The Worship Workshop


Articles to read and be blessed.

Living With The UK Christian Worship Industry  - by Tim Sherrington


There is a problem with the UK Christian Worship Industry (UKCWI) at the moment and to some degree, the global Christian Music Industry. As the standard of musicianship and production has undoubtedly increased in recent years, originality, creativity and risk- taking has reached a plateau.

Music products are being pedaled to the Christian-music-buying public (the consumers) faster than they can listen to them and they have become 'snow blind’, unable to distinguish between what is available. Compilations follow more compilations, which follow more live albums, often using the same artists, bands and songs. Songs and worship bands are becoming ‘TV friendly’ as they aim to increase the professional delivery of the music and out-promote their ‘rivals’.

This, coupled with exaggerated and inflated marketing statements, is leading consumers to believe that the music product they are buying – CD, download, DVD, video - is of incredible quality and anointing. However, most of the time, it is no different to the last album they bought. In fact, it's not much different to most of the albums they have bought in the last 5 - 10 years.

The UKCWI has become stagnant, choosing to remain in a safe place where innovation is rare and cloning to gain success is commonplace.

Cloning, Mimicking and Templating.

Some of the problems stem from the way the UKCWI is structured and the how it operates. The use of a core group of session musicians, producers, executive producers and influencers has meant that nothing new or innovative is being allowed to emerge sonically (the physical audible sound you hear through the speakers), lyrically (the content and message of the music) or musically (the style of playing or singing). This has lead to the UKCWI becoming an isolated community: a place where a minority group can occupy their own economic, social and musical space with very little risk. It’s a safe place within its own walls and constructs.

Ministries and bands are looking at the way other ministries and bands are doing something and almost cloning it, copying it so closely that they are simply simulating, or even mimicking, what they have seen and taking on its appearance. It's OK to template - to base what one does on an original design that is then coloured and textured until something new emerges. That is what we might call influence. But to clone means to take the exact measurements and plans and copy them precisely. Essentially, it is McDonald’s drive-thru music ministry: they all look and smell exactly the same no matter where you are in the country. There may be some slight local nuances, but they provide exactly the same product. Christian music ministries are in danger of falling into this trap, looking and smelling the same as each other in an attempt to replicate the success of another 'brand'.

It is not uncommon for a visiting worship band to be asked to play a particular set of songs that the audience or congregation know. As a result, the same songs are typically used in the same key by different bands. Essentially, songs have become selections in a worship-karoke-culture with bands providing the live music for congregations to sing along to. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason for this as a particular Church may seek to align itself with the traditional Church calendar, but too often, Churches are asking bands to do karaoke.

Musicians Have Accents

Everyone has an accent. If you live in the South West of England, you will have a broad Cornish accent. If you live in Dublin, Ireland, you are going to have a rich Irish accent. Musicians also have accents. If someone listens to a lot of Coldplay, they are going to sound like Coldplay; if someone listens to a lot of Matt Redman or Tim Hughes, they are going to sound like Matt Redman or Tim Hughes.

Accents affect everything the musician does: playability, chord progression, annunciation (the way words are sung or announced), breathing (for singers), vocal range, etc. Everything. This in turn affects the vocal range of congregations (this includes national and international Church streams), resulting in what might be termed the “corporate vocal range”. New songs are written within this corporate range and congregations are unhappy singing anything outside of it.

The Musical Accent Formula

Musical accents are obtained via a simple formula:

Listen to music > pick up instrument > copy music > make own music that sounds like copied music

Every musician follows this formula whether they realise it or not. Unfortunately, it’s a formula compounding the UKCWI. Unlike the Secular Music Industry (SMI), where the media and public alike hold musicians and bands to account, scrutinising them and their songs in forums where they can freely express their opinion – and loudly - the UKCWI does not have this ‘policing’ of its music. Who holds the UKCWI to account? It’s self- policing and self-regulating.

The UKCWI – the industry as a whole not the individuals therein - is not accountable to a media or public that can put it under pressure to innovate. Bands sound the same. Artists sound the same. Songs sound the same. Congregations sound the same. Hit Factory Formula

In the 60’s and 70’s, Motown sold millions of albums made by dozens of singers and bands. In the 80’s, it was the turn of the ‘Hit Factory’ in the UK, churning out records by various artists that sounded the same and sold by the millions. Both of these ‘movements’ used a simple and ultimately safe formula to make music and sell records: Find a sound that people like – preferably cheap to ensure a good return on investment - and then replicate it as many times as you can until the sound goes out of fashion.

The UKCWI may not realise it, but to some degree it has adopted the same formula, churning out records by many artists that sound the same. It’s safe, easy and guaranteed to sell music.

Self-Policing and Regulation

The self-policing or self-regulated environment of the UKCWI has bread a culture of safety and in some cases, defensiveness. The safety comes in an unchanging, if-it’s-not- broke-don’t-fix-it mentality. If it sells and has an audience, why change it? If anyone from the media or public criticises the music of a well know or established artist – even constructively – this is seen as heresy. To say that an artist or well known established Christian band is “a bit bland and boring” is seen as a slur on them and their ministry and going against the main school of thinking. We shouldn’t judge a ministry or Church without all of the facts. That is not kingdom-like.

We can, however, judge the music of a ministry or Church because we have all of the facts available to us - the recorded music. It is this line between the ministry (the people who run it and are accountable for it) and the music (the sonics, lyrics, music, etc.) that is blurred in the world of UKCWI. To criticise someone’s music and production is to criticise a ministry. To criticise a ministry is to criticise their music. The two are interwoven. Where are the forums that allow us to “speak the truth in love”, hold the UKCWI to account and see it innovate? There are very few of them, if any truly effective ones at all.

Marketing Practices

Fact: Heavy marketing of a product raises awareness and secures sales. It is sometimes said that the company with the biggest marketing budget has the most ‘clout’. One may have the best product in the world but without marketing, consumers will never know about it and it will remain on the shelf. You might have the most ordinary product in the world, but with aggressive marketing and product placement, every consumer will know about it. With the right marketing strategy, every consumer will feel they need to have it. Marketing appeals to the consumer’s emotions, building empathy between themselves and the product. The consumer feels they need to have it because the perception is everyone else has it and is using it.

Exaggerated marketing statements are all too commonplace in promoting Christian worship music and misleading the consumer. Statements such as “a must-have for any church worship group”, “a highly-acclaimed album” and “soon-to-be worship classics” are not uncommon in describing music products to the consumer. This is very dangerous territory. H G Wells once said, “Advertising is legalised lying”. The UKCWI is in danger of advertising itself to a negative effect and misleading the consumer with wildly exaggerated marketing statements. Is it possible that consumers are sometimes mislead about the content of an album or DVD?

To state that a set of songs on an album are going to be “worship classics” in the Church is like predicting a yet-to-be-released song will go straight to Number 1 in the Charts, stay there for a very long time, be played for many years after and come to be revered above other songs. That is quite a presumption and one might say it is arrogant to suggest such a thing. Yet this is what the UKCWI is doing. Who knows what God will do tomorrow?

It is possible that the said song will be lyrically out of sync with Gods plans the week after it is sung for the first time. Yet this is what is happening in the UKCWI. To state that “Our album was recorded during a history-making moment” or “The songs [on our album] are nothing short of incredible” is, quite simply, arrogant and second-guessing an all-powerful sovereign God who is not interested in the “killer song” that “runs and runs”, as one industry executive once said.

Words such as “passionate”, “incredible” and “amazing” are all too common in describing worship albums and events. Who says it's passionate? Who says it's amazing? Adjectives can be very subjective. Many of the “passionate” worship albums in the UKCWI are not passionate at all. They are, however, well-produced and well-executed albums containing good songs. There is a distinction to be made between passionate and/or anointed, and just good. Marketing practices are using buzzwords and a familiar UKCWI language to build empathy between the consumer and the product thus ensuring a greater chance of making the sale.

The UKCWI has got to a safe place and has stayed there. It is not innovating. Bands and ministries are cloning other bands and nothing has changed for some years. Nothing new is emerging – or being allowed to emerge - to excite and stimulate. Musical innovation has been choked and congregations have found a safe place to worship and a safe key to sing in, having fed on a diet of music that is poor for their musical health.

The UKCWI has a choice to make: carry on producing music products that look and smell the  same as the last music product, or innovate and promote diversity, innovation and experimentation. Changes have to be made to ensure that the music, songs and sounds stayr elevant for today and have integrity to resonate with tomorrow. Musicians, bands and congregations should be encouraged to stretch themselves and try something new rather than being part of the karaoke culture. Marketing practices need to be re- examined in an attempt to move away from the secularisation of the UKCWI.

In early 2006, Martin Smith from Delirious begged the following question in an interview with Cross Rhythms: “Where are all of the bands like us? Where are the leaders in their 20's and 30's? We stand on stage and don’t see them rising up”. These new musicians, bands and leaders are emerging but they cannot be recognised; they look and sound like everyone else. They are clones, created from an all-to-familiar mould, without distinction or unique features.

UKCWI Marketing Statements

Each of the statements listed were taken from ministry or band literature, including websites, leaflets and album sleeves. Many are used by well known, established artists and Churches to promote their music.

• “What are you waiting for? Go and buy it!”

• “A must-have for any church worship group”.

• “The latest and finest ..... album”.

• “As well as these albums we will be providing many 'great' albums”.

• “The best worship album ever - 1 & 2”.

• “The highly-acclaimed album”.

• “Soon-to-be worship classics”.

• “An incredible album”.

• “20 great songs from quality recordings”.

• “No worship leader should be without this album”.

• This album was recorded during a “history-making moment”.

• “xxx fantastic tracks...” in this “not-to-be missed album that's guaranteed to get you moving”

• “With a memorable name and an even more memorable ministry, [this band] never fail to make a long lasting and even eternal impression”.

• “[album] is eagerly awaited and critically acclaimed”.

• From a worship leader describing their own music “The songs are nothing short of incredible”.

• “[the conference] will be nothing short of spectacular”.

• “....will be the follow-up to the classic ‘xxx’ album has been eagerly anticipated....”

• “.....these songs will inspire the church in worship for years to come”

• “All in all, here’s a worship album that demands your attention!”

About the Author

Tim Sherrington is part of the KC21 congregation in Aldershot, Hampshire, UK, under the ministry of Derek Brown. Tim has been involved in the Christian Music and Worship scene for over 15 years serving in a variety of bands and ministries. He is part of NAMELESSMUSIC, an organisation that seeks to serve grassroots musicians and worship leaders, and is the singer in YARDEN, a four-piece rock band, sometimes sounding like a well- known Irish singer.
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