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Contemporary Christian music

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Contemporary Christian music (aka Christian Rock or CCM) is form of religious music where the focus remains largely on the message expressed in the lyrics, which is from a decidedly Christian (often Protestant) perspective. Although there are many Christian music acts in the mainstream music industry, the term CCM usually refers specifically to artists within the Christian music industry that are played on Christian radio.

The term "Contemporary Christian Music" originated in 1976, when artist and album reviewer Ron Moore[?] used it to describe an album by Richie Furay. The industry itself began to emerge as early as 1975, when Myrrh Records began to sign Christian rock acts.

In the late 1970s publisher John Styll[?] began a magazine which focused on the genre, appropriately called Contemporary Christian Music Magazine. At the time, the magazine covered everything from gospel artists to "Jesus Music" artists of the 1960s like Larry Norman, Love Song[?] and Randy Stonehill, to mainstream artists with spiritual messages like Bob Dylan, Al Green and T-Bone Burnett. By the 1980s, the range of what was considered "Contemporary Christian Music" narrowed to artists primarily within the ever growing Christian music industry, like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman[?], Sandi Patti[?], DC Talk and Carman[?] although mainstream artists like U2 and Bruce Cockburn still appeared from time to time. By the 1990s however, mainstream artists were rarely mentioned within the pages of CCM.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a handful of record labels, like Frontline Records[?], Exit Records[?] and Refuge Records[?], focused on Christian Alternative music artists like Vector and Undercover[?]. For the most part, these alternative artists were largely ignored by the mainstream CCM industry, with only a few exceptions. One of these was Steve Taylor, who not only developed a large following within the industry, but also generated a lot of controversy with songs like "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good", which spoke out against pro-life activists who blow up abortion clinics to further their cause. Many people within the Christian music industry did not understand the meaning of the song and Taylor's album was pulled from the shelves of many Christian music stores. Taylor achieved a small amount of mainstream success as well. In 1984, Taylor was the first CCM artist to have a video ("Meltdown") played on MTV.

In the mid 1980s a number of CCM and Christian Rock artists began to achieve success in the mainstream, including Amy Grant and Stryper. Grant had a hit single in 1985 ("Find A Way"), appeared on all of the major television variety and talk shows and even had her very own primetime special on NBC. By the early 1990s, Grant would once again have a hit in the mainstream with her single "Baby, Baby".

By the 1990s and 2000s, sales of CCM music continued to soar. Artists like Grant and Michael W. Smith continue to pop up on the mainstream Billboard charts and top the CCM charts. Smith's 2002 live DVD Worship Again topped the Billboard video charts, beating out newly released videos of Elvis Presley and U2.

Criticisms of CCM

In the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, many Conservative Christian churches in the US were extremely critical of the form of music. Many felt that the message was buried in "worldly music". Preachers like Jimmy Swaggart wrote books on the subject, which were heavily critical of artists like Steve Taylor (who got an entire chapter devoted to him in one of Swaggart's books), Amy Grant and Stryper. Many preachers failed to see a difference between CCM and most mainstream rock and roll, which they saw as evil.

By the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, these views became more and more rare. However many artists within the industry have become increasingly critical of CCM for similar reasons. Some, like Steve Camp[?], feel that too many CCM artists have watered down the message too much in order to sell more music. From Camp's website: "Those of us who are privileged to represent our Lord Jesus Christ in the arts should be galvanized by mission, not by ambition; by mandate, not by accolades; by love for the Master, not by the allurements of this world. Is there justified concern that Contemporary Christian Music has abandoned its original calling from the Lord, left the Biblical standard for ministry and has failed to remain accountable to the local church? I believe it so."

Others, on the other hand, feel that regardless of what message is included lyrically, the art itself has been watered down, making the music bland and uncreative. These artists also usually feel like the industry puts too many restrictions on lyrical content and music production in an attempt to appeal to the largely politically conservative audience and Gospel Music Association. Many of these artists refuse to be called "CCM artists" these days, and in some cases, have cut ties with the industry altogether. One well known case of this was singer Leslie Phillips, who made a number of well received CCM pop rock albums in the early 1980s. By 1987, Phillips was ready to leave the industry completely, because she felt it was holding her back artistically, lyrically and musically. Other artists that feel this way have stayed in the industry, but have gone entirely independent, distributing their albums through mailorder and the internet.

CCM Artists

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