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AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL
5 Things We Miss in Christian Music
NRT's J.J. Francesco takes a look at some things that we don't often see anymore in Christian music.
 


AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL, 5 Things We Miss in Christian Music
Posted: March 13, 2024 | By: JJFrancesco_NRT
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It'd be the understatement of the year to say that Christian music has changed. From popular styles to how we consume music in general, it looks different to listen to Christian music today than in the past. While many of these changes may be very well received, it's hard to notice some things that have fallen out of style. Whether they have been reduced to niche corners of the market or just outright discontinued due to obsolescence, there are some things we miss about the past in Christian music. I conversed with the NRTeam, and these are some of the things we miss most in Christian music.

Music Samplers

Many who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s of Christian music can remember picking up a sampler CD complete with various songs from different artists. Whether packaged with another purchase or offered at a discount at a Christian bookstore or festival, this was how many listeners discovered new music that the radio stations may not have yet. Sometimes, these samplers offered deeper cuts from famous artists or songs that wouldn't be released as singles yet. They usually featured a mix of A-list artists and lesser-knowns.

The age of streaming has rendered these more or less unnecessary. It's rare to see them these days. On one hand, streaming has opened up the doors to discovering new artists in a way samplers never could. But it was undoubtedly a bit special to have your own collection of songs on CD, compelling you to listen to songs you may not think to search out via streaming. Just because they are there and available doesn't mean you know about them. While some may view this as good riddance, it's hard not to be a bit bummed that these are no longer a thing.

 

Free Music Downloads

You may still find a few of these from time to time. But, like music downloads in general, they have fallen out of favor. The first thing to put the CD itself on notice, with large hard drives making it practical to store thousands of songs, the only thing that could top downloads was the near-infinite library offered by streaming. But to me, there was something special about downloading a song to a personal player--something I could take offline and listen to anywhere. I discovered so many songs offered through free downloads.

Whether here on NewReleaseToday or another music site, I first heard many of the artists I came to love through hearing a song offered as a free download. In the age of streaming, where a subscription service gives you an open array of content when we could only hear a song after paying, a free download was like being given free food at a festival. It meant more. It was yours, and it was often a song that had yet to be sent to radio stations. If it was an artist you hadn't heard of before, it was almost as if you'd discovered them yourself. While streaming has undoubtedly offered a lot of good to offset this loss, part of me still misses the thrill of discovering a favorite new song as a free download. 

 

Thought-Out Cover Art

This one is more a case of commonality than it disappearing. Many artists still put out quality cover art. But it's less common now. This is likely tied with the decline of physical CDs in general. An artist must wait to launch a full-on vinyl release to avoid the cover art becoming increasingly phoned in. While it's always been common for artists to use simple photos of themselves as cover art for a release, these photos have grown increasingly generic. How many cover art from the past few years can you name that are instantly iconic?

While there's nothing wrong with an excellent photo of the Newsboys serving as their album cover, think of how much more iconic the 50s game show theme of Take Me To Your Leader was. Or the quirky animated stylings of Relient K. Linear notes also had more thought put into them back in the day. With complete lyrics for the tracks and additional artwork from the photo sessions, it made physical albums a collector's item.

It is more than just a cover, but an actual experience on multiple senses simultaneously. This is something that just can't be replicated with the ease of streaming. And without iconic cover art to be attached to it, songs feel more aimless and transitory. When there was an iconic cover art to go with it, we could see that art every time the music played. Now? It's all just another song. 

 

Lost Genres

Some genres have completely fallen out of style in popular Christian music. Even putting aside the fact that the industry has fallen into a rut of choice between slightly hip-hop-influenced pop and megachurch corporate worship, some genres still barely even have a niche representing them. Take Ska, for example. Many modern listeners probably have yet to hear of those genres or standard bearers of Christian music (like O.C. Supertones).

What about Christian punk/rock like old Hawk Nelson or Relient K? In the mid to late 2000s, bands like Ivoryline, Capital Lights, and Falling Up were some of my favorites and received lots of airplay on Christian rock radio. But where have bands with that sound gone? While it has seen a slight resurgence in the past few years, the nu-metal hard rock of famous bands like Skillet or TFK is still not the dominant force it used to be. While non-fans of these genres will likely say good riddance, for those who connected with them, it's left them without much to connect to in the modern Christian music scene. 

 

The Lyrics

For our last one, this is purely subjective. Admittedly, it is an oversimplification. Perhaps this has always been an issue in the industry, and we remember the good more than the not-so-good. But regardless, it isn't easy to feel that lyrics just don't go as deep as they did in the past.

Many more modern offerings fail to stand up when listening to the biting social commentary of songs like those on Jesus Freak that challenged our complacencies and prejudices. Even looking at the blatant, unashamed critique of our secular culture in songs like "Living Life Upside Down" by Truth, the most modern songs can muster is telling people not to be so mean. Perhaps not a wrong message on the surface, but in the face of so many things in our age that go against Biblical teachings, it's hard to come away from the idea that there's not a lot of substance being said.

Indeed, it is important to encourage those hurting, but what about pointing them toward something deeper and more meaningful? Jesus is more than a rush of dopamine or a pep talk. Even modern praise and worship seem less interested in probing the profound mystery of the divine and more in coming up with another water-based metaphor for how happy Jesus makes us feel. Can we not demand a bit more out of our worship? 

 

What would you say? Are we totally out of line here? Are you just wearing nostalgia glasses? Do you have some modern examples that disprove some of these? Let us know. And if you need to include something about Christian music that we didn't cover.

J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, 'When Miracles Can Dream,' is out NOW!

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