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3/07/2006

BAND SUES OVER BEING CALLED "CHRISTIAN"

From Reuters: Rock act Mute Math is so frustrated at being branded a Christian band by Warner Music Group's Christian outlet Word Records, it has taken matters into its own hands, self-releasing its debut album Feb. 1.

And last September, Billboard has learned, Teleprompt Records -- a label co-founded by Mute Math keyboardist Paul Meany -- filed suit against Warner Bros. Records and Word.

The suit is for breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation, and seeks punitive damages. Warner, however, might be somewhat pardoned for the marketing approach.

Mute Math was formed by Meany, formerly of the unabashedly Christian act Earthsuit. Mute Math claims to have sold about 10,000 copies of its debut CD in one month, relying on word-of-mouth among its largely Christian fan base. The album followed an EP -- released by Word Records -- that sold nearly 30,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with the bulk of sales coming from the Christian market. The act's buzz began when it played a string of Christian festivals last summer. And in October and November, the act supported fellow Christian band Mae.

All of which would be just fine, but for one nagging detail: Mute Math does not consider itself a Christian act.

Meany says he never wanted an EP to come out on Word, a well-known Christian brand. "It was just assumed that because that's where I once was, that was where I was always going to be," he says. "I had no desire to be the Christian version of a real band."

Read more here.

Which begs the questions: Has Mute Math read 1 Corinthians 6? How is "Christian band" defined and by whom? And should the label "Christian" even exist?

16 Comments:

Anonymous Loren said...

It would be interesting polling artists of all generes...if 42% of america is Christian, I bet around the same percentage of all recording artists are as well.

Isn't it funny that it seems the only religious goup to have a major music genere is christian.

I haven't heard much LDS or Islamic artists (does Donny Osmond count?)

3/07/2006  
Anonymous Lane said...

I think it has a lot to do with our fractured view of religion and state. In other countries, India, for example, there are quite a few popular artists who play music based on Hindu themes. The same is true in several Islamic countries as well.

In the U.S., however, at some point, we Christians decided to create our own sub culture around our Christianity, empowered by our American value system of individuality. Right or wrong? Not for me to decide. Just different.

3/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good point, Lane. Never thought it from that angle before.

SG

3/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Islam teaches not to exalt the individual. Cat Stevens, now going by his Islamic name, dropped out of music for a long while before tiptoeing back in with a philanthropic Islamic children's record because of this very fact. He said he no longer believed he should do anything to promote himself or his music. Fame is the enemy of devotion to Allah...basically.

All that to say it makes sense that there aren't many, if any, Islamic professional musicians. (Side note, Western culture was for a long time the only culture to exalt musicians to "professional" status. Such a distinction was silly in places like India and Uganda until those nations became Westernized - wow, that emphasis in Music of World Cultures in college DID come in handy.)

Keep the thoughts coming. Making me think.

SG

3/07/2006  
Blogger Paula said...

Paul Meany mentioned on their blog that they have never desired to be marketed as a "christian" band - even if that is what they are. I think from their perspective, they are Christians who play music, and that music is not specifically targeted at a Christian audience. I think that's a fair comment. (But then, my point is still - God gave you the gift, who are you choosing to glorify with it?)

Paul also mentioned that he was confused by also being included on the Curb label, which is apparently a country music label - which they most definitely are not!

Still, I love their music :)

3/07/2006  
Anonymous Mia Kim said...

Hello everyone- great discussion. I'm a new shlogger, have great respect for Shaun every since your 'how much money I really make' disclosure on Cmcentral and for your quest for integrity and just living life each day the best you can...

As for Mute Math, I need to say that I identify with their desire not to be labeled and have been very watchful about what God is doing with many bands, i.e. switchfoot, mutemath, mae, sufjan, rosie thomas, eisley etc. All these musicians have publically identified themselves as believers in Christ, but whether you agree or not, feel led in one way or another NOT to literally or openly proclaim their faith and prostelize through their MUSIC specifically.

Four years ago, I found myself at
Seminar in the Rockies sponsored by the GMA and boy was I completely and totally out of place. After the seminar, I STRONGLY felt God was calling me to sing outside of the church, as well as to the church and that is why I was gifted with a certain style of music and lyrics and heart. What I'm seeing leads me to believe that some of us are called to minister directly to the church, some to both, and some directly to non christians. Now there's the whole issue of how one lives as a light to non Christians, which is a whole different debate.

I think with Mute Math, whom I must admit I love as a band, this issue was more with Warner when they signed their distrib/development deal, it was with Warner and not with Word and it was signed with the understanding that Mute Math would be marketed a certain way and to the mainstream audience. It was a contractual agreement. When Warner found out that the members were Christian, they immediately saw easy marketing and easy sales and handed them over to Word. Also I think the article from AOL is a bit misleading, they may have been fighting to get their master back for the new LP and/or duplication distribution rights to distribute the album according to their vision and if the contract they originally signed was with that understanding, then indeed Warners was in breach of contract.

I have a strong vision for my music and I beleive that Mute Math does as well and that being on Word was not part of that vision. My style of music allows me to play in all sorts of venues, not just the church and I truly do believe that I have been called to reach seekers of Christ. Yet, I was once told by a Pastor who was intersted in booking me after I explained my approach that my style of music ministry was "sending people directly to hell". Needless to say, I didn't do that gig, but his comment also got me thinking and watching about this whole issue of "Christians who do music and desire not be called Christian musicians". I don't want to start a debate about these hot topics, rather I'm just humbly suggesting that people leave their hearts open to how God may work in the world, even though we may not see it obviously, and not judge before personally knowing the intentions and hearts of people.

Just my four cents.

God bless all, and may God continue to heal your heart Shaun and strengthen you for where you are to shine next!

In Christ,

Mia

3/07/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

im trying to figure out what a "Christian version of a real band" means

help me out here.

3/07/2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

Just to set the record straight:

Curb Records is NOT a country music label. While Mike Curb has signed many country artists, he has also signed people like Natalie Grant, Selah, Plumb, Fernando Ortega, etc.

3/07/2006  
Blogger holyteach said...

Hey all,

Been following Mute Math since their EP and had been waiting for the followup CD. And waiting. And waiting.

I think I understand their frustration. For decades, Christian music has been an artificial market. That is, tons of bands (dare I say "most") were on a Christian label because 1) they were Christians, singing about Christian topics, and 2) because they weren't good enough to get signed to a non-Christian label.

Would Stryper have "made it" if there hadn't been so many Christians who were desperate to buy something that didn't sound like Sandi Patty? My guess is no.

That's less the case now, but I think what Meany is trying to say is "We don't want people to buy our albums because we're 'Christian'. We want them to buy us because we're good and because they like the sound. By marketing us on a Christian label, you make that much harder."

I think the guys, since they'd signed with Warner, were expecting to be marketed and sold as a regular Warner artist. When it was discovered that Mute Math was going to be sold under Word only, it was a bit of a let down. The band heard "Well, you're not good enough for our real label, but we'll let your stuff sit on the 'Christian' section (half a rack at Best Buy)."

Mute Math wanted to either be a regular Warner artist or to be let out of their contract so they could shop around to find a different label that'd promote them as-is. And the label wouldn't budge, saying (in effect): either go out on Word or we'll bury the album and no one will hear it.

So Mute Math took it on the road. I've got a copy, and I have many students who'd buy it if it were in the stores. However, they probably wouldn't buy it if it were only in the Christian section.

So, I must say I sympathize.

A caveat: Shaun I know you're called to preach/sing primarily to the body. You are (or were?) on a Christian label because you needed to be, not because you had to be.

This is entirely different from Mute Math, who feel like they're being told, "We're putting your stuff on Word because only Christians would buy it."

I'll also point out that the one Earthsuit show I caught was probably among the top 5 best rock and roll shows I've ever seen live. Notice I didn't say "among the top 5 best Christian bands I've ever seen live".

Just my two cents, too.

3/07/2006  
Blogger gb said...

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3/07/2006  
Blogger Hale-Yeah! said...

Yeah, I don't really believe in Christian music. I think it reinforces the Christian Bubble that we already live in.

I am all for Worship Music. That is for the church to praise God. I get that and it's purpose. But, if you're trying to be out there as a ministry to the world, it would probably be better to not be labeled as Christian.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of groups that sound just like the world, but are selling records merely because they are "Christian Artists".
I know that for artists like you, Shaun, and the whole Square Peg gang that this leaves a weird hole in the system. If I had it my way, you guys would be on the radio, all day. That's why I just buy the CDs and make my own playlists of awesome artists.

3/08/2006  
Anonymous Mark said...

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/104/22.0.html

3/13/2006  
Anonymous mj said...

I've been catching up with your posts today, emailing a few, and had to blog this one myself: xanga.com/megrje Weird how relevant it was.

3/18/2006  
Anonymous Duke said...

all4Him,
I do not believe we as followers of Christ have the ability to seperate our "vocation" from our faith. Whatever "vocation" you are in you are there for God's glory. If you are a doctor or fast food worker you are to use that employment as ministry. Our jobs are our mission field. I believe "Christian " musicians are music ministers. I am sorry and maybe wrong but I have a tough time with bands like MuteMath and even Switchfoot who cross over and remove the Gospel message from their lyrics. Inspirational is not christian. Salvation doesn't come from a positive message, it comes from sharing the love of Christ with the lost.
Christians so want to be accepted by the world we are no longer wanting to be viewed as different.

4/23/2006  
Anonymous Christians or so mean to eachother sometimes. We can't love oursolves, so why would someone want it said...

You know I don't think it's an issue of christianity. For those outside of the "Christian bubble", one would know that when the word "Christian" is tagged to something, those who do not know Christ usually stray away. MuteMath doesn't want to be tagged as a "Christian" band, they just want to be a band that if freaking awesome with talented Christians in it. People throw out evangelism but evangelism also happens through personal friendships and trust not always through music that is throwing Christ in your face. I think if people are like "wow MuteMath is cool, why are they so popular, yet so different". I can relate to MuteMath. I don't necesarrily agree with suing someone but they want to be a band that touches many lives and changes people. Look at U2. Not a Christian band but an unbelievable message. Stop judging and enjoy the rock because it is phenominal and the guys are playing their hearts out for God.

Peace Out.

5/05/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally, started listening to Mute Math with the understanding that they were a Christian Band. Now I'm reading this, and it's all very complicated. My take on this is, I get their lyrics. I've read the lyrics as well as listened to the unique and awesome sound they have, and I gotta say, it blesses me. I think it's great that the message of God's love is being taken into the world. It may not be in the way that everyone in the Christian community approves of, but don't you think that God can take whatever intentions may be underlying and turn things around in a way that will still glorify Him?? Just another thought thrown into the melting pot of ideas.

10/02/2006  

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