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Christian Music, Digital Downloads, and Piracy
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Music Monday #5: Christmas Tunes
Music Mondays #3: The Theology of Lyrics
Music Mondays #2
Why Do They Sue?

Music Mondays #1
Do Musicians Need Record Labels Anymore?

May 16, 2008

The Future Of the CCM Industry

Charlie Peacock has an outstanding analysis of the future of the CCM industry. Go read the whole thing when you have a minute, but I wanted to throw a few excellent quotes out there:

Christian music’s alliances with mainstream entertainment corporations will all prove eternally less than successful, since they all bet first on the power of the market to deliver results and not the hand of God—something God has never been fond of. (See Bible for evidence.)
This has been a common complaint about the state of the industry. Steve Camp has said similar things in the past. The problem as I see it started when we stopped thinking of Christian music as a ministry and started thinking of it as an industry. If it's an industry, you partner with whoever will help your bottom line. If it's a ministry, you realize that your bottom line has nothing to do with money.
When convenient or strategic, Christian artists will return to using the term gospel in order to describe their music. “Ccm” has faded as an accurate moniker and will disappear altogether.
I've seen this already. Artists are either using the 'gospel' label or they describe their music in terms of "secular" genre tags like "emo" or "metal" or "hardcore" -- things like that. There are increasingly few Christian artists who identify themselves as CCM artists; many don't even self-identify as Christian, even those who are explicitly so lyrically and ministerially. If you don't believe me, browse through MySpace. There are still some artists who self-identify as Christian, and some of those are quite good, but by and large the major acts don't do it, whether out of frustration with the industry or because they are trying to be accepted first as musicians, or perhaps some less noble reason.
Christian music with “worldview” lyrics is dead in the church and reborn in the world where Christian indie and major label artists will carry the torch. The majority of Christian music fans and gatekeepers in the church proved too immature or disinterested to discern whether or not a lyric was speaking to a topic from a Christian worldview. The problem of maturity and literacy will continue.
And podcasters will lead the way. Take a listen to The Bored Again Christian or The Habanero Hour for some Christian worldview music that you won't hear anywhere else. And, of course, you can check out The PewCast too. I play a different genre than Just Pete or Brent play is all. But I think that this is the wisest thing that Peacock says, "... the real and trustworthy future of Christian music is Christ. Find out what He’s interested in, and let that be the music’s future."
Posted by Warren Kelly at 08:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 11, 2008

Tuneful Tuesday Part 1

(Tuneful Tuesday happens when my Music Monday post is a day late. As they have been a lot lately.)

Kat from The Secret Life of Kat has a meme each Monday that I think I'm going to start taking part in, if only to get me actually doing the music blogging thing again. This week, the topic is cover songs.

I love cover songs -- it's always fun to see what new interpretation a different band can bring to an old song. I used to have several tapes full of cover songs; one of the first podcasts I subscribed to was Coverville. But a recent post at PCCBoard got me thinking about covers again.

Here's the cover -- my take on it is below the fold:

Nena's original song was more than just a catchy tune and interesting lyrics. It was social commentary about WWIII written by the people who had the most to lose -- Germans. When the song came out, it was a given that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would meet on the border between East and West Germany and duke it out for Total Global Domination(tm). A song in German about a simple mistake that turns into WWIII had an impact -- especially the lyric "This is what we've waited for/This is it, boys, this is war." The attitude that war was coming no matter what, and the folks in power were just looking for an excuse, was powerful back then, just because of the devastation that such a war would produce on a global level.

Fast forward 20 years or so. We're IN a war that many people believe was declared on evidence that was as flimsy as 99 red balloons. People believe that the war in Iraq was inevitable -- President Bush was just waiting for an excuse, and he got it. But now we have the song covered by an American band, in a much more aggressive style. Probably fitting, but the song has a far different impact today than the original did. This isn't the song of a people caught in the middle of someone else's fight. This is the aggressor -- the people who are involved in the war, the stronger nation, the super power. Singing about a mistake made that ignited the conflict. Totally different feel to me.

Based just on the music, I like Goldfinger's version better. I like that style of music. But seen as a whole, I'm still partial to Nena's original, especially the ending. The sad, somber ending doesn't seem to fit Goldfinger's cover at all.

One of my favorite covers, though, is Ghoti Hook's cover of "I Love Rock and Roll." This video was filmed at their last Cornerstone appearance in 2002.

And then, of course, there's Pillar covering U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday" (NOT the official video, BTW):

Posted by Warren Kelly at 01:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 27, 2008

Podcast Drama: Saving Our Imaginations

(yeah, I know it's not Monday. It FEELS like Monday.)

A little while ago, I Twittered an article about the fall of radio, in which the writer said "Podccasting is the new radio." And I've been reading a lot of stuff about what radio can do to survive, should it survive, etc. So when I got the link to this article, I was REALLY curious.

I love this quote:

Every time we add a dimension to our performances and recordings, we not only add to the creator’s workload, we also — in an important sense — limit the audience’s experience.

THAT is what I like about radio -- I can use my imagination. It is, as they tell me, the "theater of the mind."

It started with books -- then we added the audio for radio, and people no longer had to imagine the voices and sounds. Then we added visuals, so we didn't have to imagine what the scene and characters looked like. It's hard to go backward -- I think that's a big part of why people don't read as much now; they don't have the imagination for it.

So podcast dramas like Pendant Audio, Decoder Ring Theatre, and others, are helping us recover our imagination.

Our imaginations need stretching. So you OWE it to yourself to listen to a podio-drama or two. Decoder Ring updates every other week, so there's a new show due on Saturday. Pendant has a bunch of different shows, so if you subscribe to all of them you should have at least one a week. They do some fan shows (DC superheroes like Batman, Superman, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman), but I really enjoy the original stuff. I just started listening to the Texas Radio Theater, and recommend them as well. Their shows are all original, though some are tributes to old-time radio programs (like Flash Gordon and Sherlock Holmes).

There's plenty out there. Go expand your mind, and use your imagination!

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 01, 2008

Christian Music, Digital Downloads, and Piracy

Yes, a music Monday post on a Friday. Sorry, but I just read this, and didn't want to wait until Monday (when I'd probably have forgotten it anyway).

EMI has a plan to make it's CCM catalog available through digital downloads through an almost grass-roots network of Christian radio stations, retailers, faith-based organizations, etc. I wonder if podcasters and bloggers will make the list?

Anyway, I think this is a great idea, though it's come a bit late in the game. It's something that should have been done a long time ago. But that's not really what drew me to the story.

I read the story in the New York Post, thanks to a link on David Bach's blog. The second paragraph caught me:

Sales of Christian and gospel music fell more than 14 percent last year as fans of religious-themed songs proved once again they were just as apt to give in to the temptation of digital piracy as the average listener of materialistic rap or devil-horn-wagging rock.
Notice that the problem is NOT that the major labels aren't selling something people want to buy. It's NOT that people are buying more indie bands, or are taking advantage of streaming audio, or are downloading the free stuff that's available legally online (and yes, there's a LOT of free, legal stuff available, if you look hard enough). It's not any of that -- it's that Christian music fans are pirates, just like their secular counterparts.

Do Christians illegally download music? Yes, unfortunately, we do. And Christians are good at rationalizing it -- "I'm using the songs to witness to my friends," they say. And when you say that, how is anyone going to get mad at you, or threaten to sue you? But do we really do it? I wonder sometimes.

But I think that the industry is still ignoring the real problem -- people aren't buying because the product they're putting out isn't worth buying. Where ten years ago I'd have to buy a whole CD or tape to get the two songs I liked, now I can just buy those two songs. Where I'd have spent $10 on a tape or $15 on a CD, now I only have to spend $2 for those two songs. And where before I'd have to buy whatever was in the store to satisfy my music cravings, now I can go straight to independent bands who are selling their stuff online and buy it straight from them.

I really think one answer is value-added products. If you want people to buy CDs, give them a reason to. I was in a Christian bookstore yesterday, and I saw CDs for $14 that included a DVD with concert footage, music videos, bonus songs, etc. That's adding value. If I saw a band that I follow offering something like that, I'd buy the CD/DVD package, because there's a perceived value in it -- I get a DVD with extra stuff that's not available elsewhere.

But that's only one solution, and the fact remains that music fans want to get their music online. They want to be able to burn a CD or two, they want to be able to play it on their iPods, and they want to do it without a lot of hassle. Once the labels figure that out, they just might start making bigger profits again.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:39 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 08, 2008

Music Mon ... er ... Tuesdays

A day late, I know. Story of my life this week, and I really have no excuse (except for producing the podcast yesterday, I really didn't get much accomplished at all).

Speaking of podcasting, Brent over at Colossians Three Sixteen has decided to start a podcast of his own. I'm looking forward to the show -- the more Christians we have podcasting, and examining exactly what it means to be a Christian artist -- in whatever art form you choose -- the better. I haven't really been participating in the ongoing conversation about what Christian music is, or whether we should even use the term, but I plan on offering my two cents in an upcoming post. But if you want a preview, read my comment at The Blah Blah blog (which you really need to subscribe to, if you haven't yet).

Posted by Warren Kelly at 02:25 PM | Comments (1618) | TrackBack

November 26, 2007

Music Monday #5: Christmas Tunes

In the spirit of using this meme/category/whatever to copy things other people are doing, today I'm ripping off Tim Challies (hey, if I'm going to copy someone, may as well be him, right?)

And it's a topic that's near and dear to my heart -- Christmas music. I like holiday music in general (just wait 'til St. Patrick's Day ...), and there aren't too many holidays with the huge variety of music that Christmas has. And I've got a huge variety. 111 songs all together, just over 5 hours and 15 minutes worth. We'll hear it all twice on the way to my Mom's for Christmas.

It's hard to decide on favorites. I've recently downloaded Los Straitjackets' album Tis the Season For Los Straitjackets.
Los Straitjackets - 'Tis the Season For Los Straitjackets
Surf music for Christmas may not appeal to everyone, but imagine Dick Dale playing "Little Drummer Boy." Awesome band. Jars of Clay's new Christmas album is quite good, too, but I'm not thrilled with their cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime."
Jars of Clay - Christmas Songs (Bonus Track Version)

For the kids, there is (of course) the Veggie Tales
VeggieTales (Veggie Tunes) - A Very Veggie Christmas
. My favorite on this CD is probably "The 12 Polish Foods of Christmas." And of course there are The Chipmunks, doing their own famous song as well as "Jingle Bells."
The Chipmunks - Merry Christmas from the Chipmunks

And before you ask, I deleted the barking dogs doing Jingle Bells. But I do have Bob and Doug McKenzie's "12 Days of Christmas,"
Bob & Doug McKenzie - Great White North - The Twelve Days of Christmas
Bob Rivers' "Porky Pig's Blue Christmas"
Bob Rivers - More Twisted Christmas - It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year
and "It's The Most Fattening Time Of The Year,"
Bob Rivers - More Twisted Christmas - It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year
and Da Yoopers' "Rusty Chevrolet."

But my favorite is probably Centricity Records' Bethlehem Skyline
downhere - Bethlehem Skyline
. "How Many Kings" is destined to become a Christmas classic, but the whole album is excellent. And I'd say that even if the label wasn't so podcaster-friendly.

Go get some Christmas music. Get some unique Christmas music. And enjoy!

Posted by Warren Kelly at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 12, 2007

Music Mondays #3: The Theology of Lyrics

(and yes, I know I skipped a week. shhh!)

An odd thing happened to me after I started seminary, and it's all Al Mohler's fault. On my first day of Systematic I, he told us that his goal was to make us think theologically about everything. And now, I do.

Especially music. I can deal with musicians who make no faith claims at all who write music that I have philosophical/theological disagreements with, but artists who tag themselves with the name Christian should be much more careful with their lyrics. And I know there are some things that Christians are going to disagree with -- write a song about the Rapture and odds are good that you're going to upset more people than you make happy, for example. But there are basics that we all do agree on, and those basics shouldn't be messed with in the lyrics to Christian songs.

Which brings me to today's rant. Ever since Radio U's transmitter here locally stopped transmitting (the risks of listener-supported radio), I've been listening to KLove. NOT my first choice, but I've gotten used to listening to CCM, especially since my iPod fried on me. There's one song that I absolutely have to change the station for whenever it comes on -- Point of Grace's "How You Live (Turn Up The Music)."

Turn up the music
Turn it up loud
Take a few chances
Let it all out
You won't regret it
Lookin' back from where you have been
Cuz it's not who you knew
And it's not what you did
It's how you live

Now, I have no problem with turning up the music, and normally I do, in fact, turn it up pretty loud. I do have a problem with the whole "it's not who you know" attitude, because when you come right down to it, that's exactly what it's about. It's all about who you know -- which is a line from another song that, ironically, Klove used to play, and probably still would if someone asked.

How we live has no relevance if we don't know Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches us that how we live cannot please God at all. How we live apart from Christ is irrelevant -- it is, in fact, all about who we know.

Now, I don't expect songwriters to be theologians, though some of the best hymn writers in Christian history were theologians (Luther, Wesley, etc.). I do expect them to realize that their songs are not just fluff pieces for the entertainment of the masses -- that there is some significance in what we sing when we sing to God. So maybe they should have some familiarity with basic Christian doctrine, so that they don't write songs that contradict it.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 04:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 08, 2007

Music Mondays #2
Why Do They Sue?

The RIAA won their case against Jammie Thomas in a decision that's going to cost her $222,000. She's going to lose a good healthy chunk of her $32,000 salary for the rest of her life. $9,250 per song. Think she could have bought her friends a few CDs for that kind of money?

But the case wasn't always considered a slam dunk, and there are still some folks who question her guilt. There's still the second-thoughts -- should she have just taken the RIAA's settlement offer of $5,000? This is a case that's going to set precedent. And it's an expensive precedent. It's going to be expensive for some people -- and some peoples' parents, who are going to be liable for their kids' collections of illegal downloads.

I've been pondering the irony of one aspect of the case. Technology is to blame, they say, for the sad state of the music industry. Technology is making it possible to pirate music, and share it with people all over the world. BUT technology is also making it possible for the industry to catch these pirates. It's easier to catch them now than it ever was before.

Think about it for a minute. Back in the '80s, we all made tapes for our friends. I discovered a LOT of music my freshman year at Liberty, thanks to the guy next door who had a broad collection of bands. Prodigal, Servant, Allies, Bash-n-The-Code -- all new experiences for me, and fueled by what the RIAA calls music piracy.

Funny thing is, I actually bought more music because of those tapes. I spent a LOT of money in school buying music. I made tapes for my friends, and THEY bought more music. The mix tape made the recording industry a TON of money back in the day, and they couldn't stop us.

The mix tapes, and bootleg tapes, and copy tapes -- they all had one benefit. They were anonymous. You got them from a friend's friend, or your roommate, or a friend's cousin, or something like that. There were no IP addresses, and no user IDs. Nobody could trace you, because there was nothing to trace. And RIAA never sued anyone.

Now, they can track people down. IP numbers can be logged, user names are tracked down. Viruses are spread sometimes, and offenders can be traced that way. The very technology that RIAA is complaining about is what is making their lawsuits possible to begin with.

RIAA is realizing how irrelevant labels are becoming. RIAA sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's a train, getting ready to run them over. Musicians don't need them, and now music fans are starting to see that they don't need them either.

Posted by Warren Kelly at 08:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Music Mondays #1
Do Musicians Need Record Labels Anymore?

Note: This is the first in what I'm hoping is going to be an ongoing thing. Each Monday I'll have a few posts about music: the music industry, musicians, etc. I've been writing a lot about music lately, and I want to keep on doing it, but there are other things I want to write about, too, so the music posts will go on Mondays, unless it's something breaking or urgent.

Techdirt had a piece today about musicians and "venture capitalists" (record labels). It made me think about the functions of a record label, and whether bands need them anymore. Lets think about what labels actually do for their bands:

New Artist Discovery (A/R): This is actually something labels do more for themselves, but it's the first step in the process. It's the "discovery" event, when a band is "found" by a label.

This still happens, but with the rise of the Internet as a marketing device, and sites like GarageBand, Purevolume, and even MySpace, the fans are discovering the bands themselves -- sometimes before the labels ever hear about them. It's not hard to find new bands -- and iLike are just two ways that many people are using. So this is something we all can do for ourselves, if we put the effort into it.

Promotion: This actually ties in with A/R. And it's something that more and more bands are doing a wonderful job of themselves -- again, thanks to the Internet, and the web sites I mention above.

Bands are doing a great job of getting their music to their fans. They are recognizing that there are more ways to promote their music than on terrestrial radio. Musicians are generally creative people, and are able to go with new trends a lot faster than the suits in the music industry are.

Distribution: This is something that labels were essential for -- right up until (say it with me!) The Internet.

Radiohead is just the latest band to take advantage of online digital distribution. Places like Snocap and CDBaby are making it easy for musicians to sell their own music -- not to mention the impact that iTunes has had on music sales and distribution. Musicians have other options -- they don't have to go with a major label to gain fans.

Production: This is where the labels have an advantage. They have the money, so they have the technology. They've got the equipment to turn an also-ran band into the Next Big Thing(tm). There is a decided technology gap -- but it's narrowing.

Mixers aren't that expensive -- starting at about $70, and going up from there. Software is cheap -- try starting with FREE (Audacity) and going up from there. Run a four track mixer into a laptop and you're there. You're not going to duplicate a studio session in NashVegas in your basement, but you're going to get results you'll be happy with -- even if it takes you a little while to get it exactly the way you want it.

So if you've ever wondered why the music industry is losing money, and why they have to find scapegoats who share music online (more on that in my next post), maybe now you understand. The music industry folks may be starting to figure out just how irrelevant they're becoming, and they don't like it at all.

EDIT: OK, I just found out (thanks to this post that Snocap is now requiring an ISRC number for each song that's offered for sale through their service. That's a number given out by the RIAA. So Snocap may not be the indie-friendly option that I thought it would be.

RE-EDIT: Spoke too soon. Guess this shows why I should read all the news before I start blogging about it. ;-)

Posted by Warren Kelly at 06:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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