Nashville, TN—The leading trade association for contemporary Christian music announced today that, after decades of relentless effort, they have finally succeeded in developing musical style appropriate to the elevator context.
Spokesperson Randall Jennings spoke from the headquarters of the recently renamed Christian Muzak Trade Association.
“The church has always had an incarnational presence in the world of music,” Jennings noted. “But times have changed. If you look at where the lost actually are, they’re not in music halls, or in cathedrals, [or in venues that assign the least importance to artistic merit]. They’re in elevators.”
“People are in elevators every day,” Jennings observes. “We’re using that cultural space to expose people to the Gospel at every level of society—literally.”
Contemporary Christian musicians have struggled for decades to produce the simple and inoffensive jingles that could gain them access to the exclusive world of elevator music. They view that presence as a key to Christian witness.
“Time was, you could rely on the church organist to reach people,” said Jennings, in apparent reference to such predecessors in cultural engagement as Johann Sebastian Bach. “These days, people don’t go for it. They want the least offensive and innovative music possible. They want the record executives to go out there and find the easy music for them. [And then they need it to be simplified again before it’s played on the radio.]”
The industry’s efforts have not been without criticism, however. “Some people have a real problem with Christian music being played alongside of [stripped down instrumental versions of] Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, or even Adele,” Jennings admits. “But isn’t that exactly where we need to be reaching people?”
A commitment to the elevator music genre has also meant that not everyone has found a place in the industry. That’s something that Seattle-based recording artist Josh Michaels has learned the hard way. Following a promising debut, his career faltered several years ago, after he included a fourth chord in his sophomore album.
“I guess it was a lesson in understanding what [recording executives say] audiences really want,” Michaels now says. “In my new album, I’m definitely sticking to just three chords. It’s actually mostly just pentatonic now.”
It’s too soon to tell whether Michaels can achieve his sought-after redemption in the industry, but optimistic observers have noted with approval his recent embrace of the synthesizer.
At CMTA headquarters, Jennings made clear that they won’t be resting on their laurels. “We’re not solidly established in elevators, but we’re not stopping there. We’ve hopes to make it into dentist’s waiting rooms. And one day, you might even hear Christian music when you’re on hold with the cable company. Onward and upward.”
The idea for this if-not-outright-meanspirited-then-certainly-close article came to me as I was enjoying Josh Garrel‘s wonderful new Christmas album, The Light Came Down (especially tracks 13 and 14), wondering how such a talented musician could not have a wider following. Best of luck to Josh and all the others out there pursuing music and discipleship to Christ in parallel!