Whatever Happened to CCM?

I live in the “Buckle of the Bible Belt,” Greenville, S.C., and this place has always been a hotbed for Christian concerts by major Christian artists.

Recently, a friend remarked, “You always used to hear about Christian artists coming to town. Now, I never hear anything about Christian concerts! What happened?”

A lot happened in the past five years. I know a few Christian artists, and they all tell similar stories. One famous band had some #1 singles and were called into the label offices for a talk. The exec explained, “Guys, we’ve had several radio hits and you’ve only sold 10,000 CDs. We have no idea what’s going on.” They were dropped a few months later.

Another famous Christian artist lost his record and publishing deal due to low sales. A friend of mine played in the band of yet another famous Christian artist. I visited them on tour as they traveled in their huge, luxurious bus. A year later, the same artist traveled in a van with a stripped-down band, and the next year the artist stopped touring.

You’ve probably heard the basics as to why the music industry has gone down the drain—people aren’t buying CDs anymore. Instead, they’re downloading songs for free or paying a little bit. (Years ago, if you wanted that hit song, you had to buy the whole CD for $15.99. Now you can download just that song you want for $.99. This, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the music biz.)

Christian music has inherited the same problems that plague secular music, only it’s been hit harder. Studies have shown for years that only a tiny percentage of Christians ever darken the door of a Christian bookstore, let alone buy Christian music. So when such a small group stops buying music, an industry can vanish seemingly overnight.

The Grammy-winning engineer who records my HymnCharts arrangements in Nashville speculates that Christian music started to decline when Christian labels were bought out by the big secular labels in the mid ’90s.

People also have more entertainment choices today (computers, DVDs, Netflix, video games, etc.) that compete with their music dollars.

All these things have contributed to the decline of Christian music, but I think I’ve figured out the main reason: We just don’t need CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) anymore.

I became a young adult in the heyday of CCM 20 years ago. This time period was also the dawn of the worship wars (the church I attended wouldn’t even use Jack Hayford’s “Majesty” because it was too contemporary—we only sang hymns and old Gospel songs, as did most other Evangelical churches.)

CCM back then was so fresh, amazing and exciting! Young Christians went wild for it, literally desperate for a contemporary sound for our faith that we weren’t hearing in our churches. We flocked to Christian concerts, bought CDs and read CCM Magazine. I can remember counting the days for Amy Grant’s Unguarded, rushing to buy it the day it was released, then eagerly listening to the entire thing (I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down to solely listen to a full CD). The sounds, songs and grooves were breathtaking and so cutting-edge at the time. I felt like I had been in a traditional musical desert and took a drink of cool, contemporary water.

Now, years after the worship wars have been won, we hear fantastic contemporary music every week in church. That need of mine to hear a contemporary musical expression of my faith is met every Sunday morning by a great band and great worship leader with great sound and great lighting that matches (and generally surpasses) any traveling CCM artist. I don’t really care if X Christian artist is coming out with a new CD or is in town. CCM is nice and all, and will never completely go away, but I simply don’t need it like I used to. Actually, the only thing I’m interested in at this point is the latest worship music, and you’ll never hear a lot of the good stuff on the radio—it’s sprouting up from local churches outside the confines of the music industry.

Bottom Line: The church caught up to Contemporary Christian Music.