ANSWER: I could write a book on this one! My response relates to the music industry, in general, but I’ll tailor it mainly toward the Christian industry. First, throw out the rulebook. The current system of testing songs merely ensures the next song will sound like the last song, and that the current audience will likely receive it well. If the target audience for Christian radio is a 35-50 year-old soccer mom with a mini-van, where does that leave the rest of us who don’t fit that demographic? To expand listenership, Christian radio needs to be bold and take some chances. The kids are the key, as they tend to be the largest consumer base for music. And the kids are the ones who need to be courted most aggressively with a strong Christian message. Otherwise, their only option is to turn to worldly music the likes of Lady GaGa, Jay Z, Katy Perry and Britney Spears.
The only way a broader audience will tune in is if their interests are being catered to. In my opinion, for terrestrial radio to survive in a day and age when new mediums for content delivery are popping out of the woodwork, the powers that be must loosen the reigns and return to an era when DJ’s were given the flexibility to discover and promote music from a gut level. DJ’s were once the tastemakers but, in today’s corporate climate, that ability has been squelched and relegated to test panels. Music listeners long for authenticity in the music they listen to. They know it when they hear it. And Christian radio, for the most part, is not servicing their full constituency well in this regard. Most music-loving Christians who demand artistically authentic music simply won’t tune in because they are well aware their tastes are being ignored. To be fair, Christian radio has come a long way over the course of the last twenty years. But the inherent lack of flexibility built into the current system stifles the likelihood of exposure for the vast majority of truly inspiring, ground-breaking and artistic music.
We must remember that music is an art form. Unfortunately, the industry tends to reduce music to the level of “product.” It has become something to peddle. Bring the passion back within the hearts of the DJ’s, PD’s and MD’s and a corresponding reaction will occur amongst the untapped listeners hungry for inherently artistic and creative music. Center the decision-making process in the hands of those who can transform radio rather than forcing personnel to be conformed by the tastes and attitudes of a very small subset of the Christian community. Music is not strictly something to be analyzed. It is something to be felt, lived and breathed. If radio wants to draw more listeners, decision-makers will need to take some risks. Turn the discovery process over to the front line decision-makers and challenge them to unearth “the next big thing!” I’ve always seen the Christian community as a microcosm of the broader community. Therefore, not all Christians find AC or CHR radio interesting.
It seems that the stigmas associated with the country, rap and hard rock genres prevent much of the most culturally relevant music from being heard. Christian music can be “family friendly” at 160 beats per minute as long as the lyrics are theologically sound and the heart of the messenger pure. Christian music will never be truly evangelistic if it’s not presented in a language the world understands. Let’s be honest, Johnny Sixteen-Year-Old doesn’t want to listen to his mother’s music. Mom is speaking proper English, but Johnny only speaks slang. Coincidentally, the mass market generally speaks slang as well. You dig?