those people get on my nerves too. I say it because I know what it is like to make four hundred dollars a month playing my guitar in churches for crowds of three. It's tough. My two biggest regrets, though, are that I could not be more satisfied with myself and with my music, and that Christians are simply left without a choice in the Christian marketplace. The reality is, it's WAY-FM or nothing for most people. I know a lot of people who would give Christian music more of a chance if there was simply an opportunity for something different.

8/15/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I listen to K-LOVE in Colorado and its pretty obvious that they play all the "hits", all the time, over and over and over again. I am so sick of Rich Mullens...yep, I said it. I realize my irreverence toward the deceased musician is apalling. Its nothing personal. How could he have known that they would play his songs to death. They have done the same thing to Third Day's "I believe". There is so much more out there in Christian music than the top five or ten songs "The Playtone Christian Gallaxy of Stars". Its mind numbing and its just background noise after awhile. They need to give other less wellknown songs and artist an opportunity to be heard. I would be interested in listening to talented young high school/college kids who have something special to share on the radio. That would be fun! As long as it glorifies God who cares. We need a Sundance institute, so to speak, for Christian music.

As far as the anger thing goes, it happens to those who feel passionate about our beliefs and don't understand why some people don't just get into the kayak and start paddling.. now!! Succumbing to pure frustration with a (sense of betrayal) can heighten anger to cause us to forget for a time what and who we love. Blinding. The pain so intense to bow out completely for a year to get away from it, like you did Shaun. We all try to escape at times. Comparing yourself against other artists is a fruitless venture. Satan wants us to dwell in jealous competition, to be anguished and lose the joy. Try not to let these people get you down. Take the high road and see them for what they are, pray for them and God will lift you up to places you never imagined possible. God created you for this purpose. You said, ..to be more than a believer, but a disciple, now that was amazing. I love that. Its not about a religion its about a relationship.

And finally, you are not on the bottom of the Christian music food chain Shaun. Your music has captured the attention of many, many believers. I would come to see you at the Pepsi Center in Denver if you were there and it would be a great night of worship.

In Him,
Karen
gr82bhis@msn.com

8/15/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Lane said, "There seems to be a big problem with independent channels that can provide decent livings for Christian artists"

Well, there YOU go caring about money more than being faithful, Lane. How's it different for a signed artist to dumb down a lyric or stick to shiny happy thoughts to make more money than it is for an indie artist to give up because they can't make money? It's not. If money affects one's faithfulness it's a god.

Truthfully, we need more artists in Nashville and everywhere else, signed and unsigned, who do what they do because it's who they are, what they love, how God speaks to and through them NOT more who do what they do (or quit) because of money.

As for wanting distribution for indie artists...Well, with distribution comes an investment from the distributor for transport and marketing etc. The distributor then makes that investment back only if you sell records. So only artists worth investing in, artists able to make back X dollars for the distributor, would get distribution deals - which are just label deals without input on the song writing, song selection or money for recording. Except distributors don't have radio promotion divisions, drum up tours and fund them too.

So how's that better than signing with a label?

Karen said, "They need to give other less wellknown songs and artist an opportunity to be heard. I would be interested in listening to talented young high school/college kids who have something special to share on the radio. That would be fun!"

No that wouldn't. How about this parallel? Would you go to a theatre, even if it was for free, to see a film by a high schooler you didn't know if you could see a film by your favorite director with your favorite actors in it right next door? The fear of people going next door is what keeps Christian radio playing the same twelve tested and proven songs. And it's working or they'd change. Christian radio folks would play 4000 songs or the same 3 if doing either boosted ratings.

SG

8/15/2005  
Blogger Dave Haupert said...

The fear of people going next door is what keeps Christian radio playing the same twelve tested and proven songs. And it's working or they'd change. Christian radio folks would play 4000 songs or the same 3 if doing either boosted ratings

Wow, that tidily wraps up the sad predicament CHR has been in for a while now. If that is indeed the reason why they add so few new songs, then to me it sounds a bit like the parable of the talents. If they are afraid of losing what few talents they possess and are burying them deep down- well, we all know what happens (Matthew 25:14).

I understand that they are just trying to protect their business, but if they are really acting out of fear then there is a long term problem with a very predictable ending scenario there.

My motivation to get my music on radio has always been to have the opportunity to be that song that an unsuspecting unbeliever switches to by 'accident' and hears the message God has been wanting them to hear. I don't think that Christian radio today has that same goal, or they wouldn't need to worry about playing the same songs over and over (out of fear, or to deliver a 'consistent brand image to their advertisers'- oops I mean supporters), and new ones that were also poignant and relevant could be played.

8/16/2005  
Anonymous tomcat said...

Sitting hear reading and following the discussion it sounds like it might be the size of the Christian market compared to the Secular market. The secular market is larger all around, so for that reason it might seem like they have more diversity, they can afford to do things that the Christian market can't. This is just a thought I had though. I could be way off.

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isnt it true that, in reality, that your core listeners will listen to whatever you give them to listen. i may be totally off but it seems like that in singling out a target audience you alienate everyone else. you still have your tried and true listeners but in reality you would still have them either way?

it seems like that history has taught us that the whole reason that any art in this life has ever made a lasting difference is because in being who they are and writing whatever there imagination gives them it has forced us to get out of our comfort zones. the artist almost violently at times breaks on to whatever scene and gives the world a veiw of what it is like for him or herself, and because of who they are and the honesty that is there, people listen.

I think it was Proust who said "there is no excellent beauty without some strangeness in proportion" good lord, sometimes i just wish that stations or labels would take a chance on something THEY find interesting or original and stop waiting for something that makes every soccer mom tap their pradas. on that note, i sometimes think that stations underestimate these lady's tolerance for oringinality.

of course is dont work at a radio station so i could totally over-generalizing and mis-judging.

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Testing tells a different story. But, then again, I think the way they test songs is inaccurate.

SG

8/16/2005  
Blogger Jason...aka Farky said...

Hmmm. I might have a slightly different take on this. Maybe I’m just trying to be a music snob, but I don't think that's the case. First, let me say that even though I own all three of SG's albums, I have never heard him played on the radio. Let me also say that I own a decent amount of Christian music, it's just that I learn about through alternate means. I do live in market (Dallas) with more than one Christian station, but one (KLTY) I cannot tolerate at all, and the other (KVTT) I can only handle in small portions. No offense, but I think 95% of Christian music, CCM, whatever, sucks. It's not good music. I don't care what the message is, if it stinks I'm not gonna listen to it and it shouldn't be played on the radio.
Also, the poppy nature of most of it tends to capitulate to the least common denominator. What we're left with is music that says churchy things in clever ways but never actually says anything or challenges anyone. I've always held the belief (or at least the hope) that music with the tag of "Christian" should be superior. I don't feel that's anywhere near the case. I think the Christian music industry has decided to judge music on it profitability rather than it's merits artistically. I think this post and the comments would suggest that maybe others agree. Let me say, I think it's also true for mainstream music, but not to the same degree. They’re bigger, have more money, therefore have more margin for error. I've now come to dread a Christian artist's second album. You know, the one after they made a good one on their own and got signed by a big Nashville label. You can almost feel the injected mediocrity before you get the wrapper off the CD.

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

farky, what's the standard for "good" art? Not saying there isn't one, but what is it?

It's not the most helpful to say CCM isn't good art but not hand them a ruler with which to measure such things.

Because, as I've stated already, NO three minute song recorded with guitars and vocal would be considered "art" by my professors, or any "great" composer."

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, for my part: I *do* think there is such a thing as "better" art, and there are ways of approaching that -- might make a fun discussion sometime.

Shaun wrote:
--------------------------
...my best pop song is the whaling and banging of a half-retarded troglodite.(sic)
-------------------------


As a half-retarded troglodyte, I resent the spelling error.


------------------------
But in your mind, brant, is there room to dissect the WORK of another artist without being prideful or judging the ARTIST or their motivations. I've heard you do as much. When is that OK and how is it to be done?
------------------------

Well, definitely, that's okay, always, in my book. I'm an absolutist when it comes to art, even if I'm not the best arbitrator of the absolute.

In fact, I think even *I* can and do write better songs than some of the...stuff...you might amusingly mention with laser-like insight. (I literally laughed aloud at your candor...thank you.)

But it's the "protesting the system" that's the matter. Since when does any society, ever, perfectly order benefits to the level of artistic talent and effort? Ever, anywhere, in history? Why would I be in a state of surprise and amazement and dismay?

I have friends who positively shame, in songwriting and playing, many (most?) C-pop artists. My friends, though, have jobs as web-designers, a spammer (!), an acoustics engineer, worship leaders, an aero-astro engineer, a virtual-reality researcher, a mailman, and on and on.

They have families and non-Nashville jobs, and they do beautiful stuff. They don't generally feel like they're denied the attention they so richly deserve relative to Jeremy Camp, for instance. Should they? Not even a record deal! When's theirs?

My point is, does Andrew O or you or me or anybody really want to go there? Or is there really a sour grapes/envy thing that needs to be dealt with?

If my friends chose C-pop as a career, I suppose they might spend more time complaining about the rewards they don't get, relative to lesser lights. But they didn't, and they don't. What if just their church and friends and wives hear their stuff? It's okay.

When I did mainstream talk radio, or even sometimes now, I've had industry-related people telling me, "You're better than (syndicated such and such.)"

My thought is, "Wow. Thanks. Cool. Glad somebody thinks that."

It literally never happened to me to think, "Man, this industry is so jacked. I'm not getting my due. No fair!"

I'm not due ANYTHING. I suppose if I thought that I was being treated horribly unfairly, and not being given my attention and rewards I was somehow due, I'd find another line of work.

Best,
Brant

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

EXCELLENT BRANT. I completely agree with just about everything you said. And just so you know, I'm not in the sour grapes give me my due bunch. But I do think that's a huge motivation for some of the griping going on.

The one thing I disagree with, and it keeps coming up, is this fantasy definition and standard for "art". Maybe you can educate me on that on. I don't see any biblical standard for "art" or any standard adhered to from one century and culture to the next. Doesn't exist. And the one thing I do know very well, the only thing in fact, is music history. Every century snobs one group of creators and embraces another, calls one art and the other crap. But the standard always slides, always evolves. It is not absolute.

"Art" is a word we musicians have used to categorize one another and gain more value for ourselves through comparison. That's not only immature, it's downright ungodly.

So don't anybody say you want radio to play more art, or labels to sign more art, until someone here defines the word. Good luck with that.

Thanks, brant for your continued humor and direct education of SHLOGGERS and me. I agree with that last post of yours. So true.

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art is the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. So says dictionary.com

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I'd agree with that definition...which pretty much embraces all songs in all styles with no attention to skill, lyrical approach, motivation and a host of another things we tend to attach to the word "art."

Thanks for that.

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the difficulty is not defining what is "art" but that which affects the sense of beauty. The trouble is in defining beauty. Again going beack to the always wise dictionary.com, beauty is defined as "The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality." Opinions are out on the excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality of CHR.

Jonathan

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm feeling bad about the lengths of my comments. Thanks for bearing with me.

On the "art" thing, a few simple considerations:

1) The "art world" spurns the idea of absolute in word, but not in action.

Like self-proclaimed moral relativists, the art relativist rarely really believes what she's saying.

While denying that there is "good" or "bad" art, they lavish awards on certain people, and precious exhibit space on certain people, and hype certain auctions, and argue for taxpayer endowment of certain art over, say, my daughter's castle-drawings, etc.

Hollywood eschews the idea that some art is better than others, then gives 500 awards a day for, say, "Best Drama".

2) Shakespeare is translated into 140 languages. Bach is big in Japan. One can believe this is happenstance or capitalist plot, or embrace a more viable idea, that "Othello" really is, objectively, superior to a script that calls for me to walk on stage, and, in a stirring call for world peace, belch.

You know people who WILL say that we can't say one is superior to the other. And we actually endow someone walking on stage and defecating. ("Ah...'art'.") But no one really believes it, UNLESS...and I think this is key...we strip the word "art" of definition.

Sure, if "art" means nothing, well, there's no way to say some art is better than others. Obviously.

3) As a theist who finds authority in the Bible, I think we DO see hints, I think, at the existence of artistic "absolutes", which would allow us at least the tools to say, "Here's why this is probably better..."

Paul says God's divine nature is revealed in creation, in Romans. To me -- and I'm being too brief, here -- this means I can discern much about WHAT GOD VALUES in His creation.

(This is based on the idea that if I know what Shaun Groves really values, I know Shaun Groves. But if I don't really know what he values, I can think I know him, but I really don't.)

If this is true, this has enormous implications for those evaluative criteria, right? I mean, God's the ultimate artist. AND -- what's more -- I think we CAN discern some of His values in what has been made, in broad terms.

Things like, say "order". Complexity. Space. Rhythm. Diversity. And the list goes on...

These are broad criteria for discussion, and hardly exhaustive. (I "convened" some artist/scientist friends to discuss this one time via email, this question: Knowing what we do about the universe, micro and micro, and mathematics, what can we discern about what God values? They're smarter than me, and it was really interesting.)

4) God HIMSELF picked out a guy to do the artwork in Solomon's temple. Because God liked this guy's work, as an artisan! That says something, I think. Can't remember the guy's name, onaccounta I forget stuff. But it's in there.

5) Back to Hollywood: I got a chance to kick this around once with filmmaker John Landis. He was pushing a book about fine films, I asked him to define it, he didn't want to. I said something about, "Don't you think there is SOME standard for discussion, ultimately, even if we can't articulate it exactly?"

To his credit (a really smart guy -- great interview) he IMMEDIATELY said:

"Well, now you're talking theology."

Yep.

6) I believe there are absolutes on this one. I don't think there's any question. But no, I'm ill-prepared to articulate it fully. This is no surprise. I'm not trained in art at all (thanks, education system) and I can't articulate most things of God fully.

I think this whole "ultimate standard" thing is kinda like a redwood tree:

I may not be able to get my arms around it, but man, it's still there.

Best,
Brant

8/16/2005  
Blogger Jason...aka Farky said...

Well, I don't know that I think all music should be high art that can be deconstructed by the most critical of observers. I do feel that it should contain some artistic value. To me that includes things like: it has some originality, it has some complexity, and it "affects the sense of beauty". I think the first two of those are missing in a lot of the CCM world, especially if you base your opinion solely by what's on the radio. The third is obviously completely up to the listener. If their criteria prioritize things like "mentioning Jesus" or "never being negative" over "could any 7th grader have written this" then I think they're looking for propaganda, not art.

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Chris said...

I'm going to cease my lurking and jump in here. If what Jonathon says is true, then I think the definition of beauty would simply be Jesus Christ. (A good book on this would be Hart's "The Beauty of the Infinite"). I'm not sure where that leaves us in our discussion about art. Perhaps "good" art or "better" art would be that art that accurately reflects Jesus Christ?

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

What affects my sense of beauty is far different from what affects that sense in a 40 year-old mother of four from another denomination, another set of parents, another decade, another state and listening through another set of speakers. And THAT is why nothing IS or IS NOT art to all. It is ART to the one who appreciates it's beauty. Even it stirs appreciation in only one.

And, brant, if art is that which tells us something of who God is, what he values, then music I know you don't like (we've discussed what we don't like in person remember?) is art agreed? Because it does say overtly what God values. BBut I'll pick up on this values thing later and use against your industry someday. Hmmm...What does upbeat and positive radio tell us about what God values??

Muuuhahaahahaa

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha!

I think I must not have put it well -- no surprise.

That we get a diversity of opinion doesn't mean anything to me. Some are more qualified than others. We have disagreements about goodness and truth, too -- but absolutes exist there, too.


I'm using much more broad categories, again: space, rhythm, order, complexity -- not "Does it tell me that God loves me in the chorus?" That's not at all what I'm talking about.

These criteria can also be applied to drama, visual arts...and so forth.

I had a friend who worked at the opera in Houston. She didn't want to allow for standards, these criteria, and simultaneously complained about how horrible a recent drama was at the center. "There was constant screaming, no relief, not letup -- it just became noise..." etc.

I see. No SPACE. Hmmm...

I'm certainly not also saying "This song is art", and "This isn't". I'm saying yes, there are evaluative criteria, even if I'm not qualified to wield them.

Some artistic works are better than others. Objectively better. Even if I'm not the guy to make the call.

There is a song in C-pop very newly now, and it is utterly devoid of any level of complexity. The lyrics are banal, too -- don't get me wrong --but it offends in the realm of the criteria I refer to. It's a disaster, in my probably-not-humble-enough opinion.

It's sing-song-y, a la "This Old Man" or something. Oh, man.

It's overtly about God wanting our hearts, and it's just horrible.

It's NOT "Bless the Lord", by the way...

Brant

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Nice suck up there at the end.

OK, so I know the criteria you're talking about. Those are criteria laid down by composers. Visual artists also have concepts of rhythm, composition, contrast, line etc. But these are not GOD standards. They're man standards. By that I mean the bible doesn't spell these out. And no we can't say any truth is God truth. I worked at Chick-fil-A in high school and there was a standard set for how a sandwich should look but does God have a standard for what a "good" chicken sandwich must taste or look like? No. DOes that mean it doesn't matter what it tastes or looks like? No. But it means I can't say your chicken sandwich is not pleasing to God, not useful to him, and not a chicken sandwich at all.

Wow, that got weird. Anyway, I think we'd both agree that asking radio to play "art" by any definition is a pandora's box and not a good idea right? Whose definition and criteria would we use?

SO far the said criteria are only being used by folks like Andrew and many other artists I know to devalue another person's work and ultimately that person's right to exist in this industry. I think you'd agree that's not good either right?

Bang. Horse dead. Anyone want to beat. I'm tired. See you guys tomorrow.

I learned a lot just now, brant. Thanks for keeping comments long. Look! I'm growing!

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the whole process of compartmentalizing anything like calling this thing art and that thing fart is an invention of western civilization. we want to control and contort everything. some tribes in africa do not distinguish music from comunication. in a sense everything we do is art because everything we do is an act of will or creation. music in a sense is no different in the act of creation as a man figuring out how to make in-door plumbing possible. some people were born with this ability or that gift but we all are all required to take these tools and use them to praise God. some-people think they dont glorify God with them and we certainly like to think that our way is a higher quality of worship or praise than the average Joe. I think Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is a mighter gift than anything i have to give but then again the widow gave more than everyone else because it was all she had.

Time seems to hold the gavelin on who's work has the most longevity and ingenuity. its not a perfect judge but it seems to be the one that God has left us with.

seth

by the way, has anyone ever listened to sufjan stevens? here's a guy who seems to be bridging the gap between "legit" music and folk music.

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Andrew Osenga said...

Wow, Shaun posted over on my site to tell me about this conversation, and I had to come over and see it. It's encouraging to see this kind of discussion about this topic.

I feel like I may have been a bit misunderstood by some of the posters on here, though, and want to answer those comments.

My post was not really intended to be a "Christian music sucks" rant. I've felt that way at times for sure, and have made that rant many times as well, but, for the most part, I'm learning to leave that kind of thinking about it behind.

The nature of my post was to point out my own sin, honestly. The truth is that most of the music that is popular to the general Christian audience doesn't really say anything to me, or is often downright offensive to me, whether in its quality, theology, or lacks thereof. What really troubled me was how, when money got a little tight I was going to try to contribute to it just for money, and might have written things I knew I didn't believe. That was very wrong of me.

However, I wasn't pointing fingers at other artists, at least directly, nor saying that I think I don't get what I deserve. The Lord has provided faithfully for my family through me playing music, and I would never say that I deserved even that.

I have been on both sides of the success coin in Christian music, in a band called the Normals that sold about seven albums, and in Caedmon's Call, which has sold a lot more than that. The dilemma and conversations were the same in both bands. What we hear on the radio doesn't reflect what we believe. That's the real problem, and because money can ride on our acting like we believe it or not, things can get even hairier.

I want to make sure that my confession didn't come across as whining. God has called me to make music, and the longer I do it, the more I doubt my calling is so specifically to the church. They sure haven't felt too called to buy it!! Sorry, couldn't resist. Anyway, I appreciate this discussion and it is my sincere hope that artists who are believers will create, whether for commercial consumption or not, music that is honoring to the truth and magnificence of the Glory of God. Guys like Shaun and me who talk about this stuff aren't trying to say we're the best and everyone is beneath us, just that we are aware that not everyone is approaching their art with an honesty and purpose that line up with the Gospel. It is our desire to spur more people onto that.

But we are pretty darn good.

Thanks for reading this.

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, enough listening. I'll give my two cents here.

"Art is... that which affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. So says dictionary.com"

"I think that the difficulty is not defining what is "art" but that which affects the sense of beauty."
--------------------
OK, surely we cannot define art as just whatever seems beautiful to us. The above definition states that art is what affects the sense of beauty, but have we not all come into contact with created "things" that we would not necessarily term "beautiful", but maybe instead "telling" or "interesting" or "revealing?" I'm thinking of Crumb's "Black Angels", or even Kubrick's "The Shining." Or how about selected poems by e.e. cummings, which are more blunt than beautiful. I would not connect these types of works with beauty but more honesty. And I certainly would have to call them art.

Producing something that is honest. Could that be, then, a definition of "bad" art...dishonest art. Something made, created, that is produced by trying to impress and "win" instead of reveal one's own true thoughts, feelings, ideas.

If this is the case, then this comparison we do IS a bunch of crap, because who knows whose art is honest and whose isn't. But yourself.

This is fun, but how in the world do you guys get anything done? I'm almost scared I'm entering into this blogging business. :-)

Amber

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I type VERY fast, Amber. My first job was data entry at a law firm. I can type as quickly as I speak. Scary. Scary because I only use four fingers.

But my method works and it let's me get lots of other stuff done in between posts.

Thanks for your thoughts. Good stuff. I agree. Maybe honesty has something to do with the definition if there is one. But, yea, who knows what's honest? What's true. Now that's something we have a ruler for. And that's the subject of my next post about this industry.

AND THANKS TO ANDREW - a guy I've never met but have admired from afar - or from my front seat with my ears perked by his great song writing. Thanks for clarifying. I do think though that your festival story does pick at other artists a bit. Don't you think your beef is even a little bit with other artists? I know mine is. Maybe I'm projecting my beef onto yours.

At any rate, thanks for stopping by SHLOG.COM to discuss. You're welcome any time. Tell the Caedmon's folks hey for me.

SG

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering Mr. Groves if WAY-FM didn't play your music would they still be the exception to the rule?

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just so everyone realizes....MOST POP SUCKS!!! Whether it is "Christian" or not. I have seen Avalon belt out crappy theology at Alltel Pavilion and campaign for Bush simultaneously (I was wearing a Kerry sticker and was almost lynched!!!). At the same show, I saw Caedmons play a very introspective set (featuring our renowned friend Andrew Osenga) and talk about their trip to India without proselytizing (imagine that!). I have seen Derek Webb come to a tiny college campus and play for a bunch of green fundamentalist Christian clones that only wanted to hear him play "bus driver" instead of listen to songs that might express a little doubt or confusion. I have also seen both Derek and Andy sell equipment on EBay just to pay bills. As a working musician, I feel their frustration. Music with any depth will not be found on K-love. So...rock on Andy. Shaun...I really do enjoy your unique perspective. We can talk all we want about artistic license or "selling out" but the bottom line is (BIG REVELATION) bill collectors don't care about the lyrical content of your song. Andy, Shaun, myself, we shouldn't have to choose the best of two evils to keep us up at night. There has got to be a better way.

8/16/2005  
Blogger Lane said...

As Christians, I think we have the best definitions of art and beauty, as other posters have thus posted.

While the rest of the world might use words like "depth, complexity, movement" or whatever to describe beauty, as Christians we have other words, words that help us describe good art. Words like "sacrifice, redemption, resurrection" and other good church words.

The thing about these words is: when you think about them, they are not always beautiful by the world standard. Often they speak of death or shame or darkness, but that's the paradox of the gospel. What was ugly is beautiful, what was shameful is now worth boasting in. In that respect, perhaps even the "bad art" that we are ashamed, the consummerism and greed, is in a process of redemption that is beyond our scope.

Clear as mud, I'm sure. I don't want to be one to judge what is good art and what is not. I could tell you my tastes, but I realize those are fallible. If a song is played on WAY-FM and it contains some of the characteristics mentioned above, I have no problem saying that is good art, but I also have faith that God will be glofified despite our best efforts to focus on ourselves, and really, isn't that what is should be about?

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Great words Lane. Appreciated. That's basically my view as well. God uses what I call crap. I feel like the Pharisees when criticizing other artists sometimes - the time they decided not to fight against God's man because doing so might put them in a fight against God Himself.

Thanks for bringing the focus back on what is communicated and away from how for a minute. The how still matters to those of us in the business of how, but the what and who and why are of greater importance (I believe) to the Creator of us all.

SG

8/16/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

IS WAY-FM THE EXCEPTION BECAUSE THEY PLAY MY MUSIC?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Here are the singles that have been released to WAY-FM by me...

RECORD#1
Welcome Home (played the snot out of it)
After The Music Fades (played it)
Move Me (Didn't play it)
Should I Tell Them (again, snot out of it)

RECORD #2
See You (played for a month until it tested badly and was taken out of rotation)
Twilight (never played or tested)

RECORD #3
Bless The Lord (playing it)

There are stations with better batting averages on my songs that I do not call exceptions. THE FISH stations have been very supportive my music until this current single. But the created the phrase "upbeat and positive" and have asked other stations to stop using it because it violates some sort of we-did-that-first rule. And they did. They were the first to limit the scope of discourse about God in that way. The first to profane God's name intentionally in that manner. Yet they play my music. I'm even-handed with criticism.

WAY-FM is not perfect. I do not like all their ads. I don't like that they test songs or the way in which they test them. I don't like that they strive to be FISHish by being ALWAYS upbeat and positive.

But what I do like about them is their goal of reaching someone besides soccer moms with music that is true. I don't know if they are reaching that goal. But the goal is admirable. I also went on a mission trip to Ecuador with their listeners and staff and got to see firsthand their commitment to challenging Christians to serve and not just sing. I applaud that as well - though that program of mission trips has stopped. They are always involved in raising awareness about opportunities to serve in the community in the name of Christ etc. Good stuff.

I also know very well one of the leaders in the network. I discipled his daughter. he was my bible study teacher for a year or so. We talk honestly and he loves me and listens to me no matter how ignorant I am. And I'm sure that relationship and my respect for that man colors my perception of the station as well. It's hard top think of that man being part of anything that knowingly accepts payola, ignores truth, or is unethical is any other way. Maybe I'm blind. But I just don't see it in WAY-FM.

Good question. Thanks for asking the hard stuff. I need to be held to the fire as much as anyone else. Thanks for doing that.

SG

8/16/2005  
Blogger Kathryn said...

Yes, Shaun, data entry ppl, fast typists can really bang out mega paragraphs in no time!!! I type for a living. . my typing speed is 100 w.p.m.

it helps when blogging!!! ha ha!

I've already put in my two cents WAAAY back there in this very interesting debate. . so i'll just leave it at that. .

8/16/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Groves for your repsonse to my simple question. I wasn't trying to be a jerk or anything. I agree that hard questions need to be asked, but that wasn't my intent. It just kind of spewed out.

Anyways....

I have hard time with WAY-FM or Christian Radion for that matter. I just feel like I can count on my hands how many bands/artists are represented there. I know this is not really the case, but it feels like it when I listen. I guess I am more fed up with radio in general rather than just Christian Radio. I get just as sick when I flip the dial to the BUZZ.(Nashville station)

I guess I tend to be a little more brutal with Christian radio because I feel they/we should know better.(or do better) I am in your line of work so please accept my frustrations, for I know as we have seen that you have the same hang-ups.

Andrew Osenga should be heard. I am sad that our only radio memory of him is "Apron full of stains." One person at a time I suppose. That is all.

8/17/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

On brant's blog, in the comment section, a guy named DOUG (Doug Hannah, former PD at WAY) gives an excellent explanation of why so few songs are played. I still don't like it as a consumer of radio but then again I'm not the target audience.

I'm guessing that all dissenting views posted here so far are from males and not from females 25-35 - the target of WAY (right, brant?) or from females 35-45 (the target of AC radio). Truth is we men and anyone non-white and anyone older or younger than those margins don't factor into what CCM radio plays. Our opinions are less important if not ignored altogether by CCM radio.

What we need are about 10,000 Nashville women in WAY's target age range - white women with money to spend on advertisers' products - to post here that they don't like the fact that WAY-FM plays so few current singles AND to say they want more Shaun Groves. Yes. That's what we need. That would change everything. ; )

SG

8/17/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun--
excellent, excellent post. you may or may not remember me, but you and i had a rather heated exchange backstage before i opened for you down in College Station, TX a few years ago. Anyway, i was a little perturbed at you after that (as i'm sure you were at me), but God got tired of me whining (see the connection here?) and now here i see you saying some great things that seem to bring further reconciliation to both that conversation and a much larger one that we both seemed to want to have that night.
i say all that to simply highlight my support and affirmation of your thoughts here. i am definitely farther down on the food chain than you, but over a decade of paying my bills writing songs gives me (i hope) a tiny bit of credibility to say "amen."
now, if i can be so bold, i'd invite you to read a post on my own site that i wrote a while back. it's highly relevant to the discussion you've created. i don't expect you to agree with every word (i don't even expect you to read it, given our personal history and my professional obscurity), but i thought i'd add it to the mix of opinions.
either way thanks for being honest, real, and unusual. in short, thanks for modeling Jesus in a culture that might prefer that you model... well, MODELS.
blessings--
ross king
www.rosskingmusic.com (for the abovementioned post, go to the page marked "writings" and the post marked "safe listening.")

8/17/2005  
Anonymous WAY Employee said...

Wow, I get busy for a day and miss out on all the conversation. I'm enjoying it.

First to Andrew Osenga... There had to be more than 7 Normals albums sold. Me and 6 of my friends all bought it! Oh wait... hmmm... Seriously though, I loved all the Normals albums, especially the last one that wasn't, dare I say, as radio friendly but a truly excellent album!


Also, I understand where you're coming from Shaun, especially in this comment:

"Because Casting Crowns and Jeremy Camp have some hits that in my opinion suck as songs. And then there's Barlow Girl's rip-offs of Evanescence and Todd Agnew's Creed v2.0. "

I'll admit, the bands named there might not have the greatest works of "art" (there's that ill-defined word again), however, they can be fun to listen to (for some people). I'll use myself as an example; I love music that is more "art" like - Andrew Osenga's stuff, some of your own stuff, the music that is more dare I even say "deep" but I also sometimes just enjoy listening to the fun more fluffy music. I love mixing it up - I can listen to Barlow Girl one song and then listen to The Normals in the next moment.

Now, I can't say I know the intentions of all the artists you named, but I'll take on the Barlow Girl comment for a moment, because I've talked to them a fair amount and know a little bit what is on their hearts. I don't think they are making music for "art", I think they are trying to make music that 1)speaks to teen girls and sometimes even challenges them to not be like everyone else and 2)is fun. I think they accomplish that. As far as them sounding like Evanescence, they claim (and I believe them) that they weren't all that familiar with the group and they definitely were not trying to sound like them. Granted, I figure the record company or at least their producer (good ol' Sugar Bear) probably was familiar with it and that was a big reason behind it, but that's not where the girls heart is. They aren't trying to rip off other bands - they are just some young girls enjoying life and having fun. Is it wrong for radio stations to play music like that? I don't know.

As for Jeremy Camp, all I have to say about that is that "Though my praise was few" is not proper english. C'mon... none of us are perfect at the english language, but at least get it right in a song you're going to release to radio. My wife turns off the radio every time that song comes on because that line hurts here ears...

And on a final note, I completely agree with you Shaun on the music testing with our listeners - I also think that it's flawed, and I've voiced my opinion on the matter in the past. Don't know if it will ever change, and I won't go into all the reasons why I think it's flawed, but needless to say, it is flawed. It's worked okay, I guess, so what do I know? I'm not exactly the world's foremost mind on research...

Alright, had to throw my last 2 cents in... I felt left out when there were so many comments and I hadn't made any except for at the beginning! =0)

8/17/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

The barlow girl and jeremy camp comments are reflective of my own personal taste in music. I don't doubt, and I think I've said this already, their intentions or usefulness to God. I just don't prefer their music. Artists are people. We don't like all music either. But I do like those two artists as people. Jeremy Camp is a charismatic person I wish I was more like and Barlow Girl gives to their fans and truly seems to want to reform the hearts and lives of young girls and they are doing it. I just don't like their music - just I don't like some of my earlier music - the more successful stuff in fact. I never play MOVE ME in concert. Can't stand it.

And I don't think it's "wrong" for a station to play or not play "art" as defined by the beholder. I do think it's wrong to limit the scope of truth communicated only to upbeat and positive. There, I said it again. And that's not something I'm accusing any artist of publicly because that accusation really matters. That accusation is one concerning a spiritual sin not a physical lack of taste. If I think an INDIVIDUAL has sinned I should talk to that person privately and will. Whether I like someone's song or not really doesn't constitute sin and so I hope no one is offended by my poke at those artists. I wouldn't mind or be surprised if they did they same to my music. We'll still get along.

If you're offended by that, anyone, (as one e-mailer was) your eggs are in the wrong basket. You care too much about music or your favorite artist. Or you lack a sense of humor - again, not a sin but just plain boring. Are you as offended when someone erects an idol, a smaller god than the true God, with their lyrics or daily programming? You should be. I am.

Thanks for your thoughts everyone.

Ross, no apology needed. Forgot all about it.

SG

8/17/2005  
Anonymous Kyle said...

Some of this discussion made me remember that I made a post in my own blog over a year and a half ago on "Why I don't like K-LOVE". Because I'm feeling somewhat lazy at the moment, I'll include the link rather than reiterate my thoughts here.

http://tinyurl.com/bllot

8/17/2005  
Anonymous WAY Employee said...

Nope... not offended. You can bash on all the artists if you want... I just more or less wanted to put out a word for my buddy's in Barlow Girl.

I am looking forward to a whole front page entry on your positive/upbeat thoughts. I think I'm starting to really see where you're going with this.

Oh, and I forgot I was going to say one other thing earlier (I swear, I'm an undiagnosed ADD case); it does always help when you know an artist (or employees at a radio station). I probably would've enjoyed White Flag anyway, but I know I like it more and am paying it much more attention because I'm a Shlogger and I feel more connected to you because of it.
I'm not sure I had a point there. Ooooh, look, shiny objects... gotta go.

8/17/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to be comment #47!

Know what? Radio is stinking hard, folks.

Try it, and you'll make an idiot out of yourself. You'll be amazed at how little you have to say. How funny you aren't. You'll be stunned at how monotone your voice is. You'll wince when you hear what you thought was sophistication, now on tape, sounding like irresponsible crap.

How do I know? Well...uh...guess.

Doing mainstream talk radio, I had a chance to meet others who had done it. Pundits who ran out of things to say within 10 minutes of filling in on a show as a host. Sports broadcasters who realized they didn't have anything to say without sports in front of them. Politicians who were quickly exposed as having no basis for any opinions. Professors with nothing whatsoever to offer outside of their limited field.

What's more: try doing it as a believer. Be entertaining, funny, insightful, play a role, be a friend, be relevant, know what's going on, relate to the listener, don't be stuffy or preachy, and be theologially sophisticated...

...do it for 1/3rd of the paying commercial rate.

Gee, why isn't radio better?

It's cool to hear "Why I don't like this station," etc., and I could add to the list. But is anyone actually proposing a positive model?

One that's defined in positive terms, not "It's not"'s. "It's not money-motivated" or "It's not motivated by ratings" (curious goal, that) or "It doesn't play crappy music."

Shaun -- I remember sending you and Brian, a year ago, through Brian, an honest email question:

"If you guys had a radio signal, and wanted to relate Christ to as many people as possible in a relevant way, what would that station sound like?"

I didn't get a response, which is totally okay. But I really meant it, and still mean it. And I'd LOVE to get input from creatives who aren't all about "Play my style music" or "Don't do this or that."

I love thinking about it. It's such a cool medium. I'm constantly re-thinking what I just said, or trying to put some new ideas into practice in my own approach, trying, hard, to be more real, entertaining, challenging, bracingly honest, self-deprecating about Christian media, etc.

But radio is HARD, man. Or, I should say, it's like teaching: Super-easy to be lame at it. Terribly, terribly hard to be great at it. And to be -- DAILY, for HOURS -- real, relevant, honest, challenging, responsible, mature theologically, artistic, creative, funny, not-preachy, knowledgeable, pop-culturally relevant...you're asking for great, my friend.

I volunteer to preach anytime at my church, because compared to prepping for radio, well...

We're not even asking broadcasters here not to be EQUAL to their "secular" (hate that word) counterparts -- we're asking for a skill set that frankly, almost no one has. At a discount.

Brant

8/17/2005  
Anonymous WAY Employee said...

^Amen.

(yes... comment #48... if I time it right and someone comments below me, maybe I can be #50. A lifelong goal of mine!)

8/17/2005  
Anonymous WAY Employee said...

Ooops, apparently the numbering got off, because now this post is #50.

Shaun,

Sorry about the pointless comment right here. I just had to be 50...

8/17/2005  
Anonymous nancy tyler said...

HA! I was looking for the opportunity for you all to catch your breath so this slower mind and slower typist could slip into the conversation. :)

Brant and WAY employee, this 30-something year old white female who's not quite Becky is enjoying and learning from your posts SO much. Thank you.

Radio IS stinking hard, when you want to do it well. And I can tell that's where your hearts are.

I think the best element in Christian radio these days is what occurs during the breaks between songs...between promos and sweepers and commercials.

Listening to air checks at GMA this year, I felt so encouraged by what I was hearing...lots of examples of air folks genuinely connecting with and ministering to listeners. GOOD RADIO.

I do what I joke is the world's second smallest Christian radio show. It WAS the smallest until a listener decided he wanted to start his own show so we got him trained and spun him off a few months ago.

The show I do is just once a week, on a secular, nonprofit, free-form station in the Washington DC suburbs and online. The station operates very much like an NPR affiliate. I am very aware that in radio, I am the least of the brethren. I’ve gotten brushed aside more than once at GMA when someone figured out that I didn’t earn my living on the air. That’s ok though. There were plenty of other nice people there.

I started my little show because I spent my teenage years listening to a show in the Philadelphia market that I have spent my adult years missing. And I know it’s something that couldn’t exist today on a Christian radio station. The jock back then (no ‘air personalities’ in those days!) was given the freedom to play what he wanted, and he used that opportunity to choose the music each day based on what he understood God to be directing him to share about with his listeners. He knew those listeners not by what a consultant told him about them, but by interacting with them as often as he could. And like that good radio that I heard at GMA and that you do, he was free to talk and to pray. And he was free to bring listeners into the station to talk about what God was doing in their lives.

Sometimes, I was that listener in the studio with him. And my time learning from my friend, who was sensitive to the Spirit, knew his audience and had the freedom to select the latest single or that third cut on an old album to minister to his audience, was one of the biggest influences in my young Christian life.

When I was away at college, emulating his show on my school station, my friend's station changed hands, and you know too well what happens to air folk when a station is sold and the format is tweaked. When he left, that moment in Philadelphia radio left with him. I never found that anywhere else, so after all these years I decided to try it myself. And praise God, the listener feedback from around the country has been positive, even though a lot of the music and topics I choose are not.

I’d like to figure out a way to try to grow what I’m doing if it would please God. But I’m not aiming for a fulltime career at a station. I know what you guys deal with—the instability, the way too low pay, the time and creativity it takes to prep a daily show properly. I respect what you do and I admire you for caring enough to do it well. I wish you career on-air folks had more freedom to choose your music though; you’d probably choose stuff that would make me and a huge potential listenership out on the fringes of the Christian subculture tune in to Christian radio more. But I guess as long as Christian radio and as long as artists too are tied to the market and to consultants, there isn’t real freedom for either of you—not the kind that Brant’s musicmaking web designer and mailmen friends have to create and communicate without having to please anyone but God and the people they’re playing for.

I’m interested in your question Brant, of what somebody would do--Shaun, Brian, anybody--if they had their own station or at least their own show. For those reading this who have a radio show now, how would what you do be different if you were free from station brass and imaging, from advertisers, from donors and underwriters, and from consultants? What are your experience, your listeners, your gut and the Spirit telling you? Please teach me. I am so eager to learn from you all.


nancy

8/18/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A girl comes on the playground and all the boys leave?

8/19/2005  
Anonymous Mediocre Label said...

I have been keeping tabs on this and its a slow day in the record label so I am jumping in. While I have a lot to say about the art thing, I am going to take it as is on this blog and go from there. Also, I am going to throw in a business perspective that doesn't totally match up to my actual opinion but is a valid perspective nonetheless.

Working for a "big producer of mediocrity" as we in nashville are so-called, is an experience all to itself. You daily walk a fine-line of needing to make money but wanting to support your artists.

Alot of business decisions are made to keep our long-term bad music making friends around because even their bad albums sell more than a great singer/songwriter/artist. You hope to have enough "pop" to support the "art" and that my friends is a difficult thing to do in Christian music because if you spend a lot on an artist who fails, you have a substantially smaller margin for error and you don't have a Madonna(or insert long-running, big-money generating artist here) to carry you through that loss.

Radio certainly shields themselves from fault via testing but ultimately their "ministry" comes down to selling advertising or "finding partners" as our non-commercial station friends like to call it. They play the songs that get the best response and get people to give or get people to listen. Jack-FM is the most popular format of station that is sweeping across the US. Jack pretends to play what songs they want, but really they play the highest rated radio songs of all time and people like that.

Call it art or call it pop. Sometimes we should just call it entertainment, and people pay for that.

Shaun, your comments about what people like and dislike across a generational line certainly affect what radio plays. Ultimately, christian radio is satisfying an older female audience who were teens when pearl jam was big and they are now in their 30's and like the baritone rocker in what we others hate. Thus the success of Camp, Casting Crowns, Building 429 and others.

8/19/2005  
Blogger Brent said...

I've just posted some thoughts on the "Christian" music industry at www.colossiansthreesixteen.blogspot.com and I'd love feedback.

Thanks;

Brent

8/25/2005  

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