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Christian music alternatives make waves

Seay, D. (1995, April 29). Gospel grunge and righteous rap: Christian music alternatives make waves. Billboard, pp. 34, 40.

OVERVIEW

For years there has been a left-of-center fringe using popular music to preach. Gospel playlists increasingly include rap, punk, grunge, metal, and dance-music artists. While Christian pop and mainstream rock artists such as Amy Grant and Dakoda Motor Company have gained widespread acceptance, the "GenX-for-Jesus" trend is very much a part of today’s Christian music scene.

The focus for producers of Christian music is to find and promote artists that appeal to established Christian audiences as well as to mainstream listeners. "We don’t try to duplicate mainstream genres just to stay trendy," says Brian Smith of EMI-distributed Sparrow Records. "We’re about reaching out, and that means signing good artists regardless of the musical category."

Small, independent Christian music companies that closely mirror their secular counterparts are reaping the rewards of the new music platforms. The Diamante Music Group of Orange County, California exists to provide an outlet for underground Christian music, according to Scott Shuford, Diamante’s director of sales and marketing. Diamante’s clients include the gamut of musical tastes: from the "pure praise-and-worship of the Vineyard Music Group to the gospel grindcore of Brainstorm Artists International."

Many in the alternative Christian music scene share a common desire to reach kids for Christ any way they can. Diamante-distributed companies include labels such as Intense Records, which emphasizes hard rock and heavy metal, and Myx Records, which handles rap artists. NSoul records, another of Diamante’s labels, offers music ranging from "Afro soul" to dance.

The goal of R.E.X. Music, an independent Nashville-based label, is "to provide Christian artists the vehicle to express their art...and to take that expression to the world at large." The company built a reputation with Christian heavy-metal groups but is now seeking artists that will appeal to both Christian and mainstream listeners. Spokesperson Jay Swartzendruber says that while many R.E.X. bands are way outside the Christian music norm, the bands have found surprising acceptance in the church and in the general marketplace. He feels that the company is reaching people who would otherwise miss the message, and says that while the integrity of R.E.X.’s music counts for a lot within the Christian community, the company is not about evangelism.

Alternative Christian artists depend heavily on touring and live performances, as do their secular counterparts. As a result, a nationwide network of venues has emerged to meet the needs of Christian acts looking to perform. Dave Bahnson, head of a Christian booking agency called D.L.B. management, says, "These groups are used to playing anywhere and everywhere. Church halls, colleges, and high school gyms are common venues booked by everyone from youth pastors to local independent promoters." The number of Christian clubs is also growing, but the largest exposure still comes from big Christian festivals such as Inner Seeds in Atlanta and Cornerstone, which occurs outside Chicago.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. Do you think music is an effective medium for reaching kids about religion?
  2. Do you think listeners are typically attracted to a particular song for its sound or for its message?

IMPLICATION

Some Christian pop and rock artists have found success with mainstream, secular audiences, indicating that music tends to be an effective means of sharing a variety of ideas and information.

Sheila Walsh cCYS