Art or Money?

October 2, 2010

Money or art? Which would we choose as an artist? If we opt art, I think the sound and feel might be purer than mainstream, but this process may conclude in the sale of fewer records. If we choose money, we would most likely conform to the likings of the mass audience.

As Leadbelly and the other singers in the folk-song revival tried to attract new audiences, they found themselves in a complicated trap. The movement’s political goals demanded that they strive for as wide a hearing as possible, but as the singers adapted their music to reach popular audiences, purists denounced them for selling out their heritage. (Filene 1991)

This is the trap Leadbelly found himself in.

Upon reading this article, the possibility of this occurrence in today’s mainstream music crossed my mind. Could the same be said of current artists? If so, how frequently does it occur and how drastic are the changes? I’ll give you guys a taste of my music analysis paper in this blog by highlighting changes, similar to those imposed on Leadbelly, made in the genre of Christian music.

Classical artists such as Beethoven were heavily influenced by Christian churches. Christianity is a conservative religion and its music has therefore typically been known as such. However, contemporary Christian music (which is totally awesome) sounds nowhere near its original form. Artists like Skillet, Beautiful Republic, and Third Day utilize electric guitars, and drum a lot more than traditional artists.

I think this change in the style offers more to the modern Christian. The variation is what makes it so appealing to the younger audience and allows it to be more relatable. Older “Hallelujah-type”, opera songs do not appeal to the general young Christian. Similar to the folk-style and Orpy, Christian music was not excluded from “the trap.” Christian bands find themselves in the same predicament. Some choose not to adopt the title of “Christian band” because of the stigma associated with it by general audiences. Unknowing audiences, not wanting to be associated with the heavy Bible thumping style, might choose to disregard Christian artists altogether assuming their style emulates traditional artists. If one does indeed produce a hit that tops the secular market, they stand the risk of being judged by the Christian market. If they are labeled as Christian, they stand the risk of scaring potential secular listeners. Essentially, every artist relies on the ability to attract the masses. And exactly how does the Christian artist do this? They create more ambiguous lyrics, and make less direct references to religious ideals. Artists such as Fireflight, Flyleaf, Brooke Fraser, Creed, P.O.D and Amy Grant, enjoy the success of both the secular and Christian market.

Have record companies embodied the Lomaxes? Are Christian artists being persuaded by record labels to tone down the “preachy” lyrics, or is this an independent choice?  Mark Lusk (Atlantic record’s vice president of Christian music marketing) says, “Atlantic doesn’t want me spending their hard-earned cash on some crusade.” Mr. Lusk says that they aren’t forcing Christian artists to discard their beliefs. However, Scott Brickrell (Christian band manager) says that to get a deal with some secular label companies, stating directly:

You put Jesus all over six of your songs. I just want four that don’t anything about him. You can write about your girlfriend…you can write about your struggles…just don’t mention anything spiritual in those songs, and we’ll sign you as an artist.

What would you choose? The art or the money?

The Grand Ole Opry & the Urban South

I found this article extremely difficult to “engage in.” Maybe it was the train, but I guess the only thing that really struck me was the high racism involved at that time. It’s funny how John Jackson grew up believing that Uncle Dave Macon was black. I did do my readings but this article just didn’t engage me.


Filene, Benjamin. “Our Singing Country: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly. 43.4 (1991): 602-624. Print.

Hendershot, Heather. “Shaking the World for Jesus : Media and Conservative Evangelical    Culture.”  New York: University of Chicago P, 2004.

Kyriakoudes, Louis M. “The Grand Ole Opry & the Urban South.” Southern Cultures. 10.1 (2004): 67-84. Print.

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7 Responses to “Art or Money?”

  1.   medst330wpl Says:

    You got a good point in your opening question on choosing art or money. It’s hard to maintain a balance. You don’t want to ruin your music to the point that the mass audience likes it and not you, the composer, yet you don’t want to take the other end and not make enough sales.

    So that just proves this industry is a tough one to survive in.

    Interesting questions to think about in regards to your 6th main paragraph. I’m pretty sure there are people in the recording business like the Lomaxes. I think it varies with what the preachy lyrics are, and what’s suitable for a sizeable audience. So I’m a bit open-ended with your questions. I would have to say both art and money, so I think I’m on the conservative end because you need both to not stray on either extreme in your opening statements.

    Anyways, in regards to your comment on the Kyriakoudes essay, I think you should try to re-read it. Maybe it was the train ride that didn’t put you in a good reading mode?? I found the article to be worth reading. So give it another shot when you have the chance.

  2.   karina Says:

    Indeed, it is both art and money that we need for a successful business. You are right that the issue within the Christian genre is multifaceted, beyond the mere scope of the initial question posed (art or money). I read further on the topic as I am considering covering groundbreaking artists in the Christian genre (let me know what you think). I found that the audience is considered well before the song is actually made. However, I do not know the statistics regarding changing of lyrics to suit audience. The issue of “middle-of-road” audiences were addressed upon research, and I did note that Christian artists strive to achieve this duplicity for the further success of their business.

    The difference with Christian music lies within the foundation of the institution. A song may fall under the genre of Christian rock, but serve a different purpose; Christians have different music to worship God, music for encouragement, music for praise etc. Obviously worship songs will not appeal to the general mass audience (or would it? hmmm…). I think Christian artists neglect worship songs for the sake of their business. They eliminate the mention of the name God, or other religious words in exchange for the secular audience.

    You make a lovely point. Who says the music is only well loved by the audience and not the composer? No doubt the artist could become attached to the song (you know those situations where you hate a song, and find yourself humming it hours later). I’m not really good at response papers, but I was trying to ask whether the final product represents artist. Is creative difference encountered between the artist and anyone outside the band? This goes back to the issue with the Lomaxes, how pure is the sound we are hearing.

    Theodore Adorno speaks about this issue of authenticity or pseudo individualization. He has the fancy theory names for all these points. I’ll most probably mention it in my music analysis.

    Sorry for giving you such a lengthy reply. Thanks for commenting though! 100 cool points for being my first student commenter. =)

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