If there’s one thing about GMA week that you can always count on, it’s this: you find what you’re looking for.
My search was for the heart of Christian music. I wanted to know what makes these artists tick, what separates them from their mainstream counterparts, what makes Christian music so … well, Christian.
Sure, there’s a lot of posturing. This is a business event, don’t forget. It’s a time when record labels are parading around their new artists, and veteran artists are showcasing their new projects, and everyone is vying for as much media attention as possible. Without record sales, there are no record labels, and while it’s nice for an artist to have a message, but without an avenue to get the message to the public, it’s back to the Burger King drive-up window.
The question is this: at Christian event promoting Christian music, how many of these folks are just putting on a face to fit in with the crowd? Are they serious about using their music to further the gospel? Or are they willing to slap a Jesus fish on the CD cover so they can make a few more sales?
Either most of these artists are a bunch of really good liars, or the Christian music industry is filled with folks who genuinely define their music by their faith.
For acts like By The Tree, Starfield, and Todd Agnew, it’s worship music to the church. Artists like Out of Eden and Ashley Cleveland are giving a new sound to traditional hymns. Stellar Kart, Seventh Day Slumber, Building 429, Fusebox, Jeremy Camp and newcomers Inhabited are using culturally relevant rock music as a platform that lets them minister to kids and give them a reason to invite their friends to church. New acts The Wedding, John David Webster, Lost Anthem, and Carried Away bring fresh faces and new sounds. Many acts are adding their own distinct flair to Christian music, like Latin artists Salvador; new worship artist Ricardo, whose songs are influenced with a mariachi sound; and folk/bluegrass artists Alathea. Celebrities you‘ve seen on television prove that Christians can make a difference in the mainstream, like American Idol’s George Huff and actor Stephen Baldwin. Acoustic singer/songwriter Randall Goodgame is a musical storyteller whose new album includes a tribute to Charles Schultz. Urban artist Bobby Bishop is using rap music to reach kids. Even comedian Bob Nelson has finally found a purpose in the Christian community – 13 years after he met Jesus.
All around Nashville are indie bands hoping that their CD gets in the right hands and learning about the industry. Rockers LastPageFirst, from Rochester, NY, were in Nashville for showcase in a hole-in-the-wall club, but had so much fun they decided to stay for the whole week, sleeping in their van parked next to the Renaissance Hotel. They enjoyed the kindness of industry folks like publicist Lynn McCain, who welcomed the guys to her annual Guitar Pull, one of the highlights of GMA Week. They got some impromptu words of wisdom about being grounded in the industry from By The Tree’s Aaron Blanton as we stopped to chat on a street corner.
GMA is also a time to meet up with publicists, writers, and musicians who are more than just industry connections, but old friends like Mike and Paula Parker, who are old hats at GMA week.
The third floor café is the hot spot for the week, the place to meet, greet, and have some coffee if the line’s not too long (no tea; they ran out by Wednesday). Karl Messner from ApologetiX and his publicist Kathleen Burke set up office on the couches around the corner, just outside the press room, where Karl imparts words of wisdom and comedic stories to not just his interviewers, but anyone who wants to stop by and hang out for a while. He shared with me about his daily Bible reading club, where he encourages fans to commit to read one chapter of the Bible each day and then send him an email letting him know what they read. While we sat on the couch talking about the program, he received his 14,000th Bible club email.
But there’s still work to be done, including three days of interviews, and more showcases than anyone could possibly attend. It’s not unusual to see visit several different clubs at opposite ends of downtown all in one night and still miss something great. Seminars and press conferences keep everyone abreast of new products and projects. Three floors of the convention hall are filled with booths, demonstrations, samples and more. Need a quote to get CDs manufactured? Want a copy of a magazine? Need a ticket distribution service? You’ll find it all in the exhibit hall.
The week culminates in the Gospel Music Awards, where Doves are handed out to artists for their contributions to Christian music. This year, rockers Switchfoot, who have enjoyed enormous mainstream success, won four Dove awards. Casting Crowns took home a Dove for Group of the Year, and lead singer Mark Hall took home awards for both Song and Songwriter of the Year. Jeremy Camp was again named Male Vocalist of the Year, and Nicole C. Mullen was named Female Vocalist of the Year. But proving that the awards don’t always go to household names but to the most deserving artists, Modern Rock Song of the Year went to MuteMath for “Control”.
In the end, Gospel Music Week is exactly what it should be: a business event conducted with grace and a Christ-like sincerity that transcends record sales. While the bottom line is what keeps these labels in business, it’s the servant attitude that keeps the main goal in focus: serving the church and reaching the lost through culturally relevant music.
2005 Dove’s Night Photo Gallery
Buy products from these artists at the CHRISTIAN ACTIVITIES MUSIC & BOOK STORE