Wednesday, September 08, 2010

CBA Following CCM?

And in other news, ABC hates CBS and NBC.

Aside from abbreviation proliferation, I've been thinking about the continuing (continuous?) debate in CBA fiction circles about how to expand the "boundaries" of Christian fiction. On one side there are people defending the industry, pointing to its growth in the publishing world over the last several years, and the greater variety of genres/books being published. Another camp feels stifled by the unspoken limits of what is acceptable, and wonders how CBA/Christian fiction can reach unbelievers in its current status.

(Realize that the "industry" is a disparate group of authors, editors, agents, publishers, marketers, and booksellers, each with their own agenda. People speak of the CBA as some monolithic organization, which it certainly is not.)

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 and hairdos?
I've considered another industry that has had similar growing pains. CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music, and it is another nebulous designation to speak of a variety of interests in music.

CCM started in the late 60's/early 70's with the revolution of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. As the hippie movement took full swing, there was a counter-revolution of young people getting saved, but retaining the new tastes in music and culture of their peers (without the sex and drugs part). As they naturally wrote music in the rock and folk genres, the initial music was often picked up by general market labels. Artists like Keith Green and Randy Stonehill were pioneers in these areas. Soon there was enough interest that labels were started to give further outlet to these musicians.

Since the people involved wanted to glorify the Lord as well as sell music, they became Christian publishers. This had the effect of sucking most of the blatantly Christian artists into a niche area, creating a music "ghetto" for lack of a better term. There were those like Bob Dylan with his Christian phase albums in the general market, but most artists producing specific Christian music (religious lyrics/subjects) were isolated from the general market airwaves. Christian music was on the outside looking in with the advent of MTV.

Slowly Christian artists tested the waters of "crossing over" to the general market, even as the Christian music ghetto flourished. Stryper was a famous Christian glam-metal band that got MTV airplay but was sold in (many, not all) Christian bookstores. Amy Grant was the first big crossover with her song "Baby Baby," a syrupy-yet-catchy pop song that wasn't specifically religious.

A debate raged at the time (early 90's) whether these artists were "selling out" by writing lyrics that were ambiguous enough to be sung as a love song to the Lord or to a girlfriend. Michael W. Smith had a couple of hits on top 40 radio with such songs. In the mid-90's Jars of Clay burst onto the scene when an early single, "Flood", made waves in both markets. U2 remained a conundrum as they had spiritually insightful lyrics, but refused to be labeled a "Christian" band. Those darn Irish rockers wouldn't let themselves be squeezed into the little CCM box!

Slowly, things have changed in the last 10 years in Christian music. Movies and TV shows started pulling songs from various Christian artists to play during the program. Switchfoot became a band that garnered a lot of respect in the general market, but were still considered "one of ours." Relient k participated in the Vans Warped Tour with other general artists. P.O.D. broke through to both markets. Songs by The Afters, The Fray, and others got noticed. Skillet's "Hero" was the major song for Sunday Night Football last year. The band Paramore is not considered a Christian band per se, but they have songs such as "Hallelujah" on their records.

Most of this has happened organically, without a lot of organization that I can tell. Perhaps there was behind the scenes maneuvering, but suddenly it was okay for bands to talk about spirituality without being black-listed to the CCM ghetto, and the CCM folks didn't fuss about "selling out" nearly as much. This isn't perfect: the band MuteMath sued their Christian distributor for being called a "Christian band", as they felt it hurt their image since "Christian music" wasn't considered the same quality as general market music. You don't find songs blatantly speaking of Jesus on mainstream airwaves.

Could this be the model that CBA fiction follows? There are parallels - Ted Dekker is successfully publishing in both ABA/general market as well as Christian fiction. The CCM flow right now seems to leave room for the overtly Christian tunes, such as Chris Tomlin's praise music along with the bands such as Superchick that have had some crossover appeal.

I can see this happening. I don't know much about marketing and how books get out to the Barnes and Noble of the world, but it would be nice if relationships could be built with publishers and booksellers, getting more CBA books into areas of greater visibility. Hopefully the Ted Dekkers of the world will help pave a way for the Eric Wilsons and Robin Parrishs of the world for greater exposure.

1 comment:

  1. I see things sort of the other way around (I tend to be wired that way). Most editors force you to write about sex and other matters even if as an author you don't want to because it's not part of the story and not the theme you are dealing with. YA has allowed me the freedom to tell the story that was urgently trying to get out.

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