No, Contemporary Christian Music isn't to blame. But the encroachment of the genre into gospel music is (partly), not at the hands of the CCM industry itself. Countless artists have chosen to emulate the CCM sound and package it to gospel audiences, which just doesn't work. In 2014 we dealt with the disparity between gospel and CCM audiences and industry. We determined that major factors were: 1) Money (which fueled the divide) and 2) Racial disparity (yes it exists in church). Here's an op-ed for your consideration.
Alright, I've been silent on this for long enough. I was at a listening party for an artist the other day and about two songs in we got the Nashville spill...you know, BIG! CCM! As we listened I had a single question...WHY? I looked around the room and there were no CCM radio station reps, no CCM music journalists...none. That artist has built a great bridge between both audiences so for them it's safe. In fact the list of mainstream artists who can do it, doesn't exist. You'd lose money hiring people to compile a list. So, why are we listening to CCM music from a gospel artist? Most of the CCM styled singles don't fare well on gospel radio, the same way gospel singles do poorly on CCM stations.
When Hezekiah Walker released "Every Praise" we loved it. It's singable and we could stop there. But, that vamp...it sounds eerily familiar. Naw, we knew exactly what it was. It was a motif from "Faithfully" by Journey. But, you'd have to be a Journey fan or casual fan of light rock to notice. In fact, the music of the song is a light rock smorgasbord. The music is set to The Police hit: "Every Step You Take". It was a great addition to the song and props to J. David Bratton for penning the global smash. The song was a crossover hit, much like many of Kirk Franklin's songs and Mary Mary's "Shackles" which still finds a place on CCM playlists. Songs like: "You Made a Way" by Travis Greene seem like viable candidates for crossover consideration but may never happen.
Labels just don't know how to do it, because they simply get stuff wrong. All the time, they get stuff wrong, like smooth jazz. What is that? Jazz musicians hate it and other genres don't have the patience to to hear their a 'solo' of their favorite song. Unless you're in an elevator, or as a background music in a movie or commercial.
So, why are gospel artists continuing to appeal to the CCM audience within the genre? Sounds crazy, doesn't it. Well, it is. The gospel audience is very different from the CCM audience, night and day literally. Artists have changed arrangement, instrumentation and much more to appeal to CCM because let's face it, they sell better over there. As if more concerts are going to pop up because your song pattern is I-vi-IV-V (1, 6,4, 5 chords)? But why? Have you ever thought about that? I mean, the Hammond organ is just an ornament at some of these recordings.
You don't hear an organ on a ballad unless there's a break with a hymn. Good thing, R&B and country (yep, country) music still know what to do with it. Did you see Jerome Harmon rock whip that Hammond on the Country Music Awards? Everybody was talking about it the next day.
Organ progressed to be the featured instrument in gospel music and was part of the signature sound for years. Same for guitar in CCM (akin to rock and country music). Now whichever piano patch everybody is using on the Motif or Nord, or Ableton Live is the go-to sound for MD's and producers these days. Over in CCM, they pad...pad, man!
It has very little to do with actual music and everything to do with community. Yep, I said it. It's in the fabric of the CCM community to buy their own music. More than that, most CCM listeners have similar interests all the way down to political affiliations. Their church support system is also much stronger than that of gospel music. For instance, a concert at a church may be free and the artist will be paid on time in almost each case. Plus, the artists don't mind doing free concerts. Another plus on the CCM side is that the artists are actually promoting Jesus.
You mean to tell me gospel artists aren't promoting Jesus all the time? Not everybody, but you can tell. We've made it so much about business over here in gospel because that's the directive coming down from the top. Sell or get sold! How many major labels are there NOT under the umbrella of the big three? I'll wait...
Gospel sells but it doesn't make pop numbers nor does it appeal to the pop crowd. The black gospel message is different. We singing about coming up the rough side of the mountain when CCM is singing about the God that made the mountain. We're 'next in line for a miracle and CCM is blessed by its Good, good Father. Get my point...it's another extension of American race relations. Sure is. I hate to say it. Struggle vs. No Struggle. The message in the music mirrors the preaching from the pulpit.
Look at the black people singing CCM. How many gospel collaborations have they been on? Where were they raised? Look at that and you'll see there's a pipeline to either gospel music or CCM. It's perfectly fine, and I'm not making this a complaint about people's upbringing, etc. What I am saying is that you can't fake the funk as a gospel kid in CCM clothing.
Artists, have you reached out to CCM radio stations or journalists for reviews? Do you even know the CCM stations in your market? What about publications like Charisma News? Know them? You'll need to if you want your music to really make a statement in CCM. And that's after your mix matches what they're already used to hearing.
You're gonna need to pray. Ask God where your music belongs. Ask Him about your arrangement. Ask Him who is supposed to hear your music. Ask Him for songs! ASK HIM FOR SONGS!!! Covers are great and I'm sitting on a cover of one of Don Moen's funkiest (yep I said it) tunes. In time, it'll happen. I have a version of "How Great Is Our God" but the way publishing works and the fact that Christ Tomlin isn't the only writer credited on the song has made it another solid reference track!
We don't care to hear your Michael W. Smith cover and the problem you may not realize is that Michael W. Smith fans don't really care YOU cover his song!
So think about that as you create. Who is this music for? If it's CCM, send it to the CCM channels of media. Get into their audience, don't clog up gospel with what can easily be enjoyed as Contemporary Christian Music.
Share your thoughts in the comments section below
In this blog, you will hear from Fred directly about a broad variety of subjects. Though Fred normally expresses his thoughts in his columns, he has created this space to share his most intimate thoughts concerning everyday life!