Why Most Christian Bands Stink

Stryper

“Christian rock?” I asked my friend Adam as he proudly pointed toward the new Stryper poster adorning his bedroom wall. “They can’t be real Christians!” I exclaimed.

“Yes they can!” Adam protested back. “They’re Christian rockers!”

I remained deeply suspicious, secretly knowing these Maya-the-Bee-cartoon-character-knock-offs in multi-colored tights were undercover agents of the Devil.

It’s kind of funny looking back on it. An eight-year-old, conservatively raised, Church of Christ preacher’s kid growing up next door to a much more expressive, nine-year-old, Pentecostal preacher’s kid (okay, so they weren’t really Pentecostal – they were non-denominational, but definitely with charismatic leanings).

More than once I’d told Adam it was a safe bet both he and his family were on their way to the hot place (I mean, several of them had mullets and were fans of Benny Hinn for goodness sakes). This whole “Christian rocker” thing was simply another log on the fire.

Stryper wasn’t the only baptized devil music Adam was in to – Petra, Carman, D.C. Talk – all were introduced to me by him way back in the 80s, and so I listened.

At first, I had no real frame of reference to compare Christian bands to, but as I grew older and was introduced to other more well-known “secular” bands – Beck, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sublime, Alice in Chains, 311, and more – I realized just how sub-par Christian bands tended to actually be. They were several steps below the mainstream showing no real signs of improvement.

And so, after being into DC Talk as an eleven-year-old (after getting their Free At Last album for Christmas), I eventually became disenfranchised with “Christian” music. Not coincidentally, this move away from Christian music coincided with my move away from all things Christian – for many years I lived as an unbeliever.

But when I came to Jesus in my early twenties, I never returned to Christian rock. My foray away from faith for a few years had led me into the mainstream music industry working at several radio stations as a modern rock DJ (not that a Christian can’t be a modern rock DJ, but I certainly wasn’t). An expert, if you will, on the then-current rock music scene.

My taste in music had been refined. I’d observed enough as a working professional to recognize talent and distinguish the difference between a good band and the unfortunate alternative. As skill went, most secular bands didn’t make the cut, and Christian bands barely had a chance since, in their musical culture, real talent had largely been a missing key ingredient for years (you can accuse me of over-generalizing, but deep down you know I’m telling the truth).

In my estimation, bands were signed to Christian labels, not because they had the right “stuff”, but because they had the right message – the right lyrics. In Christian rock, the message in the lyrics had always been more important than the technical skill involved in creating a great track. This always irked me, because I believe an artist’s display of technical skill is part of the message of their art.

If a song is technically sound, that says a lot. Whoever produced it is saying, “I’m passionate about this. I care about this a lot. I care about what I’m saying in this song so much, that I want to do everything right to make sure you listen, because what I’m saying is really, really important. What I’m saying is close to my heart, and I don’t want anything to get in the way of the message of this song or the experience I want you to have in listening.”

Conversely, if a song is technically unsound and put together in a shabby way, that communicates a lot too. It says, “I’m not very passionate about my music. What I’m saying in this song isn’t incredibly important because I’m going to let all these other things distract you. Off key? No problem. Cheesy chorus? Check. Lyrics that could have been written by a first grader at recess? You got it. But hey, I’m in a Christian band, so the Christian label signed me because of my professed faith – not because of I have high level skill. Now listen and enjoy!”

Okay, so maybe I’m being a little harsh, but this is seriously where my mind goes when not enough attention is paid to detail by a “professional.” What they’re saying without knowing it is, “This really isn’t the right profession for me” (to be clear, I don’t apply this type of thinking to amateur musicians – just professionals or wanna-be professionals).

This is on my mind today because I just finished reading Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock by Andrew Beaujon for a class I’m taking at Fuller. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book, but after diving into the first chapter a couple of days ago I knew the rest was going to be good and it was.

Beaujon is an excellent writer and regular contributor to The Washington Times, Spin Magazine, and several other noted publications. In addition to that, he isn’t a Christian, so reading his book covering the Christian music scene gave me an outsider’s perspective – something I really appreciate when it comes to any aspect of faith.

Beaujon, like me, believes that most bands active in the Christian music scene aren’t worth listening to, and (also like me) believes the reason most of them get signed to a label is because of their squeaky-clean image and the content of their lyrics – not because their musical talents and skills are outstanding. There are exceptions, however, and many are noted in his book.

I know Christian rock music has come a long way since the 80s. You people who listen to Jeremy Camp, Hillsong, Kutless, or Casting Crowns can put down your sticks – there are some good bands involved in the Christian music scene today, BUT they are few and far between. I believe the industry will remain this way until Christian labels and bands alike resolve to place the same amount of value on technical skill and production quality as is placed on message and band image.

Until this happens, Christians bands will continue to stink. But times are a’changing.

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45 thoughts on “Why Most Christian Bands Stink

  1. b says:

    *slowly putting down my stick*

  2. b says:

    actually, i wasn’t interested in christian rock music as a teen either,
    the first song I remember really liking was Flood by Jars of Clay that was a minor crossover hit and got radio play on our local station.

    I really started listening to Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, and Third Day, Mike W. Smith, etc. since I was 24

    • WesWoodell says:

      Jars of Clay was actually okay – I liked them. Average, but definitely not sub-par.

      P.O.D. is probably my favorite Christian band, though they don’t like that label. They instead prefer to think of themselves as Christians IN a band, which is great – they’ve been able to take their message mainstream (but without sacrificing technical skill).

  3. jamesbrett says:

    We’ve got to go to ‘King of the Hill’ yet again for this one:

    Hank: Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.

    Pastor ‘K’: You people are all the same. You look at us and think we’re freaks. Hey man, even Jesus had long hair.

    Hank: That’s because I’m not his father.

  4. Jen says:

    Harsh!! C’mon Wes there are quite a few christian bands that make up for the lifeless watered down crap christian rock has a reputation for.. Third Day is uh-mazing, definitely one of my fav’s. Check out their stuff! Revelation is a great cd.

    http://www.thirdday.com/revelation.htm

  5. Mags :D says:

    *stands*
    *applause*
    Wes, you hit the nail on the head. I have disliked most all Christian music for some time now, but when I tell people that they look at me like I’m a horrible person and “how could I not loooooove Casting Crowns? Their music is so good!”

    *pukes* I admit, I do have some of their music, but that’s like a few songs not entire albums. If I did I would get annoyed since every song sounds the exact same. Sure, that argument can be made for a lot of “secular” (am I the only one who can’t stand that term?) bands, but they at least write their own music, can sing and/or play an instrument(s) well and sing about real life without cliche imagery of lights and fountains and whatever other nonsense.

    I hope my fellow commenters don’t throw their stick at me…

  6. rogueminister says:

    I beg to differ sir…

    Thousand Foot Krutch, Disciple, Norma Jean, Derek Webb, Andrew Peterson, Bleach, Blindeside, The Supertones, Relient K, 116 Clique, Lecrae, Justifide, Spoken, Waterdeep, Anberlin, Copeland, Emery, MxPx, Project 86, Underoath, The 7 Method, Zao, Demon Hunter, Pillar, August Burns Red, Five Iron Frenzy, etc etc etc… Are all good bands (just to name a very few)… Maybe you are just looking in the wrong places, like Christian radio…

    As someone who has worked in the Christian music industry organizing and producing concerts I assure you that there are loads and loads of excellent bands out there who profess Christ…

    Also, I saw striper a while back at an event with a bunch of retired WWF wrestlers, Ron Jeremy and xxxChurch Pastor Craig Gross… Very strange event!

  7. Keith D. Stefanko, R.N. says:

    Rogueminister hit it with several of the bands that started to turn my hatred to respect for the genre having some future hope….

    …Thousand Foot Krutch, Disciple, Bleach, Blindeside, The Supertones, Relient K, Waterdeep, Underoath & The 7 Method are on my iPod too, bro!

    Heck I’ve been listening to MxPx since about the time vinyl turned to CD’s and they keep getting better all the time!

  8. WesWoodell says:

    Yeah, several of those he mentioned are pretty good, but try as they might, they don’t make up for years of mediocrity … not yet anyway :p

    Things are, however, slowly getting better.

  9. Mags :D says:

    fyi commenters:

    relient k, anberlin, copeland, cool hand luke, mae and some others, while Christians are not “Christian bands” just bands with Christian members. 🙂

  10. WesWoodell says:

    Surprised nobody mentioned Evanescence. Of course, they’re not a “Christian band” either – just a band with Christians in it.

  11. Mags :D says:

    oh yeah….i forgot about them. 🙂

  12. rogueminister says:

    Mags, not entirely true. Though, I guess there really is no such thing as a ‘christian’ band any more than there can be a ‘christian’ coat hanger, but the guys from Relient K and Copeland at least use there music specifically with the goal of sharing the gospel and minister to people’s needs. They even often share the gospel message at concerts…

    • Josh Freeman says:

      Interesting thought! However, it seems to me that many bands spread only a “version” of the gospel…or as I call it…their gospel. For example, upon attending Kingsfest…many bands “with christians” attended and included casting crowns, jeremy camp, and many others. One thing I noticed was a constant changing of different “gospels.” What I mean is, one band would share its message that speaks of an “experience” given to them which saved them. another, speaks of a prayer which saved them while another spoke of a savior who died and asks for a sinners prayer of devotion. While it is true that they are spreading “a” gospel…I often wonder if any are spreading “the” gospel or are they just confusing people? Not saying this is their intent…just that it seems to happen.

  13. K. Rex Butts says:

    Wes,

    I don’t know about the talen pool being anymore shallow in the Christian Music biz as it is in Mainstream Rock biz (although in this catagory, I see some promising signs of turnaround). It seems record companies, in an effort to make money, will turn out anything if it will sell for its ’15 minutes of fame’ regardless of its talent (or lack there of).

    I do like the late Rich Mullins, Casting Crowns, and some of Steven Curtis Chapem’s and Michael W. Smith’s music. Lyrically I am not going to argue with any of them because their lyrics speak of a faith we share in common. But stylistically, IMHO most of the Christian music falls into the same catagory as mainstream bands like Chicago, Air Supply, Back Street Boys, Jonas Bros., etc… they call it AOR music in the industry and it is the style that always sends me thumping my index finger on the radio scan button.

    I grew up listening to hard rock/heavy metal…the other day I heard on the radio a song I haven’t heard in a while…Motorhead “The Ace of Spades.” Now there’s a song that will get me going. Think Deep Purple “Highway Star”, Aerosmith “Toys in the Atic” Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train”, AC/DC “Thunder Struck”, Cinderella “Shake Me”, Metallica “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth “Peace Sells”…

    There is a list of songs where the style of the music alone makes me want to crank that volume louder and louder…oh if I could find a Christian band that musically/stylistically played with that sort of frenzy…which Stryper mostly had until they came out with that AOR album called “In God We Trust”.

    Just some thoughts.

    Rex

    P.S., I have seen both Steven Curtis Chapmen and Casting Crowns in two separate concerts and they definitely have the live talent.

  14. K. Rex Butts says:

    One more thing…back in the early college years my roomate and I used to have our alarm wake us to Pantera…talk about a shock to the system when you are half asleep.

  15. Grant Heston says:

    Living Sacrifice. Enough said.

  16. WesWoodell says:

    Grant – Living Sacrifice eventually became P.O.D. unless that’s a lie someone told me.

  17. WesWoodell says:

    And that was a lie someone told me – I found the scoop here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Truby

    That kid Adam I mention in the article (who is still my friend) went to church with the Trubys – I remember his younger brother, Chad. Jason was an original member of Living Sacrifice and also a member of P.O.D. for a while.

    • Grant Heston says:

      Yeah, they actually broke up for awhile and the guitarist went on to be the drummer for Evanescence. But now they are back together. They just put out a new album and they are playing at Juanitas here in Little Rock tonight.

  18. James Wood says:

    Wes, you are so right on this.

    I had to delete my thoughts before I posted them, I don’t want to come across as attacking people or tastes. It’s fine with me if you prefer to listen to Christian music. That’s your choice.

    However, please don’t tell me that I need to. Don’t tell me that I just need to hear YOUR band or this ONE song and then I’ll like it. I won’t. Trust me. And if it’s ok for you to listen to Christian music (despite its flaws), then it should be ok for me to listen to my music. That’s my choice.

  19. […] found these industry professionals think most Christian movies stink for the same reasons I think most Christian bands stink! Either that’s a startling coincidence, or we’re both right. I vote for the […]

  20. Alex Swango says:

    I always laugh when my friends would listen to Air-1 Christian radio and talk about people who became Christians because of the music that was there. I just can’t see a non-Christian listening to a lot of that rubbish. It might happen I suppose, The Spirit surprises me a lot. He is amazing like that.

    I always cringe when the commercial for “Songs for Worship” album put out by Time Life comes on. Here we have all these cheesy music and everyone looks as if they are brainwashed. What must that look like to non-believers? If I were a non-believer, I wouldn’t want to be part of that. In fact, I am a believer and I don’t want to be part of something that seems to have very little depth.

  21. […] readers know this is not something I would have signed up for on purpose. Too bad … I said I would listen and do a review of this when I hurriedly signed up, so […]

  22. T.Lea says:

    Relient K, Family Force Five, Flyleaf, Paramore, Phil Wickham, Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, 116 Clique, Stacie Orrico, Switchfoot, RED… I could go on, but I think these are some fair examples of good talent + appeal to both Christian and secular markets.

    I do absolutely hear what you’re saying; there are a lot of Christian bands I have heard and I’m like “eh…, really?” but at the same time, there are a lot of secular bands out there that suck too. I think it’s honest to consider that the Contemporary Christian market is sizably smaller than the secular market, which has influence on how obvious a group or an artist’s lack of technical skill is. Lack of skill happens all the time in the secular industry, but I think because the industry is so broad, those artists just get swallowed up by more talented acts and they just kind of fade out of our sight. Because the secular industry is always churning, I think we barely get a glimpse of some of these acts; though I am sure there is a heavy reality of them. I think the Christian music industry churns at a slower rate. Also, in addition to being a smaller market, it has also had some opposition along the way which may have hindered its formation from being as fresh and modern as the secular market as quickly. I think the Christian market is doing a pretty good job at catching up, and is pretty on point in a number of areas as of recent. I see quality improving. I know in the music industry before, you could record songs on a demo, submit to a record label and after a few other happenings you may get signed. Now, they want to see artists actually play live. Good move. Nerve racking for aspiring musicians, but it raises the bar to identify real talent rather than listening to edited refined tracks from a demo made in a studio.

    Kudos for posting this article. It’s thought provoking and is helpful to anyone in the Christian music industry who wants to gain perspective from a person’s honest opinion. In my opinion, from what I know about the Christian music industry as of late, they seem to be making great strides with increasing success. It may not be that apparent as of yet, because in some respects the industry still smacks of work in progress. Though I wouldn’t sleep on them as they seem to be really catching up to speed, and gravitating to the forefront with the music scene.

    By the way, my background is Church of Christ; hehe so I was laughing at your comparisons between you and your childhood friend. =D I’m currently attending a Christian Church that basically teaches the same thing as the Church of Christ, but add instruments & a more relaxed post-modern kinda feel. =P

    Cool article man.

    • WesWoodell says:

      I think there’s a lot of truth in what you’ve said – thanks for the insightful comment, and I am a fan of the Christian Churches.

      God bless 🙂

    • MrPrentiss says:

      Why does Jesus love a good power ballad? Has god created 5/4 time just for jazz? Also what’s with getting your social mores from the bronze age. Or going all in on a pretend being that either really loves humans or will unleash a mass extinction event saved only by an incestuous boat captain. Did I forget to mention the talking snake? Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

  23. Jamey says:

    First off let me state that “most” mainstream Christian music makes me kringe, for many of the same opinions that you stated. But as a musician in a Christian band, I would put our music against any secular bands. Now don’t get me wrong I am not trying to be arrogant, I’m just passionate about our music, and as someone who goes to alot of concerts both Christian and Secular, some of the best and worst shows I have been to are bands we have played with. I do understand that it seems that people are afraid to be criticle towards young Christian bands. But I also think it helps us that we play a balance of Christian and secular venues(bars) with the same set at both. Oh and I hate to admit, but we are generaly treated better by the secular bands and clubs. No wonder Christian music gets a bad rap.

  24. mark says:

    No doubt! I am a follower of christ and all though a lot of christian music sux, it has came a long-long way. Look at “as I lay dying,” underoath, PRo, and many others. I am musician myself, I play guitar and write music but I want it sound as good as it can. Look at needtobreathe, they are rediculously awesome!

  25. miked5944 says:

    I kinda just wonder if any of you would say the critical things you say about Christian bands to them specifically if you were standing face to face…”your music sucks”, “you lack talent”, “great lyrics but you can’t play”…whatever your impression of their talent level, I personally would rather listen to them because they sing a good message in a time musically where a good message is hard to find…have we forgotten, folks, that Ephesians 4:29 would ask us not to say things that tear people down…of course I could just be being sensitive because I was “that kid” who listened to Stryper, Petra, Bloodgood, Whiteheart, etc…

  26. Daniel Wingfield says:

    Gungor. Gungor Gungor Gungor.

    Then also theres Matt Kearney if you want some piano rock. Ben rector is also stellar. Not necessarily Christian labels, but still good.

    Jon foreman and switchfoot ( both together and severally) are exceptions to what gets played on k love.

    I’m a music snob too.

    No matter what, Coldplay, radiohead, Mumford & sons beat all these in my Book.

    But overall I agree.

    • WesWoodell says:

      Thanks for the comment and suggestions – I’ll check them out 🙂

      • BigDrG says:

        I’m sure some would take exception with the following, but in my estimation in the realm of Christian rap / Christian hip hop the Christian versions often exceed their worldly counterparts. There are a few reasons for this. Hip-hop is very much sampler and synthesizer driven, and doesn’t depend on the sound of a live band as much. With computer and electronic technology becoming both more powerful and more affordable every day this music media is accessible to more and more artists. (Remember how Jermain Dupree’s first studio was literally in his closet?) Of course the accessibility of that technology gives a chance for any Joe Christian Rapper with a few bucks in his pocket to put out a mixtape (CD these days) and proclaim himself as a Christian rapper. But then again, that’s part of the beauty of that genre, the bad artists are weeded out by the market (i.e., no one buys their stuff) before they can go mainstream.

        Another reason is that rap and hip-hop are lyrically intensive (or maybe I should say lyrically intense), so a true disciple of Jesus who has been to the well more than once can dip into the deeper aspects of Christian life and come up with some profound statements that will captivate a lyrically hungry audience. Of course, there is the potential to be cutesy and trite too, but the fan base will weed those out (or maybe I should say it will whomp whomp them out). Well, even if they aren’t ceremoniously yanked off the stage like at the Apollo Theater, the fan base will vote with their dollars by either buying (or not buying) their CD’s.

        Finally, hip hop used to be much more culturally relevant than it is today. (There’s a reason why Flava Flav, who regardless of the caricature he has become today was a master hype man back in the day, wore a big ole clock constantly.) There are a few notable exceptions (Talib Kweli), but for the most part hip-hop and rap were taken over by rich white executives and is primarily marketed to white suburban kids. Although still primarily black artists, the targeted audience is primarily white, and there are just certain things you don’t say / issues you don’t push if selling records (to white kids) is your primary motivation, not affecting social change. The culture clash that Jesus (and Christians) presents to a lost and dying world is laden with ripe lyrics and rich imagery.

      • WesWoodell says:

        There has been an emergence of some very talented Christian rappers in the past few years – I have been impressed with several of them and believe the Christian rap scene is a bright spot in the industry.

  27. Erik says:

    A lot of the more talented Christian bands are the ones that arent mainstream. I remember as a teenager in the 90’s that all the Tooth and Nail bands that no one heard of were the best.

  28. Cory says:

    No one on here has mentioned Neal Morse, and to me he is the most interesting and talented artist in the realm of Christian music. His music is progressive, epic, and challenging; all things which are not very common within this genre. I urge everyone to at least check out his “Testimony” albums….they are simply brilliant. He came from a great prog rock band called Spock’s Beard previously, and it is inspiring to know that there is someone who is as talented as the guys in Dream Theater playing some thought-provoking Christian rock.

  29. Cubby says:

    One word THEOCRACY Tat band has technical skill and talent and three albums they more than make up for the years of cheesy mediocrity with epic cheese try them they are really cool

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