Does Christian music have a future?

Published 06 May 2014  |  
Delirious? dominated the UK Christian music scene prior to disbanding in 2009

Ten years ago Christian bands such as Delirious?, The Tribe, thebandwithnoname, YFriday and Steve were busy touring the UK. Both Christian and non Christian teenagers flocked to festivals such as Grassrootz in the South, The Ultimate Event in the Midlands and Frenzy Festival in Scotland to hear Christian music.

But today none of the aforementioned bands or events exist. While Rend Collective and The Big Church Day Out have helped fill the gap, there are noticeably fewer artists and events being promoted in the UK. Why is this?

Sound engineer Trevor Michael worked on many EPs by new artists who were backed by Christian labels such as Kingsway and ICC in the 1990s and early 2000s. "It was low budget but it was fun and you felt like you were helping someone start off," he says.

Trevor says opportunities for young artists to get their music out "dried up" around the same time Kingsway's Emerge (Vicky Beeching, Ben Cantelon) label shut down and ICC's Elevation (Quench, Supervision) rebranded to cater for more worship-focused releases.

"[The record labels] don't have the money they had years ago and because of that they're not willing to take the risk they might have done...They still do take risks obviously, but if you go back five years, definitely 10 years there was a lot more risks being taken."

Having noticed these changes, Trevor decided to start his own record company to give new artists a helping hand. In 2012 "the home of Alternative Independent Christian Music" - 7Core Music was born.

While Trevor admits the internet has provided other ways for young artists to publicise their music, in his view record labels still have a vital role to play in the future of Christian music – especially when it comes to seeking out and promoting fresh talent. He warns that going it alone without a label to back you can be tough work.

"Having 1,000 Twitter followers or whatever means nothing. Two of those people might buy your CD so don't be fooled into thinking having thousands of followers means you're going to sell thousands of records."

Four-piece rock band Superhero may have survived nearly 15 years in what has been termed the "Christian music industry" (a term that is controversial among some Christians), but frontman Tim Cheshire has strong words for record labels.

"I've always been fairly creative in our dealings with record labels because I think all the deals suck so bad to the point where it's immoral. That's just what I think and I'm happy to talk to anyone about that and go through the details of how that works because they are horrendous. As a Christian community we should be setting up deals for Christian artists who are slogging their guts out trying to do something much fairer. That's just not happening."

The singer is currently embarking on new project Music For Mission which he hopes will revolutionsie the way people buy Christian music (read more here).

Responding to claims that labels are today more reluctant to take risks on young artists, A&R Manager for Integrity Music Chris Lawson Jones argues there are misconceptions about the role of record labels.

"One misconception of what a record company and a publisher does is there is a magic wand that is waved across an artist or piece of music that it suddenly transforms something into something spectacular and global that everyone has suddenly heard of.

"In many cases I wish that were the case and such a thing existed but really our purpose and our role is to really come alongside what people are already doing themselves and doing independently in this day and age."

Chris argues young artists need to "make it difficult for us not to come alongside and support you" by releasing quality music while also remembering that first attempts will rarely be viewed as an artist's definitive work.

"I don't think necessarily musicians, writers and bands when they're starting out are ready for partnership with a larger organisation or label. It may take up to 4 EPs until they're at that point where people like us can partner with them and put an infrastructure and community around them. What I do as an A&R person is to all along offer advice and support...even if it might not be right for us to sign them at that time."

Aren't large churches more likely to have their music supported by record labels simply because of their size? The more people there are, the more CDs will be sold. The more CDs are sold, the more likely a label will get a return on their investment. Is this a consideration when Integrity look to sign new artists?

"That's not a direct consideration. A consideration is...I want to word this constructively...That's not really how we would operate."

But surely large churches provide a platform for up and coming worship leaders in a way smaller churches cannot?

"I agree with that. In the same way that if you're a striker at Manchester United there might be an equally good striker in a team in a different league but because of where you're playing and how many people you're playing in front of every week you're more likely to get called up to England.

"That's a fact of life, but my job is to look for those players in those other teams and say 'how can I be part of this?'. If I recognise God is doing something among people or churches my job is to assess how and if I can partner with them...I'd like to see it as a bit more active and having an imagination about where something could go rather than just being involved in it because it's already somewhere."

Chris's top tip for musicians and writers is to be yourself. "We're not looking for replicas of what is already out there. We're looking for what is happening next. Number one thing is be yourself and write and record music that you truly feel passionate about.

"The music press coined a term 'Landfill Indie' toward the end of the last decade which was the death of everything which had resurged in guitar music in Grunge then Brit Pop through the 90s and guitar bands had ridden the crest of that wave.

"Then that style of music became so saturated in the mainstream that it went away abruptly in 2007/8 and hasn't emerged since. There are serious questions around whether it will ever re-emerge. Therefore for our young people we might be in need of a genuine alternative in terms of style of worship and style of music."

Chris believes the future of Christian music will contain artists and bands making more dance, pop and electronic fuelled music. He can even envisage a time when individual churches will sing songs that vary wildly in genre. "In fact I think it's already starting to happen," he says.

"Our young people are much less tribal in their music consumption and allegiances. Traditionally people would be very into or alive to one style of music and it became quite tribal.

"But the generation coming through have much more of a pick and mix relationship with music. That's just reflecting the culture we live in. God's people always had a relationship with the culture that surrounded them in how they expressed worship. I think it's inevitable that's the way it will develop."

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