The influence of Christianity in the United States, based on recent surveys, appears to be waning. These spinoffs have spread to the contemporary Christian music industry as well.
According to Tyler Huckabee of The week, Contemporary Christian Music, or CCM for short, sold around 50 million albums a year at its peak. However, that number fell to 17 million in 2014 in the United States.
âThe CCM’s descent is a reflection of America’s waning interest in Christianity as a whole,â Huckabee wrote. “CCM’s sharp drop in sales has left Christian labels and artists staring into space alongside their pastors, scratching their heads, wondering where they went wrong.”
Huckabee acknowledged that while the birth of the CCM dates back to the Jesus movement of the 1960s and âGod-fearing hippies like Larry Norman,â it began to take off thanks to pioneers such as Andrae Crouch and Amy Grant.
âGrant was particularly revealing, a comely teenage girl whose lyrical quirks left a very open question as to whether she was singing about God or the boys,â Huckabee wrote. “It was a powerful strategy, and it led to several Billboard-top singles and the first Christian album to ever go platinum.”
Huckabee noted that thanks to Grant’s influence, his keyboardist, Michael W. Smith, would become famous within the CCM industry as well. The success of CCM singers becoming superstars in the secular world has become big business.
âIt laid the groundwork for the next wave of loyal crooners, including Phil Keaggy, the Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman and Jaci Valesquez,â Huckabee wrote. “Jars of Clay’s hit 1995 hit ‘Flood’ made huge waves on college radio. Petra has filled arenas worldwide and sold nearly 10 million albums.”
Kevin Max, dcTalk member, explained how the CCM has found appeal with Christian and lay music listeners.
âIn the 90s, you could believe Jesus Christ was God and create art that was always interesting, and the market in general would react,â said Max.
According to Huckabee, dcTalk formed in 1989 as a hip-hop trio, which then evolved into a grunge group based on Nirvana’s success with “Nevermind”. This made dcTalk “a Christian group which also appealed to culture in general”.
âThe band had an ear for the aggressiveness of alternative rock that never quite lost its pop sensibility, and channeled it all into a truly thrilling live show,â Huckabee wrote of dcTalk. “If you ignore the ecclesiastical-minded lyrics (sample song titles:” Jesus Freak “,” Into Jesus “,” So Help Me God “), you might guess you were listening to some really good B-sides of Stone Pilots Temple. “
Max admitted to Huckabee that dcTalk didn’t know the rules for creating CCM, so they broke all of them. One of the band’s songs, “What if I stumble?” helped to push their music to the extreme “in a religion known to give answers”.
âWe were reaching out,â said Max. “We tried to communicate with the unbeliever as much as we did with the believer.”
However, Max lamented that Christian music today, as well as churches and festivals, lack “interactivity” with those who do not belong to the faith.
âWhere I am right now, it’s almost like the doors have closed on experimenting with words, images and ideas to make people interactive,â said Max.
Veteran CCM producer Matt Bronleewe, who was originally from iconic CCM band Jars of Clay, also echoed the sentiment.
âThere was a time when you could hear a song about God, but there was an understanding that it might bring something else to the table as well,â Bronleewe said.
Brownleewe added that like everyone else in the music industry, CCM has also faced disruption in the digital market. He lamented that there was “not much room to fail” as a result of this change.
âFailure is such a creative gift,â Brownleewe explained. “When the ability to fail is removed, it fuels a lot of fear. It shrinks the pool of producers and writers to such an extent that there is a similarity that begins to occur.”
To keep pace with the changing music market, Huckabee reported that the CCM industry has turned to âsafe betsâ known as âcult music,â or what people sing about. at church. He noted that cult music, especially from musicians such as Chris Tomlin, Sonic Flood and Hillsong United, has now become the industry’s main export.
âWhatever the CCM may have gained by getting into cult music, it largely lost its ability to sneak into the Top 40 or the occasional Now That’s What I Call Music! Compilation,â Huckabee wrote. “One big exception is emcee Lecrae, and CCM clings to him like a liferaft.”
According to Huckabee, this development within the CCM industry has left many artists in the genre with two options: play it safe or go out on their own. Christian musician John Mark McMillian decided to go with the latter option, although he admitted that the decision would not make him much success.
âIn CCM, if you want to sing along to some more uncomfortable stuff, you won’t get a chance,â McMillian said. “But on the same side, if I want to sing Jesus in the Top 40, that won’t happen either. The keepers of this world are just as weird.”
Huckabee said the CCM has been “unable to take up the ideas that have made it such a strong force over the past decades” because its focus has shifted to “making church music for churches.” Derek Webb of Caedmon’s Call, once the darling of the CCM industry, attempted to explain the dilemma facing the CCM.
âThe way I might describe it for our group is this: you do something,â Webb said. âIt’s meaningful and it’s real and it’s observable and it’s organic. It becomes your bio. But then, two years later, that bio is the most real, organic and meaningful thing about you. And all you try to do is hold the elements of this bio, in the hopes that someday you can achieve it again. You find yourself making a lot of compromises. “
Webb then posed a question that the CCM industry is trying to answer.
âYou keep asking yourself the same question, ‘How do we get back to this? “, Asked Webb.