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downhere onstagedownhere on their farewell tour in Cambridge, Ontario in August 2009 ((C) Quail Communications)

During the early to mid 1980s I had the privilege of freelancing for Alberta SonShine News, a monthly Christian newspaper distributed to churches in Edmonton, Calgary and points in between. A chance meeting with editor Peter Fleck led to a gig covering the burgeoning Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene. This led to interviews with almost every Christian artist who came through Edmonton including: Michael W. Smith, Barry McGuire, Armand Morales (Imperials), Georgian Banov (Silverwind), Steve Taylor, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, etc. The highlight of this period were interviews with Christian rock pioneers Larry Norman and Glenn and Wendy Kaiser (Rez Band).

Even when CCM wasn’t my main beat, I maintained an interest in Christian music as a the editor of ChristianWeek Ontario and the host of Faith Journal and Arts Connection. So I found the following analysis intriguing: http://theweek.com/articles/555603/who-killed-contemporary-christian-music-industry?utm_content=buffer824c9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer where Tyler Huckabee writes: “The descent of CCM is a reflection of America’s waning interests in Christianity as a whole. The precipitous dropoff in CCM sales has left Christian labels and artists staring into the void alongside their pastors, scratching their heads, wondering where they went wrong.”

This seems somewhat simplistic and hyperbolic. A few more significant factors have contributed CCM’s death rather than the rise of the nones, some of which Huckabee points out.

¬†Canada’s CCM industry has never paralleled the American CCM industry

I need to point out that Canada’s CCM industry has never paralleled the States’. There have been a few Canadians – downhere, Connie Scott, Daniel Band, Quickflight, Manafest – who have broken through the American CCM juggernaut. But some, like downhere, left the CCM industry to pursue an indie path.

Why?

First, until the 1990s, Canada didn’t have Christian radio, a key contributor to CCM’s success in the U.S. Many Canadian Christian music pioneers – Salmond and Mulder, Arlen Salte, Daniel Band, Steve Bell, etc. – toured heavily to build a fan base.

Second, Canada’s size and lack of large cities lead to mainly regional instead of national fan bases. Musicians in southwestern Ontario could travel from Toronto to Windsor and play for hundreds of church youth groups and coffeehouses. Travelling the same distance, or time frame, western Canada’s musicians had maybe dozens. Those who did gain a national fan base spent even more time on the road.

Back to the main point: I see two key reasons for CCM’s demise:

1) CCM became more of an industry than a ministry. Musicians were pressured to create music that sold, not necessarily minister. Some CCM musicians have been able to do both but the pressure to create that next hit sometimes stymied both ministry and creativity.

2) New technologies have created significant shifts in every industry, music included. The goal for most musicians had been signing the ever-elusive recording contract. Record companies would then take care of marketing and promotion while the musicians made music. With the rise of iTunes, CDbaby and myriads of other music distribution channels, musicians have become marketers, tour managers, promoters, etc. – taking all the risks but gaining all the benefits.

Has the Christian music industry died? Only in the same way the mainstream music industry has died.

Is this a good thing? I think so. The change the Christian music industry has/is going through means artists can focus on creating the music they feel called to create. Not the music dictated by an industry.