Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Arthor: Scott Hawk
So you say you want a revolution? Scott Hawk does. In his new book, _Revolution_, he says that the Christian music industry is primed for one, and he even offers a plan to turn the CCM industry on its ear and bring about reforms. And while Hawk seems to have hit the nail on the head in identifying core problems within the industry, the pessimist in me isn't convinced that his answers are all that feasible.
Hawk is a veteran of mainstream and Christian radio. During the time that he worked in Christian music radio, Hawk was exposed to all of the antics of the CCM promotional machine, which eventually drove him back to the greener pastures of mainstream radio. The whole experience left a bad taste in his mouth and has resulted in this very insightful and constructive book, one in which he states that the Christian music industry shouldn't even exist as its own industry. I'm not sure I would go that far, but he makes some rather powerful arguments.
As Hawk sees it, and as many others have argued before him, despite appearances, the CCM business is precisely that: a business. Not a ministry. In other words, Christian labels and musicians are in the business to make money. It's not some sort of non-profit, part-time ministry. For the musicians and labels it is their full-time, for profit, vocation. Ministry isn't profitable. Hawk is quick to point out that some ministry often does occur as the result of the efforts of these musicians, but that is the exception to the rule. The large majority of artists don't donate their time or ask for free-will offerings. A typical Christian concert involves big bucks, major technical specifications, complex contract stipulations, and of course rather high ticket prices. Not to mention the fact that most of the major Christian music labels are now owned by even larger non-Christian conglomerates, such as AOL/TimeWarner and EMI.
To further complicate this, Christian consumers tend to lack discernment. If something comes to us packaged under the banner of "Christian music" or if it is sold in a Christian book store, we accept it at face value and assume it is "good." (Because, you know, a "Christian" beach ball is better than your run-of-the-mill beach ball!)
For Hawk, recognizing that the CCM industry is a business and not a ministry is the first step in bringing about change. The second step in his treatise is to recognize a diversity of beliefs and experiences within the Christian music community. Not every song has to be about Jesus, and not every musician leads the perfect, happy, pasty-faced, smiley life. These musicians are human, and by nature, they have sin in their lives. Hawk provides a number of other steps designed to get the reader to think more realistically about what the industry is and isn't. He even looks at how the industry shamelessly (or should that be shamefully) mimics what is popular in the "secular" world in order to offer a "positive alternative." Unfortunately the alternative very often pales in comparison in terms of artistic and creative quality and integrity.
Up to this point, Hawk seems to have hit the nail on the head. But it is his response to the problem that leaves me wanting. It's not that he necessarily presents faulty answers, but I find myself shaking my head and saying, "That will never happen!"
What he calls for, first and foremost, is a consumer revolt. Hawk believes that once listeners of CCM have a firm and realistic grasp on what the industry is about, they will begin to vote and make a statement with their wallets. If we continue to buy everything the industry throws at us, then we are merely perpetuating the problem. But if we begin to be more discerning of what we buy, then sales will drop, and the industry will have to sit up and listen. In other words, the consumers become the agents of change. And it is with this point I have serious reservations. Over the past few years more and more Christian music listeners have moved in the direction Hawk is proposing (myself among them). These listeners are making more thoughtful decisions about what they choose to consume aurally, but despite that, sales of traditional CCM product continue to soar. And while I consider readers of the _Phantom Tollbooth_ a cut above the rest, I'm afraid I'm of the opinion that most consumers of CCM are sheep. To paraphrase _Field of Dreams,_ "If you record it, they will come." Most listeners have blinders on and no amount of reasoning will change their minds. They WANT to think of their favorite artists as "ministers" and they WANT to think of music as "positive alternatives." There is a wide gap between reality and perception that I'm afraid will never be bridged. For example, many Christian music fans listen exclusively to Christian music and would never think of buying a "secular" album, this despite the fact that most Christian artists I've talked to, listen almost exclusively to secular music and rarely listen to any CCM. And again, most consumers of Christian music are of the "don't drink, don't smoke" school of thought (as am I), but would be surprised to find out how many of their favorite artists actually drink, smoke, or more. But the industry is set up to shield listeners from such knowledge. While the marital woes and divorces of artists like Amy Grant, Sandy Patty, and Michael English were front-page news, for each one of them there are dozens of other musicians dealing with the same issues, but it is brushed under the carpet. We don't want our artists to be human. We want near-perfect, always-smiling role models.
Hawks second source of the revolution is the artists themselves. I'm slightly more optimistic here as he calls on artists to think for themselves and set their sights high, and there already seems to be some movement in that direction. Hawk says that most Christian musicians would prefer to be out in the real world, not confined by the limits of their own industry. But if that is the case, these artists should start in the mainstream, rather than use CCM as a stepping-stone, which quite often seems like the easy way out. If more of these artists lived their Christian lives and did their music to the best of their ability, in the world but not of it, they could have a much greater impact, rather than just preaching to the choir. Hawk believes that if artists stand-up for what they believe, and bypass the CCM industry, the labels again will have to listen.
This is Hawk's two-pronged attack, and despite my misgivings, I think he's on the right track. In fewer than fifty pages he succinctly evaluates the problem and offers some solutions. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong, and if enough people read this book and pass it on, discuss and debate it, more of us will be moved to some sort of action.
Just as a footnote, here is my personal list of books I think all Christians interested in music and the arts should be reading:
At the Crossroads
- by Charlie Peacock
Ken Mueller 11/18/2002