Interview with Kathryn Darden

Kim Ousley is writing an article on women in the Contemporary Christian Music Industry for the Anderson, IN “Andersonian” and interviewed Christian Activities Publsher, Kathryn Darden as part of her research. We will run Kim’s article in a future issue.
Kim Ousley (KO): From one who is involved in the Christian music industry, what roles have women played over the years, how have they evolved or changed and what direction do you see it heading?

Kathryn Darden (KD): Women have always had a big impact on Christian Music, in the beginning as artists like Evie, and now as leaders of corporations. The 80’s and early 90’s saw a lot of women launching their own companies. Marilyn Lorenz has been running her own company, the Copyright Company since April of 1991. In 1992 I officially launched Christian Activities Magazine (although I began publishing a smaller version in 1988). Lisa Jones launched her own booking agency in the 80’s and Laurie Anderson started her own Management Company a few years later.
Women also head many departments at major labels now. Traditionally, women have been found in PR departments, but now you have women like Nina Williams in charge of Marketing at Essential, Leigh Ann Hardie is VP of Marketing at Sparrow/EMI, and many women head A&R, Publishing and other departments now. Really, the number of women taking leadership roles in this industry are too numerous to mention and this is a very incomplete list only designed to give you an idea of the many ways women are at the helm of the Christian Music Industry.
KO: What women do you credit for bringing their talent and ministry to the music?

KD: I credit ALL women for bringing their talents to music! I think a lot of women look at Pamela Muse and Melinda Scruggs Gales as examples of pioneers of women in leadership roles who established a lasting presence for women in the Christian music industry. As an artist, Amy Grant certainly helped shape the industry as a young girl in the 80’s, sharing music with her friends one day, and within a few years, a nation was listening. To this day, a new young female singer is frequently touted as “the next Amy Grant.” Amy has become the measuring stick for any young woman entering the Christian music field. Many other women have influenced Christian music as artists, from the inspirational operatic stylings of Sandi Patty to the rock of Margaret Becker to Leslie Phillip’s unique sound in the 80’s. These women were among the pioneers that paved the way for future women to not only sing well but have a say in their careers. This helped pave the way for other artists like Crystal to open her own company, do things her own way, and succeed.
KO: Many artists today have a much different approach and and image today, much like their secular counterparts…how does this form of ministry seem to be bringing the message to those who might otherwise not receive it?

KD: There is no doubt that groups and artists like Sixpence, Jennifer Knapp, Out of Eden, Jaci Velasqez, Rebecca St. James, Stacie Orrico and Superchick are impacting women and girls in arenas that Sandi Patty and Amy Grant don’t reach. I hear Leigh Nash singing “There She Goes” every time I turn on my TV! As long as these groups don’t water down their message to appeal to the secular listeners, they hold great promise for new areas of evangelism. I think it is extremely important to have groups that appeal to young listeners of all ages, races and cultures.
KO: With so many new catagories now at the Dove Awards, what is your impression of some of the new artists and wider range of catagories?

KD: The Dove Awards are fun. They attract a lot of attention for Gospel Music and have helped launch the entire genre of music as a legitimate music form. However, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the “awards” themselves. At, we list them; we run stories and photos about the nominees and winners, but more awards, less awards — personally, to me it is not important. Getting the good news out there, THAT is important. Offering a broad range of musical styles meets more people where they listen, where the live. That is a good thing!
KO: What insights can you give to those trying to bring their music into the industry and be a part of it?

KD: Advice often sounds like clich├ęs and I am sure mine will, too: be true to God, be true to your calling, be true to yourself. Remember, God has not called everyone to the big arenas. If we all go seek fame and fortune, who is left to minister to the local church and community? We need more creative types that are community focused. Our goals should be about utilizing the talents God has given each of us, in the place God has called us to be.
Networking can be helpful, but where do you network? We have been trying to get a network for women in Christian music organized (coincidentally called “Women in Christian Music”) for five years in Nashville, but everyone is so busy, it is hard to get people to commit.
That is why I usually suggest people plug in locally, wherever they live. Find a good church. Minister there. If you have talent and a heart for ministry, it will be noticed. Volunteer to sing to the young kids, the youth, the college age, the picnics, local festivals, wherever.
KO: What has allowed contemporary Christian music to endure and enjoy widespread growth, especially recently, and why do you think this is important to those who are still in the industry as well as the new artists?

KD: What has allowed the message of Christ to endure for 2,000 years? It is a message of hope; it is a message of truth. I think that shines through the Christian arts. Also, you have often heard “Music is the universal language.” It is. When you combine a powerful message with a well-turned tune, what’s not to love? This is why a song like “Friends” from Michael W. Smith is still one of the most requested and beloved songs of our day. If you ask a music high brow, they will tell you the tune is simple, the lyrics are lame, but the simple tune penned by Michael and his wife touches us profoundly with its truth and its simplicity. It surpasses the musical formulas with its message of the love shared among friends. God has a way of doing that. Christian music can get too contrived with books, formulas and gimmicks. Bob Carlisle wrote “Butterfly Kisses” for his daughter, not to be the next #1 hit. He went past the formulas with his message of a father’s love for his daughter. The simple things from the heart are often the best.
We have seen the pitfalls of the Christian music industry as people that are called “ministers” in the industry have stumbled and fallen, sometimes again and again. We are all human and all stumble, but the Bible makes it clear more is expected of those in positions of teacher, leader, minister. Character is more important than talent in ministry, but talent is often esteemed more highly than character in the “industry.” There is a tightrope artists walk between “ministry” and “industry.” I would offer this advice to anyone seeking a career as an artist that would put them up in front of people as a leader, role model and minister: clean the skeletons out of your closet and deal with any issues you have BEFORE you climb up on that tightrope. No matter how fabulous your voice is, it is your fruits that will leave the lasting impression of what your ministry was all about.
From our archives 4/9/01.
Kim’s complete article is up at Women in the Christian Music Industry.
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