Normally I’m a fan of NewReleaseTuesday. Thanks to my subscription, I get emails every week about all the new Christian music coming out, and occasionally I get to stream a much anticipated album a week or two early. All for free. It’s a pretty sweet deal. I guess they were bound to do something I wasn’t in love with at some point or another.
The other day, I found a blog series on NRT entitled “The Sound Option.” The author takes various popular mainstream artists and offers a “sound option” from the stable of active Christian bands. Comparisons include The City Harmonic to Coldplay, Dara MacLean to Adele, Beckah Shae to Rihanna, and others.
I guess this isn’t a new concept. Ever since I was a kid just discovering what Christian music had to offer outside of Sandy Patty and Steve Green, there have been charts telling me that if I liked Blink-182 I should listen to Relient K or that if I liked Eminem I should give John Reuben a shot. I guess the older I get the more trouble I have with the idea that for every popular mainstream act, there is a Christian band I can – and should – listen to instead.
Part of my problem with this mode of thinking is that it encourages us to settle. This isn’t grocery shopping, where the off-brands are the same thing with a different label. A band trying to imitate Coldplay is not going to be pretty much the same thing. If you want to listen to Coldplay, go listen to Coldplay. Don’t grab a cheap knockoff and say, “Well, at least the lyrics are positive.” A lot of the comparisons made in this “Sound Option” blog are a bit of a stretch. Most of these bands are great groups without the “Christian alternative” factor. But if you play Dara Maclean’s new album expecting to hear something almost exactly like “Rolling in the Deep,” you will be sorely disappointed.
My other problem is that there actually are Christian artists out there who basically exist to be the Christian version of mainstream acts. This was rampant in the 90’s (ever wonder why there were roughly a gazillion Christian punk bands when Blink-182 was so popular?) and we still see a bit of it today. Call me crazy, but I’d rather hear an artist try to come up with an original sound rather than lying in wait to snag the latest teen whose mother forbids Usher in the house.
But as much as I want to get high and mighty and demand only original-sounding Christian bands, I’m torn. Because Christian artists aren’t the only ones being derivative. Just turn on your local Top 40 radio station and tell me how many distinct sounds there are. The fact of the matter is that when something is popular, folks try to emulate it. That’s why we have musical genres. Record labels see that this or that type of music is popular with consumers, so they go out looking for artists who are influenced by that sound. Radio stations see this type of music is really popular with listeners, so they give it tons of spins. Listeners hear the music a lot, become familiar with it, then go out and buy albums. The cycle repeats itself.
And I do see a value for providing a Christian alternative to some of the music out there. Music is powerful. It affects people whether they admit it or not. Maybe there is a place for Christian versions of 3OH!3 and Radiohead, but I don’t know. I’m still wrestling with this.
What do you think? Are Christian bands being too derivative of mainstream acts? Is it even a big deal if they are?