Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Death of CCM Magazine

Did you know that CCM Magazine was gone?

Neither did I.

I used to get CCM way back in the day, and looked forward to reading it cover to cover... when I say "back in the day", I am referring to about a six year span between 1995 and 2001 where my subscription ran uninterrupted, and no magazine went unread.

It was the go to source for news of dcTalk's new album, or this new girl named Jennifer Knapp or Nichole Nordeman had new music out, or this amazing article on Gary Chapman--and his side of the Amy Grant/Gary Chapman divorce--that came out sometime in the late 90s. CCM was a gold mine of not just Christian music information, but Christian life as well. There were festivals to read about, new artists, old artists, and somewhere, I still have the tribute issue from when Rich Mullins died in a car wreck.

When I ran Sunday Night Power, a Christian music show, in 1997 and 1998 for WTBT at Troy, I would use CCM as question material when interviewing Jars of Clay or Cindy Morgan or Audio Adrenaline... remember, the internet was not only newly formed at this time, but the dearth of informaion wasn't nearly as dearthy as it is now.

I guess sometime after 2001, maybe 2002, I let my subscription lapse. I think I let a few issues go by before renewing it, but then let it lapse again and never got around to picking it back up. Sometime over the years, CCM Magazine changed. Following Rolling Stone's lead, it dropped the in-depthness of its articles and columns, and began a more "glossy" style, with less opinion and journalism, replaced with puff pieces on the wonders of Chris Tomlin, or the legendary status of Michael W. Smith. Unlike Rolling Stone, however, there weren't legions of fans that, if some left because of the unfortunate changes, there'd be enough to pick up the slack.

It was also about that time that I couldn't tell the difference in Matt Redman and David Crowder and The Barlow Girls sounded like Aurora who sounded like Joy Williams who just lost my interest... hence, d$ and CCM Magazine parted ways, after almost 10 years together.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was doing a Wiki search on someone... I don't remember who... maybe Jars, maybe Kevinmax, but I read something along the lines of "...before CCM Magazine folded in 2008..." What? What is this? So I googled up CCM Magazine, and found out that yes, in April 2008, what I knew as Contemporary Christian Magazine had indeed ceased their monthly publication on their 30th anniversary. Gone.

CCM Magazine's final issue

In my searching, I found an interesting article from the, ironically enough, online magazine Patrol, written by David Sessions...

Sessions writes...

"It is quite a curiosity how frequently some cultural phenomena are pronounced dead. Rock music, in particular, dies at least once a decade. And now it seems the question is echoing in the Christian music industry almost as loudly, as those who remember the great days of dcTalk and the Newsboys wonder: Is Christian rock dead?

Further fueling the speculation is CCM magazine’s announcement that it will discontinue its print edition in April, the press statement announced that CCM readers “want information faster than a print magazine can deliver,” and explains the folding of the print magazine as an intentional move to allow CCM to put its energy into online content. It is difficult to imagine that the Christian music industry would have been the same without the magazine. For most of my life, it set the trends and made the brand among Christian youth. But over the past few years, CCM has fought a losing battle for its audience as it continues covering a product its target demographic, young evangelicals, consumes at a gradually decreasing rate.

On its face, such a transformation from print to web is hardly remarkable; print magazines of all stripes are, after all, struggling to survive in the new media environment. But in addition to triggering the media evolution, technology has contributed to the disappearance of CCM’s prime readership. Thousands of artists now able to self-market their music to the world, including Christian musicians uncomfortable with the industry’s insistence on marketable formula. Believers seem to have realized there’s quite a bit of great music out there, and Christians aren’t the only ones making it. With such a selection available, including many popular choices that lack traditionally offensive content, there remains no justification for Christians to subject themselves to the generally substandard fare offered in Christian bookstores.

CCM belatedly caught on to these trends, announcing last May that the magazine would change its name from “Contemporary Christian Music” to “Christ. Community. Music.” and would broaden its focus to include “Christian worldview music,” music made by Christians but necessarily intended for an exclusively evangelical audience. The magazine had previously covered only music with explicit religious content, a perennial annoyance to Christian artists who believed music should incorporate all aspects of life and creation without forced utterances of Jesus’ name or cliched religious imagery.

The magazine’s new incarnation was a step in the right direction, but was too little too late,even “Christian worldview music” is a scope too narrow to make their content roundly relevant to the young evangelical music consumer.

The broader coverage allowed CCM to benefit from the success of artists like Sufjan Stevens, but it also instantly associated him with the “faith brand,” a characterization that Christian musicians like Stevens and The Fray persistently resist. Individually, they contend, they are followers of Christ. Professionally, they are serious musicians who strive to be appreciated because they make great music for all kinds of people. At CCM, even in its newer, more “relevant” incarnation, artists were still generally more appreciated for being popular, successful Christians than they were for being excellent musicians. Thus even the new CCM didn’t necessarily appeal to the best Christian artists, many of whom are trying to avoid exactly the sort of distinction that labels like “Christian worldview music” make, most of all, association with the disposable, imitative art of the evangelical subculture.

There is no doubt that these changes in theology and technology had a negative impact on Christian music publications. If you visit the places where people should be reading CCM, Christian colleges campuses and church youth groups, you’re more likely to find copies of Paste or overhear references to Pitchfork Media, the same places their secular counterparts go for music information. And with the obvious fact that the middle-aged listeners of the few still-popular Christian bands like Casting Crowns aren’t the biggest readers of hip music rags, CCM faced a double-whammy: Christian artists don’t want any part of a separate “Christian music” industry, and young Christian fans aren’t primarily interested in the music that used to be called Christian rock. With both content and readers disappearing simultaneously, it was only a matter of time until the magazine would be forced to either transform completely or fold.

CCM’s Christian music coverage will still be around, but it remains to be seen if the magazine can compete in the competitive, crowded world of internet music journalism. And while some of us can’t help feeling at least a small wave of nostalgia for the publication that accompanied us through adolescence, we should be encouraged by the fact that a positive change, a growing commitment by Christians to break out of their artistic bubble, has brought its relevance to a conclusion."

(d$ again) I only posted this article because really, he says it better than I could. Here is CCM Online

Did you know that Michael Tait is now the lead singer for Newsboys? CCM Magazine would have told me this. .

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