Christian Music's Sub-Genres Help Spread the Gospel Far and Wide

Andrea Williams Feb 20, 2013 05:56 PM EST

Heavy metal, hip hop, adult contemporary. You name the secular style of music and there is a full cast of artists and bands propping up its Christian counterpart. Yet while the numerous genres and sub-genres may confuse the novice listener - at least initially - it's actually a major advantage for the faith-based music industry.

"For us at Szabo Songs, the segmentation of Christian and Gospel music is critical, and I think it's good for the genre overall," says songwriter and music publisher Geoff Szabo.

This October, his company will release Pink Christmas, a Christian Christmas CD primarily, but with ties to Breast Cancer Awareness month given the title track. He acknowledges that all women effected by breast cancer are not devout Christians, but because of the devastating impact of the disease, he believes that more individuals will be open to the positive messages of his music.

Even still, he is careful to consider the core demographics of his target audience. The segmentation within the Christian music industry allows him to tailor a sound geared directly to the tastes of his listeners that will, again, expose even non-Christians to the Gospel.

"Music in the style of Mary Mary, for instance, is probably not going to appeal to white women over the age of 50," says Szabo. "In our case, this is exactly the target market and, therefore, our production is fully orchestrated with an emphasis on meaningful lyrics and melody - with no rhythm section pounding out beats on 2 & 4. I don't expect to attract a younger audience, unless their mothers or grandmothers have breast cancer, and then...just maybe."

Because of the universality of music, it is one of the best ways to reach a wider audience and build the Kingdom of God - which should be the ultimate goal of any Christ follower. And because of the vast segmentation in the Christian market, that message can be carried directly to those that need it most, in a way that they can understand and are receptive to, and without fear of it getting lost in translation.

As a perfect illustration, Lecrae's recent Grammy win, plus his ability to sell incredible numbers as an independent artist (he pushed 70,000-plus units of Gravity the first week after its release), has helped to lift hip hop away from the fringes of Gospel to the center stage of urban, faith-based music.

"I believe that [gospel rap] is a great witnessing tool for any hip hop lover out there, and the reason is because we have a replacement for what your taste is," says Andre Griffith, host of the Stellar Award-nominated C1 Radio Show, covering all the latest in contemporary Gospel music. "We didn't have that years ago. I always say you can't take away someone's Jay-Z CD and give them Shirley Caesar. Now we have that alternative: Give them Da T.R.U.T.H. Like Lil Wayne? Give them Tripp Lee. Chris Brown your flava? How about Jor'Dan Armstrong?"

Juvenile detention ministry worker Darlene Tenes agrees. "It is helpful for me to bring in music that the teenagers can relate to and that includes everything from rancheros to acid rock and hip hop to Christian country music," she says. "I had a couple of kids who were practicing Satanism, and little by little I introduced them to Christianity and brought in some Christian metal CDs with positive messaging."

But even though the benefits of a highly segmented industry are evident and potentially profound, there may be slight concern that all of the division - albeit only stylistically - can have a negative impact on Christian music as a whole.

"While there is something quite special about Christians - young and old alike - having musical options that cater to their own preferences, there is something even more special about the artists who seem to have a knack for bridging the generational gaps," says Greg Freeman, a scholarly writer who has covered Gospel music extensively. "Bill Gaither and Andrae Crouch have done wonders in this area, and we've seen artists like Kirk Franklin join ranks with Rance Allen.

"So, yes, I think it is indeed positive that Christian music comes in a variety of forms, but I think we need to strive to come together more often. I think our churches and our industry benefit when we do."


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