Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Our biggest sale! 50% off your PLUS subscription. Use code SUMMER

A&R Executives: What's Happening to The Gap?

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
A&R Executives: What's Happening to The Gap?
Recently we asked several top A&R execs about the state of the industry. This is the second article in a series taken from those questions. (To read Top 10 A&R Annoyances CLICK HERE .) We think you'll find these answers insightful. Our question?

The gap between what's popular/successful in the secular music marketplace and consequently in the Christian marketplace seems to be closing. Do you see that gap completely closing in the near future, and what may be the reasons for the narrowing of that gap?

Brent Bourgeois
VP of A&R, Word Records

The gap between secular and Christian music is closing because with all the media to choose from out there for kids, you can't fool them anymore with bogus versions of the real thing and expect them to buy it. Christian kids are not growing up in the same bubble as many of their parents, and they know the difference between modern music, and pseudo-whitewashed-turn the guitars down-buy my clothes at the Rock Shop at J.C. Penneys-safe for Church consumption-not quite modern music that this industry has been feeding them for a long time. Nowadays Christian record companies are doing the same thing as their secular counterparts-jumping right on a bandwagon (i.e. our version of Alanis) rather than waiting three years for a safe, watered-down version of a trend.

Grant Cunningham
Director A&R, Sparrow Records

The gap? First of all, I don't think the premise is valid. I don't see the gap closing. There are all kinds of gaps that naturally exist on the landscape of artists and music. They ebb and flow, appear and disappear daily. As long as there is a traditional Christian music industry (meaning Christians making music for Christians), I suppose there will be a gap of sorts. (I don't dig Chinese music. I'm not supposed to - they're not making it for me!)

For the sake of dialog, let's assume the gap is closing. And if by closing you mean "cross-over" success, they will come and go. "Baby, Baby," "Butterfly Kisses" and "Flood" are no signal that the world is ready to embrace gospel music.

If by the gap closing you mean "our music" looking, smelling and sounding more like the world's then I think that's just part of our internal flux. Certainly we are all products of our influences, and as young musicians taste of pop culture, they reflect it to some degree. The late nineties are less homogenized than the eighties were. Christian music has participated in that. Too often as artists and an industry, we have looked at what's successful in the world and tried to create a Gospel version. I think that's shameful.

My desire would be that the music Christian artists create would be among the most original created by the culture at large - not imitative of anybody. As long as our music is set apart by the beauty of the Lord, the truth of the Gospel or simply tagged "Christian," there are many people who will refuse to support it. This is all the more reason why "our music" must rise to a higher standard of creativity, uniqueness and authenticity. It's only on those terms that we can hope the world might take notice of our art and might find some of the Lord there. When will this happen? Maybe never. It requires a fundamental shift in thinking that many oppose - that no longer is music made by Christian artists meant to be exclusive, but that as Christians we have a message for the world, not just the church.

Andy Peterson
Director of Artist Development, Rocketown Records

I think labels taking chances on styles of music that aren't already popular in Christian music is closing the gap between what's successful in the mainstream market and the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association.) {{Burlap to Cashmere}} (on Squint Entertainment) is a good example of that. A lot of people in the industry heard that record and thought "this kind of music will never be a hit in the CBA" but after everyone saw how talented the band is they jumped on board. Now eight months later they are one of the best selling new artists in Christian music. And just like in the mainstream, it seems that the independent labels like Gotee, Squint, and even Rocketown to some degree are on the leading edge of that movement.

Mark Q.
VP of A&R, Rustproof Records

In the last couple of years with the larger labels being brought by secular conglomerates, the gap between what is popular in the secular and Christian industries has lessened a great deal. Now that all of the large Christian labels are owned by secular parent companies it is only natural that the gap would lessen. As time goes on the gap will more than likely lessen. The recent consolidation of marketing departments as well as A & R departments by larger labels is a further sign of how that gap will lessen.

Todd Randall
Director of A&R, Pamplin Music

Unfortunately, when we speak of a gap between what's popular in the general market and what's popular in the CBA market, our question gives away the fact that we as an industry do not lead creatively. Many Christian bands are influenced by the stuff they saw yesterday on MTV or VH1 because there is a perception of success and popularity associated with having your music recognized by one or both of those networks. I believe the legitimacy of Christian music is compromised by following the formulas of the general market "hit" machine.

It would be refreshing to see more bands like the {{Channel Surfers}} who really can't be compared accurately to any one general market band. Bands like the {{Channel Surfers}} add legitimacy because generally speaking they don't try to rip off a sound that was popular last week on MTV.

As for the second part of the question, I believe because of our sophisticated distribution systems, general growth as an industry and the profit potential now available to the CBA market, records are marketed are released much more efficiently than they were ten years ago. However, even with the most efficient distribution systems there will be a gap between what's cool in our industry and in the general market. Unless, as an industry, we are willing to take risks creatively with our artists, look beyond what others are doing and have made successful, and start focusing on how to respond to the needs and the cares of our society and culture, we will lack relevance to those seeking truth and coolness to those seeking entertainment.

Randy Spencer
Former VP of A&R, Cadence Communications

There is still a vast difference in what's being played on Christian radio compared to mainstream radio. There are a few exceptions, but look at the Top 40 charts in the mainstream market: if most of those songs had bold, evangelically-based lyrics, would the style of songs by such artists as Shania Twain, Chumbawumba, New Radicals, etc. be played on most CCM stations? Unfortunately, there are many recording/songwriting limitations for a recording artist if they are hoping to have significant success on the Christian radio charts. In time, I hope that the Christian industry can lead the way on what impacts radio in our current climate of radio pop culture.


What do YOU think about the gap between what's popular/successful in the secular music marketplace and consequently in the Christian marketplace? Do you see that gap completely closing in the near future, and what may be the reasons for the narrowing of that gap?
Log into our Music Forums to enter the discussion.