As a participant in the contemporary Christian music industry for more than 30 years, I agree with Brant Hansen’s thesis in his July 16 Religion essay, “Vapid, sacred, sunnier-than-thou,” that contemporary Christian music is growing in popularity because it overtly gives listeners hope and encouragement. But Mr. Hansen overlooked a reason for the genre’s reputation as “derivative, cliched and over-produced.”
In the 1980s, the golden era of contemporary Christian music, Koinonia (jazz fusion) and Seawind (funk) were considered among the best in their genres. Songwriters and producers were crafting complex and nuanced albums.
But that quality gradually declined. A turning point may have been the late-1980s establishment of Christian Copyright Licensing, which created a reliable and widespread way for contemporary Christian music publishing companies to collect royalties from individual churches performing their writers’ music and to distribute those royalties. For many economically strapped writers and artists, Christian Copyright Licensing was a godsend.
It became a priority of songwriters and artists to make songs that an amateur church musician could perform and the typical evangelical congregant could sing. Songs with complex harmonies, challenging rhythms, wide-ranging melodies and artful lyrics don’t fit that mold. Songs with simple melodies and harmonies, predicable rhythms and cliche-filled lyrics are more likely to be performed in thousands of churches on Sundays, allowing the artist to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.
So does contemporary Christian music meet a need? Certainly. And one of those needs is that the contemporary Christian music songwriter or artist, like everyone else in the music industry, has to make a living.
Jim Fowler, Ashburn