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UTR Panelists Respond To Bono

posted: June 30th, 2016 by Dave Trout

You likely heard the comments Bono made about his desire to see more authenticity in Christian music -- if not we have the full transcript here.  It's our perspective that Bono was not saying that he's unaware of any or all honest and vulnerable songwriting from Christian artists, but rather he was finding a subtle way to put the system of the industry on blast.  In other words, it's not a question of are there some Christians making authentic art, but rather why the "system" (CCM industry) does not honor or uplift the most honest, vulnerable, and authentic art being made.  Our 10-member UTR Critics Panel has some great minds and unique perspectives.  We wanted to let some of them share some feedback on Bono's comments -- and specifically this question:  What are some ways to make positive changes in the *industry* to make room for the the kind of honesty in music that Bono is hoping for?

All the lines and boundaries are gone. “Christian Music” as a genre evolved out of necessity - or at least perceived necessity. The old gatekeepers are gone. No more retail, and who cares about radio. All bets are off. It has never been easier for faith-fueled artists to reach audiences without borders. The only requirement is that you are amazing. Bono is absolutely right when it comes to the tiny slice of “Christian” music that makes it onto Christian radio. Fortunately we are no longer limited to what some programmers choose to play. However, if fans don’t actively work to support their favorite artists financially don’t be surprised if they have to find new ways to pay the rent.

My perspective comes right from the thick of “the system”; I’ve worked in CCM radio for over a decade. I feel like our industry is stuck in a cycle of economics where we’re all trying to keep things alive, and, as it all to often goes when you mix creativity, ministry, and business, art is sacrificed for financial survival. Labels sign and develop artists that will have a shot at success in an incredibly saturated industry. Radio, retail, and event promoters support the artists that do well with their audiences. And the audience? Well, I can only speak from my angle in local radio, but it seems since many of us are non-profit and survive by local support, we have to play to the desires of whoever is most likely to love and support Christian radio -- yes, the stereotypical, mini-van mom that just wants to know the music is safe for her kids. As someone on the older end of the millennial generation, I’m grateful to see a longing for honesty, meaning, and purpose in my generation. In the future, will we seek out excellence and substance, or settle for stressed out, hectic lives with no room for reflection and beauty? The industry is built on the desires of the consumer, so I have a feeling the change begins with us. If you have a local Christian station, give them a chance and thank them when they play something good! (Many stations have online surveys that let you rate their new music and influence what they play.) Shop local Christian music stores if you can. If an “under the radar” artist is coming to your area, buy a concert ticket and do everything you can to help bring more people to the show. Yes, it’s a bummer than money drives the industry, but changing the system starts with changing the perception of what consumers want, putting the power back in our hands. Kind of exciting when you think about it, isn’t it?

At risk of sounding pessimistic, I’m not sure changes can be made to the industry. People have been trying to make changes for years and come up short of various reasons. Audiences are going to gravitate towards what they like and what they know, period. Some listeners want to be challenged with their listening, some want to be inspired and encouraged. We can’t change that. But the optimistic side of me believes two things. 1) We should be thankful that the Spirit can meet us where we are through Christian music to challenge or inspire (and sometimes both in the same song. And 2) Thanks to the Internet and sites like Under the Radar, we can raise awareness of the wide spectrum of Christian music available, and people can find what they’re looking for. They just need to know to look in the first place.

I think it starts with us as the audience- we have to want more. We can't settle for a passive 'come home, turn on the tv, laugh at the sitcom, and go to bed' type approach to music and art.  When you find a station that's playing real, honest, good music - give them feedback & let them know what you appreciated.  When you discover an artist that has a song or film or artwork with transparency and authenticity, give them feedback & let them know what you appreciated.  Support the stations (both terrestrial and online) that are playing the music you love- engage and let them know what you appreciate so they continue doing it.  Support the movies, publishers, and artists that are putting out art that you love.  Actively seek out honest and authentic music and take it upon yourself to be their champion.  Support the artists, the podcasts, the labels taking the risks on those artists.  Spread the word on social media and in real life.  Many of these artists may never get the exposure of airplay on a nationwide radio station.  It's up to us to make the room for this art.

Thanks to these UTR Panelists for their thoughts.  Did any of their perspectives spark something in your soul?  Do agree with Bono that more honest & authentic art needs to be created and fostered by the Church?  Do you have any suggestions on positive changes to the system/industry to allow this kind of music to flourish?

Comments (2)

All good insight shared here, but I would add another thought.  As an artist making art for the church, I have been underwhelmed by the people’s appetite for authentic music. They don’t seem to want to work that hard. They want mixed, over-used metaphors and chord progressions that they’ve come to expect. They want the same music over and over again on Sunday (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and secular music at home.  The response to depth is shoulder shrugging. When I compare that to how I have been encouraged and supported in secular music, it’s shocking. Think of how much art the church has fostered throughout history—-that mindset has completely been abandoned. I’m heading where people will listen, and so far that doesn’t seem to be the church.

Sara Quah 11:45 AM Sat, Jul 02, 2016

Good Thoughts Sara.  Sometimes context is key.  I have personally seen the same folks who would shoulder-shrug a “deep” song on Sunday morning, listen with jaws dropped and tear-filled eyes to a brilliant songwriter like Christopher Williams, Christa Wells, Andy Gullahorn, or Julie Lee (just to name a few).  But the difference is giving those artists the proper space—like a cafe style concert or living room concert.  Some of the discussion that this article is trying to foster is how can we change the “system”?  Maybe churches need to find “space” (and that’s outside Sunday morning) to present good art. We can’t just throw up our hands and say, “Netflix wins.” We have to fight to present art and beauty, knowing that if people let it sink in even a half-inch, it can be life-changing.

Dave Trout 11:57 AM Wed, Jul 06, 2016

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