Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Ever Wondered Why The Christian Music Industry Sometimes Feels a Bit Soulless?

"Becky" is the problem.  Michael Gungor explains.  I think he nails it.  It's not ALL bad, but I would agree with his thoughts here.
Like all genres, Christian music is simply a category that marketers use to reach a certain type of consumer. It is a marketing channel used to reach a very specific subculture.

This is further attested to by the common separation of “Christian” and “Gospel.” While “Gospel” actually is a bit more consistent in its musical styles and sounds as a genre than “Christian” is, there is another primary difference between the two terms. For the most part, Christian music is made by white people and Gospel music is made by black people. You don’t normally hear black people on “Christian” radio, and you don’t normally hear white people on “Gospel” radio. These categories have more to do with subcultures than Christianity or the Gospel.

The subculture that buys Christian music couldn’t accurately be called the Christian subculture. A Christian music executive at one of the big labels recently told me that the entire demographic that buys Christian music is only about two million people. Two billion people in the world consider themselves Christians. So only about 0.1% of people who consider themselves Christians buy Christian music.


Christian music is not marketed to Christians so much as it is marketed to a very narrow subculture of a certain type of Christian. For years, Christian music marketers and radio programmers have known who their target demographic is. They actually have personified this target demographic, and her name is “Becky.”

If you think I’m joking, ask any Christian radio programmer about her. A lot of stations have very specific information based on reams of market research. One station programmer told me that Becky is a forty-two-year-old soccer mom. She has three kids and she has been married twice. She is an evangelical Christian, but not a radical who watches Christian television or goes to church three times a week. She only attends church once or twice a month. They know what her favorite restaurant is. In fact, they know what restaurant she likes to eat at with her husband on a date and which restaurant she likes to take the kids to. They know the movies she watches and how she spends her money. She is the one who runs her household, the one with her finger on the radio knob, and she wants something positive to play in the minivan as she drives her kids to soccer practice.

Becky is the quintessential Christian radio listener.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone who listens to Christian radio fits this description. It simply is the bull’s-eye of their demographic. If they aim at Becky, they get the most other people along with her. When Christian radio stations target Becky, they experience a vast increase in their numbers. They get specific in their targets for a reason. For years, they didn’t target Becky, and they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t compete with the bigger mainstream stations. Now they can. This is how the entertainment industry works no matter what sort of categories they use. They target the demographic that will allow them to get the biggest numbers.

I once had a writing session with an artist who couldn’t stop talking about Becky. He told me from the beginning that he really needed a song that would resonate with Becky. I asked if maybe we could just write something that felt honest and true to us. He said okay, but he really needed Becky to be okay with it as well.

Every idea I brought up was immediately brought through the Becky filter.

What about this?

Well, that’s cool, but I’m not sure how Becky would feel about that.

Okay, what about this?

Listen, I personally like it. It’s edgy and provocative and musical, but I really don’t know what Becky would think about that.

I asked him what Becky would think if I shoved my guitar up his…well, not really—I’m not that clever when things get tense. Instead, I just start seething and retreating into my inner world. So that’s what I did, and we eventually just gave up and left.

I don’t actually have a problem with radio programmers talking about Becky. The stations know who their listeners are and program accordingly. It’s smart.

I do have a problem with artists talking about Becky.

When the artist starts talking like the marketers, you know he has stopped listening to the Voice. The Voice doesn’t speak in marketing terms, but in terms like truth, beauty, and passion.

The artist ought to listen to the voice inside, not Becky.

When the creator listens to the external voices, those voices will eventually lead her to sell out. They will lead her to put her art in the cookie cutter and cut away all of the dough that falls outside of the edges. But the edges are what make her who she is. The edges are good.

This is why there is so much soulless music in our society. Our artists are listening to the wrong voices. This seems to be especially true in the Christian music industry, which is another reason I feel uncomfortable telling the stranger on the plane that I play Christian music.
Read the rest.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Makes be think of the Chris Rice song "Me and Becky". I like that song by the way...