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Charlie Peacock Interview

  • 2000 1 Jan
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Charlie Peacock Interview
by Bruce Adolph, courtesy of %%Christian Musician%%

When %%Christian Musician%% heard that veteran musician/songwriter/producer {{Charlie Peacock}} was going to put record producing aside and invest a considerable amount of time in searching for some of the answers to certain questions plaguing the Christian music industry, we took note of it. When we heard that Charlie was going to write a book about it, we set aside time to sit in a room with him and take a preliminary look at what Charlie has in mind. The following interview stems from that honest and unguarded conversation.

%%Christian Musician%%: Tell us about your plans for writing a book for Christian musicians and for the industry as a whole. What is the premise of the book?

{{Charlie Peacock}}: One of the things that has been a very integral part of my artistry, my production, the development of re:think (Charlie's record label) and my work with the Art House is to give thought to what it really means to be a Christian artist. To live an examined life and to shine the light of Scripture on my own sinfulness and try to continually be conformed into God's image. I think God does that through systems as He does it through individuals. The strength of an individual system is really made up of the strength of the individuals that make up that system. So when you look at contemporary Christian music and you find problems with it, those problems exist because of our own creative choices. None of us are neutral in it, we are all either moving our industry toward that which is good and true or away from it. There is no neutral place to stand. When you look at that, there is a real tendency to be very critical sometimes without grace coming to bear upon all our sinfulness in the process. It's absolutely impossible to do any human endeavor that isn't tinged with a little sin. After 15 years of doing this I have what I think are some reasonable expectations for our industry and for the people who are in it. I would love to be able to share some ideas about how I think we can change things - what would be a more Biblical approach.

I don't want my book to be a finger pointing book, I want it to be a bridge building book. I don't want people to read it and say he doesn't love me, he doesn't care for me or understand my own struggles, he doesn't know that I'm just a man who's trying to feed his family, to love Jesus and do the best I can. I want my book to communicate that yes, I do understand and I'm with you. I have a heart to help. I'm not standing outside the system complaining and pointing the finger. I'm standing inside of it and I grieve with you over these problems and part of my mission is to take sometime out of my life to spend time thinking about musicians on behalf of my brothers and sisters.

If you just stop working at 100 mph, most intelligent people could point to the majority of the problems. I don't think that everyone has the ability to see behind the problems to the more intricate levels that maybe penetrate our industry in terms of what theologians would call "modernity" (where it's the world's ways of thinking that have infiltrated). It's not that we can't use world systems, infrastructure, but it's a whole different thing when you start talking about the subtleties of the world's ways of thinking. The only way that any of us can combat that is to be filled with God's Word continually, so that when those contrary ideas come into your mind you've got something for them to rub up against. But if we are so busy being gospel music people and are not pouring the Word into ourselves, there is a good chance that we will become worldly.

There is a danger in even using the word "worldly" because you think of "well that's someone who cusses, drinks and chews tobacco" and that's not what I mean at all. What I mean is a way of thinking about life that is not complementary to your (Christian) world view.

%%Christian Musician%%: What are a few of the major issues that we need to slow up and think about in our industry?

{{Charlie Peacock}}: One thing that a lot of us talk about, particularly if you are a session musician, producer or engineer (and especially if your married), is the hours that we work. How contrary it is to the Christian position about the importance of family.

%%Christian Musician%%: We say one thing but we expect the workload to be the opposite.

{{Charlie Peacock}}: Exactly. That has something to do with fact that Christian (record) budgets are lower, the expectations for performance is the same as anyone else's records in the mainstream and certainly it's competitive. You are competing with your brother and sister for a finite amount of spaces in a retail store, so there is an element of competition there. You are working for less money so the only place where you can make it up (and have a competitive edge) is to work longer hours.

%%Christian Musician%%: {{Jerry McPherson}} (well known Christian session guitarist in Nashville) mentioned to us that he was working on {Reba McIntire's} album and at 5 o'clock those guys stop and go home. He stated that he earns three times the money than on a Christian session and he goes home and gets to be with his family at a decent hour.

{{Charlie Peacock}}: I've had that conversation many times. It is difficult, part of that is the nature of the music. With country music there is a template in place, there's a road map; with (Christian) pop music your inventing it every time you do it, so it does take a little bit longer.

%%Christian Musician%%: Is your book going offer a template which might be used in the Christian music industry?

{{Charlie Peacock}}: Not so much to put a template in place, but if there was less product created and more emphasis given to the cream of the crop... sort of like moving out of the middle (artists), keeping the development artist (funding those) because you always need those, and working the top artist in terms of their receptivity with an audience. Then you've got the funding to be able to say "Let's go home, it's 5:30" as most other fathers and mothers would.

%%Christian Musician%%: You mentioned the glut of product on retail shelves, the same problem can happen in the promoting arena, you can have too many artists in town on the same weekend and each concert can negatively impact the other.

{{Charlie Peacock}}: You know how change occurs, there is a fluidity to it. People must grapple with these ideas and questions in and around the same time period before you begin to move forward to struggle with, integrate and debate changes.

%%Christian Musician%%: Do you see that happening with the different realms of influence in our industry?

{{Charlie Peacock}}: Yes, I really feel that there are a lot of rumblings around (more than I've ever known before). People are questioning the existence of institutions and the need for this or the need for that. So I think it's an important time for dialogue. In terms of the book, I want it to be a component of that dialogue. I want it to be helpful; I don't want it to be a book where Charlie just gets everything off his chest, which will be very difficult because anytime you really give any attention to problems, you see that what you first become aware of are just superficial problems, there are a host of other problems lying down deeper. And that can really wear you out when you see the complexity of it. For me it is important to contribute on the level that I feel confident in, that I feel studied and prepared in and that God is going with me in. Those (kind of) things that are important, I know can be helpful to people.

Books are a challenge to do because people don't read like they used to. To invest yourself in a 200 page book, that's a lot to ask of people. But this book is addressed to the audience as well as the industry. Because I think if change or reform is going to come, it's not just directed at the industry, it's also directed at the audience. We live and work within a capitalistic system and in capitalism the consumer is always sovereign. They are the ones who vote and determine what gets sold and what doesn't. One of my passions is to broaden Christian music and to have a greater diversity in it. Part of that passion is to build a support system within the ccm industry for artist who out-of-the-shoot feel called to go into the mainstream. Not crossover artists, in other words not the idea of "let's sell 500,000 records to the church and go make a business deal with another record company." But just people who from the git-go are willing to sell records in the mainstream and sell records in the Christian market. And it's not a crossover, you're not changing anything, you're just doing what it is that you do. I feel like we have to have that in place too. But in order to put that in place we really need the support of the audience.

A big part of the book will be to build a bridge with the audiences to help them see the mind of the artist, how we think, why we make the choices that we make. To teach a little bit along the lines that music has a design integrity of it's own; a creational integrity that God put into it. Music is not the same as a sermon. There are certain earmarks of a great sermon that make it a great sermon and there are earmarks about a great song that make it a great song. Some of those things may meet together in the middle, but a lot of them don't. It is our job to make great music that has a great message, that is inventive, compelling and interesting. If what the audience wants is just a great sermon, well there is plenty of places to get that too. It's not to denigrate one or the other, it's unfortunate that a lot of the Christian audience has ideas about music that are really erroneous. They are not founded; they are based upon zeal and without knowledge.

%%Christian Musician%%: This is a problem for the musicians who keep bumping up against this...

{{Charlie Peacock}}: Certainly it is. It's a very church orientated problem, you don't find it anywhere else. It is because the church has become so convinced what an incredible vehicle music is for the propagation of the gospel. That is a new idea, the gospel has always been (up until the Pentecostal movement at the early part of this century) something that was directly tied to the preaching of the Word. It's like the scripture says people don't come to faith unless they hear the Word and hear it clearly, hear it preached and the scriptures taught. The idea that putting it in music is just as good, I think is an erroneous idea. I think you can do that, you are certainly free to do that and sometimes it is good, but to say blanketly "no, it is just as good!" and all Christian music ought to be that, I think is just foolishness. There is no merit in it. It's like taking nineteen hundred years of the churches history and just saying "they're all completely wrong and now we have it right." I don't buy that, I think there is a way to look at music where it is utilitarian and it is a tool. You are free in Christ to do that, but you are also free to just enjoy music as well as something that God has included in his creation.

I hope in the book to be able to open up people to these ideas that give them their freedom so they can in turn give us our freedom. So that Christian musicians in the church will be free to say "You know what? Here's what I'm called to do, I'm called to make incredibly glorious and beautiful music for my home fellowship, that's my calling. And I want to work for them (I'll work a day job until it gets to the point where perhaps I can do that vocationally) but this is the call on my life". Then another brother or sister can say "I totally support you in that and thank you so much for following that calling, but what I'm going to do is to write the most inventive compelling music that I can that is just filled with the Christian world view about any subject under the sun and I'm going to go out there and be on Warner Brothers Records and I'm going to move and shake amongst those people and I'm going to have my testimony prepared to give them should I be asked for the hope that is in me." Then you have another brother who comes to you and says "this is my mission," and then another brother who says my mission is "only to worship God, that's all I want to be involved in and I want to learn how to do that the very best. I want to be the very best worship leader there's ever been." So we all have these different kinds of aspirations and really godly ambitions. Not you looking at me and saying "yeah, right." No, you look at me and go, "I support you brother, please support me where I'm at." When we start living like that, you're going to see some extraordinary things happen in the body of Christ in terms of music. But we are really a long ways off today.

%%Christian Musician%%: You can go to ten people in the church and ask them what they think about music, ministry, and entertainment and you'll get ten different answers, that's the problem.

{{Charlie Peacock}}: Right, so what I hope to do is to give those ten different answers and then connect the dots. To say, "You can lock arms, we really all want the same thing here, if we're in the Word of God and we understand these things, and we are just as excited about them as we think they are, then let's lock arms and support one another because we really want the same things." It's just that what we have missed is that we have missed out on the doctrine of the body of Christ. You think that I should be doing what you are doing, and that's not true. I should be doing what God has me doing.