10 Minutes With … Jay Swartzendruber

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) CCM Magazine, the publication known for its coverage of Christian music, recently decided to expand its reach to include independent and general-market artists who are Christians. The monthly magazine, published since 1978, also has changed the meaning of its CCM acronym, from “contemporary Christian music” to “Christ. Community. Music.” […]

c. 2007 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) CCM Magazine, the publication known for its coverage of Christian music, recently decided to expand its reach to include independent and general-market artists who are Christians.

The monthly magazine, published since 1978, also has changed the meaning of its CCM acronym, from “contemporary Christian music” to “Christ. Community. Music.” It adds content culled from its online social networking community, http://www.myCCM.org.

Jay Swartzendruber, the 39-year-old editor of the Nashville, Tenn.-based magazine, recently talked about CCM’s change in direction and the evolution in music performed by Christians. Following are excerpts.

Q: Your magazine says it now covers “Christian worldview music” instead of “Christian music.” Why?

A: Historically, our industry’s definition of “Christian music” has literally been defined by who is distributing the music. It’s been based on whether or not that album is sold in Christian bookstores. I’ve had a problem with that philosophy.

We need to stop propagating that myth that that’s what Christian music is, because you’re defining this based on where it’s sold, not based on the content, not based on who’s creating it.

Q: Are there other reasons you decided to move away from the term “Christian music”?

A: What has come to be called “Christian music” was born out of the 1970s Jesus movement. Our magazine helped brand this genre “Christian music.” In reality, you can’t really accurately call it a genre because it’s comprised of rock, pop, rap, hard music, hard-core punk. It’s comprised of genres.

Q: Has the magazine ever covered artists who might be considered Christians in the secular realm as well as those who recorded with Christian labels?

A: We did, but it … wasn’t a level playing field. When CCM magazine first started out, it was very inclusive. You had Bob Dylan on a couple of covers, you had Johnny Cash, Donna Summer.

(After the early 1980s) more than 95 percent were distributed in the Christian market.

Q: Your announcement said your coverage will now include “general market Christians” such as Mary J. Blige and Sufjan Stevens. Blige has worked with Ludacris on a song that’s explicit about sexual abuse of young girls; and Stevens has sung a song where he compares himself to child killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. Where do you draw the line?

A: I’m not as familiar with Mary J. Blige, but read Sufjan Stevens’ lyrics. What you just described is nothing further than saying “I’m the chiefest of sinners.” I don’t have any problem with that. The Mary J. Blige song sounds like it could actually be a redemptive song lyrically. I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit can bring healing into those situations.

There’s been this false notion propagated over the years that if you’re making music for a mainstream label and not a Christian music label that somehow your music does not honor God. I think that’s an incredibly bogus statement.

Q: Is there some danger in venturing beyond the Christian labels, whose recordings may seem safer to your readership?

A: I think we face a danger by sticking to the Christian market because if you’re not careful, you can project the message that the Christian life is safe; Jesus did not call us to a life of safety. He called us to taking risks.

If anything I feel like by us expanding this, we’re doing more of what we’re supposed to.

Q: How would you describe the sea change that’s occurred since your magazine began in 1978, with the range of genres that are now considered Christian music?

A: Even as a magazine, CCM Magazine started moving away from the phrase “contemporary Christian music” in the late ’90s because the word “contemporary” implied pop or adult contemporary. Meanwhile, the magazine was putting rock bands on the cover and hip hop artists. The name actually became more ambiguous in what it meant.

Q: Why have some Christian artists shied away from Christian labels?

A: The bottom line is the perception of Christian music is it’s music made by Christians for other Christians. There are so many artists these days who are making music for the world at large. They don’t want to give the misimpression that they’re making music for Christians only.

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