CCM For Dummies (By A Dummy)

By Robert Gruber

Stand by for a Grace Notes flashback ... ah, yes, my first trip to the music section of the Christian bookstore. I was a newborn in the Lord, and I wanted to please Him by listening only to Christian music.

I was mystified as I took my first look around. "Where do I begin," I wondered. It was like looking through the music selection on another planet. I didn't know who any of these artists were, and yet, in Christian circles, most of them were huge. Unfortunately, in the early '90's, the popular artists were ... well, they weren't my style, let's just put it that way. DC Talk had yet to discover grunge, so they sounded like New Kids on the Block. Michael W. Smith was flirting with crossover success, but his music had that "adult contemporary" thing happening, as did Amy Grant, Twila Paris, Wayne Watson, Russ Taff ... ehhh, it just wasn't me, you know.

So I was quite surprised to stumble upon "alternative" Christian music by bands like The Choir, L.S.U., Adam Again and the 77s. There was Christian punk and hardcore stuff by bands like the Crucified, Crashdog and Scaterd-few. I even got into some cool rap stuff by S.F.C, Idol King and Freedom of Soul. I was amazed - there wasn't a whole lot to choose from, but most of what there was, was quite good (and a lot of it was marked down because nobody was buying it!). Now, only a few short years later, there are literally hundreds of cool Christian acts playing all styles of music. The kid who becomes a Christian now and wants to glorify God by listening to Christian music has a plethora of great stuff to choose from.

If you're like I was, though, you may be somewhat confused when you enter the music section of the Christian bookstore. Allow me then to offer a few helpful hints:

1. Word of mouth: Always the #1 most effective form of advertising. The music buyer at the bookstore should be able to help. Maybe someone in your youth group at church can recommend a CD or group to you. Even your youth pastor may know of some cool bands (one warning here, though - if your youth pastor suggests titles by Petra, Stryper or (gulp!) Carman, just back away slowly, or offer to pray for him).

2. Demo. Christian bookstores allow you to listen to "demo" CDs through headphones. This is how I first got into CCM, by spending time listening to demos, then making my selections. The only problem I had with this was when I'd find myself next to someone who would be singing out loud to whatever demo they were listening to. Quite a stumbling block this can be, to have one of your brothers or sisters in the Lord squawking out the lyrics to a favorite praise chorus, as though this impromptu performance is a blessing to the shoppers. The temptation is to jerk whatever they're listening to out of the CD player, plug in a grindcore CD and crank it all the way up, let a little Mortification or Living Sacrifice red-line on 'em for a few seconds, the aural equivalent to being maced, heh, heh ... uh, but that would be wrong, so ...

3. Samplers: Most Christian labels put out great sampler CDs and tapes at low prices. The average sampler can cost from $1.99 to $6.99 and can contain as many as 20 songs by various artists. A very good, cost-effective way to check into new music.

4. Magazines: Press coverage for Christian artists rivals the mainstream in terms of quality and quantity. There are some great publications out there, notably 7-Ball (which comes with a sampler CD for only $3.98), Release (which also comes with a sampler CD or tape), CCM, Cornerstone (the "Rolling Stone" of Christian music and culture), and HM (formerly Heaven's Metal, the "HM" now stands for "hard music" and is also available with sampler CDs.

5. Internet: If you have access to the worldwide web and a soundcard on your computer, you can download a free RealPlayer (www.real.com) and check out song samples on websites, as well as read up on various Christian Artists. There's also this mp3 thing (www.mp3.com), which I'm not quite up to speed on, sorry!) which allows you to check out entire songs by established and upcoming artists.

6. Comparison charts: A great way to find out who sounds like whom. Let's face it, when someone tells you about a great new band they like, the first question you're likely to ask is, "Who do they sound like?" Many music sections in Christian stores will have a current comparison chart available, and they'll read something like this: If you like: Limp Bizkit / Korn / Deftones, then check out: P.O.D. / Every Day Life / Project 86, or: if you like Third Eye Blind / Matchbox 20 / then check out: Lincoln Brewster / Sonic Flood / or Big Tent Revival's newest, "Choose Life."

Hopefully, these few pointers will make the wonderful new world of contemporary Christian music a little less confusing for you. If you have any other questions, I'd be glad to answer them personally via e-mail (Izzy81@aol.com or editor@louisvillemusicnews.net).