The Troubled Future Legacy of Christian Music

Related article: A Classic Christian Music—A list of radio stations, websites, books, and documentaries
This past weekend I had a most amazing concert-going experience in Champaign, Illinois.

I was there seeing two little known aging rock artists. I say little known because the crowd was mostly in their 40's or above, with a few sprinklings of people in their 20's and 30's, as well as a few kids. I also say little known because only around 200-300 people were there, and though the venue was mostly full the two artists who performed have both had sustainable music careers for over 40 years. So...you'd think more than 200-300 people would be there...

And I should also say both of these artists are rock legends who continue to put out music showing they are still at the top of their craft. Well, what was the problem? Why weren't there more people there? The answer is easy: they both are "Christian" artists who put out "Christian" music within the realm of the Christian music industry. The concert I went to featured a doubling billing of Glenn Kaiser playing solo blues and Phil Keaggy playing a rare show with a full band. Most anyone who knows anything about these artists would easily call them "rock legends", most especially Keaggy but I think Kaiser deserves to be up there too. It was the best concert experience I have had in years and it made me a little bit sad.

"Christian"music, you see, has a legacy problem and it manifests itself in two main ways:
1.) there is basically no infrastructure for artists  to go on tour. 
2.) there is basically no infrastructure for artists' music to stay in print or reach a new audience.
Let's break it down a little further. I am deeply concerned about the future legacy of what was once known as "Christian Music" or CCM because: The Christian music industry does not know how to take care of their artists in the latter half of their careers, nor do they have a system in place to ensure their music lives on into future generations. The other side of this coin is there really is not much of a demand for our legacy artists. There were not as many fans to begin with (due to the "ghetto" nature of CCM), and fans of CCM artists do not tend to remain as ardently faithful as fans of "secular" music. Basically, it is up to diehard fans to keep their memory alive in the public consciousness. So, while Kaiser and Keaggy's "Christian" label and the Christian oriented music they make is not a problem for me, in many ways I do not think it has done their careers any favors towards getting them mass appeal. 

Please do not hear me wrong: I know they are both artists living for the glory of God and are not seeking the praises of men or to bring glory to themselves. I am not concerned that their music makes them insanely rich either. Instead, my only goal is to get their music heard by as many people as possible and to get them remembered. Why? Because it is world class music. Because it is just that good and could bring joy to people for years to come. Like I said, both these artists are at the top of their field. They make music within the confines and structures of certain genres (rock/blues/gospel/folk and sometimes jazz), but they are both as skilled as anybody out there. Think of the most renowned rock and blues guitarists of the last 50 years. If you know anything about Keaggy and Kaiser's music, tell me why they should not be included among the great artists of our era. And if you do not know their music but you know something about the above genres, go acquaint yourself with their music and come up with an opinion on where they stand in the echelon of world class musicians. 

Before I go any further I want to personally thank Faith United Methodist Church of Champaign. I do not know how you arranged it, but thank you, thank you, thank you for putting this event together. It was special. It was transcendent. It was a wonder and a joy.

However, allow me to tackle the first problem mentioned above, that of the touring an concert infrastructure for CCM, by making a comparison: next week my in-laws are going to see the Moody Blues in concert in Rockford at the beautiful Coronado Performing Arts Center, which seats 2,400 people. With all due respect to the Moody Blues, Phil Keaggy and Glenn Kaiser have continually put out more and better music than them. Of course our experience of art is subjective, so let me simply say Keaggy and Kaiser equally deserve to be packing out the Coronado and other similar venues around the country just like the Moody Blues.

Nonetheless, because it makes economical sense, Keaggy and Kaiser mostly travel around as solo acts these days, playing in front of moderate crowds of 50 to a couple of hundred people. There is an assumption that fans are nostalgic and love to re-live the glories of their music pasts, but there really is not all that much of a demand for the legends of "Christian Music." The demand is moderately ho-hum at best.

I am so grateful churches can offer something of an infrastructure as built-in concert halls and that most churches contain middle aged pastors who always find ways to bring in the favorite artists of their youth. I do not know what kind of extra fee they had to pay or how much convincing they had to do, but it was wonderful they got Keaggy to put together a full band for the concert (featuring Mike Pachelli). Every member was top notch and they did something rare by playing nearly all of Keaggy's latest album All at Once during the concert. Kaiser offers a similarly unique concert experience, drawing on classic blues played on eclectic homemade guitars, like the one in the picture to the right. Both artists are whizzes at their instruments, both have a deep knowledge of music history, and both are still able to hit the high notes. In other words, a mid-size midwestern church curated a unique musical event that only a few hundred people showed up to. As ecstatic as I am about the whole thing, it bums me out thinking about how rare the event was. Again, Keaggy and Kaiser do not need the glory, but I certainly want as many people to hear and revere their music as possible.

In between one of his songs Keaggy mentioned his current band came together two weeks ago, played a show in New Jersey, played one song at GMA week in Nashville, and then one final show, our concert in Champaign. That's it. That's the tour. That's a cryin' shame, as they say. As someone who cares deeply about the arts and the legacy of artists, I wonder what the story is behind Keaggy's words, especially what he spoke later in the concert when he mentioned Randy Stonehill, how he is still out there touring hard, but also how he lamented that unfortunately older artists like him are still having to get out on the road and tour. Was it the tours themselves that he bemoaned or the kinds of tours he finds himself on? Does he find the lack of support and the lack of economic viability on the road disheartening? In some ways it is probably the only way he still makes a decent income. 

Speaking of income, let's now go to the second problem for the legacy of CCM artists, that of its music going out of print and thus failing to finding its way into the ears of new listeners. Again, I will use a parallel example from the "secular" music world: This year (2016) in honor of the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, Capitol Records has released a remastered version (both mono and stereo) on vinyl. And it is not this album alone. Capitol is in the process of remastering and re-releasing all of The Beach Boys' albums on vinyl. I know, I know, this is THE BEACH BOYS. I get it. But in checking the latest issue of my Music Direct catalogue I find vinyl aficionado versions (on 180 gram vinyl and sometimes higher) of Duane Allman, Big Audio Dynamite, Joe Jackson, and Sting albums. (Sting!). Those are mostly artists I know nothing about (apart from Mr. Sumner). For those of us steeped in CCM history it breaks our hearts to know there have been no vinyl re-issues of Larry Norman, Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Resurrection Band, Petra, Amy Grant, Charlie Peacock, or any of a slew of great CCM artists. Queen, Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, and many other well-deserving artists have gotten the royal re-issue treatment. Myself and people like me have the audacity to think the CCM artists I mentioned above (and many others) are equally deserving. I do not mean to overlook how a number of artists are finding ways to re-issue their work on vinyl and other formats, but these are usually highly specialized events (like The Prayer Chains' Kickstarter) with limited pressing numbers, and are geared to the highly committed and highly aware fan.

A couple of years ago, I posted the article "When Will the Christian Music Industry Get Its Act Together?" to PostConsumer Reports, wherein I suggested that whatever is left of the CCM record labels, they should figure out a way to re-expose and re-saturate the "classic" CCM artists and albums by creating high quality Youtube channels featuring classic artist videos, promoting the digital sales and streaming of classic artists, and then re-issuing or doing a first issue of albums on vinyl. This was around the time SMXL Vinyl announced they were going to put DC Talk's Jesus Freak and Supernatural on vinyl for the first time (You can listen to my interview with the general manager of SMXL here). I am not exactly sure how successful that was, but after I posted my article I got some immediate pushback: Hey man, I appreciate you caring, but the fact of the matter is there's just not that big of a market for Christian music to be put out on vinyl. Most of the time any record company who re-releases an old album will probably end up losing money. The risk isn't worth it.

In other words, my dreams were bigger than reality.

Here is something interesting I discovered at the Keaggy and Kaiser concert: their merch table included a decent amount of older Keaggy albums on CD and Kaiser was selling a nicely done greatest hits package of the Resurrection Band. None of these albums were put out by the original record label. Keaggy's Strobie Records and Kaiser's GRRR Records were the labels. This means that somewhere along the line both these artists had to buy their back catalogue from either a record company that was going out of business or a record company that no longer had any interest in promoting or even holding onto their music. These artists had to take control of their legacy and attempt to figure out a way to get their music into the hands of fans again. But what about when these artists pass on? Who will curate their works then? If you think about it hard enough, I think you'll find the answer is...no one. 

In the early 2000's I heard Charlie Peacock give an address about the state of CCM, wherein he declared Christian music had a looming crisis on its hands, because there were multitudes of records and artists that would soon fall out of print and that we would lose a whole generation of work. At the time I had no idea what he meant. It didn't seem possible and I didn't fully understand how the industry worked. I now know he was seeing the writing on the wall.

I have no rose-colored glasses when it comes to the preservation of art. I tend to think most everything will be forgotten, along with entirety of our own lives. We will all soon be a distant memory in the minds of our offspring, no matter how many pictures or videos we take of ourselves. It may not seem like it, but 70 years is not all that long in the scope of creation and eternity. 

I have a beautiful collection of British Literature anthologies sitting on my shelf, within which every single author has been carefully selected as someone who's work is worth remembering. And yet, a vast majority of those artists will never be read by more than a few people. We don't read Christopher Marlowe because we have Shakespeare. We don't read George W.M. Reynolds because we have Charles Dickens. Or to give an American Lit. example, everybody knows about Moby Dick but hardly anyone has actually read it. So, I know full well artists like Keaggy and Kaiser stand hardly any chance of being remembered at all, let alone as great artists, when it is much easier to remember Hendrix, Page, Clapton, or Stevie Ray Vaughn (As an aside, here's something that will make Keaggy fans weep: type World's best guitarists into Google and then scroll through the pictures at the top of the page. Keaggy is nowhere on the list). But I would hope that we can at least give them a fighting chance, an opportunity to take their place in the pantheon of the greats by: 
—Getting them better gigs. 
—Getting them invited to the big festivals. 
—Taking a risk and get their albums remastered on vinyl or do marketing campaigns to push digital sales and the streaming of their music. 

Otherwise, 50 years from now, all of the music we held so dear might as well not even have existed at all.

Next article: A Classic Christian Music—A list of radio stations, websites, books, and documentaries

Related Articles:
Grandpa Rock Review: Paul Simon and Phil Keaggy
Why I Cringe Everytime Someone Says "I Hate Christian Music"
When Will the Christian Music Industry Get Its Act Together?
The Christian Music Supergroup
Rich Mullins Was Weird, But He Was Also So Good Christian Radio Had To Play Him

For an ongoing look into the legacy of Rich Mullins as well as how to keep his music alive, check out the Between the Songs Podcast.


Unknown said...

Back in the 80's and 90's many artists came to my country The Netherlands. We had a yearly Flevofestival with 3 days concerts on mainstage and some 20-25 artists performing and 10,000 fans on the campinggrounds that attended all the activities.
Now in 2016 we don't have that... and yearly some 10 artists come over to visit faraway The Netherlands. We had some 150 local radiostations with CCM and now some 30....
The times are changing and Christian Music has lost its impact somehow.
Worship mostly sounds the same and hitradio also....
God is still working... but the musicindustry is missing out....

Vincent Allen said...

It has not been two years, since Andrae Crouch passed away. It feels like it's been longer, as there are no ongoing conversations or tributes to him, as there are with popular secular artists. Even those who possibly made only one great album are paid homage, long after their deaths. Interest in their music "explodes" and their net worth increases to more than it was while they were alive. Not so with CCM artists. I expected the numbers of my internet radio show to increase, after Andrae was gone. They remained stagnant. I've always felt that music from the Jesus Movement was monumental, life changing, and testimonial- plus a lot of it was, musically, pretty darn good! Unfortunately, it's just been a mere commodity in the music business.

Scott Bachmann said...

Great post, Chris. You're preachin' to the choir. I write a blog dedicated to honoring and remembering the best CCM albums of the 1970s.


I started it precisely because of this issue that you've raised. I wanted to create a place where the history could be kept alive...one more place on the internet where these great albums are celebrated...where people can remember what God did through these recordings. I was a host and producer of a Christian rock radio show that aired on a secular, classic rock station for 15 years. My brother and I have brought Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Terry Clark, the 77s, Steve Archer and the Choir to our town in recent years for concerts here in SC. If it's part of a regular church service, you'll get the regular crowd. But if it's a stand-alone concert, we do well to get 50 people to show up. It is sad, sickening and maddening all at the same time. I don't have any answers; I share your frustration.

I do have one dream or vision, but I don't know how to make it happen. I'd love to see an annual weekend gathering of artists and those who appreciate their music and ministries -- a chance for the artists to play their songs, sell their wares, tell us the stories behind the songs, and also to fellowship with each other and with us. Maybe at a nice hotel in a major city, somewhere in the middle of the country to make it accessible to a larger number of people. But it would require financial backers and a team of marketing-savvy people to spread the word, book the artists, sell sponsorships, take care of logistics. That wouldn't solve the problem of their music being out of print, but it would at least be a time for them to feel appreciated and to hear first-hand testimonies from people who've been blessed by their life's work.

Gary Chapman said...

Well said. Sadly, it probably won't light a big enough fire to make much of a difference. I attend a monthly lunch with a bunch of old CCM guys (Phil never misses) and we're all in the same boat. Nobody's whining but its just sad that nobody wants to hear us anymore. We still rock, most of us better than we ever did.
Still, thank you for taking the time to state our case. All His best to you. Gary Chapman

Chuck Stark said...

I love seeing pictures of this gathering! You guys are the music heroes of my youth. The biggest downfall is the extreme decline of CCM radio stations. The big 2, WAY-FM & K Love, have caved to a predominantly worship style of music. I miss the days when radio stations were run by locals and wanted to outreach to the unwashed masses. That just doesn't happen anymore on the radio in big markets.

Anonymous said...

There are some bright spots. Recently attended a sold out Stryper show celebrating 30 years since To hell with the Devil. Maybe some of our other favorites can figure how they are doing it

PostConsumer Reports said...

Gary Chapman!
My family had your music growing up! I'm going to have to look in my mom's music and pull out your album.
Thank you for your words and for commenting.
Also, sometimes I see pictures of your monthly gathering. I'm glad you all are able to get together.

Powerharp said...

It's unfortunate that today's lovers/listeners of traditional CCM are not leaving a broader appreciation for the true pioneers of CCM. You can talk to my daughters age 35 and 37 and they will immediately relate to the music that my wife and I embraced beginning in 1970 and going forward. That's not true for the general population out there. The main thing, however is this is not 1969-70. Things have changed. We have numerous subcultures, each with their own flavor of music and style. The one thing that I pray we will see is a full-on move of God like the Jesus Movement. I pray for a big net and many who will tend to the net and more importantly to the catch.

Unknown said...

the "ghetto" nature of CCM

CCM was hardly "ghetto", more lie POP...

CCM was worth running from for great christian music.

Cornerstone Mag was "ghetto", by all pretenses... CCM was a money making machine, just like the secular industry.

stopped reading.

Scott Talbert said...

Welcome to getting old. Try and find what we considered "oldies" music. I'll wait while you pull up that format that used to do so well. Can you spell gone? The secular groups of the 50s and 60s can not be found on air. They can be found online in a lot of formats. What we call "classic Rock" may have a few outlets and they tend to be pretty selective about what they play out of the 70s or 80s. I love CCM and have been a fan for 30 plus years. If the secular groups of that time are all but gone, or regulated to a song or two on a morning show, how are the grandfathers of CCM going to do. They were blessed enough to live through the arena rock age. Most of today's artist are lucky to play a big venue.
Ok, I know this sounds really negative. What to do? Put our money where our mouths and ears are. Buy new projects. Listen to and support websites that play royalties. Join facebook groups, like the one that I got this link from. Buy some old wax. Store owners will notice. Encourage artist at dates you can get to. Play the music for younger folks. My kids like some of my favorite artist, because I still play loud music in the car. Explore concert promotion with like minded folks you know. Churches may help you. Artist will talk with you if you can make sure they get paid and can sell merch. There is a lot you can do.
Some things you can stop doing. Stop trashing today's CCM. Yep its overloaded with church music because men jumped off with the end of CCM rock and the mommy vans got it and took it to church. The industry survives off this model. Encourage young artist to stretch themselves and support them when you do.
Last idea. If you buy a lot of CCM oldies as a hobby. Makes a good one too. Give your duplicate CDS away. I have made some folks day with a simple gift of old disk I had two of.

Unknown said...

There are some outlets online for classic Christian rock (I happen to run one - Classic Christian Rock Radio). The problem lies within the Christian community. I have found that a large majority of the church community does not listen to Christian music, but listens almost exclusively to secular music. In addition, there is no appreciation for the history and roots of contemporary Christian music and the artists who started it. I keep hoping that some day there will be a movement among the young in the church to discover and appreciate this great music, in somewhat the same way that the youth in Great Britain in the 50's discovered the great blues music here in the U.S. For now, I'm doing the best that I can to keep the music around with my internet radio station. On the weekends, I run Jerry Bryant's Full Circle radio show, I'm running the Rock & Religion radio program from the late 70's/early 80's (thanks to Mike Roe), and I'm also featuring any old interviews that I can dig up here and there as well.

Darren Sombke said...

This article kind of made me sad but hey, it is kind of cool when sharing the old CCM with the high school kids to hear them be really impressed and loving it. I took two boys to see the Choir and Mike Roe in Elgin IL last year. It was a great time and they still listen to them. I listen to Planet Palmer radio http://www.planetpalmerradio.com/listen.html He does a really nice job. What to do about music availability is another challenge. I'm still trying to find some old "Prodigal" on CD. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... they are sure worth considering and taking some action to keep the music around.

Unknown said...

There is something like that in the Audiofeed Festival in Champaign, Illinois, around the July 4th weekend (it picks up where Kaiser's Cornerstone left off.)

Sarah said...

You've assumed that all those vintage CCM artists actually want to keep touring and performing...of course some would but many don't seem to. They've become family men and women, they have careers and obligations. Sometimes there is music-making for a time and then life moves you on to something else.

Sarah said...

Touring and concerts are hard on an aging body and expensive to fund and drag one away from family. There's a reason bands tour in their twenties. 😀

DiscoveredTester said...

They need a separate station that carries the praise and worship only stuff. Now we have Spirit FM here in Virginia having a variety of musical styles and I've heard a lot of over 80 and 90 stuff

DiscoveredTester said...

They need a separate station that carries the praise and worship only stuff. Now we have Spirit FM here in Virginia having a variety of musical styles and I've heard a lot of over 80 and 90 stuff

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for the article. I have realized that people will remember the aging and passed on artists like The Beach Boys, The Beatles, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Led Zepplin, etc for years to come. As us Classic Christian music fans age and our favorite bands pass on I don't think as many of our kids will remember the greats like the artists you mentioned above along with Mylon Lefevre, Whiteheart, Russ Taff, Sweet Comfort Band, Servant, etc. I've been a fan of Classic Christian/Pro-Christian bands with both Christian and non Christian members that are moderate rock/hard rock/heavy metal acts like Angelica, Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Daniel Band, Guardian, Holy Soldier, Joshua, Jerusalem, King Kames, Michael Sweet, Mastedon, John Elefante, Impellitteri, Rob Rock, Driver, Petra, John Schlitt, Magdallan/Madgalen, Rez Band, Ken Tamlpin, Shout, Sacred Warrior, Deliverance, Recon, Worldview, Saint, Whitecross, X-Sinner, Stryper, Theocracy, etc for over 30 years. In the hard rock and metal industry the fan base is shrinking even more. Most of these band members have to hold jobs to supplement their income and rarely tour or don't tour at all. The only bands that I know of that tour or do a few dates a year are Michael Sweet, Rob Rock, John Elefante, John Schlitt, Rex Carroll and Rex Scott. Most of these are only few dates a year with their respective bands or as solo acts.

There are 2 similarities between secular music and Christian music. 1. Since music went digital, there haven't been a model where the record company signed a band to a label, paid the artist an advance and a budget to produce and album, distribute it in a tangible format and tour. Record labels have not come up with a model since music went online and can be pirated. Blackie Lawless (who is now a Christian) of WASP alluded to this in a recent interview. The advances, the producing and the distribution budgets are shrinking. Back in the day, a Christian band was given a budget of $75,000 to produce and album and now that has shrunk to $3000. Artists have to do it themselves with pro-tools and audio tune.

2. Secular music invest big $$$ in young pop top 40 radio oriented artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber and forget the legacy artist like the U2s, Bon Jovis, the Michael Jacksons, and the Def Leppards. As you mentioned above, they are doing the same thing with the Larry Normans, the Phill Keaggys, the Petras, the Strypers, the Glenn Kaisers, etc. Like the secular top 40, CCM has there own top 40 in the from of Nashville mass produced feel good chorus based praise and worship repeat the chorus over and over again. That is where CCM producers invest big $$$. Also, the same 30-40 praise and worship songs are written by a core group of artists and is covered and rerecorded over and over again by about 10 or more different artists. To me, that is not original and it dwarfs original talent and lyrical poetry that used to exist in the 70's, 80's and 90's, example Rez Band Colors - that song is poetry set to music.

You mentioned that they don't repress Classic Christian albums. They do repress on vinyl in small quantities of up to 1000 classic hard rock and metal artists of both older and new and recent releases. However, this is a niche market for die hard collectors. For example, Recon's 1990 album Behind Enemy Lines and the older Servant albums. I find that collecting certain out of print Christian albums on CD and vinyl are near impossible or is way too expensive. Personally, I would love to see more classic Christian music reissued on CD and vinyl. Fortunately, many bands are recording some of their classic work to be more accessable as well.

Ron Diaz said...

I think the industry has changed. Online downloads, purchase of most major CCM labels has stripped away the budgets spent on artist projects and tours. The economy tanked and promoters lost their lifelines, Christian radio struggled. Even major Christian radiobstaions here in Dallas were sold. Also in Dallas we'd see artists like you Gary or Wes King a couple times a year. That doesn't happen very often here with exception of maybe top 3 ccm acts now. I think in the past much ccm was mission based, people working together to make something happen. Now it image, financial based and marketing based. This factors came in before but the gospel was always at the forefront. It's not always so abundant now. The ccmindustry lost their vision. Look at Carman. Like him or not. He filled up reunion arena, on his last tour here and others across America. His label should have seen that as an asset in ministry and financially. They didn't. So many others that really held an audience but the new label heads didn't get it. Years now later even the GMA struggles. I've tossed around the idea of putting in a CCM retrofest here in Dallas but I wonder how many would actually come and how much it would be supported. Blessing.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I kept all my Christian Rock Vinyl LP's recording them now to CD's to give to friends/relatives and now my grandkids. Also CCM Vinyl like those Imperials of the 1970's and 80's... Tommy Gaston aka : Tommy Gee The One Man Band

Bob Bennett said...

Thank you so much for your post.
A year ago I wrote a column for Christian Musician magazine titled “Dateline: The Pasture”.
My thoughts were in response to a widely-read blog post (cited in the article) wherein the
author deemed CCM to be mostly irrelevant now. It can be found on Page 44 at the link below.
Best regards, Bob Bennett (Costa Mesa, CA)


Anonymous said...

Great article, and I feel your pain.

I think one of the problems in the Christian music industry is Christian radio stations. In the last year, two new radio stations have popped up in my area, and both are playing classic rock. I can't find a single Christian radio station in my area, or anywhere that I travel, that plays classic Christian music. All of the Christian radio stations play "top 40" and most of them play the same 20 or so songs, all day long! For me, the music becomes almost boring. And it's not that the music is bad, not at all. But after I hear the same song five times or so, during daylight hours, I'm done with the song, and usually the station.

Gone are the days of the Christian coffee house, and I know a lot of the big names played those venues. I remember having great conversations with Mylon LeFevre, Scott Wesley Brown, Billy Sprague and Jim Weber, Steve and Annie Chapman, David and the Giants, Marty McCall and Fireworks, and so many others, who played concerts at the small Christian bookstore where I did volunteer work during college (the back half of the bookstore was the coffeehouse where concerts were held). I know there are groups touring these days, but most of the concerts that I hear advertised are large events with three or more groups there together. There's not really anything like the old coffeehouses any more, and I find that sad as well.

But look at the direction of contemporary worship music, too. Hosanna's Integrity Music still has a presence on the Internet, but you can't get their oldest music any more. They don't have their own music. Say it's not worth keeping the oldest stuff. Their Christmas CDs, such as "Bethlehem's Treasure," were the best and yet they don't have them, and it's hard to track them down. I found one this past Christmas on Amazon through their marketplace for about $60. I find this sad because a lot of contemporary music sung in churches now comes from a very small group of artists, and it's hard to adapt some of their songs to congregational singing. Didn't have that problem with Integrity's stuff.

I know that some artists stepped out of the music industry to other things. I think Marty is working at a church in northern Virginia. Mylon is preaching. Bryan Duncan is still singing and doing concerts, but they're not huge events, I don't think. I think Scott Wesley Brown is still doing some music; not sure. Does anyone know what Bob Hartman is doing now? I would love to see him and Phil Keaggy do something together!

I think we lost something along the way, and I'm not sure we'll get it back. Probably lost it due to how the industry changed for everyone. More online presence, and not as much physical presence. But just like social media, online presence gives the impression of being connected when you're really not connected, and perhaps Christian music needs to re-establish the physical connection between these great artists and their audiences. I just don't know how to do that in today's world.

Alan Seeger said...

Sorry to say that I don't keep up with much of CCM any more, although I do recall my favorite individual songs fondly. I left the church in 2006 after seeing one too many examples of backdating, gossiping, hypocritical pastors. Do I miss playing music? Yeah. Do I miss listening to CCM? Once in a whole. Sorry.

Alan Seeger said...

Sorry to say that I don't keep up with much of CCM any more, although I do recall my favorite individual songs fondly. I left the church in 2006 after seeing one too many examples of backdating, gossiping, hypocritical pastors. Do I miss playing music? Yeah. Do I miss listening to CCM? Once in a whole. Sorry.

Jason Klimek said...

Tri-Rock Radio plays a lot of the classics.

Bob Kemp said...

I can completely agree with most everything you spoke to. Recently I celebrated my 10 year anniversary as Concert Coordinator for a legendary CCM Artist. The small crowds that show up for the concerts are usually over 50 years of age, and rarely number more than 200 (unless it's a Sunday morning). This is a far cry from what it was like for this artist in the past when he ministered to stadiums full of people hungry to hear the word. I know from conversations we have had that other aging artists are experiencing the same thing. I make a LOT of cold calls from an office that once was bustling with staff and activity. When I started here in 2006, there were 2 other full-time staff members (there used to be even more). Now, I am the only person in the office full-time day in and day out. I know my time here as Concert Coordinator is limited, so I am working toward the next ministry opportunity God is directing me to. Most of the churches I call all across the country have never heard of this artist, although some do know his signature Dove Award winning song from 1978. I'm concerned about the state of CCM and the industries lack of concern for its aging artists who find it harder and harder to earn a living in advanced years if age. Although there are a hand-full of Christian record labels, most are owned by secular companies that aren't interested in these artists because their only concern is signing people to contracts that will make the company lots of money.They have no concern for the spiritual condition of people. Once the artist's appeal begins to wane, they cut ties with them. These Christian ministers/artists still have a powerful word that is still relevant today to communicate to a lost and dying world. Many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives have been impacted to the glory of God by these people that have sacrificed much and continue to sacrifice much in order to remain faithful to the ministry they have been entrusted with, and if you were to ask them, I'm certain not a one would have regrets or do anything differently. Although their reliance is in God, they do still need our support and gratitude even now.

Doug Lambert said...

I could fill pages with stories of my experiences with CCM since the 70s. Using my Amazon Prime music account I have purchased more pioneer CCM music than I have recent releases. Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, The Call, Daniel Amos, Rez, etc. Can anyone deny that "Straight On" from Degarmo and Key (1979) is one of the best produced albums? Although there are many recent Christian artists that I enjoy, the 70s and 80s music remains so personal to me to this day because of the small victories of getting it played on the air. Scott Ross, Larry Black, Finalflight, and the show I hosted in 1982 Lightshine are gone from my life and have left a void or should I say "dead air" and I miss them greatly.

Shawn said...

Thanks for this, Chris. A typically well thought out article from you. I can tell you that Phil is not fond of touring. As the years pass, he is more content to fiddle around in his home studio and he does not like to be away from Bernadette for very long.

Les said...

My Bible still contains the book of Psalms. It's been there for awhile now. I believe the future of Christian music is as bright as ever.

RunGirlRunLA said...

I appreciate the article. I agree with the fact that the CCM industry is clueless in preserving and protecting the music of Christian artists gone by. Sadly, the stuff that passes for CCM these days is vanilla extract noise. Unfortunately, too much of CCM over the past several decades was not much better than what's being put out now. Part of the truth is, for all the talent that a select few Christian musicians and vocalists possessed, it is near impossible - maybe unfair? - to compare average CCM bands and artists to secular counterparts. 1) Many celebrated musicians were not all that talented to begin with (including Kaiser, though he knows his instruments well), and their sound+vision+lyrics+melodies never either meshed with their strengths nor hooked audiences' ears. 2) Artists were putting out music that their marketers and label execs wanted, rather than putting the Lord first in their efforts. 3) CCM artists don't write songs for mass audiences, but mainly for believers. 4) Musicians' changing faiths - some grew stronger; some walked away.

Bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys were not the strongest songwriters or singers. But the members had talent, and somehow they had some "it" factors that resonated with millions of Americans. They knew how to craft good, enjoyable music, and weren't constrained by spiritual values that probably cast some long shadows over good CCM musicians.

I enjoyed several musicians from the early to mid-1990's - Margaret Becker, Twila Paris, and PFR among them. (What passed for CCM "rock" and "blues" was pretty laughable - sorry, Petra was pabulum rock.) But nowadys, all it takes to get a recording contract is a word from the Lord to start a worship band, some tousled hair, and generic verses that one can plug in to any book of the Bible (or latest self-help book by Joel Osteen). I miss some of it, and lament that we can't get it back.

stfitzpatrick said...

Your generic point is taken that the best musicians on the secular labels were simply better musicians than most 70's and 80's Christian Rock. The reason those musicians were in LA working for studios is because they were literally the best in the world, so the comparison seems unfair. And the two examples you cite, Glenn Kaiser and Petra, undermine your credibility. Of course, there is no accounting for taste, but the early ResurrectionBand and Petra albums were superb. Also, Sweet Comfort Band in particular was tremendous. Daniel Amos and Steve Taylor were highly unique and inventive. The late 70's and early '80's witnessed a plethora of unique and talented artistic voices. By the 90's, to include your chosen highlights, the whole thing had gone off the rails. My two cents.

Grateful Canadian said...

Gary Chapman! Your music STILL ministers to my wife and I. "The Light Inside" is still one of our favorite albums. Thank you for using your talents so well. Much grace to you!

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

It's driven by fans and their dollars. This is all CCM has ever cared about. Even back in the day, these artists required self-promotion. I grew up in St. Louis that had a huge Christian station. REZ and Keaggy were, even then, confined to a late Saturday or Sunday night "rock" show. REZ and Keaggy made it past those years because they were the best, but they also self-promoted taking others along (e.g. Cornerstone, the best festival ever.)

I know Keaggy just played Wheaton College and picked up a few hundred fans that saw in him the origins of the guitar work Ed Sheeran is doing. Most though just said it was some old guy playing his songs (so wrong.)

Brendon Traxler said...

I'm not convinced your arguments are all founded. I live an hour from Champaign and had no idea these guys were even going to be there. So, bad marketing.
You mention CCM is bad about aging musicians, I think that's the same for mainstream as well though. You look at mainstream music and you probably have a 10 year window at most to make your mark and your money, then you are left doing state fairs and "reunion tours". There is no retirement as a musician no matter who you are.
There are a lot of Christian artists over the past couple decades who have signed on with major record labels who have gotten known by the secular world. Some of these bands music will be remembered and heard for quite a while.
CCM has always been so inclusive and maintained with in only the Christian community. Bands like Petra really tried to forge the gap by doing secular events like Farm Aid, but also took a lot of flack as well. This has been the problem.
Not to mention CCM has lacked originality. In most cases CCM artists are attempting to copy a sound to play to the ears of mainstream and draw them over.
I love CCM muisc, but it has a lot of faults that have helped shoot its own self in the foot.

Unknown said...

Great article! There are definitely different seasons in life and ministry! While I have taken on new pastoral responsibilities I still do limited touring. Yet I have to remind myself that my significance is not based on the way the "industry " treats me but in Christ and his calling in my life no matter where it leads me!

Unknown said...

Petra, Michael Card, Don Francisco, Keith Green all still live in my CD player. Constantly. I think there's a few problems already mentioned.

1) Yes the pool is shrinking - for everybody. Even secular artists who were considered to have "made it" are lamenting the state of the music biz.

2) Christians aren't listening to it any more. I'm baffled by this one - at our normally theologically conservative church, there seems to be an attitude of "CCM = Christian Ghetto and if we want to be "culturaly relevant" we should listen to secular stuff. Not said, but it's pretty pervasive. I happen to think there's still a very solid purpose for edification, teaching, reproof and correction within the church. But I seem to be in the minority. I do know that at all our public church functions, whenever they invite the neighborhood, the music played is the same stuff you hear on any radio station. Those in ministry don't seem to even be aware of "legacy" ccm acts.

3) CCM as in "radio" has never been a friend of any genre but current light pop du jour. I'm not really a fan of 'positive and insipid' radio. None of the acts I enjoy have ever been the darlings of radio.

I'd love to know how to more efficiently support CCM as I know it. Third Day seems to do a great job. My wife is a rabid fan. I know we've dropped a LOT of cash going to their shows, special releases etc... I'd like to know that the bulk of my money is actually going to the artists and support staff, and not Ticket Master. Getting rid of THAT leach would double everyone's bottom line. I wish legacy merchandise were more available. I'd pay good money for a More Power To Ya T-shirt. (I get that record labels do provide benefit, but ticketmaster not so much - it's money that goes to neither the artist, nor the venue. It's basically a super expensive credit card processing service)

I also think - speaking to people where they are now is key. I'm a 45 yo married Christian with a kid. Non-christians aren't going to accidentally discover CCM. I actually have a pretty direct (but very close to the text) song I was working on based out of 1 Cor 7. Even if one of the big guys were to write such a song - think it'd get radio airplay? Yeaaah right.

4) On that radio thing.. CCM and teaching for the most part do NOT mix. I LOVE old hymns. I think the modern church is neglecting a lovely treasure. What my son knows, he learned from me (he thinks they're rock anthems - many are. shhh....) But when it comes to radio - we have "organ playing sitting around waiting to die hymns" and preaching, or we have positive and insipid, perhaps with Swindoll's joke of the day. Gimme Michael Card, Petra, Rez, Keaggy AND Swindoll, Begg, David Jeremiah. Please?

Bruce Humphries said...

It is somewhat interesting about your comment regarding Keaggy as a great guitarist. Clapton was asked in an interview back in the day, how it felt to be the greatest guitarist in the world (so named by some music mag). His response was alarming to most of the world. He said, he wouldn't know. You would have to ask Phil Keaggy. In the land of their peers, Christian artists are seen as artists. They are known and respected. In the Christian world that they have chosen to be part of they are forgotten. Oh, we still remember "Layla" and "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Smokin in the Boys Room" but "Lovespeak" or "Love Broke Through" or "Eyes on the Clouds" or any of the other masterful songs of the same period by a Christian artist is forgotten. I still have my old vinyl. I would say "Christian" vinyl but I am not fond of that term.

These guys... and gals were artists, some of the best that the world has known but they were segregated by an industry. In 2014 I paid nearly $400 to see the Eagles in Vegas. My most recent trip to California, I searched for a "Christian concert" and could not find one. Google failed me. Or did it? I found concerts for Jackson Browne, ZZ Top, Cindi Lauper and a score of "secular artists that I never heard of. But not one reference to the music of my youth that sustained me, encouraged me, spoke into my life.

The aforementioned secular tunes were feel good music, great for crusin. For many of the songs, I garbled the lyrics maybe only getting a few words here and there, but the tune brought back memories. The Christian tunes were that and more. They were there during my struggles and my pain; the times of growth.

Chuck Girard has a song "Don't shoot the Wounded". Maybe as Christians we do not only shoot the wounded but we also bury our aging soldiers.

By the way, my wife is a singer and shortly after the release of that song by Chuck Girard she attempted to get the soundtrack. Not available. Out of determination she called the contact number on the album. She ended up speaking with Chuck Girard. His response.... he sent her a cassette copy of the studio track used on the album. No charge! Just an encouraging word.

Maybe it is time for, we the listeners, to step up to restore the musical heroes of our faith, not as Christian artists, but as artists, as the voices of our youth.

dle said...

Do you create new demand? Or do you nourish existing demand? I do not believe that creating new demand is feasible. Music is tightly bound to eras and experiences. When people move on, only nostalgia tends to bring them back, and if the nostalgia is not there, neither will be the depth of appreciation.

While I am certain better publicity might help a little, I truthfully don't believe the nostalgia factor is strong enough. Worsening this is the fact that a lot of Christians find the music reminds them of an era they can't recapture at all, even through nostalgia. Much of this is linked to youth groups, and being new in Christ, and going back there by listening to the music may be more bittersweet than secular counterparts experience.

I can't speak for everyone, but as much as I loved the CCM music of my youth, with very, very few exceptions, revisiting it feels strangely disconnected, and reconnecting does not rekindle the flame. Secular music experiences this too, but I think the effect is compounded in CCM. This says nothing about quality or musicianship. It's more about the time, the place, and the people with whom you bonded so long ago, in a youth group or small group of un-recreatable memory.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

To make your point more real, I didn't even know Andre Crouch passed away until I read this article. How sad is that?

Unknown said...

To make your point more real, I didn't even know Andre Crouch passed away until I read this article. How sad is that?

Anonymous said...

I hate to be that guy, but none of the things you are asking about will happen without demand. Furthermore a lot of legacy CCM Artists are just that - artists. If they focused on a sustainable ministry business versus a music business they could have more impact. - Len Jennings

Unknown said...

Great thought! Do we please Christ, our treasure (reward) isn't in this world.

Sandeep said...

Thanks for writing this article on the state of affairs of these amazing artists. I'm from India, and I can say that there is an increasing demand now for good quality Christian music. If only they can be re-mastered and shared here, then atleast we can preserve their legacy offshore and also serve the purpose of such music - in connecting hungry people to God.

Anonymous said...

A Few things:

- It never depresses me more than to think that the insanely talented guys like Kaiser and Keaggy off playing in corners somewhere while The Who go out for another zombified tour. Yes, this is wrong...

- But, this was the CCM Bubble for 40 years. Phil Keaggy and REZ were not well known except by us at Cornerstone, Creation, or the like. They were a big fish in a small pond while the labels were pushing the next Amy Grant or Michael W Smith -- not the next REZ. In the 90s Grammy-nominated Bride put on a killer show and gave it their all -- in churches in the midwest where they were lucky to get 200 people. In the 80s as FM Top40 was exploding, CCM was confined to fuzzy AM stations where the tamest of Phil's songs were allowed. Speaking of which,

- We figured out too late that CCM radio wasn't really our friend. For music like Phil's and Glenn's you waited until 10pm Saturday night. And don't even start on the embarrassing "Christian Hit Radio" experiment that marketed Inspirational Pop to kids while their friends were listening to rap and rock. CCM Radio still sounds like the audio version of Diet Mountain Dew.

- Pop music is cyclical and a cruel mistress -- and CCM isn't immune. Remember the gigantic hit Iggy Azelea was 3 years ago? She's down at the casino next week. Carly Rae Jepsen was on the Tonight Show one night and played to 40 people in a mall a few months later. At one point Boston was the biggest name in rock, now they're playing Native Casinos in rural North Dakota. This is what happens to the huge pop music with millions spent on promotion. Guess what happens to the scrappy independent CCM people who barely made it by word-of-mouth 20 years after their biggest success.

- So what do we do? Don't expect CCM Radio to care -- they're off looking for the next Hillsong and more Christian Mumford and Son soundalikes. Don't expect the owners of the labels to care, they're still seeing if they can market more pop-country acts to the CCM world regardless of their lifestyle. They don't know their back catalog of tiny CCM labels they got in a fire sale 15 years ago.

But at least start here: DON'T Pirate the music, check and see if the artist sells it from their site. They deserve the income (and go direct as much as possible). Likewise, don't only stream back catalogs of your favorites, check and see if they're available in a better form. And if you know a thing or two about promotion make some noise: it's always been a weak link in the Christian music chain.

JCHaywire said...

Some things just have a lifetime and they run their course. Religious artists existed in a different space previously. We can't go back in time. Sad reality--but let it be.

GKoelpien said...

Not to resurrect a dead thread, but it was interesting reading and I wanted to thank the other contributors. Having experienced the rise, peak and decline of Christian Radio from the early 80's to the early 90's, here's a few thoughts:
1.) What is the purpose of CCM? Ministry to Christians? Outreach to non-Christians? Entertainment for Christians? It's hard to tell.
2.) Authenticity vs. Commercialism - The more "slick" the product became, it seemed to lose some of its "realness" as well.
3.) Too segmented / separated from secular venues. Live music venues (outside of churches) too hard to find. People's undies would get all clenched up if a secular club had Christian rock every now and then. The 70's style coffeehouses with stages for music and poetry readings are gone, too.
4.) Crap production / theology / insider lingo. Heard some forgettable song recently about holding the sparrow or something like that. Huh?
5.) Artists/audience too willing to shoot their own wounded. God forbid if you sing about being gay or have some lyrics wondering about universal salvation or something outside of a fairly conservative theology. Or got divorced, e.g. Amy Grant and Sandi Patti.
6.) Too hard to discover new music. I miss Cornerstone. Wisconsin has Lifest, but I prefer more meat and less sugar to my music. It's just weird, and not in a good "Cornerstone '88" type of weird. By the time high-speed internet arrived, it was too late.
7.) Sorry, other commenter, but Jimi Hendrix never claimed Keaggy as the greatest guitarist. http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/keaggy.asp

Here's a question, if we want to keep this discussion going: First live show, First CCM purchase, LAST CCM purchase.
For me, the Imperials, (not sure if it was with Taff or not) Rez Band's Between Heaven and Hell, and, lastly, (I think) DCTalk's Jesus Freak.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Man, those are some good questions! I'm sure we could go round and round about them.

Phillip Sandifer was my first live show.
Some Amy Grant album was my first purchase.
My last purchase was Phil Keaggy and King's Kaleidescope.

Jesus Freak!? That's old! You need to buy some new music! ;)

Anonymous said...

Maybe we have gone full circle..
Maybe the music needs to go back to Church...and leave the lucre outside the Church...��

Anonymous said...

Gary, just this week I was listening to everything is possible - what a lyrically rich song. Had to play it on repeat. Ur music ministered to me all the way in Uganda

troytali said...

Great article. I disagree with some of the comments about refraining from tearing the CCM industry down. No, I think it's all-but-death is deserved. The problem is that the artists, as you've so well pointed out, have been shafted as a result. What I've never understood in my nearly 34-35 years as a musician, and during that heyday of CCM I was in Christian bands, is why these artists both now and then didn't seem to seek better labels and deals. Like now, if I were to shop my album (which, I have been, actually), I would NOT target Christian labels, whether my new album has lyrics or not. Christian labels were generally awful, I felt. Incredible shame of how artists struggled that were so good, like Phil Keaggy and the rest you cite here. This is a topic of intense frustration, anger, and sadness for me. I know well the work that goes into music. I was never even able to "make it" anywhere much, except some really close brushes with success in the 1990s when the band I was in started blowing up and playing with known acts...then self-destructed. Now I make my own music, much of it instrumental. The one song that has lyrics are "Christian", but not so overtly. But, I would not shop this to any Christian outlets. And if bands like Newsboys, Petra, and the like ever did really want to save the lost, they shouldn't necessarily have been hibernating on Christian-centric labels and gigs also...and I love these bands. I really do.

Papa Finn said...

Found your well written post while looking up more info on Glenn Kaiser. I just posted something about my experience of sharing his music with someone who had never heard of him and now is a huge fan.
Feel free to view my post.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Finn, thanks for your comment and for pointing me to your blog!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I hope this works because I sooo want to comment! This was an excellent piece of writing weighing in on a valid subject. My prayer is that you planted seeds in the industry and caused concern to do action. I found this article last week because I was searching for David and the Giants, and thankfully, your blog showed up! How I wish I coulda shared with you all my good news way back in June: Legacy Christian music artist fans -- I am here to share that THE band, David and the Giants, are celebrating their 40 years of faithful ministry of reaching the lost!! It's a GIANT cause to celebrate!! The official event is this Friday, the 18th, at Church on the Rock in St. Peters, Missouri! You had me agreeing, that even in their case, the Christian labels that the band recorded for should do re-releases, promotions and all (like Capitol did for the Beach Boys). And that someone, anyone in the Christian music industry should, in my opinion, be lauding this milestone, celebrating its own as co-laborers, fellow musicians, for Jesus Christ - articles, interviews, etc. The Dove Awards should even set time aside for this band -- and even for the legacy artists that you all have mentioned. And then there's the lack of radio play for them which is so senseless (in my opinion) because David and the Giants are still recording (!), still touring, and David is still releasing solo albums -- praise the Lord!! So I am all the more beside myself because last July the Lord gave David Isaiah 43:19. He's been sharing that Scripture and the story behind it in performance settings. He said, "It's for you, too!" We who are all going to this event Friday are believing that God will do much more than all we can ask or imagine for this night! It'll be a glorious night of celebration and worship to the KING of kings and LORD of lords, JESUS CHRIST!! We are all so excited, anticipating!! These men have such a great love for their Savior, surrendering their hearts more than 40 years ago because of the great sacrifice He made to set them free!! Anyone with a testimony with this band (I got baptized at their New Orleans concert in '97 and haven't looked back!!) or appreciates their music and ministry -- come!! We'll be "Rockin' for the Rock"!! It'd be something if an extra night was added!! Hallelujah!! Thank You, Jesus!! Thank you for this space to comment! May the Lord also hear our cry on behalf of all these legacy artists! Nancy

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Anonymous said...

I don't think it is profitable to make vinyl repressing of ccm's greatest's, beacause if you go to any thrift store, record shop, or pawn shop, and you will find them. I purchased Larry Norman, Kieth green, agape force, the imperials, and Chris christian at thrift shops within cycling distance of my house.